Festival of India: A Unique Adventure in Culture

Feasts and festivals represent symbolically a renewal of the past in actual time. There are Sports Festivals like the Olympic Games. Whether festivals have a mythical, historical, religious, social or political notion or origin, they give a sense of collective effervescence.

The humdrum of daily existence with its repetitive patterns of life within a family, then community and at a later stage society, the nation and finally the whole world, calls upon man to invent or create gatherings or groupings which help him to transcend or “suspend” the norms and rules of collective order. Thus the festival becomes a symbology, a manifestation of perpetual creation and re-creation of whatever man holds dear to his beliefs and identity. In today’s market and globalised society and cyberworld, festivals have assumed dynamic transformational proportions that continue to perpetuate the collective effervescence of traditional pre-historical societies. Festivals are occasions that give space and respite to man to go beyond the established order of distinct codes. Today states and governments too have taken commemorations and national celebrations to create a sense of belonging to the nation and unity.

However as Mircea Eliade has said in “The Myth of the Eternal Return” all commemorations are a return to the source, to the origins. Commemorations “give life to history”. Festivals also give a sense of participation as well as representation.

Throughout humanity, harvest festivals have been central to the celebrations of a people as food is essential for survival. Besides religious festivals particular to all societies, pagan, evolved or modern, there are also initiation celebrations that mark the stages of life such as rites of passage. Most festivals culminate in the consumption of specially prepared food connected to feasting and sharing, bringing people together.

India’s Civilizational Ethos

India is well known throughout the world as a country with an unbroken record of civilizational ethos dating several millennia, going to the hoary past. Thus due to its immense proportion it has been recorded as being a land beyond geography and history. Its huge territorial space transcends several climatic zones giving societal developments at various degrees and levels with vast linguistic, religious and food varieties, musical, dance and ceremonial differences. Yet underlying this vastness, there is a common script and metaphor binding all diversities into a common essence and remarkable sense of oneness.

Indian civilization could be like the proverbial example given of the definition of an elephant by six blind men. To each, a different touch of the huge elephant’s different limbs defined the animal. Likewise India and Indianity cannot be grasped in one single moment – “l’insaisissable”- yet very much present in its totality.

Indian Diaspora

Festivals of India take place in t various parts of the world wherever the Indian diaspora is found. Some societies have taken it upon themselves to organise their own “Festivals of India” to give a glimpse of this essence of civilizational ethos that give resonance to the diverse aspects of its way of living and expressing. In Virginia, USA for example, the Festival of India began in 1981 as a yearly “bazaar”, culminating in a huge gathering of over 20,000 to date. Likewise, Toronto in Canada will celebrate in July 2016 its 44th Festival of India. More than 40,000 people are expected with 12-hour nonstop kirtans, festivities and parades initiated by ISKON.

High Commission of India

The High Commissioner of India in Mauritius, Shri Anup Kumar Mudgal in collaboration with the Ministry of Arts and Culture has organised for the first time, a grand Festival of India in Mauritius spanning the calendar from August till end of this year. Though cultural troupes and artists from India have been visiting Mauritius regularly over the past several decades, and Mauritian artists and groups too show their talents and repertoires throughout the year, yet the Festival of India has been a unique display of India’s enormous unfathomable cultural mosaic. The Festival of India depicts the celebratory, creative and vast intangible cultural heritage of India

Indian presence in Mauritius goes back to more than three centuries with the Dutch arrival and later the French period. But with the beginning of the Great Experiment of Indenture Indian labour known as Girmitia initiated in the wake of the abolition of slavery (1st February 1835) by England, Indian presence had a firm and permanent rooting. This settlement of Indians has given an unbroken manifestation of the intangible and tangible heritage of people of diverse backgrounds from India, which they have maintained unbroken for 200 years. The Festival of India with a series of performances by renowned artists include classical and folk dances, music, theatre, traditional puppetry, also exhibitions, literary, conferences, seminars, art and crafts, films and documentaries, reaffirms the strong link between India and Mauritius.

Ram Lila

It was the huge Ram Lila presentation by the famous Shri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra of Delhi and the Nrityarupa, an exquisite composite presentation of classical dance forms of Bharatanatyam and Kathakali that gave the kick off to the Festival in August this year. Spread over two phases, we had the delightful Marathi Folk Dance and Music Group followed by the impressive, masterly Rajasthan Puppetry Group in September. We would have wished that the Sangeet Natak Academy could have initiated workshops in Ram Lila for the benefit of Mauritian Ramayana lovers.

Dr Sonal Mansingh, an Iconic Cultural Personality

In the second phase of the Festival of India, we recently had the gratification of watching the performance of the distinguished world renowned iconic cultural personality, Dr Sonal Mansingh, recipient of Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan from the President of India. She has also been nominated as one of the Navaratnas (nine gems) for Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan by Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi. Incredibly, she has performed in 91 countries of the world. Her time spent here was too short.

Dr Sonal Mansingh trained in Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Orissan Martial Art form Chhau Dance. She is an adept of Hindustani, Carnatic and Odiya music also. Sonal Mansingh offered a stunning flow of incidents from the life and deeds of Shri Krishna embellished with her own singing, acting and dancing. This grand diva gave an extra dimension to her performance by a superb blending of story-telling in both English and Hindi which acquired an extra dimension when she interlinked parables, legends, songs, music, philosophy, symbolism and dance movements. Her communicative singing, narrative skills blended majestically with hand gestures, words and facial expressions, reflecting myriad emotions. The celebrated and eminent Sonal Mansingh’s performances at Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture and Mahatma Gandhi Institute on 6th and 7th November 2015 were a splendid display of India’s immense cultural repertoires.

Islamic Calligraphy from Rampur

This week brings us the beauty of Islamic Calligraphy Exhibition from the famous Rampur Raza Library from Uttar Pradesh that is ongoing currently at the Islamic Cultural Centre, Port-Louis. Will follow towards end of November Qawwali Performances by the Nizami brothers led by Shri Ghulam Sabir. The Nizami family are well-known for their Sufi Qawwali with ties to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and the great pioneer of Hindi Amir Khusro. Finally, Shrimati Malini Awasthi renowned Bhojpuri and Awadhi folk singer will give the kick- off to the International Bhojpuri Festival in the first week of December.

Sangeet Natak Academy’s Initiative

The Festival of India is an initiative of the Sangeet Natak Academy (SNA) of India. The National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama and the Art, the first of its kind set up by the Republic of India in 1952 was inaugurated by President Dr Rajendra Prasad. The Sangeet Natak Academy operates under the Ministry of Culture of India. We applaud this commendable initiative of the Sangeet Natak Academy.

The charming and affable Minister of State for Culture and Civil Aviation of India, Shri Mahesh Sharma was in Mauritius for the inaugural ceremony of the Festival of India. The Festival of India has also touched adjoining countries of the Indian Ocean Rim like Reunion, Seychelles, Madagascar and South Africa.

  • Published in print edition on 20 November 2015

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