The Edinburgh Mela is an annual multi-cultural festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is one of the 12 festivals that make up the Edinburgh Festival. The first mela, a Sanskrit word meaning "gathering" or "to meet", was held in 1995 at Meadowbank Stadium, and was organised by members of the city's minority ethnic communities. The festival moved to Pilrig Park in 2000, and to Leith Links in 2010. Running over three days in September, the event attracts around 20 to 25,000 people each year.
Creative Scotland said "The  program aimed to and successfully reflected a range of cultural influences and intercultural influences through the selection of music, film, arts workshops and stalls. The festival site contributed massively to the overall Mela programme offering a centre and focus for celebration, community togetherness and providing the context for a great family day out."
Origins of the Mela
Melas are south Asian events which have spread around the world from the south Asian subcontinent. Mela means 'gathering' and can describe festival, market, trade event, religious gathering and more. Melas are celebrated with music, dance, theatre, fashion, food and stalls, these are days for the whole family, to join in and embrace south Asian culture. Melas are distinguished by their bringing together of south Asian cultures and those of other countries when promoted by south Asian Diasporas abroad. Melas first came to Britain in the late eighties.
The Edinburgh Mela is something unique and is not an attempt to merely recreate its south Asian counterpart. You are immediately aware of both Scottish and Asian cultures converging in a celebration of colourful costumes and performances. You are quickly immersed in the atmosphere of a bazaar with the food aromas of the east and traders selling clothes, fabrics, jewellery, crafts and much more. The Edinburgh Mela is a place to wander around and mix with people from all around the globe, all enjoying this spectacular event.
Mela in Edinburgh
In 1995 people from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and other traditions of the sub-continent established a mela in Edinburgh. Chinese, African and other groups were also involved. The first festival was held in Meadowbank Stadium, London Road, Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Mela Company formed in 1996 and since then it has sought to use the form to create a very distinct and ambitious model for a multi-cultural platform. It has grown from its routes within Edinburgh’s South Asian communities to be an outward-looking organisation presenting an event with cultural offerings from across the globe. Edinburgh Mela now commissions and produces innovative work and is seen as Scotland’s foremost celebration of cultural diversity.
The Board of Directors
Shami Khan (Chair)
Foysol Choudhury MBE (Vice Chair)
Councillor Steve Cardownie
Agnes Ngulube Holmes
Trishna Singh OBE
Chris Purnell 2011–present
Stephen Stenning 2010 - 2011
Liam Sinclair 2007 - 2010
Jazz Singh 2005 - 2006
Leith Links 2010 – present
Pilrig Park 2000-2007 & 2009
Ocean Terminal 2008
Meadowbank Stadium 1995-1999
Social and Cultural Impact
Edinburgh Mela is one of the twelve partners within Festivals Edinburgh. It is therefore, a key part of the offer of the world’s leading festival city. As well as contributing a diverse programme with international, national and local artists, it celebrates Edinburgh’s communities and makes a statement about the multi-cultural nature of Scottish identity. The event has grown in popularity with increased audiences and a consequent move to a bigger site within its traditional Leith home. Edinburgh Mela is a friendly welcoming event with an extraordinarily diverse audience that reflects the range of ethnicities within modern Scotland.
In a recent survey to evaluate the social and Cultural Impact of the Edinburgh Mela over 85% of those asked said that the Edinburgh Mela Festival increases their pride in the city. 93% said that the Edinburgh Mela gives a positive message about diverse ethnic culture, 63% said that the Mela was a unique festival from any other festival that they had experienced and over 85% said that the Mela provided them with access to international work they would not otherwise get to see.
What the Mela Offers to Visitors
The Edinburgh Mela festival has various areas where visitors can spend the day, from the children’s area to the food hall.
One of the main attractions of this festival is its concerts and shows. There are 3 main stages: 2 are outdoors, offering headline shows like music and dance performances.
Food is at the heart of the festival, bringing together flavours from across the Middle East and Asia. The Global Food Village area creatse a fantastic atmosphere, lending truth to the festival’s name, "mela", which is Sanskrit word for "gathering". All weekend you’ll see visitors sitting together in groups enjoying a spicy snack.
Most of the food tents offers drinks too, but there are also dedicated bars serving beers, spirits, and soft drinks throughout the day.
A selection of stalls selling traditional dress, jewellery, and hand-made products from different countries around the world fill the shopping area at the Edinburgh Mela. You can find from the traditional Indian Saaris, to South African wooden animals.
The kids’ area is divided in two. On one side attractions often include trampolines and bouncy castles,. On the other, free activities for children include an area where toddlers can enjoy and learn about different cultures of the world.
- "Edinburgh Mela programme unveiled". BBC News. 29 June 2010.
- Allan, Tom (29 June 2010). "Edinburgh Mela programme launched on Leith Links". The Guardian. London.