PM Modi, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Late Birju Maharaj would always defy definitions and, in their own wisdom, declined to play obedient sheep, which has always shaken the foundation of the 'established' Indian intelligentsia's faith in itself.
New Delhi: 2016 was an eventful year. By March that year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not even two-years-old in the coveted office, and the 'sickular' army was still rejoicing the success of Bihar assembly polls when casteists got together to hand over a defeat to the BJP in November polls the previous year.
The so-called 'polarisation' of India's intellectual class was deep, and it was difficult to express an opinion, and that would still be considered an objective one. If one said and wrote anything laudatory about the Cultural Festival on the banks of river Yamuna, one was anti-environment and was also in the danger of being called a communal or bought over by Narendra Modi's charm and machinations. The Art of Living's Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had organised the cultural extravaganza during the World Culture Festival.
For the Prime Minister, it was an opportunity to display 'India's soft power; for his detractors, it was a display of Hindu prowess, and so that ought to be sabotaged.
Media organisations generally took an anti-government line, so did activists. All sorts of arguments were built up.
Nevertheless, the show went on successfully, and, of course, the highlight was the coming together of '1000' disciples of Kathak from Kalashram of Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj.
"Being a performer myself, what caught my attention was the grand scale of some of the scheduled performances —1,000 Kathak dancers performing to the choreography of the high priest of Kathak, Pandit Birju Maharaj, and 1,000 singers singing verses by Rabindranath Tagore," Shubha Mudgal later wrote in a newspaper article.
In his speech at the inaugural show, the prime minister gave credence to his strong conviction of 'soft-power' and said, "We can make contribution (of India's soft power) only when we ourselves feel proud of our culture. But if we continue to curse ourselves, then how will the world look towards us.The world is not only united by concerns of economic growth, but also by human values, and India can play a vital role in it."
Kalashram is a reputed dance-learning institute founded by the illustrious Birju Maharaj, who passed away on Sunday. Brij Mohan Nath Mishra (4 February 1938-17 January 2022), popularly known as Pandit Birju Maharaj, was an exponent of the Lucknow "Kalka-Bindadin" Gharana of Kathak dance. He was a descendant of the Maharaj family of Kathak dancers, including his two uncles, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj, and his father and guru, Acchan Maharaj.
Now, as one ponders about analysing the three-day fest, reference to a western maxim would make sense, "Obedient sheep are not known for their creativity".
PM Modi and two other masters in their own fields, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Late Birju Maharaj, would always defy definitions and, in their own wisdom, declined to play obedient sheep. This has always shaken the foundation of the 'established' Indian intelligentsia's faith in itself. A mixture of distorted principles of Marxism, Nehruvian secularism and the western style of democracy poses a kind of challenge for guiding India's future. These often, either separately or as a mixed bag, play the role of negative catalysts in India's transformation.
At the end of a three-day event in March 2016, the cultural bonanza had achieved some kind of success as it evoked certain positive vibes, at least about the values and importance of unification of the various civilisations of the world.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had invited Ravi Shankar to address the House of Commons. He also sent in a powerful message saying, "People say that no one can change the world but Sri Sri has made a good start. We are seeing a ray of hope."
The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who could not attend, had invited Sri Sri through his message to hold the next festival in his country. Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos also sent a message.
What do these laudatory words and actions suggest?
One, amid the big debate, the media and others had plunged into supporting the so-called pro-environment brigade and discrediting the show.
Next question – What's the real power of India getting its hold as a "soft power" in a global context?
In fact, PM Modi's stress on "human values" would be a lasting India's strength, and in it, India can actually manage to enlist the support of other oriental powers. In the later period, of course, Yoga became another buzzword globally, and in 2021 American political leaders were busy lighting Diwali lamps.