The third Ganga-Danube Indian Cultural Festival, combined with the International Day of Yoga, takes place this year in Hungary on June 23-24. Diplomacy&Trade has talked to the initiator of the festival, Ambassador Rahul Chhabra as well as a yoga teacher from India, Ankita Sood.
As Ambassador Chhabra explains, “relations between India and Hungary are close, friendly and multi-faceted. Apart from close political ties, India and Hungary have vibrant cultural relations. Hungarian scholars, over several centuries, have demonstrated a keen interest in India’s ancient traditions and culture. It was in view of these close and vibrant cultural relations that a cultural center was opened in the Embassy, bearing the name of the renowned Indo-Hungarian painter, Amrita Sher-Gil. Though, cultural linkages between the two countries are very strong, I noticed that no Indian cultural festival was ever held in Hungary. That is how we decided to organize the 1st edition of the ‘Ganga-Danube: Cultural Festival of India’ in 2016. When I mentioned this idea during my first meeting with President Áder, I received an extremely positive response that encouraged me to complete the project.”
Discover yourself with yoga
The Ambassador notes that while proposing International Day of Yoga to the United Nations, Prime Minister Modi said that "yoga is an invaluable gift of India's ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body.” So, the message to be conveyed to the Hungarian people, according to the Ambassador is that yoga not only strengthens one physically but mentally and psychologically, also. It helps people discover themselves and guides them to a holistic approach to health and well-being.
“India is the birthplace of four major religions of the world; people practicing nine religions have been living peacefully, celebrating each other’s traditions and diversity. We combine the International Day of Yoga with the 3rd Ganga-Danube: Cultural Festival of India to showcase the very diverse and rich cultural heritage of India. I request Hungarian and Bosnians (as the Embassy in Budapest is also accredited to Bosnia and Herzegovina) to come and enjoy Yoga, Indian music, dances, folk art, films and much more which is on display during this festival,” he adds.
Promoting people to people contacts
The Minister of State for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation of India, Dr. Mahesh Sharma visited Hungary in June, 2016 for the first Ganga-Danube: Cultural festival and the International Day of Yoga. He told Diplomacy & Trade then that “culture is a way of life in India: Everything from getting up in the morning and moving on through the daily routine.” Ambassador Chhabra opines that “it is rightly said that culture is a way of life in India. Indian cultural heritage, which is 6,000 years old, is one of the most diverse cultures in the world as India's languages, religions, dance, music, architecture, food, and customs differ from place to place within the country. Indian culture is often labeled as an amalgamation of several cultures. Despite the diversity, culture is the unifying force in India.” He is of the view that art and culture are the best instruments to bring communities and countries together. By organizing the Ganga-Danube: Cultural Festival, the Embassy wants Hungarians to know about the diversity Indian culture, promote people to people contact and bring the people of the two countries closer.
A yoga teacher from India
The cultural festival is held in conjunction with the International Day of Yoga. Since last November, the Indian Cultural Center has a new yoga and lifestyle expert, Ankita Sood who has announced on social media how proud she is to spread yoga and Indian culture across Hungary. She recalls to Diplomacy&Trade that recognizing its universal appeal, in December 2014, the United Nations proclaimed June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. “The following year, the Ministry of AYUSH in India and the Quality Council of India (QCI) announced that there will be a standardized examination of yoga professionals in the country, covering each and every aspects of the yoga. The examination was practical including interviews and some demonstrations. To my surprise I topped my batch, my name was highlighted on the list of ICCR, an independent government body, which is also associated with cultural exchange programs. As a result, I was sent to Cambodia as a yoga ambassador to celebrate the next international day of yoga. Later, my name was listed with the Quality Council of India (QCI). After going through a number of interviews and written examinations, there was a panel meeting between ICCR and the Ministry of AYUSH and within that panel, there was an internal committee which delegates people to different countries. I was designated to come to Budapest, which I am really happy about. This Embassy is very enriching. Whatever I want to promote, that is, yoga, wellness and health, I always receive help from the Ambassador and the Director of the Cultural Center,” she stresses.
Not just the body
Regarding her way of passing the knowledge of Indian culture to Hungarians, Ankita Sood, whose assignment is for two years, says she is sticking to the classical, traditional type of yoga, which she was trained in, from the world’s oldest organized yoga center, ‘The Yoga Institute, Mumbai’. “This is the type of yoga I would like to spread in Hungary, as well. Hungarians are accepting this wholeheartedly and they are enjoying each and every session given to them. I am from Mumbai, which has a very warm climate. After I arrived here, it was freezing cold in December with snowfall and really harsh conditions, so, I did not expect students to come to the yoga sessions early in the morning. Surprisingly for me, the students were really enthusiastic and they showed up for the classes in time and then thoroughly enjoyed the sessions,”
She recalls that the word ‘yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ meaning the union of the body and the mind, so it is not only physical but involving emotions, as well – it is a way of life. “People here are accepting this and they are loving the fact that it is much more than physical culture. Knowledge is never ending and I'm going to spread good health, wellness and positive energy here.”
The 2018 events
In the past two festivals, there was a wide range of events to get Hungarians acquainted with Indian culture. As for this year, “in view of the extremely successful previous festivals, we have been receiving requests from mayors of different cities to take part in the 3rd edition of Ganga-Danube Festival. This year, we are organizing the festival and International Day of Yoga in 21 cities of Hungary, i.e. Alsóörs, Balatonfüred, Békéscsaba, Budapest, Debrecen, Eger, Esztergom, Gyõr, Kecskemét, Miskolc, Nagykanizsa, Nagykõrös, Nyiregyháza, Pécs, Sárvár, Somogyvámos (Krishna Valley), Sopron, Szeged, Szentendre, Veszprém and Zalakaros,” Ambassador Chhabra highlights.
The Embassy is also organizing International Day of Yoga and cultural performances in seven cities of Bosnia & Herzegovina i.e. Banja Luka, Foca, Mostar, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zavidovici and Zenica.
All in all, over 75 artists will be performing, more than half of them coming in from India. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) is sending two prominent cultural troupes for the Festival: the ten-member ‘Namame Gange’ Bharatnatyam troupe and the ten 10-member Manipuri Folk dance group. Another ten Hungarian cultural troupes/artists, proficient in Indian art forms, are also performing during the Festival.
The Namame Gange Bharatnatyam troupe will present a dance drama on the most sacred river of India, the Ganga, which has been worshipped since ancient times and has been the cultural life line of the country. The theme of the presentation will showcase the integration of culture of India and Hungary through symbolic confluence of the holy Ganga and the historic Danube River.
As for the Manipuri Folk Dance Group, it is the first occasion that a folk dance troupe from North-East region of India will perform in Hungary. This unexplored paradise of India is well known for its distinct culture and traditional lifestyle. The northeastern region offers a mixed culture of Hindu, Christianity, Muslim and Buddhism. Every tribal group of these states has its own unique tribal culture, tribal folk dance, food and crafts. Apart from various marital art forms performed with their swords and sticks, they will perform Pung Cholom, which is a great artistic creation considered to be the rarest of the rare art forms specially designed and choreographed for stage performances.
Pung Cholom is a show of artistic excellence and agility on the part of the drummer who is dressed in a spotless white dhoti and turban with a drum hanging from his shoulders. His ability to perform with great artistry and excitement without distorting the essential Talas is unmistakably a treat for all. Today, Pung Cholom is one of the best in the realm of great performing arts.