TAMPA — An aroma of cumin and saffron hung in the air Saturday as Radhika Bomma made her way through row after row of vibrantly colored clothing covered in sequins and rhinestones.
The 38-year-old from Orlando had already purchased one dress and some jewelry but it was hard to resist buying more.
"There are so many choices in one place," she said. "It feels like we are in India."
Thousands flocked to the 26th annual India Festival on Saturday at the Florida State Fairgrounds for Indian cuisine, traditional dance competitions and shopping.
Held just days before the Hindu new year celebration, Diwali, on Nov. 3, the event has become one of the largest in the state. Organizers expected more than 12,000 people to attend.
Vendors from across the country set up booths filled with authentic Indian clothing, jewelry and art. Intricately embroidered saris in shades of teal, purple and green adorned mannequins. Bangle bracelets covered entire tables. Gold jewelry for the head, feet and hands sparkled from display cases.
Farzana Manekia, director of Le Trend Boutique near Orlando, expected to stay busy, selling her Indian clothing and accessories.
"It's the largest event like this in the state by far," she said.
In a room next door, the intricate outfits could be seen in action.
Scores of children and teens competed in a dance competition that ran the course of the day. From modern Bollywood to traditional Indian folk dances, the goal was to share the culture.
"It's really about keeping connected with India," said Renu Vardhan, who moved from Mumbai to Longwood 13 years ago. Her 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter both danced Saturday.
"It's a good way to show them how we used to live back home," she said of the event. "And to help them understand our culture."
Lakshmi Parayath, 12, of St. Petersburg has been dancing at the event since she was in second grade. Her team of 16 girls ages 5 to 12 performed a Bollywood routine Saturday choreographed by a teacher out of Ontario.
"It's fun and I enjoy the dancing," Parayath said.
But it's so much more, said her mother, Usha Panicker.
"It's about them experiencing the culture through the music, meeting the other kids and coming to this big event," Panicker said.
The festival comes at a time when many in Tampa's Indian community are gearing up for the 2014 International Indian Film Academy Awards in Tampa next summer.
Buzz about the event is high, Vardhan said, because it's not something many people have experienced.
However, Parin Shah, who was selling Bollywood music and videos Saturday, said tickets to the event will most likely be unattainable for many.
"The tickets are going to be expensive because it is a very major event," Shah, of Jupiter, said. "But there should be several other events through the month and we are going to try to come to some part of it."