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'Miss India Mid-South' Crowned in Tennessee
Edward Wei, Epoch Times Tennessee Staff
8/11/2006

MEMPHIS, Tennessee—Two thousand Indian families of the Mid-South decided to send their most beautiful and talented daughters to New York for the Miss India USA Pageant. On the evening of July 29, Miss Sandhya Mudumbi from Nashville, Tennessee was crowned Miss India Mid-South at the Rose Theater of the University of Memphis.

Sandhya Mudumbi's family is in Nashville and she is now in college in St. Louis, Missouri. From a dance school called Kala Nivedanam she had attended for five years, Sandhya Mudumbi was described as "gifted in music as well as dance." Sandhya was exposed to classical music from an early age by her mother. She has a natural affinity for these twin art forms and has attained a high standard of accomplishment. According to David Maddox, a writer and musician in Nashville, Sandhya is recognized as a lead female voice in group songs and a talented dancer.

For the first Miss India Pageant of Mid-South in history, twenty-one candidates registered for the contest. They were separated into three categories. Category A had seven contestants from ages 10 to 16. Category B, which is the main group, had nine contestants from ages 17 to 26. Category C had five contestants who were married and 31 years old and over.

The contest included four segments: Indian Dress, Talent Competition, Evening Gown and Question and Answer. For the Indian Dress, the contestants put on either Salwar Kameez or Sari. Salwar are loose trousers and the Kameez is a long shirt. Sari (saree) is long strip of unstitched cloth, ranging from five to nine yards in length, which can be draped in various styles.

For the talent competition, the contestants performed Indian traditional dance, modern dance, Arab style dance, chanting poems from ancient Yoga scriptures, and singing songs from Bollywood movies. Bollywood, India's movie industry, is the largest in the world.

"The contestants are from five Mid-South states including Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi." said Jayesh Dayal, a member of the board and a local Indian grocery store owner. The Indian community of Memphis "has about 2,000 families, shall be about 10,000 people. They are customers of my store, I know most of them," he said.

At festivals like Indian New Year Diwali, most families get together. "We are more like one [big] family, because this is not a large community," said Jaya, wife of cardiologist Dr. Ramnathan. Dr. Ramnathan is also a member of the board. The Miss India Pageant is part of a project to promote and preserve India culture in the immigrant community. "We have two temples in Memphis. We teach them [the young generation] Indian language and culture," said Dayal, "When their grandparents come, that is the biggest help."

The Miss India Mid-South Pageant attracted many more than the Indian families. Melissa Sowder, a nurse recently moved to Memphis from Florida, arrived two hours ahead of time. "I like Indian music, Indian dress, and Sari," said Melissa. Michael Summers, Biology major at the University of Memphis, put on a sari she bought two years ago at an Indian Festival and came with two Indian friends. She didn't know any of the contestants, but "anything about India" is enough for her to come.

The winner of category A (age group 10-16) was Vaishali Keshani and the second place winner was Ankita Purohit. In category C (married and over 31), the winner was Dr. Padma Lyons.

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