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In the first issue of the Newsletter, we include an excerpt of a dialogue between Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan who has been responsible for the conceptual plan of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Shri Satish Kumar, Editor of Resurgence and the Director of the Schumacher College. The dialogue unfolds the genesis of the Institution and illuminates the very special viewpoint and approach of the Centre. In subsequent issues of the Newsletter, we will elaborate on the specific programmes of the Centre.
What was the central vision behind establishing the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts?
After Mrs. Gandhi's assassination a committee was set up to suggest appropriate and meaningful programmes for perpetuating her memory. Bearing in mind Mrs. Gandhi's deep commitment to the Arts, it was decided that there should be an Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. I was given the responsibility to visualize and conceptualize the Centre and its aims, objectives and scope of work.
But the Centre seems to be more than a memorial of the personality of Mrs. Gandhi; it seems to be a much broader concept.
The centre at no time was meant to be an institution for perpetuating a person. For that there is a separate institution called the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust.
Our first problem was and is to define the word "Art" itself. Would we continue to restrict ourselves to the nine tenth-century definition of the word "Art" on which many institutions had been founded such as the academies of literature, visual and performing arts? Or would we take into account the large and broader definition where the Arts include all creativity from cooking to architecture, as in the list of the sixty-four arts in the Indian tradition? Also, would autonomy of the specific arts be the premise or would we explore interrelationships? Would we look at only the final artistic product or focus attention on process?
In trying to answer these questions both as an individual scholar and as a representative of my generation acutely conscious of the disastrous effects of fragmentation, I felt that it was necessary of refocus on the place of the Arts in life as a whole and also their interdependence and interrelationship.
We needed to establish interconnection not only between the arts but also the Arts with other disciplines, ranging from the pure sciences, especially mathematics, physics, biology and medicine to those of metaphysics, philosophy, archaeology, anthropology and the social sciences. Equally important was the need to question the hierarchy of the textual and the oral, the great and little traditions and the compartmentalization of the so-called classical and folk or urban and rural arts.
As a result of this thinking the aims of this Centre were defined as: "to serve as a major resource centre for the Arts, especially primary material, written, oral, audio-visual and pictorial; to undertake research and publication programmes of reference works, glossaries, dictionaries and encyclopaedias; to establish a tribal folk-art museum with a view to undertake scientific systematic studies; to provide a forum for a creative and critical dialogue through performances, exhibitions, multi-media projections, conferences, seminars, workshops between and amongst the diverse arts (ranging from architecture and literature to music, sculpture, painting, photography, films, pottery, puppetry, weaving and embroidery). In keeping with the Indian viewpoint, no artificial distinctions are made between arts and crafts."
What basic steps did you take to achieve these aims?
Unfortunately the sources of primary materials were in danger of extinction, or lay scattered and fragmented, especially textual and archaeological sources. All deductions were being made on a very small percentage of material brought to light by the early orientalists, a larger corpus being still hidden and inaccessible. Therefore we established a multi-disciplinary library of 90,000 books; a microfilm collection of ten million folios of unpublished Sanskrit, Pali, Persian and Arabic manuscripts; and a collection of 100,000 slides of art objects and illustrated miniatures which are now in Indian and foreign collections.
As you know, a single manuscript or folios of a single manuscript are found in several collections. All this needed to be re-assembled, if not in original then as copies. To give an illustration, let's take the case of the Akbarnama. You know that some folios went to the Victoria and Albert Museum; the others of another sent to Ireland; a few are in the Metropolitan; and there are others in the museums of India. So we are trying to collect the transparencies from each of these collections in one place so that a manuscript can be studied in its entirely and not as fragments. In the case of the textual material it is essential to have microfilms of several recensions before authoritative and definitive editions can be published. All this is painstaking work of reassembly with a view to making it available for posterity.
Now, no culture can be considered in isolation. India has never been insular; it has received and given. Therefore it is essential to study interaction with cultures of South East Asia, East Asia, West Asia and Central Asia. In order to fulfil this need and to carry forward the work of scholars, we have established a South East Asian, an East Asian (particularly Chinese and Japanese) and a Eurasian programme. Our approach is crosscultural. A significant programme relates to the study of prehistoric rock art in the world and the living traditions of tribal societies in India and Australia.
Further there was no point in just collecting primary material and putting it in only one place. No doubt collection and exchange of material and re-assembly are a primary requisite. However, all information has also to be sifted, classified and catalogued. Thus we have created four very major databases. We have input 2,000 catalouges of these manuscripts in a database, and this is today one of the world's most outstanding databases of catalogues of unpublished material. You can retrieve it by repository, you can call for information by discipline or title of texts. This is already serving a very useful purpose. Scholars from all parts of the world are using it. Also the microfilms of primary materials have been used in our series of fundamental texts in original and translation. The volumes have been released. Nearly fifty others have been assigned, and we hope to publish 108 such texts.
in a way you are trying to save the cultural and the artistic soul of India.
You may say so, but we have also been criticized. People say that I am not being progressive, that I am being a revivalist. When we republished the works of Coomaraswamy we were criticized because as you know he has an anti-progressive position. But from our point of view we are committing ourselves to re-evoking and re-articulating a holistic tradition. In a way we are trying to set the clock right. This brings me to the work that you are doing through Resurgence and Schumacher College. We are making every effort to connect with the nature of the discourse which came from the West, which is returning back to these roots. The work of Kathleen Raine and Temenos is so relevant to our work. It is important, and we have empathy with that work and they resonate with our work and the work that is going on in other centres which include the Temple University and the Free University in Washington.
I see inlands of people and institutions all over the world who are endeavouring in the same spirit and manner. My greatest fulfillment came when I received Stella Kramrisch's letter...
(Reprinted from Resurgence Magazine, Ford House, Hartland, Bideford, Devon, Ex 39 6EE, UK)
Copyright IGNCAŠ 1999