India on the global culture map like never before
Of late the interest in Indian culture has become huge. And the reason is (like one of my commentators Krenim pointed out) – economic:
From an every day perspective your culture traditions etc will matter to a man on the street more as your economy grows and with that how you touch western lives. Notice how Japanese culture went from being joked about in the 1950s to being respected by the average man on the street in the early 90s as their economy caught up with the west. India too has in concert with its economic progress increased its image greatly from a land of maharajas and snake-charmers to well.. something better.
He couldn’t have put it better. In this context I want to write about two events which have been in the news lately:
One is the popularity of comics on Indian mythology in the western world. Its probably the novelty of the comics that is attracting readers, but whatever the reason, interest in India has fueled this trend. The western world has been taught Greek mythology but now people are finding out that Indian mythology is as rich, if not richer in terms of stories and legends and ancient literature. In fact the stories and the rich characters from Indian mythology have so caught the imagination of the west that a 30-part series based on the Ramayana (one of our Holy Books) has been published and marketed by Virgin Comics in the west. Interestingly, the comics are set in a futuristic background to make it appeal to a new generation of readers. Also, various tales with “Indian inspired content” are being successfully marketed in a visual format by Virgin Comics and there are plans to to tap both the Western and the Indian markets with the new, modern versions of the old stories.
The second news item (unrelated to this) which interested me was the news that thirty manuscripts from an ancient Hindu text (The Rig Veda: 1800-1500 BC) are to be included in the 2007 United Nations Heritage list. These texts are the world’s oldest religious books and were passed down from word of mouth before being written in a book form 3000 years ago. These manuscripts are at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), in Pune, and will be inscribed in UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” Register 2007. BORI has almost 28,000 ancient manuscripts housed with them.
Another piece of good news. This year, one more monument from India has been added to the UN’s Heritage list. The Red Fort in Delhi. This is in addition to the 26 other sites (including the Ajanta Ellora caves and the Taj Mahal) on the list.
Well, these are a few drops in the ocean when one thinks of the vast cultural treasure that Indian has. True, our ancient university at Nalanda is gone, (destroyed by invaders), and with it a nine storey library which held thousands of years of our heritage…but we still have a lot left. And the world will be the richer for it.
Ofcourse, the fact that Indian fashion, Indian music, Indian Ayurvedic medicines and India’s meditation and yogic techniques are already being used in the west, speaks volumes for the heritage that India can give the world. But these new developments seem to me an official acknowledgment of the fact. We have had too many people stealing our heritage (but more often than not we Indians have been blamed for stealing ideas from the west) – making medicines and clothes directly from Indian culture for which we have not been given credit for.
Hopefully, this will change, because not only has the world woken up to India, the Indian government is making efforts to make sure that our ideas are not stolen.
The Indian government is doubling its efforts to stop the stealing.
As it says here:
Having been hit by a volley of patents and trademarks on things like haldi and basmati, some of which now enjoy protection by virtue of being identified as geographical indications akin to champagne, the government has decided to take up the issue of patenting yoga seriously. Sources said it was important to raise the issue with the US since its agencies have made it a habit of granting such patents. Buoyed by its successful revocation of patents on turmeric, government is hoping for similar results on yoga.
The Indian government has already protested “against yoga-related patents issued by the US Patents & Trademarks Office.” In this particular case, its an NRI (Non Resident Indian) Bikram Yoga founder and US-based Bikram Choudhary who has tried to get a yoga related copyright.
I also once came across a fashion site which had our traditional ‘kurta’ designs and this designer had taken complete credit for them. There was no mention of India anywhere. This can only happen to India! If anyone tries to copy the traditional Chinese or Japanese dresses, it will be instantly known to everyone, so familiar are they with the designs, (Examples: the Chinese Chipua and the Japanese Kimono). India has been associated with the saree, and to some extent the salwar kameez, but we have a far larger variety of traditional clothes because as a country we are a mix of several ancient cultures.