The land of the mighty Brahmaputra and Maa Kamakhya hosted the third edition of ‘Lokmanthan’, an intellectual churning envisaged by Prajna Pravah that seeks to retrieve the nectar of cultural and traditional treasures of Bharat. The colloquium of Nation First thinkers and practitioners, ‘Lokmanthan 2022’, was organised by Prajna Pravah with active participation of like-minded intellectual and cultural organisations such as Sanskar Bharati, Vijnana Bharati, Sahitya Parishad and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, at Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, Guwahati from September 21 to 24. The Intellectual Forum of North East (IFNE) was the local organiser of the event, which was co-hosted by Assam Tourism Development Corporation.
The theme of the biennale colloquium was Lok Parampara (Lok traditions), offering a platform to discuss how Lok traditions have kept our cultural consciousness intact and strengthened our feeling of national selfhood. The first edition of ‘Lokmanthan’ was held in Bhopal in 2016, focusing on ‘Decolonising Indian Minds’. The theme of the second edition of ‘Lokmanthan’ held in Ranchi in 2018 was ‘BharatBodh: Jan-Gan-Man’.
‘Lokmanthan’ has been conceived as a national colloquium, where artists, intellectuals and academicians from different parts of the country converge on a common platform and brainstorm on nationally relevant topics, intending to reshape the national discourse. Besides discussions and seminars, the four-day event witnessed a host of cultural events and exhibitions which showcased the rich cultural heritage of the nation, especially the Lok tradition and diversified cultural unity of North Eastern Bharat. As envisaged by the organisers, the august event was indeed a fitting cultural and civilisational response to anti-national elements that see Bharat as a mere nation state.
“Lokmanthan is being held at a time when there is an attempt by forces inimical to unity of Bharat are trying to widen the fault lines and divisions within society. Lokmanthan is a cultural and civilisational response to such efforts and ideologies that see Bharat as a multiplicity of nations,” Shri J Nandakumar, National Convenor of Prajna Pravah, told Organiser.
Unity in diversity
The logo of Lokmanthan symbolises India’s unity in a vibrant diversity. The three major components used in the logo are – Himalayan clouds, Ashtadal Kamal and Makara Kundala. The clouds represent the harmony and love that define our country. Considered one of the most important elements in Buddhist Tibetan traditional paintings, the clouds represent the celestial realm of India’s age-old heritage and are revered as the blessings showered by the Gods on Earth. The Ashtadal Kamal or the eight-petalled lotus is a symbol of purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration, prosperity, and cosmic harmony. The Makara Kundala stands for the Makara-shaped earrings adorned by the many Hindu Gods from Vishnu to Shiva to Surya to Kamadeva to Goddess Chandi. According to legends, Makara was the insignia of God Kamadeva who was also known as Makaradhvaja.
“Amid the bewildering diversities, seemingly conflicting traditions and ritualistic practices, it was the cultural thread that bound Bharat as a nation and a civilisation with amazing continuity of more than 7,000 years. This unity is not something that is imposed from outside or through political means or brought about by standardisation of externals or of beliefs. Lokmanthan is an effort to acknowledge and encourage diversity, celebrate the unifying forces such as Lokparampara and philosophy and find a synthesis to strengthen National Selfhood,” he explained.
Day 1&2: Inauguration
The cultural exhibition was inaugurated at 5 pm on September 21. The event was graced by Shri Bimal Borah, Minister of Industries and Commerce, Public Enterprises and Cultural Affairs, Government of Assam, Maharaja Leishemba Sanajaoba, Manipur and Member of Rajya Sabha, and Shri Tirthanka Das Kalita, Boudhik Pramukh Assam Kshetra, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
On September 22, Vice President Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar officially inaugurated the Lokmanthan 2022 at Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra and delivered the inaugural address. The session was also addressed by Prof Jagadish Mukhi, Governor of Assam and Nagaland, Dr Himanta Biswa Sharma, Chief Minister of Assam and J Nandakumar, National Convenor of Prajna Pravah. The vote of thanks was given by Dr Gargi Saikia
Mahanta, working President, Organising Committee, Lokmanthan 2022.
Shri Dattatreya Hosabale, Sarkaryavah of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Shri Manmohan Vaidya, Sah-Sarkaryavah of RSS and Sunil Ambekar, Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh of RSS graced the occasion.
Calling upon intellectuals to speak on prevailing issues, Vice President Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar said, “If our intelligentsia decides to opt for silence in the current times, then this very important section of society is bound to be silenced forever. They must freely practise dialogue and deliberation so that societal morality and propriety are preserved.”
Reflecting on the “common cultural thread” among all Indians, Dhankhar observed that the beauty and strength of indubitable cultural unity reflects in every facet of the national life. “Right from the mundane, secular matters to the lofty spiritual aspects – from the songs sung by farmers during the sowing season to our holistic approach towards environment – the underlying oneness of Bharatiyata can be felt,” he stated.
Hailing various manifestations of the Hindu culture in the region, Dr Himanta Bishwa Sarma quoted ‘Vishnu Purana’ to describe the sacred geography of the nation. “Bharatvarsha is not just a nation-state that came into being in the 19th century, but a living entity. India nurtures one of the oldest civilisations in the world. The sense of Indian identity is not a 19th-century phenomenon when India began to imagine itself as a nation-state. The sense of India is a civilisational continuity of the past several millennia. It is true that the European colonial powers could not succeed in destroying the ancient beliefs and traditions of the indigenous population of India. It was because of the inherent power of Sanatan civilisation that remained unbeatable in the face of European powers,” Sarma said.
Addressing the inaugural programme of the third edition of ‘Lokmanthan 2022’, Assam Chief Minister said that a major characteristic of Indian civilisation is that it does not consider the country only as an inert political entity. “For us, our nation is akin to our Mother, a vibrant goddess whose every geographical appearance – the landscape-rivers-hills and mountains find a place in the verses and hymns of the Indian scriptures. North East had deeply enriched the great ancient Indian civilisation. Eminent 15th-century Vaishnavite saint Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev was the first to associate Bharatvarsha with Assam and referred to it as its motherland,” he said.
With its vibrant and rich culture, Assam would definitely contribute to the grand success of ‘Lokmanthan 2022’, said Dr Sarma. He also expressed his gratitude to the organisers for selecting Assam as the host for the intellectual discourse.
Assam Governor Prof. Mukhi said, “Bharat has a unique heritage of knowledge sharing, public discourse and intellectual brainstorming. Lok Manthan is the churn of the nation which encourages intellectual discourse to rediscover the cultural and traditional treasures hidden in different parts of our country.”
He further said, “The Indian freedom struggle, which was inspired by Tilak, Gandhi, Aurobindo, Patel, Bose and others, had a clear vision of the civilisation consciousness of our past. These leaders had directed the freedom movement, keeping the Indian ways and thoughts at the centre of their actions. They had the vision to reconstruct the political and economic institutions of India as an outcome of civilisational consciousness, which made India one country, one people and one nation.”
Prof Mukhi also said, “After achieving Independence, leaders at the helm of affairs seemed to have lost the spirit and the vision, which the freedom movement had evoked. They discarded the vision and adopted the institutional framework of administration created by the British which was quite alien to India’s worldview. It is unfortunate that these leaders could not comprehend India’s inner vitality, which was the main force responsible for India’s survival despite several attacks and prolonged foreign rule. This parasitic view of the leaders during the country’s Independence from the British failed to rekindle the spirit of India.”
On the occasion, Shri J Nandakumar spoke about the legacy of ‘Lokmanthan’, which debuted in Bhopal in 2016, the second edition was held in Ranchi in 2018 and the third in Guwahati, 2022. He mentioned that Lokparampara is a gift to humanity and ‘Lokmanthan’ is an attempt to celebrate and preserve the Lok tradition. Dr Gargi Saikia Mahanta, Working President of the Organising Committee thanked the dignitaries and the learned audience for being part of the programme.
Shri Jagadish Dhanker released a souvenir released on the occasion named ‘Lok Parampara’. He also launched a book titled In Pursuit of a Dream: Decisive Speeches on the Development and Security of Assam written by Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma and translated by: Dr. Jovial Kalita.
In the afternoon, Padma Shri Kapil Tiwari addressed the delegates with the keynote address titled ‘Lok Parampara’ in Srimanta Shankardeva International Auditorium. The programme started with Sattriya performance by renowned dancer Mridusmita Das. Two brainstorming sessions also took place on the topic of ‘Lok Tradition of Faith and Science in Bharat’ and ‘Lok parampara and Importance of Genealogy Writing in Bharat.
In the evening, a cultural programme showcasing various dance forms from the North East was organised by NEZCC. Renowned Tetseo Sisters of Nagaland regaled the evening cultural function with a spectacular performance. The day ended with well-known Assamese folk singer Dikshu performing some of his popular folk songs, Bihu and Lokageet to enthral the audience.
Day 3: Lok Beyond Folk
A host of multi-layered sessions and intellectual debates were organised on the third day of ‘Lokmanthan’, such as ‘Concept of Shakti in Lok Parampara’, ‘Dharmik Yatrayein and Annadan in Bharat’, ‘Agriculture, and Food in Lok Parampara’, ‘Education and Storytelling in Lok Parampara’ and ‘Culture of Instrument in Lok Tradition’.
Exhibition: Tribute to Lok Parampara
As an ode to our age-old culture, history, heritage and traditions, ‘Lokmanthan’ celebrated the beauty of Lok Parampara with an exhibition of our traditional treasures entwined in the cultural practices of our communities. From exploring the way of life in a North Eastern household to art and craft, from Majuli’s mask making to Manipur’s Sagol Kangjei, from traditional musical instruments to folk music, from celebrating the icons of NER to revisiting the historical martyrs, ‘Lokmanthan’ this year paid a tribute to the splendour of the vibrant ‘Bharat’.
The exhibition depicted a mosaic of Lok Kala, Parampara, spiritual wisdom of Bharat attracted an unending number of visitors. The exhibition of the ethnic village showcased the traditional way of life of Vanvasi communities of Assam. A replica of the mighty Kamakhya temple, set up as a museum, was exhibited at the entrance. Inside the museum, an interesting section was designed showcasing Mayong’s “Mystic Civilisation” which was organised by Mayong Village Museum and Research Centre. The museum showcased the history of Mayong and its practice of black magic and natural techniques to cure illness. An exhibition showcased “Mukha Silpa”. The delicately designed masks accentuated the features of different characters being enacted in ‘Bhaonas’ and ‘Raas Utsav’ at Majuli.
Sharing her childhood memories in a session, Mata Pavitranandgiri, the Mahamandleshwara of KinnarAkhada and Juna Akhada, said that she didn’t know she was transgender until society called her so. She said that she never had to clap at anyone or dance at doorsteps to beg for money as she was well-educated. “One who is educated can do anything in the world provided they must have a belief and confidence in themselves”, she added. She also praised Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for his continuous efforts regarding the welfare of the transgender community.
Dr Sujata Miri, in another session, asserted that the theories and thesis of social sciences managed to change people’s ancient thoughts and opinions about life and the world. In the same session of ‘Education and Storytelling in Lok Tradition,’ Dr Miri further explained the theories of the people and the Goddesses. She also accelerated her speech by mentioning the concept of ‘Lightning and Thunder’.
Padma Vibhushan recipient Dr Sonal Mansingh, in a session, stated about ‘Garba’- a Gujrati dance form performed during ten days of Navratri. She explained the importance of clapping during the time of Garba. The word ‘Garba’ came from ‘Garbh’, she added.
Celebrating Lok Kala
‘Lokmanthan’ also hosted spectacular cultural performances. A spectrum of colourful Lok-dance forms of North East like Wangala Dance of Meghalaya, Cheraw Dance of Mizoram, Sattriya, Bihu Dance of Assam, Hojagiri Dance of Tripura, Ao Warrior dance of Nagaland, Yak dance and ChinghiChaam dance of Arunachal Pradesh, Dhol Cholom and Thang Ta dance of Manipur and many other dance forms were presented by talented artistes across North East India. The cultural showcase also presented diverse dance forms across India such as Yakshagana, Jijhoti Dance etc.
The second day concluded with spectacular dance performances by various talented folk artists from the North East. Bihu Nach, Bardwisikhla, Hamjar, Domahi, Kikang, Gumraag and Jhumur from Assam, Cheraw from Mizoram, Thüvü Shele Pheta(Chakhesang Chicken Dance) from Nagaland, Pung Cholom and Thang Ta from Manipur, and Rikhampada from Arunachal Pradesh were the centre of attraction in the cultural show. Popular singers Kalpana Patwary and Mayuri Dutta captivated the evening with the rich folk music of the region.
Day 4: Grand Finale
The four-day convention, which brought together intellectuals and practitioners working to preserve cultural heritage, concluded with a grand valedictory function. RSS Sarkaryavah Shri Dattatreya Hosabale and Governor of Kerala, Shri Arif Mohammad Khan graced the occasion. The session started with a beautiful Satriya performance of Bharat Vandana by Dr Mallika Kandali and the group. Prof Nani Gopal Mahanta, Adviser, IFNE, and Education Adviser to the Government of Assam delivered the welcome address.
Quoting Nani Gopal Mahanta, Shri Hosabale, said, “North East is the best place for celebrating Lok Parampara because of its diversified culture”. He then recited a Shloka from Atharva Veda ‘the earth doesn’t make any discrimination.”
Referring to the book Lok Beyond Folk, Shri Hosabale demystified the popular misinterpretation of ‘Lok’ as ‘Folk’. He said the meaning of Lok is far more comprehensive and all-encompassing than the popular concept of folk. “A nation is not built by Constitution, Army or currency but a nation is built by Bhoomi, Jana, Sanskriti, and Niyaam,” he added. He also said that there’s no need to make a division between Lok Parampara and scientific tradition as such differences don’t exist in real life.
The Governor of Kerala and the Chief Guest of the ceremony, Shri Arif Mohammad Khan, spoke about the relevance of Lokmanthan in this present scenario. He further said that “When the concept of universalism can be seen in localism, when we are successful in making a drop of water understand that the drop itself is an ‘ocean’, only then do we find the ‘truth’.
Quoting Rabindranath Tagore, Shri Arif Mohammad Khan said, “India won’t get real independence until and unless the people understand that independence comes from their mind itself”.
Hailing the Shakteya tradition of Assam, Shri Khan said, “When the rest of the world has made women ‘weak’, this part of the world has preserved the real Lok Culture which considers feminine power as ‘Shakti’. Both Assam and Kerala give prominence to Matru Shakti worship. Bharatiya culture is unique in that it created and fostered knowledge and wisdom. We the people of Bharat are the worshippers of Maa Saraswati. But, in times of decline, we made Saraswati our villain and closed the door of wisdom and knowledge. This made us weak and vulnerable”
“If soft power is to be protected, hard power is necessary. It does not mean to attack others but to protect ourselves. ‘India First’ is not to make anyone second but to protect our nation and its values,” he added.
Books titled Assam’s Great Heroes: who fought the Muslim Invasions by Dr. Samudra Gupta Kashyap and Freedom Fighters of Pragjyotishpur Who Valiantly Fought Against the British by David T Thawmthanga were released on the occasion. Northeast Chronicle, a quarterly journal published from Delhi, which seeks to portray the true narrative of different untouched aspects of Poorvottar Bharat, was also launched at the valedictory ceremony. It was followed by an enchanting theme-based cultural presentation of the “Common Marriage Traditions” of Assam, Manipur, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and various geographical parts of Bharat in the morning.
A discussion was held in the morning on the topic ‘Sanskar and Sense of Kartavya in Lok Tradition: With Reference to Industrial Castes in Bharatiya Society’. Shri Temjen Imna Along, Minister, Government of Nagaland, State President, BJP Nagaland, Prof Bhagwati Prakash, Group Chairman, Department of Management and Conservation, Pacific Group University, author, columnist and Shri Hitesh Shankar, Editor, Panchjanya enriched the session.
Another parallel session on “Environment and Water Conservation in Lok Tradition” was addressed by Shri Chandra Shekhar Singh, Padma Shri, Innovative Farmer, Shri Harsh Chouhan, Chairman, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, Social Worker & Thinker and Shri Sachidanand Bharti, Environmental Activist. A discussion on “Environment & Biodiversity in Lok Tradition” was also held on the final day which was addressed by Shri Anantha Hegde Ashisar, President, Vriksha Laksha Andolana-Karnataka, and Prof. Parimal Bhattacharya, Former Professor of Gauhati University.
The four-day biennial colloquium offered a rare opportunity for all the vanvasi-janjati communities to bring forth their traditions known in various spheres, which are entwined in their cultural practices. The premises of Lokmanthan 2022 witnessed an increased footfall from all strata of society, with unimaginable local participation.