Sunday December 17, 2017

Vietnam revives Xoan singing, India should follow example to boost Vedic culture

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xoan singing

By Nithin Sridhar

In 2011, UNESCO had added Xoan singing, a genre of Vietnamese folk music to its list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding”.

The list includes not only those art forms that have intangible heritage value but also those that are on the verge of extinction and hence need immediate safeguarding.

Vietnam took it as a challenge and after four years, the dying folk music has witnessed a massive revival, thanks to the efforts by the government and the people.

India can learn a few lessons from this huge achievement of Vietnam in reviving and reclaiming their ancient heritage.

What is Xoan Singing?

Xoan Singing is a traditional ceremonial art that combines both music and dance. It originated around 4000 years ago during the time of Hung Kings. In essence, it is spring singing that originated in and is unique to Phú Thọ Province of Vietnam.

A popular story regarding the origination of Xoan singing is that when the pregnant wife of a Hung King whose name was Xoan (meaning spring) was unable to deliver, the King invited a beautiful girl named QuếHoa to sing and dance that made the Queen relax and give birth to three sons.

The King asked QueHoa to teach singing to his daughters. Henceforth, the tradition of Xoan singing started. Xoan, literally meaning spring, was called so because it was sung first time during spring or because the Queen’s name was Xoan.

There are three types of Xoan singing- those that are sung in honor of Hung kings and guardian spirits, those that are sung as a prayer for good crop and health and those that are song as part of festive courtship.

Another classification of Xoan singing is based on melody- recital melody (hat noi), chanting melody (hat ngamngoi) and praising melody (hat xuong).

Originally, there were four Xoan music guilds originating in the four villages of Phú Thọ Province- PhuDuc, Kim Doi, Thet, and An Thai.

Each guild consists of around 15-18 people headed by a leader called trùm. The tone was set by male instrumentalists called kép and the singing was done by female members called đào. The singing and dance was accompanied by various musical instruments like clappers and drums.

vietnamese_institute_for_musicology_2

What did Vietnam do to revive Xoan Singing?

This Xoan singing was about to die out when UNESCO decided to add the folk music to its list of Intangible cultural heritage.

In 2012, there were only 120 professional practitioners of Xoan singing and just 13 temples where they could perform. However, today, there are a total of 115 Xoan clubs with nearly 1300 members in Phú Thọ Province.

This phenomenal rise was possible due to dedicated and sustained efforts of the government and the wholesome support of the people.

In 2013, PhuTho People’s Committee built a US$7.85 million project-“Maintaining and Developing Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity – Xoan Singing in Phu Tho”which was funded by the Government.

Xoan singing has been introduced in the school curriculum and various performances of Xoan singing has been organized by the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The department has also collaborated with experts and musicians to collect and publish various CD’s and books on Xoan singing. Further, the Xoan singers are being financially supported and various training classes have been organized.

Through a series of collaborative efforts involving all parties- artists, writers, musicians, government and the general public, Vietnam has been successful in reviving a dying musical heritage.

Now, the People’s Committee of Phu Tho is preparing to request UNESCO to remove Xoan singing from the list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding” to a list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage”,  Xoan singing, though endangered, has come out of the threat of immediate extinction.

The Indian Situation

India is the land of Sanatana Dharma that is rooted in Vedic philosophy and life values. Vedas are not only a heritage of India, but its very life-force. The art, music, religion, culture and society as a whole derives its inspiration as well as its existence from the Vedas. Manu has called the Vedas as the source of all righteous values.

The Vedas are considered as “Apaurusheya” or “without human origin” whose truths were realized first hand by the Rishis.

Veda Vyasa divided a single Veda into four parts- the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and the Atharvaveda. Each Veda in turn contains four parts- the Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and the Upanishads.

Patanjali Mahabhshya states that there were 21 Shakhas of Rigveda, 9 of Atharvaveda, 101 of Yajurveda and a 1000 shakhas of Samaveda, taking the total number of Shakhas to 1131.

A Shakha is basically a branch or a particular school of recitation that has been passed on from father to son and/or teacher to student. Hence, there were a total 1131 branches of Vedas that were transmitted and preserved according to Patanjali. Of these 1131 shakhas, only 14 of them survive to this day.

The 14 Shakhas that are still alive are-

  1. Rigveda- Shaakala, Bāṣhkala and SaamkhyaayanaShakhas.
  2. SuklaYajurveda- Kanva and MadhyandinaShakhas
  3. Krishna Yajurveda- Taittirīya, Maitrayani, Kaṭhaka andKapiṣṭhalaShakhas
  4. Samaveda- Kauthuma, Jaimini and Rāṇāyanīya
  5. Atharvaveda-Paippalāda and Shaunakīya

Even the existing Shakhas are dying out fast as there are not many takers. There are only a handful of Vedic Gukulams run by private organizations that are trying to protect and transmit the knowledge of the Vedas.

The situation is still deplorable with regard to study of Samkhya, Mimamsa or Tarka.

Sanskrit has been reduced to a third language that is optional for people to study. Though government has set up various organizations for propagation of Sanskrit as well as Vedic studies, their impact has been minimal.

With every passing day, the number of people interested in Vedic learning is dwindling and those who do learn and teach Vedas are facing innumerable hardships, socially and economically.

UNESCO has added Vedic chanting to its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But if things are not improved, very soon the Vedic chanting and the tradition of transmission of Vedic knowledge will sink into oblivion.

What can India learn from Xaon revival?

India can learn various lessons from Xaon revival in Vietnam. Xaon revival was seen as reclaiming and preserving ancient heritage by the Vietnamese. They identified with their traditions and culture and chose to preserve and propagate the same.

It was seen as an attempt at writing the countries’ narrative and upholding of its ancient heritage.

India must begin to see its diverse cultural, religious and spiritual elements as a heritage to be practiced and propagated and not as a burden from the past that must be dumped.

Further, Indians must realize that practice and propagation of these elements are very important for writing India’s own grand narrative.

Some of the steps that India can adopt to revive Vedic learning are:

  • The propagation of Sanskrit must be promoted and encouraged as without Sanskrit, Vedic preservation is impossible.Various activities and training programs must be taken up to help children learn and converse in Sanskrit.

Many private organizations like Samskrit Bharati are already conducting spoken Sanskrit sessions. Similar measures need to be adopted by the government nationally.

Additionally, Sanskrit conversation competitions, Sanskrit Drama and Essay competitions etc. must be organized and promoted. Conversational Sanskrit must be introduced in School curriculum and students must be encouraged to take it up.

  • The government should revive the Traditional Gurukula system. It must set up various Gurukulams across the country to teach Vedas as well as other traditional Indian knowledge systems like Tarka, Vedanta, Mimamsa, Ayurveda, Tantra, Agama, Samkhya, Yoga etc.

Private organizations and religious institutions that are involved in these tasks are to be financially supported.

  • Further, the students who pass out of these Gurukulams, must be supported by various means.

Some of them may be absorbed into various universities and research institutions and some others into various pathashalas.

Students who wish to practice Vedic karmas must also be financially supported as Vedic Karmas are inseparable from Vedic knowledge.

  • The government should set up institutes or start courses in universities that teach various aspects of Indian Knowledge systems, be it art, music or philosophy. These institutes should collaborate with traditional gurukulams to train students in both modern academics as well as traditional knowledge.
  • Nation-wide seminars, debates and discussions must be organized on various aspects of Indic knowledge both in traditional format as well as modern format. This will result in exchange of ideas between modern scholars and traditional practitioners.
  • Original research must be conducted in various topics ranging from religious to scientific in Sanskrit. Journals must be brought out that will publish these Sanskrit research papers.

The measures, if implemented in a systematic and sustained manner, will bring out a gradual but definite revival of Vedas as well as various allied elements like Sanskrit and Yoga

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Give a Visit and Witness the Beauteous Glory of Mumbai’s Clock Towers

Aware yourself with the admirable Mumbai's Clock Towers that forms an important aspect of Mumbai's history and should be more accessible to the masses

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Mumbai's Clock Tower
One of the Mumbai's Clock Tower.Wikimedia.

Mumbai, November 14: They are not-so-mute witnesses to history, clanging away at intervals of 15 minutes, as if asking us all to grab the moment because time was slipping by.

Perhaps in the daily, mad rush in Maximum City, not many Mumbaikars pay attention to the 16-odd time-keepers of the city, some of them centuries old. But they have seen dramatic changes as Mumbai evolved from a conglomeration of fishing villages into a burgeoning metropolis — a modern, global financial centre accommodating 17 million people that often appears to come asunder at its seams.

Yet, they have been evidently bypassed in the Swachh Bharat campaign.

“I was once permitted to go up the tower to click Mumbai views, but came across a lot of dirt, pigeon droppings and even dead birds. If people are allowed to visit them regularly, maintenance will be better,” historian and archaeologist Mugdha Karnik told IANS.

He says Mumbai’s clock towers are an important aspect of any city’s history and should be more accessible to the masses, especially in Mumbai.

The most famous of the Mumbai’s Clock Towers is, of course, the Rajabai Clock Tower adorning the entrance of the University of Mumbai, which once played God Save The King and a Handel Symphony with 16 tunes that kept changing four times a day — now limited to chimes every quarter of an hour. But it still makes heads turn with people glancing at their own watches to match the time.

Mumbai's Clock Towers
One of the Mumbai’s Clock Towers, Rajabai Clock Tower. Wikimedia.

The iconic 280-feet tall structure, once visible from distances of 15 km, entered the 140th year of its existence in November. It has seen the reclamation of land beyond the present Oval Maidan, which pushed back the Arabian Sea by nearly 200 metres. Access to the top, which offered a panoramic view of Bombay, was stopped a few decades ago after it became a suicide point.

Other famous clock towers are at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), Naval Dockyard, David Sassoon at Byculla Zoo, Crawford Market, St. Thomas Cathedral, BH Wadia in Fort, David Sassoon Library, Life Insurance Building Churchgate, the Khoja Shia Imami Ismaili Jamatkhana gifted by the Moloo Brothers of Zanzibar — all in good working condition.

There is a Time Ball Building clock tower in the Mumbai Port Trust, which is not functional, another at Sasoon Docks Gate in Colaba, Lakshmi Insurance Building in Fort, Fulchand Nivas Building at Chowpatty, Mhatre Pen Building and Vijaynagar Building, both in Dadar to the north, and a few stray ones in other parts of Mumbai.

Avid clock tower lover, conservationist and historian Aadil Desai said the ones at CSMT, St. Thomas Cathedral built in 1718, David Sassoon at Byculla Zoo, David Sassoon Library, Naval Dockyard, BH Wadia and some others are very well-maintained and continue to grab attention.

“Several conservation activists regularly keep in touch with the owners of these premises on the status of the clock towers and they are very cooperative as it is a part of the city’s rich heritage and history. The Mumbai Port Trust is even considering setting up a museum at the site,” Desai said.

Every clock tower is unique, each having its own history and importance for the city, he said.

For instance, Rajabai Tower was financed by “Cotton King” Premchand Roychand, one of the original founders of the modern-day Bombay Stock Exchange Ltd. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott on the lines of London’s Big Ben and built in nine years for what was then a staggering amount of Rs 550,000.

It is named after Roychand’s blind mother, Rajabai, who was a staunch Jain and needed to have her meals before dusk, and the clock chimes helped her do that without needing to depend on anyone.

The massive Mumbai’s clock towers above the CSMT — which was one of the sites targeted during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks — was built in 1888 by Sir Frederick William Stevens, inspired by the Victorian Gothic architecture of London’s St Pancras Railway station.

It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site and the imposing clock sees millions of commuters hurrying past daily or tourists gaping and photographing it. Recently, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has built a “selfie point” off the CST and the BMC headquarters to help people click pictures of the heritage precincts.

It was in the 1860s that Albert Abdul Sassoon, son of a Baghdadi Jewish philanthropist, came upon the idea of settng up a good library in the heart of the city. It materialised in 1870 as the David Sassoon Library at Kala Ghoda, near the Jehangir Art Gallery.

It is built with yellow Malad stone, like the nearby Army & Navy Building, Elphinstone College and Watson’s Hotel, with a proud white stone bust of David Sassoon adorning the library entrance.

The Sassoon Docks, with a large clock tower, is one of the oldest fishing docks of Mumbai built on reclaimed lands in Colaba and constructed in 1875 by Albert Abdul Sassoon as a prime fish unloading and trading spot, which remains operational till date.

The Crawford Market, renamed Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market, is a stone’s throw from the CSMT and opposite the Mumbai Police Headquarters.

Blending the Norman and Flemish architectural styles, the freizes at the entrance depict Indian farmers and fountains made of Kurla stone, designed by Lockwood Kipling, the father of the legendary novelist Rudyard Kipling.

The Time Ball Building clock tower at Mumbai Port Trust is just one of the two surviving — the second being in Kolkata — and among the handful in the world, like at Greenwich, UK. Desai says it is an important piece of historical heritage and must be protected.

Perhaps it’s time to step in and preserve the Mumbai’s Clock towers which may otherwise become the victims of, well, time. (IANS)

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Top 5 Affordable Travel Destinations where Money will be the Last Thing on your Mind!

Indian currency seems weak when compared to international currencies. Hence, planning a trip to New York or California is not easy

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affordable travel destinations
Japan will have your heart at first sight! Pixabay

How many times has it happened that you longed for an exotic foreign trip, but gave up on the idea because of upsetting figures in your bank balance? Indian currency seems weak when compared to international currencies. Hence, planning a trip to New York or California is not easy; everybody knows these are expensive places and you will have to think twice before your NYC dreams come true.

But what if we tell you there are countries in the world that you can visit and gather equally thrilling and exotic experiences, at much lesser price?

Yes, there are countries that can be on your travel bucket list, where money will be the last thing you will worry about! These places are not only unique and undoubtedly beautiful, they are relatively cheap and our Indian currency will prove a stronger, higher currency when compared to their own currencies!

So, what are you waiting for? We bring you our top 5 picks for affordable travel destinations and you should get packing!

 1. SRI LANKA

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 2.37 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupee)*

Sri Lanka is the first in our affordable travel destinations list!

affordable travel destinations
Sri Lankan beaches are a sight not to be missed. Pixabay

Despite being extremely small in size, Sri Lanka is a heavenly abode that makes it to the post of top five biodiversity hotspots in the world!

Dive in with the blue whales or watch spinner dolphins play against the setting sun! Go on a wildlife safari and spend days playing with elephants in the water.

affordable travel destinations
Elephant safari in Sri Lanka. Pixabay

Sri Lanka is a haven for back-packers, packed with Dutch architecture from the times of Sri Lanka colonialists, and exotic scenic locales, it is closer to home and yet, everything that any far-off international destination could possibly offer!

 

 2. JAPAN

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 1.70 JPY (Japanese Yen)*

Cute buildings, cute people, cute food, and cute everything else! Second on our list of affordable travel destinations is Japan.

Food is an integral part of Japan, and something that the Japanese wholly embrace as a prime part of life.

Japan’s history is intrinsically linked to the Buddhist, Shinto, and Taoist faiths- the reason why a visit to Japan will be no less than a serene and tranquil experience.

affordable travel destinations
Japan will have your heart at first sight! Pixabay

Japan is categorically blessed with natural beauty with the country boasting of extremely rare and fascinating flora and fauna – experience the magnificence of Mt. Fuji in summer and spring, and visit the streets completely covered with cherry blossoms in March and April- Japan will present you with sights that will simply take your breath away!

 

 3. ICELAND

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 1.66 ISK (Icelandic Króna)*

Iceland convincingly makes it to the third spot on our affordable travel destinations list. Iceland is situated just below the Arctic Circle, which means the country has 24-hour daylight from mid-May to late July. Isn’t that already stimulating?

And who hasn’t heard of Iceland’s famous northern lights? The county is undoubtedly one of the world’s best places to witness the magic of the northern lights or aurora borealis. The best time to witness the magic of these celestial marvels from September to mid-April.

affordable travel destinations
The northern lights, do they even look real? Pixabay

Iceland’s rich water supply is undoubtedly its most valuable natural resource. Why are we telling you about this? Iceland has natural pools that can be found all around the country, calmly seated in natural environment.

affordable travel destinations
Iceland has natural pools that make for magnificent sights! Pixabay

Fun fact : People of Iceland do not have surnames. They follow the traditional Nordic naming system in which a person’s name includes their father’s first name.

 

 4. HUNGARY

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 4.00 HUF (Hungarian Forint)*

From its cosmopolitan cities to the charming countryside, Hungary will provide you with innumerable reasons to make a stop here. Nonetheless, it is going to be a decision you will not regret. From mouth-watering food to traditional folk culture, Hungary offers something for everybody, which is what brings the country on the fourth spot in our affordable travel destinations list.

Hungary’s countryside is filled with naturally magnificent sights- from natural landscapes in the Hortobagy National Park, to extravagant caves of Lillafured, your Hungarian vacation will be both peaceful and beautiful!

affordable travel destinations
Szechenyi Chain Bridge. Pixabay

Hungary will be the best option if you’re looking for an affordable vacation – with affordable food, drink, and many of the country’s attractions being totally free to visit such as the Chain Bridge)

 

5. VIETNAM

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 353.78 VND (Vietnamese Dong)*

The last on the list of affordable travel destinations is Vietnam. With its fascinating history, succulent food, gorgeous beaches, old towns, islands and waters, Vietnam should definitely be on everybody’s bucket list.

affordable travel destinations
Sunrise at Vietnam is to die for! Pixabay

Street food is a trademark of Vietnam and you will find countless food stalls on street sides throughout your trip that you can gorge on! Vietnam will also not disappoint mountaineers, or adventure seekers- you can either rent a motorbike and drive to the scenic mountains in the north or along the length of the country from north to south – but beware, this thrilling ride is not for the faint-hearted.

Don’t forget to share with us if you do plan a trip to any of these places!

* Conversion rates are subject to change. 

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Ex-French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay Elected to Head UNESCO

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Audrey Azoulay, a French-Jewish woman
Audrey Azoulay, a French-Jewish woman of Moroccan descent, as its next Director-General. Wikimedia

United Nations, October 14: A day after the US and Israel announced they were withdrawing from the Unesco alleging anti-Israel bias in the organization, it elected Audrey Azoulay, a French-Jewish woman of Moroccan descent, as its next Director-General.

In the final round of voting by Unesco’s Executive Board on Friday at its headquarters in Paris, Azoulay defeated Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari of Qatar, winning 30 votes to his 28.

Audrey Azoulay will succeed Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian who ran unsuccessfully for Secretary-General of the UN last year.

In her vision statement or manifesto, while campaigning for the post, Azoulay wrote, “Unesco must assert itself with ambition as the conscience of the United Nations.”

Through “the defense of humanist values” the Unesco can bring new life to the UN’s “universalist project of peace and democracy,” she said.

Unesco is the science, education and culture arm of the UN family.

Audrey Azoulay has had a long career in arts and culture administration before becoming Culture Minister last year and leaving the job after the national elections last May.

She has been the deputy Director-General of the French National Centre of Cinematography and a legal expert on culture and communication for the European Commission.

When she takes over the helm of Unesco she must grapple with the fallout of the US leaving the organization.

US membership in the Unesco will formally end in 2018 but already in 2013 Washington had lost its voting rights because Congress stopped paying the dues to the organization starting in 2011 because it had admitted Palestine as a full member.

The US contribution was 22 percent of Unesco’s budget and the organization had to cut its programmes with US arrears in excess of 600 million.

The breaking point for the US came in July when Unesco called the Old City of Hebron and a sanctuary considered holy by both Jews and Muslims in the West Bank a part of Palestinian territory while designating them World Heritage Site.

The area is under Israeli control and Israel claims the area. Palestinians call Hebron Al-Khalil and the sanctuary is called the Tomb of the Patriarchs by Jews and Ibrahim Mosque by Muslims.

The campaign for Unesco’s top job started with 10 candidates and the list was whittled down to three this week.

Egyptian Moushira Khattab was the third candidate in Thursday’s fourth round ballot where Azoulay and Al-Kawari led and moved on to the final round.(IANS)