In 2016, May 8 coincided with Ponchishe Boishakh (25th day of the Baisakh month) of the Bangla calendar that also happened to be Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s 155th birthday. To commemorate the birth anniversary of Gurudev, the Indian Embassy in Cairo and the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture are currently hosting a five-day festival Tagore Festival that will end on May 12, 2016.
“We take many small steps and build as many bridges as possible between the people of the two countries who share strong cultural bonds,” said Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s Ambassador to Egypt.
As a build up to the cultural event, the Embassy had organised a month-long online Quiz Completion, which started on April 10 and an essay competition in English, Hindi and Arabic on the Nobel Laureate.
“There is a special bond between the people of the two countries, especially in the field of culture,” Sanjay said.
Day 1: Painting Exhibition and Book Launch
The Tagore Festival kick-started with an art exhibition showcasing the works of painters from 10 countries. “These 60 portraits on display in the exhibition are a visual representation of Tagore in the minds of artists from across 10 countries, including Egypt and India. It is a new perspective- looking at Tagore through the eyes of artists. We collaborated with the Egyptian Caricature Society in collecting the artworks,” Sanjay said.
“Tagore, Egyptian writers and intellectuals have had a long association. The works of Tagore are quite popular in Egypt. There are almost a dozen translations of the Gitanjali itself and 43 of his works have been translated into Arabic. The Egyptian Culture Minister is keen to take up a project to translate more classics and contemporary works,” Bhattacharyya said.
Egyptian scholars have translated many of Tagore’s works into Arabic and have also written several books on him. These books are available at the National Library of Egypt, which has collaborated with the Indian Embassy in organising an exhibition of all such books. The exhibition was inaugurated by Helmy Namnam, Culture Minister of Egypt. While the Culture Minister read an extract from Gitanjali in Arabic, the Ambassador read the same in English to add to the theme of the day. Dr. Sharif Shaheen, Chairman, National Library and Archives of Egypt was also present at the occasion.
“It was gratifying to see the enthusiastic response of the people here. They had put up huge posters of newspaper articles relating to Tagore’s visit to Egypt way back in 1926. It shows their love for him and his work. We look forward to more such collaborations in future,” said the Ambassador.
A short film on Tagore was also screened on this occasion.
The Festival also featured Shapmochan (Breaking the Spell), a dance drama based on Tagore’s work by renowned Indian classical dancer Dona Ganguly and her troupe. Dr. Assem Nagaty, Head of National Centre of Theatre, Music and Folk Art, graced the occasion.
“Bollywood has many takers here in Egypt. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised to see a huge turnout for the Tagore dance drama “Shapmochan” in Odissi dance style at the Cairo Opera House and I was delighted that the Egyptians enjoyed it. It was a stunning show and the performance by Dona Ganguly and her troupe was marvellous,” he said.
Day 3: Film Screening: Ghare Bhaire
The film Ghare Baire by legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray was screened to a packed house at the Hanager Arts Center, Cairo. Based on Tagore’s novel, Ghare Baire weaves a tale of love set in the chaos of the partition of Bengal and vortex of tumultuous emotions.
“The film Ghare Baire by Satyajit Ray is a sensitive depiction of nationalism and feminism within a tale of people in love who are swept away by their circumstances. It was a delight to watch the creative expression of the master novelist and master storyteller, once again,” he said.
Day 4: An evening of Rabindra Sangeet
Shreya Guhathakurta, a renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent, presented Rabindra Sangeet or the songs written and composed by Tagore to the Egyptian audience at the Artistic Creativity Centre, Cairo Opera House. The performance of Rabindra Sangeet was preceded by a Short Documentary on Tagore “The Story of Geetanjali: Songs Offerings”, produced by the Government of India.
“Though Tagore’s songs relate to all aspects of our lives, the two important facets which will be featured are his songs on women and his affinity for nature,” said Ambassador, adding, “Guhathakurta is a renowned Rabindra Sangeet singer from Kolkata. She is known for her unique style- a fusion of the old style with a contemporary presentation of the songs that helps connect with the audience.”
Those present at the musical event included eminent historian and politician Prof. Sugata Bose from India and Minister of Industries Amir Hussain Amu from Bangladesh.
Day 5: A Seminar on Contemporary Literature: Tagore, Shawky & Mahfouz
The festival will conclude on May 12 with a Seminar on Contemporary Literature: “Tagore, Shawky & Mahfouz”, which will feature Indian and Egyptian scholars and writers and will be conducted by the Supreme Council of Culture. The seminar will have two speakers from the Egypt and one speaker from India, noted historian and politician Sugata Bose. The Seminar will be moderated by Prof. Amal El Sabban, Secretary General, Supreme Council of Culture, Ministry of Culture, Egypt. The Seminar will be held at the Council Hall of the Supreme Council of Culture, Cairo Opera House.
The Tagore Festival was organised by the Embassy of India and the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture, Cairo, in association with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, the Supreme Council of Culture, the Cairo Opera House and the National Library and Museum of Modern Art. The Festival has also received generous support from Egyptian Indian Polyester Company (EIPET).
The Bard of Bengal:
Tagore was the first Asian to win the Nobel Award for Literature for his book “Gitanjali” in 1913. His poetry, novels, plays, short stories and essays are widely read in India and across the world. His songs have been set to music; his plays have been enacted as dance drama and his novels have been filmed.
He is an integral part of India’s literary heritage and a towering figure in Bengali literature, who continues to inspire creativity even in the contemporary world.
For the last 75 years, Tagore has been invoked on his birthday with “He Nutan, Dekha Dik Arbar…”, a song specially written for the occasion, by the man himself.
It is a well-known fact that Tagore has written the national anthem of India (Jana Gana Mana) and also of Bangladesh (Amar Sonar Bangla). Tagore also penned the anthem of Sri Lanka at the request of his Sri Lankan student at Santiniketan, Ananda Samarkun, in 1938. In 1940, Ananda returned to his native land and translated the song into Sinhalese and recorded it in Tagore’s tune.
His Egyptian Link
Rabindranath Tagore first visited Egypt in 1878 and later as a famous poet-philosopher in 1926 when he met King Fouad and interacted with scholars in Alexandria and Cairo. His friendship with Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqy is well known. He wrote a moving eulogy on his friend’s death in 1932.
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Film maker Mahesh Bhatt and Bollywood Badshah Shah Rukh Khan on Friday stressed on celebrating India’s diversity, with the auteur also lashing out against those imposing their language on the people.
“These are dangerous times. In the age of highest connectivity we are the most divided. That’s why we need story tellers to tell stories which can bring us all together. The glue that held mankind together has withered,” Bhatt said at the inauguration of the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival here.
He said it was high time filmmakers realise their responsibility to ‘whip up’ hopes of a better tomorrow, in a scenario where the “structures all around us globally are collapsing”.
“I think the story tellers must do what mamas did at home. When the house fought and children fell apart mama would bring us all together by telling us the fascinating story that kindled hope. That’s what we are celebrating here today,” he said.
Bhatt said the leaders of mankind have no solution for the problems that stare at people. “It is we film makers, we story tellers, we artists who are generous people, Who will whip out from our hearts the idea of a better tomorrow, and then point in the direction and compel people to walk in that direction”.
Referring to ascetics Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda and Sister Nivedita, he said the great seers and sages of the country had said underlined the need to ‘speak to man in his language’.
“Don’t impose your language on people. This is a great country. And its greatness lies in its diversity. Let us celebrate this diversity,” he said, adding “As long as film makers are there, as long as artists are there, we will dare to hope and defy those who tell us to speak only one language”.
Shah Rukh in his speech hoped that wonderful films with great stories would continue to be made.
“We keep on making these wonderful films, have great stories to tell, and like Bhatt sab said, stories that will bind us together, bring us together, and celebrate our diversity, instead of questioning one another’s individuality,” he added.