Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Our ancestors did great things in the past. But we have to grow into a fuller life and much beyond even their great achievements. Therefore, let us go forward and do great things.” -Swami Vivekananda.
Culture Nurtures Unity : "Culture is a collective word. It nurtures people, nurtures communities, empires, nations. It is an identity, not only clothes, art, art forms but also thought and behavior and in the way we relate to the known and the unknown. It defines the Macro Person called the community and its relationship with the Micro Person called the individual. It brings unity and not uniformity, for the culture celebrates variety. Lack of understanding of this strength leads to conflicts; clear understanding leads to meaningful, sustainable and harmonious development. Development takes place when culture, cultural forms are validated to meet the needs of the time."
In 1993, Vivekananda Kendra established Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture (VKIC), Guwahati. Significantly situated on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra the VKIC envisions its role as the Intellectual Fountainhead for India's Northeast. It focus on Seminars, Research, documentation, lectures-cum-discussion by directly involving the communities concerned to :
  • Understand the richness of our traditional systems and identify the unifying elements that bind us
  • Reflect on how best to provide meaningful continuity to these practices in a fast-changing complex lifestyle.
  • Inspire leadership with the idea of "Development Through Culture"

VKIC's Operational Plan:
  1. Documentation project to record the multifarious elements of the NorthEast Indian Culture life, as also the current trends.
  2. Compilation of available published material on the cultural life of NorthEast India.
  3.  Organise periodic lectures, seminars, workshops, discussion and exhibitions.
  4.  Undertake research and start a data-bank on the basis of field data collected through various documentation projects for the benefit of scholars and researchers.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Report Nmghar Lecture April 2014-March 2015

Namghar Lecture Series

The VKIC as part of its endeavour to unravel the cultural and social reality of Assam and rest of the Northeast organizes lectures, seminars and workshops on significant traditions and institutions. The year 2014 was marked by a series of lectures on Namghar (traditional community prayer hall) in Assam and adjoining areas. Under the banner of Sankriti Anveshak, these lectures were delivered by persons well-versed in their subjects. The lectures were followed by interactive sessions through which the audience was able to gain more knowledge and insights about a remarkable legacy of Srimanta Sankardeva.

 Namghar in the Urban Context of Assam
The Namghars in the urban areas of Assam have successfully retained some of the features of Vaishnavite traditions found in village Namghars. The use of an egalitarian platform to worship one unifying God with prayers and discussions is common to Namghars in cities, towns and villages.
This was stated by Pujyapad Bhadra Krishna Goswami, Sattradhikar of Jokai Sattra in his lecture ‘Namghar in the urban context of Assam’, organized by the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture (VKIC).

According to Goswami, the Namghar became a part of Assam’s urban landscape from the early part of the 19th century. Even though from that time onward modernization brought rapid changes in people’s lifestyles, the Namghar has successfully preserved the basic functions related to Vaishnavite faith and traditions.

The great religious and spiritual traditions started by Srimanta Sankardeva and his disciple Madhavdeva are still maintained by many Namghars in the urban areas of the state. It is within their sanctified spaces the wisdom of the elders is passed on to the younger people.
Mahatma Gandhi had once described the Namghar as a ‘mini Parliament’. Such an ideal survives in the institution in villages as well as in towns and cities. No distinction is made among the faithful coming from different backgrounds. Both men and women have equal access to Namghars.
Referring to the typical architecture of the Namghar, Goswami said that the cardinal principles are adequately followed in building a Namghar in most villages, but are not strictly maintained in towns and cities due to lack of space and other reasons
During an interactive session, the Sattradhikar underlined the need for facilities in cities which could introduce the young generations about the Namghar and its remarkable history and functions. Apart from spreading faith and spirituality, the young ones will also learn to appreciate their own cultural inheritance. Noted academic Prof. Birinchi K Medhi moderated the session.

Maranga Namghar
The VKIC on June 28, 2014 organised a lecture-cum-interactive session on a historic Namghar situated in Meghalaya.
The Maranga Namghar, in Ri-Bhoi District of Meghalaya continues a cultural tradition that has its origin in Srimanta Sankardeva’s Ek Saran Naam Dharma. Significantly, the faithful have been able to sustain the institution with its historic associations amid adversity over a long period of time.’
 In the Namghar, located in an area which was once part Assam, members of the community offer prayers on a regular basis. Around the 20th of every month they offer Sarai. They became associated with the Srimanta Sankar Sangha in the year 1987.

During the session at VKIC the Bhakats from Maranga presented a moving Naam Prasanga after ceremoniously lighting earthen lamps and incense sticks. The audience was impressed by the performance which took place within the confines of an auditorium. They also sang a Borgeet with the same devotional fervour.

 The Bhakats of Maranga Namghar said they celebrate the Janmastamai with much enthusiasm. The entire day is spent with Naam Prasanga and religious discussions.
At present 35 families are associated with the Namghar. Even though they reside in a predominantly Christian State, the devotees do not face any hardship. According to the Bhakats they live in harmony with their Christian neighbours.

 In the interactive session, eminent Anthropologist and academic, Prof A.C Bhagabati appreciated the efforts of the Bhakats, and especially their service to their Namghar. Cultural activist Dipankar Mahanta and journalist Pulin Kalita moderated the session. Chairman VKIC, Dipok Kumar Barthakur offered a token to the Bhakats as a mark of respect and appreciation.

Sanatan Dharma Namghar

Vibrant facets of a historic temple cum Namghar came alive in a stage performance in the city on August 30. The devotees of Santan Dharma Mandir, Rampur presented several devotional songs and dances to an audience enabling them to get acquainted with a less known but significant cultural heritage. 

The programme was part of a lecture cum demonstration series held by the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture (VKIC).
The devotees representing various age groups sang devotional songs, which have been practiced for about 90 years by locals. The songs revealed their firm faith in Vaishnavite religious traditions. The youth of the region have been trained in the art by veterans, a process that continues till today.
A medley of traditional drum (doba) by devotees made an impact on the audience. The beating of the drums differs from one occasion to another. After years of practice, the drummers can change their style to convey different messages to people of surrounding areas. There was even a style of drum beating – a fast and furious rhythm – that spread the message for people to become alert in the face of crisis situations.

Among the favourite items in their repertoire was a performance of Dadhi Manthan, depicting the lovable antics of Lord Krishna. Children associated with the temple enacted a lively scene much to the delight to the audience, which also comprised cultural researchers.
A member of the Santan Dharma temple in his interaction with the audience mentioned that apart from the religious and cultural events, the age old religious centre played a role in furthering education and social awareness on several issues which affect the life of local people. Moreover, the temple also acted as an instrument for settling individual disputes and other contentious issues. The seniors of the temple ensure that honourable settlements are made among stakeholders many a times. Thus peace and harmony is maintained without taking recourse to the law.
Distinguished academic, Prof. A. C. Bhagabati, who presided over the function in his welcome speech introduced the Santan Dharma temple, said that there is much to be learnt from such an old and illustrious institution. Journalist Pulin Kalita and academic Dr Rahul S Mazumdar moderated the session.
Mayamara Namghar
 The Mayamara Namghar like Namghars of other communities is a meeting ground for people from different backgrounds, but its egalitarian nature is also reflected in its architecture and locational orientation.

          The structure is designed with the idea that the Namghar easily attracts people, is suitable for accommodating large congregations, and can easily hold Bhaonas and other events for the faithful.

          This was mentioned by the Yuvadhikar of Dinjoy Sattra, Mukundananda Chandra Goswami while delivering a lecture-cum-interactive session on the Namghar organized by the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture (VKIC) in Guwahati. Held on September 27, this was the eighth lecture in a series on the venerable religious and social institution of Assam.

          He stated that the Mayamara Namghar is the outcome of a long evolution right from the time when Sri Sri Aniruddha Dev established a Sattra at Naranpur, in Lakhimpur district. The values and ideals he and his followers stood for are sustained by the present Mayamara Namghar spread across several districts of Assam.

          The Mayamara belief system lays great stress on leading a way of life in which good conduct and fellow feeling are placed in high order. Through various vicissitudes, especially political persecution, these principles have enabled the Mayamara Namghar to survive, prosper, and contribute to the religious and social spheres of society.

          The session was moderated by Dr B. K Gohain, who emphasised that the Mayamara Namghar can be understood in the historical context of Assam. Noted sociologist Prof Andre Beteille attended the lecture along with a number of scholars. Prof Beteille formally released a VKIC publication on the Rabhas of Assam.

Namghar as an Institution of Self-governance.
Namghars across Assam are synonymous with religious and cultural functions, but many of them are also exemplary in functioning as institutions of self-governance. This was a view expressed by noted researcher Dr Rahul S Mazumdar while delivering a lecture on Namghar in the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture (VKIC), Guwahati, on July 26

In his lecture, Dr Mazumdar portrayed the evolution of the Namghar from inception till the present day. He focused on Namghars in rural and semi-urban areas which still retain many of their age-old traditions and functions. Namghars in such contexts play a significant role in shaping the cultural milieu of adjoining areas. At the same time they exhibit features of self-governance in various ways, allowing people to participate in the decision making process.

According to him, the Namghar in the course of time developed into an institution that governed itself in some clear cut ways. For instance, it had definite ways to gather revenue, keep track of funds, and had functionaries entrusted with specific work to ensure smooth running of the Namghar. He substantiated his views by referring to the functioning of the Barpeta Namghar.

Acknowledging that the Namghar is a dynamic entity that has adapted with changing circumstances, he said that many Namghars have successfully retained the best features which can be traced to its earlier position as a common platform for devotees cutting across social and economic divide. Local people, in their own ways, laid the foundation of many Namghars, and devised methods that enabled its functioning in a way that has withstood the test of time.
Dr Mazumdar hoped that the Namghar would continue to attract study and research particularly in the areas related to its role as a self-governing institution.
Role of Women in the Namghar
The role of women in Namghar has been significant since the time the sacred institution came into existence. It has enabled women to have deep faith in their culture and religion. However, women from the younger generation have not shown much interest in the Namghar as they are not fully informed about its spiritually and culturally emancipating role.

This was a view expressed by noted Sattriya scholar Dr Joyjyoti Goswami during a lecture-cum-interactive session on the Namghar, organized by the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture, Guwahati on November 3.
Dr Goswami, who has extensively researched issues related to the Vaishnavite culture of Assam, focused on the manner in which the Namghar gave valuable space for women to pursue religious and spiritual interests, and over time have helped them to become experts in many areas, including music and arts. In many parts of Assam, women in the Namghar kept alive traditions and cultural values first introduced by Saint Sankardeva.

The Saint and his closest disciple Madhavdeva, Dr Goswami said, played key roles in encouraging women to come together in an atmosphere in which there was no divide of caste and creed. In the Namghar they listened to religious discourse and also created a wide range of songs and verses. In some places they became expert weavers, singers and artistes, revealing their innate talents.

Dr Goswami mentioned that some Namghars, although open to women, have restrictions on the roles they can play. According to a recent survey carried out by researchers in Gauhati University, several Namghars still do not permit the involvement of women to the extent that male devotees are allowed. But in due course as awareness spreads such limitations would be removed, she hoped.

Speaking as the moderator, Dr Nirupama Mahanta, an expert in Sattriya culture said that women can gain a lot by their association with a Namghar. They will not only learn the haloed religious traditions, but also achieve spiritual fulfilment.

She reposed her confidence in the Namghar, reasoning that the institution can give women the faith one needs to overcome trials and tribulations.

The lecture was presided over by Dr Sheila Bora, who spoke on the relevance of Namghar in present times, and its intrinsic connections with women both in towns and villages.

Main Ceremonies of the Khasi

The latest VKIC Publication, The Main Ceremonies of the Khasi was released on the occasion of the inauguration of the NRL CONFERENCE HALL at the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture [VKIC], Guwahati, by Shri Dipak Chakravarty, Managing Director, Numaligarh Refinery Ltd. Originally written in Khasi by KS Marbaniang, Sitimon Sawian and Wallamphang Roy, they have been translated into lucid English by the well known author of Shadow Men, Bijoya Sawian. It is a compilation of three of the most important ceremonies of the Khasi -the naming, marriage and death ceremonies. These ceremonies demonstrate the cultural practices of a community; moreover, abiding social relationships come to the fore.

The book, The Main Ceremonies of the Khasi, evidences the simplicity, elegance and depth of the Khasi social and philosophical outlook. The ceremonies, stemming out of a dharmic way of life, establishes the organic connection between the individual and the society in close relation with nature while simultaneously demonstrating the foresight of our ancestors.

Writes Dr Joram Begi, Director, Higher and Technical Education, Govt of Arunachal Pradesh and Member, Research Advisory Council, VKIC
The book is an elaborate description of the traditional practices of the Khasi community practiced since time immemorial and handed down carefully to the next generation. It reflects the strong clan system and well-knit social order of the society. The book will be useful to followers of indigenous culture in particular and researchers of the subject in general.

With the passage of time some amongst the Khasis might not be in touch with their traditional practices. To all such, who deep within are again looking for a holistic basis, this book is a document of great importance. It shows that underlying all the ceremonies, is the scientific clarity of our ancestors – that no person is alone and unconnected; that all are finally part of the Whole and that only when our way of life is in tune with this Consciousness, can harmony be established at the personal and collective levels. The book thus becomes an important guide to re-connect meaningfully with one’s roots.

My best wishes to the VKIC. This publication is yet another proof of VKIC’s reverence for and commitment to communicate cultural practices from the practitioners’ perspective.
The book has several firsts to its credit. It is the first of the VKIC offerings for the Sardh Shati Series – publications brought out in connection with the 150 Birth anniversary Celebrations of Swami Vivekananda; the first completely translated work and the first book that carries the ISBN granted to the VKIC in Jan.2012.

Diversified Unity: Focus Northeast India- The Tripura Perspective

PerspectiveThe Sanskriti Anveshak forum of Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture, Guwahati organized a talk cum interactive session on:  Diversified Unity: Focus Northeast India- The Tripura Perspective on Friday, 17 May, 2013 in the VKIC premises at Uzan Bazar, Guwahati. The talk was delivered by Dr. Sukhendu Debbarma, Associate Professor, Department of History, Tripura University, Tripura. The lecture was the fourth of the ongoing lecture-series on Diversified Unity: Focus Northeast India.

In his talk, Dr. Debbarma elaborated that Tripura has a history of being ruled by as many as 184 kings belonging to the Boroks. The state is the homeland to about 19 ethnic communities like the Tiraps, Riangs, Jamatias, Noatias, Uchais Mogs, etc. who share common features and identity as Borok and speak a common language called the Kokborok. They have their unique socio-economic, religious, cultural traditions and food habits yet they have been co-existing peacefully since time immemorial, with each community contributing significantly towards the cultural heritage of Tripura. Dr. Debbarma talked of different focal points of convergence like water, bamboo, festivals, dances, youth dormitories etc. which are spaces of intense social interaction of the different communities. Dr. Debbarma further spoke of Tripura’s contribution to the country in fields such as music, art, literature, etc, as well as about the outside influences that shaped the cultural heritage of Tripura. Dr. Debbarma further talked about the abrupt demographic changes that have come after independence.

In his summing up, the Moderator Prof. Jyotiprakash Tamuli, Head, Department of Linguistics, Gauhati University appreciated the informative and enlightening talk of Dr. Debbarma. He was impressed by the range of subjects he covered including geography, history, demography, culture of Tripura with certain focal points of convergence.  Prof. Tamuli opined that we can remain united only when we feel secured in our diversity.

Prof. A C Bhagabati, Tagore National Fellow, Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India and Member, Research Advisory Council, VKIC opined that the emic perception of Dr. Debbarma unfolded Tripura before the gathering in a cinematic way.

Earlier in the evening, Prof. D. C. Baroowa, Director, Research Advisory Council, VKIC presided over the session and delivered the Welcome Address. Shri Subhobrata Mukherjee, Member, Executive Council, VKIC introduced the guests to the gathering

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Diversified Unity: Focus Northeast India- The Manipur Perspective

The Sanskriti Anveshak forum of Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture, Guwahati organized a talk cum interactive session on:  Diversified Unity: Focus Northeast India- The Manipur Perspective on Saturday, 15 June, 2013 in the VKIC premises at Uzan Bazar, Guwahati. The talk was delivered by Prof.  W. Nabakumar, Head, Department of Anthropology, Manipur University, Manipur. The lecture was the fifth of the on-going lecture-series on Diversified Unity: Focus Northeast India. 
In his talk, Prof.  Nabakumar effectively presented the ethnic profile of Manipur with its complicated socio-economic and political standing coupled with the challenges faced by society as a whole and some possible solution by learning from our cultural history prior to its pollution by the colonial interventions. 
He said though Manipur is a small state it is rich in its ethnic profile and cultural diversity. 
Following the advent of colonialism, a divisive ethnographic narrative was designed where it divided people and forced artificial identities on communities for various reasons, which still we carry thro

Monday, June 15, 2015

Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture – A Dream Come True

This is a moment of fulfilment, because on this historic occasion of the inauguration of the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture, one of the major dreams of Mananeeya Eknath Ranade, the founder of Vivekananda Kendra, is being realized. The idea behind this institute is to study, do research in and propagate the national unity of India, as understood by our ancient seers and cherished by the great sons and daughters of India throughout her long history and spelt out by modern sages like Swami Vivekananda and Mahayogi Aurobindo. This is a crying need of the times particularly with regard to the north-eastern region, where separatist forces are extremely active to disrupt the unity of India.

Vivekananda Kendra has from its very inception taken keen interest in this part of the country. It may seem strange to some that the Kendra which is based in the south-western extreme of Bharat should feel so concerned about the north-east lying in the opposite extreme of the land. In fact, there is nothing strange about it. This has happened, time and again, in our long history. Swami Vivekananda, born and brought up in Calcutta, discovered his life mission in Kanyakumari. Parvathi doing Tapas in Kanyakumari is the daughter of Himavan in the north. These are the signs and symbols of the fundamental unity of this unique country, which we all adore as Bharat Mata.

But it is also our experience that often we tend to forget the obvious.The unity of India, like human love, has to be diligently and continuously nursed and nourished lest ignorance and selfishness, narrow-mindedness and sectarianism overshadow the sentiment of unity. Unfortunately that is what is happening all over the country, and in a very alarming manner in the north-east.

Sentiments are deliberately being whipped and people are told that they are not children of Mother India. The threat of dismemberment of the nation is hovering over the horizon. Under these circumstances it is absolutely necessary that all our efforts should be made to re-discover the fundamental unity of India. We must be very very clear that we are not inventing something that was not there before. We are only re-discovering the ancient cultural unity and strengthening it and expressing it in a modern idiom for the sake of the present generation, which has unfortunately been brainwashed into forgetting it by a misconceived education system and vested-interest groups. This is the kind of the work which the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture intends to take up.

The unity of India has been an article of faith with us. It is based on a spiritual perception. It is the same divine Mother whom we worship as Kamakhya Devi in Assam who is worshipped as Devi Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu in the South. Over thousands of years  our forefathers have been, with supreme devotion, dedicating themselves to keeping alive this delicate sentiment. It has been an organic and living unity. It cannot be compared with what the Americans have been doing. They are a modern, and not yet fully-formed nation. Their attempt has been to melt disparate elements into a totally new alloy. They called it ‘the melting pot’ experiment. The experiment has not succeeded. It is not likely to succeed because it is not in keeping with human nature. According to this author our model is not even that of the mosaic of cultures because the concept is more mechanical than organic. The Indian model can be described as a fundamental, seminal unity, manifesting as vibrant, colourful diversity.

India is the only country where the sublime truth of unity in diversity has been understood, appreciated and also practised from time immemorial. We have done this with regard to the various castes, communities and religions within India; we have also accepted and assimilated people from across the borders, whether they came to India as invaders, traders or refugees. In course of time all of them have been accommodated in our national and cultural framework. What India can legitimately be proud of is that we  have never annihilated or exterminated any group. As Swami Vivekananda stated:“We have never been a conquering race, and this blessing is with us”. This is because we never believed that we have to bulldoze all humanity into one, uniform, monotonous mould. Our concept of nation has been beautifully described in theAtharva Veda:

Janam bibhrati bahudha vivaacham
Naanaa dharmaanam prithvi yathaukasam
Sahasram dhaaraa dhravinashya meduham
Dhruveva dhenu anupashuranthi

(This land standing firm like the Kamadhenu, nourishes in a thousand ways, people of different worship and speaking various languages as if in a family.)

It is needless to state that every part of India east or west, south or north has equally shared in the cultural life of India and each, in its own distinct way, has contributed  to the rich and colourful national edifice. The picture would have been incomplete without the contribution of even the smallest among them. Totality alone is the reality. In fact, as Mahayogi Aurobindo has pointed out, the real centres of India’s cultural dynamism and creativity were spread throughout the length and breadth  of India and were not drawn into and concentrated in the various state capitals or the national capital. Hundreds of such dynamic centres kept the cultural life of India alive when political capitals succumbed to foreign invaders and other cultural patterns. Even today, in spite of all the communications revolution that has been achieved and the much talked about globalisation, India can achieve her best only if the regional and sub-regional centres of cultural life remain active and even autonomous to make a cultural efflorescence possible. In fact, that is the rationale behind such centres of intellectual and cultural activity.

The Indian experiment has great relevance to the present world situation. Peaceful co-existence of all the nations of the world, rich and poor, big and small, white and black, and north and south can be assured only on the basis of a philosophy that accepts the principle of unity in diversity, that Truth is many-faceted and can be approached in different ways, that each has to contribute in its own distinct way to the sum total of world culture, that the strength of the whole lies in the strength of each of its parts. In the perilously poised world of today, where selfishness and hypocrisy rule the roost, this is the only philosophy that can save the world. Hollow words like ‘globalisation’ and a ‘new world order’ are only deceptive.

Another area of study which is of intense interest for the institute is the health of the body-politic of the north-eastern region. Health is defined as a state of equilibrium. Equilibrium may be disturbed by internal or external reasons. Demographic imbalance can play havoc with the health of a nation. The north-eastern region being a border area has always been extremely sensitive from this point of view. It continues to be so even today. The partition of India, instead of solving the issue, has made it more complicated. Demographic equilibrium can come under strain  through external factors like the influx of refugees, immigrants and infiltrators. Ever since the dawn of the history migrations have taken place either in droplets or on a massive scale. Every nation is worried about the imbalance created by them and takes steps to guard against the threat posed by them. Here is a tolerance level beyond which no nation can permit alien inflow. If it allows this, out of indifference, ignorance or incompetence, the price that has to be paid is self-extinction.

Every state in the north-eastern region is now facing the problem of people coming in either as refugees, immigrants or infiltrators from across the border.We have to be constantly alert to see whether the tolerance level is being crossed and what the impact of the inflow is on our socio-economic and cultural life. No nation can afford to be indifferent in this regard. But, strangely enough, there in our country ivory-tower intellectuals who openly say that the inflow from outside is solely due to the miserable economic conditions and that we should adopt an open-door policy on humanitarian grounds. There are visionary intellectuals who propose that the only solution is to uplift the living conditions of the poor, undeveloped neighbouring countries from which people migrate to India. I shall cite one example. The January issue ofSeminar, a leading intellectual journal of India, published from Delhi, said- Migration will continue, especially from Bangladesh and Nepal.  No wall, law or police force anywhere in the world has been able to stop it. People, like water, always find their level for survival. But if massive inflows are to be checked then we have to find strategies of helping Bangladesh and Nepal develop their economies and help curb an outflow of people.
Regional and national interests are forgotten in their root-less humanitarian perception. Even the richest countries like the US cannot, and do not, adopt an open-door policy with regard to immigration. Much less can a country like India afford to do this.

There is another subtle reason also. Culture may be defined as the manifestation of the soul of the nation, visibly reflected in all walks of life. It is something like that of the of the spirit or Atma. Both interact upon each other. If the culture, Sukshma Shareera, gets contaminated by outside influence, the soul also becomes clouded, and if this continues unchecked, it might even get extinguished. The demographic equilibrium, when disturbed, leads to the distortion of culture and consequent annihilation of the national soul. Close monitoring of all these influences at the subtle level has to be taken up as a matter of priority. The association of competent, sensitive and talented individuals and resource-persons has to be ensured for the success of this.The Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture will always keep this in its heart and pursue the matter diligently.

I have already pointed out a few areas of activity which the institute has on its agenda. As was pointed out at the beginning, Mananeeya Eknathji Ranade was all eyes and ears to the problems and developments in the north-eastern region. Swami Vivekananda, too, with his deep vision and foresight had realised the importance of this region. Towards the end of his earthly career, having almost completed his mission, he visited places like Guwahati and Shillong on a pilgrimage, taking his mother along with him. His biographers have pointed out how disturbed he was at the state of affairs at that time. Things have not improved since then.That explains why Vivekananda Kendra deems it its bounden duty to pay special attention to the cultural educational activities of this region. Politics has always been scrupulously avoided by the Kendra because it wants to bring together all men of good-will to serve the cause of  the Hindu Nation.

Vivekananda Kendra realises very well that it is easy to start an Institute of Culture, but it is very difficult to run it properly, bring to fruition the noble objectives for which it has been established. For this, we will always seek the co-operation of all like-minded individuals and institutions with an open mind. All of us are conscious that the problems faced by our country are so numerous and so complex that no one institution or person can single-handed hope to solve them. All those who are interested in the progress and welfare of the country will have the support of each other and supplement one another. That is the spirit in which we launch this National Institute of Culture in the name of Swami Vivekananda.

Mananeeya P Parameswaranji  President, Vivekananda Kendra Kanyakumari

[Transcript of the talk delivered during the Inauguration of the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture building in Guwahati, 1996]

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Culture: Not for Sale

While going through the literature on cultural tourism, one usually gets the impression that culture is an exhibit, an item for sale, or at best, a catalyst for the promotion of tourism. For many, culture is synonymous to folk dances and folk songs only, and this is exactly so in the minds of the planners of the community cultural shows during the national and state festivals, as we really find it during such occasions. In reality, there is a lot of perceptional haziness and confusion in matters of culture and tradition in this country, especially among our English educated elite, most of who may be categorized as culture and tradition illiterates.  In case of the tribal societies, anthropology, as a colonial discipline, also promotes confusion.

Our festivals have much in common, and to find the thread of commonality, and to some extent, the pan-Indian frame, one should develop a macro perception based on micro studies. The Indian festivals, including that of the North-Eastern region, cannot be properly conceptualized in purely profane framework. To think of our festivals having something queer, something strange and thereby attractive for the tourists, as the planners of cultural tourism may think, is erroneous. In fact our festivals operate in overall frame-work of sacred-profane complex.

Festivals of North-East, like the festivals of the rest of the country, have social, ecological, cultural and religious aspects. There is a lot of social interaction, sharing and reciprocation during our festivals. Of course, during many festivals, such as during traditional Angami Naga festivals, outsiders are not allowed entry in the village, what to say of their being entertained. Cleaning of the paths, water ponds, and worship in the sacred groves, point towards ecological aspect of the festivals.
During a large number of our festivals the songs about the legendary and community heroes are often sung. This trend is visible throughout the country, as for example among the tribal of North-East India, such as the Chang Nagas, Madhya Pradesh tribal and the caste communities throughout the country.

The worship of deities, which include pan-Indian deities, community deities, village/local and household deities, is an essential part of most of our festivals. Cattle are also worshipped during certain festivals. Even agricultural implements and the tools used by the artisans are the objects of worship. Kayasthas worship the pen. This aspect of our festivals may hardly be understood by the foreign tourists, especially of the Semitic religious-cultural background; this is, because, ‘man-nature-spirit’ sacred complex under the living non-living continuum frame- work is an alien concept for them. God Vishvakarma is worshipped by the castes and tribes throughout the country.  Vishvakarma is included among the deities of the Khasis and the Jayantias also.        
Writing all these about our festivals does not mean that they lack the entertainment content. In reality they have enough of it. But we cannot afford to present them to the foreigners as something queer only for their entertainment, unless they perceive them sympathetically in proper perspective with their full significance. Here, it needs mention that many Indian tribal Christian converts have started observing their community festivals of the Pagan days, but their attitude towards the same is not the same as that of the non-converts. The lack of the elements of the sacred and the spiritual content makes the difference in the case of the former. In case of our presenting the community festivals for attracting the tourists, there is every danger of dilution of our own attitude towards them.

B.B. Kumar
Editor :Quest

Quest : The Journal of Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture