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December 2006 - January 2007


India in Brussels: ‘Festival of India’ exhibition shows cultural heritage we almost forgot

by Krishan Ralleigh

Indian cultural heritage and the new dynamism under a free economy was the theme of the Festival of India exhibition named Tejas (the Energy). Launched by the Prime Minister of Belgium Mr. Guy Verhofstadt and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the chairperson of the ruling UPA party of India, it showcases Indian art and sculpture from 3rd century B.C.E. to 12th century C.E.

Speaking on the occasion, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi confessed “What I am today is largely because of being a member of the remarkable family into which I married, and because of the love I have received throughout from the people who accepted me as one of their own.”

Undoubtedly, there could not have been a better symbol of India’s cultural heritage than the presence of Sonia Gandhi representing India in Brussels.

The exhibition in Brussels covers the 1500 years of India’s history before the invasion of Muslims. Those were the years that produced the mighty Mauryas, from Chandergupt Maurya to Ashoka, the Great; the Golden Age of the Guptas, Chandra Gupt I, mighty Samudr Gupt and Chandra Gupt II. The end of the 12th century saw the downfall of Rajput supremacy when Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated in the crucial battle of Tarain, near Thanesar in 1192. This opened the gates to Arya-vrata for the Afghan and Turkish hordes. It took another 855 years before India could win her freedom.

The best of Indian art and literature flourished in these 1500 years from 300 BCE to 1200 CE. To a large extent, India was united and governed by the great Indian monarchs who ruled according to ‘dharma’. The immigrants from Iran and the south east came and settled peacefully. Some even carved their own kingdoms. People of various sects lived peacefully. This part of India’s history, alas, remains unknown to many Indians.

Asserting that she was pround of Indian culture, Mrs Sonia Gandhi said, “Our civilisation is an inclusive one. ..Over the centuries, it has absorbed influences, faiths, ideas and peoples, without compromising its essential integrity and strength.”

She pointed out that India happens to be the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions and home to the second largest population of yet another faith, Islam. “We have”. she explained, “22 major languages, 400 significant dialects, over 4,000 ethnic communities and castes, our regions with their own character and history - all this ensures that we are, and can only be, a truly pluralistic society.”

The message was well-conveyed in Brussels, the capital of the European Union. The enlarged European Union, with membership going up to 25, is still struggling to bring some sort of political unity among its members. She paid tribute to many European Indologists who “made the world aware of India in its various manifestations but also made Indians themselves aware of their own history and heritage.” She emphasised that “Being inheritors to a historic heritage is both empowering and humbling. It is empowering because of the remarkably old roots of our nation’s composite character. It is humbling because of the enormous responsibility it places on us to preserve it and make accessible to others.”

Europe and India, as she rightly pointed out, share common values of democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, independent judiciary, a free press and protection of human rights. Belgium is the second largest trading partner for India within the European Union. Trade relationship is bound to increase in future with acceleration of India’s economy in coming years. Indian diaspora is playing a useful role in cementing business relationship. The latest acquisition of Laxmi Mittal in France is but a start. The message coming from a woman, born in Europe, but now an Indian through and through - in thought, actions and behaviour - was loud and clear. Europe and India are equal partners in furthering peace and prosperity among all nations. The exhibition showing the best of India in art and literature, is also a timely reminder to Europe that during the first millennium when Europe was still moving from barbarian age to Christian civilisation, India had already attained the golden age of civilised living, cultural riches and economic prosperity.

“The exhibition displayed”, said Sonia Gandhi, “Is an India rich in its philosophical thought, multiple faiths and beliefs. It is an India that once 2000 years ago had proclaimed ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ - the world is one family.”

India’s buoyant economy, supplemented by its ancient cultural heritage makes it an unique country in the world. Without material prosperity, it may end up as a dilapidated museum. At the same time, without learning our past history, culture and philosophical thoughts of our ancient sages, the nouveaux riches of Indian business and politics may end up either mammonite or megalomaniac. We congratulate the Indian Council for Cultural Relations for this great show.

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