Tuesday, 11 June 2013
India: Cultural Patrimony and its Preservation: the Idea of 'Heritage'
I have just had the most amazing opportunity to visit and stay in Bangalore, India, for 10 days with my University for a Grand Challenge Dilemma focusing on issues of censorship, heritage, and the arts in India in the contemporary world, and how history has influenced changing culture in India, particularly due to the rapid influence of westernisation. It was a breathtaking experience and a real eye-opener.
The primary aspects we had to bear in mind included:
Heritage is not objective. It is a cultural concept embodying certain values and ideals. Each of us has our own ideas about what heritage is, meaning that these ideas are inevitably conditioned by our own upbringings, experiences and cultural context.
The model and style of cultural heritage in India is very different from that in the UK. For instance, there is perhaps more of a priority on preserving religious monuments in India. The state is much more extensively involved in preservation in the UK, with greater funding.
The western concept or definition of 'heritage' arguably does not translate well into Indian culture, and no attempt should be made to do so anyway, since the respective cultures of both countries are so different from one another.
To what extent is India able to retain and protect aspects of its cultural heritage in the face of various pressures, including modernisation and globalisation? When we interviewed natives, we had many differing answers, which was fascinating.
The trip to India including both academic aspects (lectures) and practical tasks (visits to villages, monuments, temples, the city of Bangalore, and elsewhere). The lectures focused on the core of Indian literature, the vedas, upanishads, darshanas, and Vedi architecture. The lectures were intriguing, given by renowned scholars in India, and encompassed:
- Villages of India: the soul of India lies in its villages, as famously noted by Gandhi. Villages are self-sustaining, agriculture-based, and are not dependent on cities. Villages preserve traditional culture, and it has been noted that around 69% of Indians today live in villages, of which there are at least 500,000.
- Indian Psychology: Exploring Inner Dimensions and Self-management: for me, this was perhaps the most interesting lecture. Unlike western psychology, which is grounded firmly in the external lab, Indian psychology is much more subjective and philosophical and began with the soul before moving onto studying the human mind and then behaviour. Psychology revolves around belief in 'existential awareness' and koshas, with a focus on developing self-awareness and expanding consciousness.
- Ancient Art & Architecture of India: this focused on Ancient Indian art and architecture from the Indus Valley Civilisation to the medieval period.
- Indian culture and its contribution to the world.
- Native aspects of Indian nutrition: we were all rather dubious about this 'scientific' lecture!
- Indigenous games.
- Indian cinema: an introduction: very fascinating lecture on how Indian cinema has grown and developed, celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and how it differs from British cinema in being more readily available to people at lower prices, as a regular way of enjoying oneself rather than being a privilege.
- Indian film.
Of course, the practical excursions in developing our insights into Indian culture today were incredible too, encompassing:
- Visiting a village: many people's highlight.
- Visiting schools.
- Visiting a guruluka (sort of religious school for children).
- Visiting Bangalore.
- Visiting Mysore: a renowned cultural and historical place.
- RIDING AN ELEPHANT.
- Visiting temples and the statue of Queen Victoria: showing the continuing influence of the British legacy in India today.
Overall, it was a fantastic trip and it will be exciting to write about our findings for our Grand Challenge, to be presented to the other groups doing the Challenge on Thursday 13 June.
An Indian village.