Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” Is it merely a coincidence that this selfsame desire has been so successfully satisfied in Indonesia today?
The Festival of India in Indonesia is aimed at showcasing “friendship through culture”, and according to its website, “aspires to showcase the best of Indian culture” and aims to “highlight the shared cultural expressions and common heritage of both India and Indonesia through partnership in participation” in the hope of “strengthening and reviving cultural relations and mutual understanding with Indonesia”.
“India and Indonesia share a historical relationship over 2,000 years old, and culture and business are an important focus of our relationship,” says Indian Ambassador to Indonesia, Biren Nanda, of the festivities.
“We endeavor to collaborate, share and shine through the festivity of the festival!” says director of Jawaharlal Nehru Indian Cultural Center, M.K. Singh, who has assumed the role of festival director.
Leaving aside the question of whether cultural relations actually need to be revived, let us take a closer look.
This is in fact the second Festival of India in Indonesia; the first was in 2003 and featured performances by artists such as Hariprasad Chaurasia and Shahrukh Khan (you remember that, don’t you?). This time around the selection of Indian culture on display resembles a seven course meal: dance, music, drama, food, fashion, handicrafts and visual art in extravagant doses.
The festival was inaugurated on Oct. 16, 2009 with a celebration of the Indian festival of lights – Diwali. It includes a series of performances of classical and folk dances and music, a fashion show, a food festival, a handicraft exhibition, an art exhibition and a theater performance. The festival will continue until July 2010 and will include academic seminars and an exhibition of medieval Indian art.
The inaugural performances of the festival on Oct. 28-29 featured folk dance and music from different parts of India. Nine cultural troupes performed in Jakarta and in five different cities of Indonesia – Surabaya, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Medan, Batam and Bali. The Festival of India sponsored two renowned Indian fashion designers – Malini Ramani and Tarun Tahiliani – who participated in the inaugural event of the Jakarta Fashion Week. In a unique collaboration with Indonesian designers, Indian designers made creations with Indonesian fabric, and two Indonesian designers – Sebastian Gunawan and Priyo Oktaviano – designed creations with Indian fabric.
On Nov. 22, Rajat Kapoor and group from Mumbai performed Hamlet: The Clown Prince, a comic take on Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, and on Nov. 23, the Indian Food Festival was inaugurated at the Four Seasons Hotel along with an art exhibition featuring the works of famous artists from India. Renowned Indian Chef Sanjeev Kapoor gave cooking demonstrations during the event.
A Bhangra and Gidda group performed in Jakarta on the Nov. 25, while on Nov. 26 a lifestyle product show was inaugurated by Meutia Hatta, former minister of women’s empowerment at the Jakarta Convention Center as part of the festival. On Nov. 29, maestro Tanmoy Bose and his group performed the Taal Tantra – a festival of rhythm in Jakarta.
The chief guests for the show were Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo and his wife. On Dec. 4, Parikrama, an Indian rock band, performed at Gedung Kesenian and brought the house down.
Still to come is a performance by Grammy-winning maestro Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on Dec. 15. The festival will feature 44 cultural performances in six cities of Indonesia by the time the present phase of the festival concludes in mid-December this year.
One might assume that this cultural extravaganza would resemble a cultural zoo, where visitors can gawk at a foreign culture on display. This is most emphatically not the case.
The theater performance, for example, was a revelation: Instead of a tiring rehash, the audience saw a play that was a different creature altogether, something that celebrated and mocked the original all at once. A new standard was set, and the succeeding events definitely did not disappoint.
The very atmosphere of the festival changed, and people began to attend, who otherwise, might have had no interest in Indian culture and simply wanted to enjoy themselves.
This means that the festival has moved beyond cultural exchange, and is providing something far more valuable: meaningful entertainment. When people arrive at the various events without considering their cultural aspect, only then, paradoxically, can the Festival of India succeed.
Cultural exchange becomes so subtle that it does not appear to happen at all, and instead of exchange for exchange’s sake, we have actual cultural dissemination. If that isn’t success, then what is?
As published in The Jakarta Post