Culture Without Borders
Fostering Mauritianism at the Ramayana Centre
Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
On the occasion of Tulsi Jayantee that was celebrated on 6 August at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture, Phoenix, the Ramayana Centre had launched essay competitions in Hindi and English, and for the first time a Painting and Drawing Competition. Numerous entries were received for all the competitions, and first, second and third prizes awarded for each. In the case of the Painting and Drawing Competition, which was for lower and upper forms of secondary schools separately, several themes were proposed, such as the meeting between Lord Rama and his brother Bharata when the latter went to seek him in the forest and request him to return and occupy the royal throne, or the building of the bridge over the sea between India and Sri Lanka and so on.
The number and quality of entries surpassed our expectations by far. In fact nearly 700 entries were submitted, and the most interesting thing was that there were about 70 entries from non-Hindu students. In the junior category, one of them received second prize. Some of the participants were asked how they went about to do their activity, drawing or painting. They replied that they had either read the Ramayana in book form and/or searched the Internet for supplementary information about the respective themes they had chosen. The panel of judges who are experts in the field was very impressed by the works submitted, and indeed they had a very difficult task sorting out the winners, who received first, second and third prizes corresponding to Rs 10 000, 8000 and 5000 respectively, along with other material. All other participants received a participation certificate and consolation prizes (in kind) too.
The prizes were awarded during the Tulsi Jayantee ceremony, at which the President of the Republic Sir Anerood Jugnauth was the Chief Guest. The hall overflowed with guests, many of whom unfortunately had to stand because of insufficient sitting space. Practically all participants in the various competitions had attended with their parents and relatives, to our great joy – but also discomfiture as we realized that later arrivals were not getting to sit, and we will definitely have to anticipate and plan accordingly for our future functions. Nevertheless, after this initial embarrassment, there was shared joy as the programme unfolded with the lively performance of various artists. What was also a matter of great satisfaction to us is that everyone left only after having their hot lunch.
More than that, though, was the joy of having welcomed in our midst our fellow citizens belonging to other faiths who had come to celebrate with us, as also receive prizes. It made us very proud to have our compatriots with us, for it proved to us that true culture is really without boundaries, and there must be a universality of appeal which attracted the participation of so many others. Indeed, the values of the Ramayana are universal – truth, loyalty, respect for elders and the sanctity of family relationships, non-violence, keeping one’s promise and so on. They are beyond any faith, applying equally to humans wherever they are.
Two of the objects of the Ramayana Centre were met through these competitions:
· To promote and propagate the Ramayana and the spiritual, social and cultural values flowing therefrom; and
· To provide guidance and support for the intellectual and moral advancement of the Hindu community and society at large. (italics added)
That is why, on a personal level, I have always felt that these sterile debates about ‘mauricianisme’ to be superfluous, because there is a lived ‘mauricianisme’ that all of us Mauritians experience in our daily lives at all levels of society. I have never thought that we need to hassle about an exact definition of the phenomenon, and it is only those who are confused in their minds and hearts who waste their time and energy to go after such abstractions.
Recently, I had the pleasure of having dinner with a young man belonging to the Hindu fold who was born in London of Mauritian parents and has been brought up there. Our conversation was in English, but he was equally at ease in Creole, and as far as his food taste was concerned there was nothing that could distinguish him from any Mauritian youngster of his generation that I know of. I am sure that this must be the case for many other Mauritians who move seamlessly across cultural borders – why, there is no border for them as they straddle the globe pursuing careers and leaving their imprint wherever they go. We should be proud of them; for to me there is no doubt that the ease with which they mix and their attitude has much to do with their Mauritian roots.
Like me, all Mauritians have friends and even relatives coming from varied cultures, and who are as comfortable in our midst as we are in theirs. I would leave the academics and polemicists to split hairs while we simply get on with our living as we have done and continue to do in this multicultural island: live and let live, with mutual respect for each other. If we add to that the Ramayana’s core message of duty towards each other in a spirit of love, we have all the ingredients in this country to make of it truly a crucible of multicultural living that can be emulated.
We at the Ramayana Center indeed feel very happy and very proud that we are contributing our part in fostering this understanding and sharing, and we look forward to welcoming many more Mauritians and visitors in our midst with great pleasure.