RIYADH: The biggest cultural event organized by India in Saudi Arabia was inaugurated jointly by Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Dr. Abdullah bin Saleh Al-Jasser and Indian Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao here at King Fahd Cultural Center yesterday.
Running until Wednesday, the festival, dubbed as “Indian Cultural Week,” has a mix of different performances and art, including dance, art and different genres of music besides a food festival at Crown Plaza Hotel.
“This cultural festival in Riyadh has brought to people of Saudi Arabia a comprehensive package of Indian culture including dance, music, literature, paintings, poetry and Indian delicacies,” said Al-Jasser, while delivering his inaugural address.
Al-Jasser said that Saudi Arabia was keen to promote cultural exchanges with India … and the two countries, in fact, have forged closer ties in all fields including culture, commerce and politics.”
The opening ceremony was attended by senior Saudi officials, foreign diplomats and Indian embassy officials besides a large number of Saudi guests and members of the Indian community.
A 60-member troupe of Indian artists, folk dancers and musicians have been especially flown to Riyadh to showcase their talents with an aim to underline the key role of culture in promoting people to people contacts. They gave their maiden performance during the inaugural ceremony last night.
The festival, organized by the Indian embassy and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) in association with the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information, is the first of its kind being staged in Riyadh. Al-Jasser and Ambassador Rao cut the ribbon to formally open the Indian Cultural Week.
Along with the kaleidoscopic folk dance performance by the dancers, Indian maestros and artists gave musical performances that left the audience spell-bound for nearly an hour. The troupe, in fact, enthralled the audience with their performance. They showed India’s Rajsthani folk dance, Chau folk dance and Bhangra dance, while Panchvadyam Percussion Music Group made a top-notch musical performance during the opening ceremony.
There was also a sort of acrobatics by a member of the Rajasthani troupe, who danced on the tunes of music by holding two glasses and pitcher atop his head.
Indian Ambassador Rao said that the efforts on the part of the embassy and the IICR are basically to promote Indian culture and ethos that are deep rooted in its traditions and at the same time continuously experimenting and adapting to modernity.
The festival, which will conclude on Wednesday, will offer concerts including classical music with some top performers as well as fusion music between east and west, classical dances and entertainment skits, said the envoy.
He emphasized the roles of cultural events in introducing Indian civilization, culture and arts and the promotion of cultural and intellectual relations between the two countries. To this end, he noted the diversity of India and its culture.
He said that, “the roots of Indian civilization and cultural landscape lie in the country’s precise and awesome natural boundaries, formed by the Himalayas in the north and seas to the east, south and west.” These have fostered a remarkable physical and cultural unity, despite the size and diversity of the area they enclose. There is a soulful variety of cultures, languages, ethnic groups, beliefs that few countries or continents possess,” he observed.
Rao said that India was a land of many splendors, captivating coasts, aesthetic landscape, valleys carpeted with blossoms, dense tropical rain forests and mighty mountains besides miles and miles of desert and roaring rivers.
“Add to these 5,000-year-old history and you get India,” said Rao, while quoting a noted author Mark Twain, who said once: ” This is indeed India! cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech; mother of history, grandmother of legend and great grandmother of tradition.”
He pointed out that the history of several millennia has merged with phenomenal geographical variations to create the India of today. India is a continent within a continent. He said that Indian culture has robust roots. “We are inheritors to several grand treasures, the elements of which is reflected in great heritage of arts and crafts, language and literature, dance and music, fairs and festivals, monuments and manuscripts, sculpture & architecture and varied cuisine,” he noted.
Asked about the highlights of the Indian Cultural Week, he said that this five-day cultural event will provide us a new opportunity to showcase the foundational strength of India — the rich and diverse cultural heritage, the strong national identity despite being a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural entity.
He 60 artists will give their best performance during the festival, which is attracting a large number of Saudi young men and women besides hundreds of expatriates of different nationalities including India.
He added that Bhangra dance would be greatly appreciated as it’s beats resemble the folk dance of the Arabian Peninsula. Bhangra led by Shri Kundan Kumar during this ongoing festival is one of the most popular Folk dances of northern India.
The male folk dance includes the elements of several traditional folk dances of Punjab with beautiful dresses and instruments. Performed in several compositions on the beats of Dhol (a musical instrument) is most sought-after folk dance form for all celebratory occasions in the state of Punjab in India.
Another Indian regional troupe mainly comprising Rajasthani folk dancers and musicians was led by Shri Taj Mohammed. This Rajashthani performance represent the art and culture of the tribal groups in Rajasthan.
The Rajasthani music and dance provide entertainment in the daily life of the desert and dry lands in pastoral settings. The music has tradition and flavor, which gives unique features and quality to the different musical sounds and a certain rhythms that does not fail to fascinate listener and viewer.
Another highlight of the festival is Chhau folk dance led by Shri Ramesh Kuma. The Chhau blends within its forms of both dance and martial art employing mock combat technique and is performed during regional festivals of east India. Another performance will be Panchavadyam led by Shri Kalamandalam Sreekumar. It is a harmonious blend of five musical instruments, which evolved in South India. Of the five instruments, four — Thimila, Madhalam, Ilathalam and Idakka — belong to percussion category; while the fifth one “Kombu” is a wind instrument.
Referring to these cultural performances to be stage during the next four days, Ambassador Rao said that these cultural presentations will make bridges of friendship with Saudi Arabia, while they serve as means of interaction.
“The occasion and the performances will provide a chance to our Saudi brothers to have a glimpse of rich Indian cultural heritage,” said the envoy, adding that this will be a great family event, where men, women and students will find the event educational while adults will find it entertaining.
This annual cultural festival showcases diversity of Indian food, art, classical and modern dancing, popular music, and wonderful exhibits, he said.
Rao said that the poetry session (mushaira) would be organized as part of the cultural festival today. Prominent Urdu poets will recite their compositions at the mushaira, he added. The poetry recitation program will be preceded by a panel discussion on cultural and trading linkages between India and Saudi Arabia on Monday. The panel will focus on the commercial and cultural ties from historical perspectives.
He also said that two prominent chefs have also been flown to Riyadh to cook Indian delicacies at the food festival, which is another major event to be organized during the cultural week. The food festival, he said, would be held at Crown Plaza Hotel during the cultural week.
On Nov 6, the Indian troupe will perform Chhau folk dance and Bhangra folk dance, while several performances have also been lined up for Nov 7, the day when the festival will be concluded.
The closing ceremony of the festival will be addressed by Abdulrahman Al-Hazza, deputy minister for international cultural relations. Entry to all cultural programs at King Fahd Cultural Center is free. All programs are open for all Saudi nationals and Indian expatriates depending on the availability of seats at the King Fahd Cultural Center auditorium.

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