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Indian Art Forms in International Festivals Through Sands of Culture Series

We sought new opportunities in Austria, Germany, Italy and Spain, working through agents and driving box office sales to make projects economically viable.

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It took some convincing to get the Edinburgh International Film Festival to agree to move Shah Rukh's
Thessaloniki International Film Festival hoarding, wikimedia commons

In 1999, as part of a British Council showcase programme, I travelled to the Edinburgh Festival and that set in motion the idea of creating platforms for Indian contemporary and classical art forms across the world.

Working closely with the Festival Fringe, the International Film Festival, the Edinburgh Tattoo and the Edinburgh International Festival, we created an annual offering of work, enlarging our presence from six productions to 16 in a short period. Many thought we were mad, but our long-term objectives paid off in more ways than one. We presented an array of artists: Aditi Mangaldas, Daksha Sheth, Birju Maharaj and Malavika Sarukkai. Mrigaya, the world music group which went on to win the Herald Angel Award at Edinburgh in 2002 and a 5-star review from The Scotsman, Indian Ocean, Lillette Dubey and the Primetime Theatre Group, Adi Shakti, Lushin Dubey, Dadi Pudumjee and the Ishara Theatre Company, are some more names I recollect who were on our entourage. Shah Rukh Khan made his way to Edinburgh in a celebration of the best of Indian arts.

It took some convincing to get the Edinburgh International Film Festival to agree to move Shah Rukh’s “In Conversation” with Nasreen Munni Kabir to a larger venue. They cited examples of having presented the biggest stars, including Sean Connery, in a 300-seat venue. Tickets went on sale and sold out minutes after the box office opened, only to be resold at £100 a ticket! The news made it to The Times front page and the festival organisers, somewhat embarrassed, moved the venue to a 1,000-seat auditorium. Huge crowds gathered at the festival venue. At the after-party, we had to barricade Shah Rukh in a corner, with tables and bouncers guarding him. The Edinburgh festivals hadn’t quite seen something like this before! They were ignorant of work from India as very few shows had ever travelled out.

In 1999, as part of a British Council showcase programme, I travelled to the Edinburgh Festival and that set in motion the idea of creating platforms for Indian contemporary and classical art forms across the world.
Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi at Jaipur Literature Festival, wikimedia commons

The year we presented Ishara Puppet Theatre’s “Transposition”, the infamous liquid bomb incident took place at Heathrow as we landed. Having being evacuated from the airport and shipped to Gatwick, we finally arrived in Edinburgh after a 16-hour delay, only to find that 24 of our 30 outsized puppet boxes and bags had been lost! Each day was spent at the airport warehouse searching for luggage. Five days and three cancelled shows later, the BBC ran a story on our predicament. Hours later, a passenger telephoned Dana Macleod, our coordinator in Edinburgh, to say strange-shaped bags were going around the carousel with stickers bearing her name. The show was back on the road!

Investments in shows and festivals in those early days meant that year-on-year, our balance sheets were red. Co-presenting with existing festivals led to some degree of success, with annual presentations in Singapore, Wellington, Perth and Melbourne. Much of this was a result of networking at the Edinburgh festivals and setting out a plan for collaborations, a strategy we adopted for the next few years. As our footprint grew through Asia to include Hong Kong, Korea and Indonesia, we began to look westwards.

Prompted by our then Consul General, Navdeep Suri, we set up the Shared History Festival in South Africa, to bring about an awareness of a new India and the many opportunities it offered, amongst the one-million strong Indian diaspora. We collaborated with the city of Johannesburg’s annual festival, Arts Alive, to bring about resurgence in the crime-infested Central Business District (CBD) area of New Town. The city planned to use the arts to re-populate the CBD and reduce crime and bring back the local populace. With audiences returning to theatres, New Town has now seen a rise in property prices, new businesses opening and residential blocks being re-built. In Durban and Johannesburg, the arts community and the diaspora who had earlier rejected everything Indian began rediscovering and celebrating their roots. Driven by their need to trace their history many have, since then, travelled back to India.

We sought new opportunities in Austria, Germany, Italy and Spain, working through agents and driving box office sales to make projects economically viable.

Working closely with the Festival Fringe, the International Film Festival, the Edinburgh Tattoo and the Edinburgh International Festival, we created an annual offering of work, enlarging our presence from six productions to 16 in a short period.
Shahrukh Khan was present in Edinburgh Film Festival wikimedia commons

We produced “Bollywood Love Story”, a musical, to reach new audiences. We were amazed to discover how small towns like Einbeck, Stuttgart, Eindhoven and larger ones like Florence, Barcelona and Stockholm had a huge appetite to celebrate and embrace Indian culture. Local arts-attending audiences came to our celebration dressed in Indian attire, belting out words of songs they didn’t understand and eating their versions of Indian food. Exporting Bollywood should be the mainstay of our foreign missions in order to capture hearts and minds of people across the world. From Russia to Egypt and China through Canada I have seen an increasing appetite to present and understand the best of Indian culture.

In today’s polarised world, it is imperative that we use the arts as a window into other cultures, traditions, history and a way of working. The arts know no language and have a universality that allows the viewer to seamlessly absorb and appreciate new experiences. A few years ago, the Globe Theatre, as part of the Cultural Olympiad, commissioned an array of exciting productions played out from Afghanistan and India to Romania and Belarus. Each was distinct and brought to the fore, cultural differences and yet was bound together by the universal language of theatre and performance. Audiences who attended may not have understood the nuances of the languages, but this did not detract them from enjoying what they were witnessing. Pia Behrupiya by Company Theatre was a brilliant piece of original stagecraft. Based on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, the ensemble cast sang, danced and created magic at the Globe. Last year as part of “India70@UK” we were able to present some of the finest of contemporary theatre, dance and music at premium arts venues including the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican Theatre and the Globe.

As the Indian economy continues to grow, the world is curious about India and everything Indian. From exotic locations: Ladhak to Hampi and Ajanta & Ellora to Murshidabad and Varanasi, to a diverse, dynamic and an extremely alive cultural matrix, we have a lot to offer. India needs to create a counter-narrative to that of rapes, murders and religious extremism, absconding businessmen and less then scrupulous business practices that make headlines the world over. The arts can be an anchor for this emerging narrative; not only do they create jobs but also educate and enlighten.

Also Read: Two Men Jailed For Robbing an Indian in Dubai

As the third industrial revolution fades away and we look to the fourth, which will be the coming together of creativity and technology, India is well-placed to be a world leader. Unfortunately, our policies and government are yet to seize the moment and set in place incentives and a route map to the future.

(In our “Shifting Sands of Culture” series, Sanjoy K. Roy, the third of five noted personalities addresses the challenge of taking Indian arts abroad in this article written exclusively for IANS. Sanjoy K. Roy, an entrepreneur of the arts, is the Managing Director of Teamwork Arts, which produces over 25 highly acclaimed festivals across 40 cities worldwide and includes the world’s largest free literary gathering — the annual ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival) (IANS)

 

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Christmas and Controversies

The Christmas tree came from Germany, Christmas card from England, Santa from the USA, and secular celebrations started all over the world.

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Christmas
Christmas was invented to convert people by appropriating pagan’s original practices with Christmas.

-By Bharti Raizada

Bharti Raizada
Bharti Raizada

To my knowledge, no other festival is as universal and controversial as Christmas.

As per M-W dictionary, the definition of Christmas is as follows:

“A Christian feast on December 25 or among some eastern orthodox Christians on January 7 that commemorates the birth of Christ and is usually observed as a legal holiday.”

Christ- Mas: is the church service that celebrates the birth of Jesus.

X- Mas: X is the Greek letter Chi that is a short form of the word Christ. In Greek, Christ’s name is Xristos. Therefore, X- mas is the same as Christ-mas. For some, X removes the religious aspect of Christmas by replacing Christ with X and this celebration then becomes more secular to them. You can fill X with anything you like.

People observe or celebrate Christmas in many different ways: religiously, in a secular way, or as a holiday. Some people do not pay any attention and become part of the Christmas in a mixed way.

Christmas
Christmas is celebrated every year to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ

Those who do not celebrate are either indifferent or wage a war against it.

Pagans are unhappy for Christianization of Saturnalia. Christians are complaining about paganization or secularization of Christmas. Some Christians believe that it is not their festival at all.

Actually, if we dig deep into it, we come to know that Christ’s birthday and life have been surrounded with assumptions. There is controversy whether he was Jewish or Christian; and whether Jews or Romans crucified him.

Contrasts between Hinduism and Christmas

Now, before we go further into the roots of this topic, let us take a glance at Christmas from the Hindu point of view. Here is how I would summarize a few contrasting points.

  1. Trees are sacred to Hindus. We worship them and believe that Devi, Devtas, or Bhagwan (God) live in them. We do not believe in cutting trees at mass level and bring cut trees inside our home for decoration purposes. We do not believe in the sacrifice of living beings/trees.
  2. We have all four kinds of weather and many varieties of trees but the Christmas tree is typically not found in India.
  3. Chimney is not a common architectural entity in Indian households. Hindu children typically touch the feet of elders, in morning, and get gift of blessings every day. The focus of secular Christmas celebration is expectation of a gift by Santa. Materialism and expectation of gift is not a central part of any Hindu celebration. Hindus give gifts on many occasions but expecting a gift from someone is not a primary theme of any celebration.

    Christmas
    The tree has pagan origins but now it represents Christian beliefs.
  4. Hindus go by facts. Hindu scriptures have a birth date for Ram and Krishn. Christmas celebration is based on an assumption- the assumption that December 25 is the birthday of Jesus.
  5. In Hinduism, one is not a sinner by birth and therefore does not depend on Jesus to save him or her. We all are part of the supreme divinity.
  6. Jesus died in place of all other humans so that they can live, i.e., he rescued humanity. We believe inkarma and therefore do not need Jesus for salvation. Someone else cannot own our sins and give us Moksha. Moksha is attained individually.
  7. Vegetarianism is a common theme in Hinduism. Christmas feasts in church typically include meat and alcoholic beverages.
  8. Hindus have so many festivals. It is not an exaggeration to say that every day is an occasion or festival for Hindus. We do not need more from other religions.

Christmas was invented to convert people by appropriating pagan’s original practices with Christmas. We know, the birth of Christ is not that important to Christians as his Resurrection. Protestants/Puritans do not even consider Christmas as their festival. Initially, the agenda of this celebration was conversion by assimilation.

 When we adopt festivals and traditions, which are not our own, it dilutes our own traditions and festivals and slowly our celebrations are replaced and become obsolete. Additionally, it does not take long (takes only a few generations) to lose our own practices.

Why do some Hindus celebrate Christmas?

  1. While Hindus do not believe in Jesus and Christianity, they get attracted to the holiday by the decorated trees, lights, and Santa. They take pictures, share them on social media, and may inadvertently give the false impression that they believe in Jesus.
  2. Some celebrate it just to show that they are secular and tolerant of other religions.
  3. Some who live in Christian dominated societies celebrate it for the inadvertent fear of exclusion, or to become a part of the process.
  4. Some do not think about it much and take it in a neutral/secular/holiday way. They believe in going by the flow.

    Christmas
    Puritans worked hard to stop Christmas celebrations.

Questions/ Observations:

  1. In USA, the Church and State are separate. Still, Christmas trees shows up in all public places, schools, and government buildings. Is there any explanation for this? If almost all government offices celebrate Christmas, then how are the State and Church/religion separate?

How is it democratic and gives equal rights when non-Christian children also have to do Christmas activities in schools?

How can one avoid this festival in Christian dominated areas? There are decorations, trees, Santa everywhere, in public places, official buildings, schools, malls, zoos, movie theaters, hospitals, parks.

You can choose not to celebrate it in your own home but you cannot close your eyes when you go out.

  1. Christians do whatever the Bible says and the Bible does not give ‘instructions’ to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They have written commandments, everything else is against Christianity. Bible has no Christmas tree and no date for the birth of Jesus. So, is this celebration a violation of the Bible?
  2. Many people greet others using phrases like ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Season’s Greetings’, Merry Christmas, Jesus is the reason, Happy HOLYdays? Does Christmas become secular by saying Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings?
  3. Are people forgetting the Christ’ birth part or real reason for Christmas and is it all traveling, feasting, gift exchange or gift giving, tree, decorations, Santa etc.?
  4. How is it justified to cut trees for decoration?
  5. If (religious) minorities cannot mingle with the majority and celebrate their festivals, should majority stop celebrating their festivals?
  6. By teaching your children not to celebrate Christmas, are you inadvertently making them more intolerant towards other people’s beliefs? If your own religion has a solid foundation, why are you scared of learning or teaching other religions or beliefs? Are you scared that you will start facing questions, which you cannot answer?
  7. How does Santa get so much money to donate? What does he do to earn? How does he choose good or bad children? What are the criteria? Is he better than parents are, as he gives gifts? Is it okay to cheat children and give them false information that gifts are from Santa? For how long this lie is going to survive and what happens when they come to know the truth? What is the long-term effect on children who do not behave well and still get a gift from Santa/parents? Do they start believing that they can get away with anything with no consequences? Is it discrimination by Santa to give gifts to good children only?

To answer some of these questions we need to know the history and take part in healthy discussions. A clear understanding of the festival and facts can make a solid foundation of the decisio