The Minister of State for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation in the Government of India, Dr. Mahesh Sharma, visited Hungary this June on the occasion of the Ganges-Danube Cultural Festival and the International Day of Yoga. He spoke to Diplomacy & Trade regarding the importance of events like this in promoting India’s culture and cultural relations with other countries.
“When you talk about India, what usually comes to people’s minds all over the world is the rich Indian heritage and culture. That is a great asset of our country. There is also a cultural connection between Hungary and India. The poet Rabindranath Tagore identified this connection some 90 years ago and he very much appreciated it. Since then, bilateral cultural relations have been developing in a big way. A great manifestation of these relations is the Ganges-Danube festival, celebrating our cultures and presenting India’s cultural diversity in nine places simultaneously throughout Hungary. It is a big testimony to the great ties that the two countries enjoy. We have had long, time-tested relations with each other from cultural exchanges to Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Sher-Gil. Throughout history, we have respected each other’s culture and we have learned from each other’s culture: dance, other performing arts, literature, etc,” the Minister of State pointed out.
As far as the most popular aspects of Indian culture abroad are concerned, Dr. Mahesh Sharma highlighted that “Culture is a way of life in India: everything from getting up in the morning and moving on through the daily routine. There is a saying that ‘the whole world is a family’ – Mahatma Gandhi started this high level thinking. We are all selfish to some extent. That has been defined so broadly as ‘I should be happy’, ‘my relatives should be happy’, ‘my village people should be happy’, ‘my state people should be happy’, ‘my country people should be happy’ and ‘my human race should be happy’ – even the most selfish personal pronoun, ‘I’, is extended to other people.”
He added that “what has impressed the world about India is our cultural wealth. In India, in every 300 kilometers or so, the color changes, the dress changes, the habit changes, the religion changes, etc. However, in spite of that, three generations are cooking in the same kitchen – even in the diaspora, we have been practicing that for several decades, it has become part of Indian culture and the whole world is looking towards us in amazement. It is our strength that our life is our culture.”
The cultural factor has great importance in bilateral and other international relations, as well. The Minister of State stressed that “cultural exchange programs do not just mean that we have an Indian dance performance in Hungary or in another country. It is something like the honeybees do when travelling from one flower to another – they carry something along the way. This is what our cultural exchange program is about: we carry that sense of life, the way of life. The three things in my portfolio (culture, tourism and civil aviation) are intertwined in this sense: tourism is a mould as our richest asset, culture is given wings through aviation to be carried around the world.”
As tourism and civil aviation are also part of his portfolio as Minister of State, Dr. Mahesh Sharma also commented on this area of bilateral relations. Currently, the closest to direct aerial link between India and Hungary is that of between Vienna, Austria and New Delhi. “As I understand, there was an increase of 75% in tourism figures from India to Hungary in 2015. Indians visit this country as a destination of choice. Even our film industry is using Hungary as a shooting location. The ambience, the culture, the traditions and values are attractive features for the citizens of both countries to visit one another. Celebrating this Indian festival in your country just confirms this sentiment. Let’s learn from each other and let’s strengthen our bilateral relations in all fields of life!” the Minister of State concluded.
Festival and Yoga Day
In order to further strengthen the bonds of bilateral cultural relations between India and Hungary, Embassy of India organized the Ganges-Danube: Cultural Festival of India this June in nine cities of Hungary: Balatonfüred, Budapest, Eger, Esztergom, Szentendre, Sopron, Nagykanizsa, Szeged and Debrecen.
This year, the International Day of Yoga was also part of this festival. The aim of the International Yoga Day is to raise awareness of healthy and conscious lifestyle among people.