A multifaceted culture

The Celebrating India in Israel Festival features dance, music, literature, film and clothing.

Nrityagram Dance Ensemble (photo credit: Nrityagram Dance Ensemble)
Nrityagram Dance Ensemble
(photo credit: Nrityagram Dance Ensemble)
For the third year running, the Israeli public will have a chance to get a better handle on the multifaceted culture and history of 1.2 billion Indians, at the annual Celebrating India in Israel Festival.
The season kicks off on April 21 and will run until May 17, with a program that takes in dance, music, literature, film and traditional dress.
Amarnath Asokan, who has served as cultural attaché of the Indian Embassy for the last five years, says that despite the seeming vast discrepancies in our respective cultures and history, not to mention the huge difference in the size of the countries’ populations, there is some common culture.
“You have all these Israelis who go to India, backpacking and such for three months, six months or even longer, so they get exposed to India,” notes Asokan. “That makes our job a little easier because we don’t have to explain everything, and often we just have to get the word out that such and such an event or show is happening.”
Unlike last year’s installment of the now annual Indian event, food is not included in the program.
The program kicks off a week on Sunday with the opening of the “Sari – Timeless Tradition” exhibition, which will run for nine days at Shenkar College in Ramat Gan. The show is curated by Doron Pollak.
“The sari is a timeless garment, as old as the civilizations of India,” says Asokan. “It is a deceptively simple rectangle of cloth, six meters long, and symbolizes femininity.
There are so many vibrant colors, varieties of fabrics, many weaving patterns and motifs, which really mirror India’s rich cultural diversity.”
The type of sari differs in accordance with cultural, regional, religious and ritualistic influences.
“Making saris is still a household tradition in India, which is practiced with pride and dedication. We are bringing about 70 saris from all over India,” he says.
Despite the familiarity some Israelis have with India, Asokan says he and his colleagues are keen to broaden our knowledge of the subcontinent. “Having so many Israelis go to India is both a blessing and a problem. It is difficult because many Israelis have a particular notion of Indian culture. What is perceived as being Indian culture is mainstream culture like Bollywood. They think Indian music is Bollywood music and that Indian dance is Bollywood dance. We want to move people away from the popular culture and bring them to the traditional and classical forms.”
Part of that will be addressed in a bilateral collaboration between Israeli musician Shai Ben-Tzur, who has been living in India for some years. Ben-Tzur will join forces with the Rajasthan Gypsies Musical Carnival ensemble at six concerts that will take place up and down the country, starting off on May 1 at the East and West House in Jaffa, followed by concerts Sufi Festival at the Desert Ashram in the Arava, at the Khan Cave in Jerusalem, Zappa in Tel Aviv, Kibbutz Lehavot Haviva and Hemdat Yamim, on Moshav Shefer in the Galilee.
“At the end of the tour, the Indian musicians will do master classes for Israeli musicians,” says Asokan.
There will be other synergies during the festival. “This year we are trying to promote joint collaborations between Indian and Israeli artists.
The curator of the sari exhibition is an Israeli, and we are bringing writers from India to exchange ideas with their Israeli counterparts,” Asokan continues.
The literary event in question is Words on Water – India & Israel in Conversation, which will take place at the University of Haifa on May 9 and the following day at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem. The Indian contingent includes 38-year-old Amish Tripathi, who studied to be a financier but shot to stardom in 2010, following the publication of his debut novel, The Immortals of Meluha ..
The Indian literary team also features Mushirul Hasan, an internationally known historian, author and former vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University at Delhi; and writer and publisher Namita Gokhalem, whose burgeoning bibliography includes seven novels, the first of which, Paro, Dreams of Passion , released in 1984, caused something of a sensation due to its candid sexual humor.
The Israeli side of the Words on Water team includes popular author and columnist Gabi Nitzan, Dr. Ronie Parciack from the faculty at the Department of East Asian Studies of Tel Aviv University, and literary journalist Shiri Lev-Ari .
Indian dance will be represented by the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, which will perform Sriyah: A Decade of Dance Making at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv on May 13 and May 14. The show will be accompanied by explanations of some of the traditional Indian dance forms.
The Indian Film Panorama offers the Israeli public a taste of Bollywood with four films: 1942 – A Love Story ; Pardes ; Lagaan ; and the 1964 epic Sangam , directed by Raj Kapoor. All four offer much in the way of drama and music. Screenings will take place at the cinematheques of Jerusalem (May 3-7), Tel Aviv (May 8-13) and Haifa (May 15-17).
For more information: www.indembassy.co.il; www.celebratingindiaisrael.com; www.teamworkproductions.in; www.facebook.com/IndembTelaviv; and the respective venues.