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Tanuja Shankar, Director of the Amrita Sher-Gil Cultural Center

The Home of Indian Culture in Hungary

The Amrita Sher-Gil center presents various aspects of Indian culture

Sándor Laczkó
August 21, 2019

The Indian Minister of State for Culture, Dr. Mahesh Sharma told Diplomacy&Trade three years ago that “culture is a way of life in India: everything from getting up in the morning and moving on through the daily routine,” concluding that “our life is our culture.” The events organized by the Amrita Sher-Gil Cultural Center bring a slice of that culture to Hungary.

The name choice for the Amrita SherGil Cultural Center, an integral part of the Embassy of India to Hungary, pays homage to the celebrated painter of Hungarian and Indian origin. Born in Budapest to an Indian father and a Jewish-Hungarian mother, Amrita Sher-Gil gained world recognition with her enigmatic paintings in which Eastern and Western art co-exist in organic symbiosis. The center is the place to visit for anyone wishing to get a taste of Indian culture; its rich offerings of events are the next best thing to visiting the Asian country. “In its endeavor to introduce Indian culture to the Hungarian audience, the Amrita Sher-Gil Cultural Center has curated special India days, which offer a glimpse of Indian music, tradition and mythology, art, craft and cuisine,” Tanuja Shankar, Director of the Amrita Sher-Gil Cultural Center says. “We organize events demonstrating how to wear Indian clothes like the Sari, and tell stories through performing arts, presentations, films and songs. It is an interactive method to introduce a slice of Indian culture in an entertaining manner. Besides India days in different cities, villages and institutions, the Center also conducts workshops and lecture-demonstrations in Indian Culture, Yoga & Spiritualism, where through meditation, Yogic postures, storytelling from ancient scriptures, presentations and audio-visual aids, we acquaint participants with the traditions and culture of India. Indian cinema is also a key feature of our program, and we have weekly screenings with Hungarian subtitles,” Tanuja Shankar explains. Classical and folk dances as well as performing art events are staged every Tuesday with artists coming from India and Europe. “The popularity of our programs has grown in the last few years with more and more people attending our shows and we now have packed houses for most of our concerts of instrumental and dance performances. The most popular programs are classical dances as well as bands performing traditional Indian classical music with some elements of fusion,” she adds. Another emerging favorite is the annual International Day of Yoga that the center organizes in several cities across Hungary. This year, related events were held in 23 cities and had tremendous response from locals.

Cultural similarities

Hungarians and Indians share a love and passion for art and music, the Director points out. In Indian culture, music is a primary motif in all forms of art and day-to-day life, including Bollywood, cricket, customs and rituals, marriages and childbirth. Even the change of seasons has its own songs and dances. “Music is the the most common form of amusement in India, especially in villages. In several tribes of India, the selection of a partner requires certain ceremonies and rituals, which are almost always accompanied by group dances. In some tribes the boys do mock elopement with the girls and there is a lot of bonhomie and dancing around this theme,” Tanuja Shankar says. The Director notes that the Hungarian tradition of boys throwing water on girls and teasing them on Easter Monday bears a resemblance to folk rituals in India. “I have heard that it is for the fertility of girls. There is also the Busójárás festival where people wear masks in the town of Mohács and conduct rituals that remind me of similar folk customs and rural rituals in India. Besides this, I have found similarities between the colorful ‘Matyó’ and ‘Kalocsa’ embroideries and the 'Phulkari' embroideries from Punjab in India, both being colorful and vibrant.”

Professional background

Tanuja Shankar brings with her a 24-year career in the world of entertainment, where she held jobs writing scripts, programming radio broadcasts, directing television programs and working in filmmaking. “I also worked in media education where I mentored hundreds of students who are now employed by top media houses in India. The field of media and entertainment makes one fit into a number of molds. I learnt to take any challenge in stride. The most valuable skill I gained in the field of media is handling people and work under tough deadlines. My creativity helps me think differently and come up with ideas on how to accomplish our objectives of bringing wider audiences closer to the culture of India and connecting with as many people as possible without being repetitive. I try to use my abilities as a writer, film maker and teacher to complete this job here in Budapest.” She sees “immense opportunities and possibilities that haven't yet been tapped” in the cooperation between the Indian and Hungarian film industries. Most film makers from India only explore themes and locations in Budapest, she notes. “Hungary is replete with beautiful, historical locations that need to be tapped by film makers from India. Similarly, there is scope for collaboration on the subjects of our shared past and historical figures such as Csoma de Kőrös, Rabindranath Tagore or Amrita Sher-Gil. I can say that the journey has just begun and should be explored more deeply in future.”

Plans and initiatives

Tanuja Shankar has ambitious plans for the cultural center. “As Director, I have miles to go before I rest. Under the guidance of the Ambassador of India, Kumar Tuhin, I am looking forward to building a very wide outreach through soft power initiatives over the next three years,” she says. The center is working on programs to mark the 70th anniversary of India-Hungary diplomatic relations this year. The ’Alluring India’ fashion show will be based on this theme and India Film Week will bring a collection of popular Indian films, film makers and actors to Hungary. The center is collaborating with many Hungarian stakeholders like fashion designers, fashion academies, art and theater academies, actors, models and fashion students. “I am hoping that such initiatives will help us walk the path that leads to a stronger and longer lasting cultural relationship with Hungary,” the Director concludes.

Sándor Laczkó

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