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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Vishwarang Australia Festival 2020

60 participants from across Australia and across genres provide a three-day immersion of cultural experiences

Reading Time: 5 minutes 

Literature. Poetry. Art. Music. Drama. Film. Sport. The recently concluded virtual festival Vishwarang 2020 had elements of all of these, as it catered to an Indian community starved of the arts in a COVID-impacted year.

AT A GLANCE

  • Vishwarang Australia 2020, held 6-8 Nov, is an offshoot of Vishwarang Festival, an initiative of Rabindranath Tagore University in India’s Madhya Pradesh state, aimed at keeping alive the arts legacy of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
  • Held in Australia for the second year running, this cultural extravaganza brought together 60 arts practitioners virtually from across Australia
  • Sessions included presentations in literature, poetry, art, music, dance, drama, film and sport.

Under the stewardship of Festival Director Rekha Rajvanshi, over 60 arts practitioners in various fields from across Australia came together in this cultural extravaganza virtually to present their works, or to discuss strategies in the development of their creative journeys.

Held 6-8 Nov, these Indian-origin and Indophile artists shared their views and contributions to thousands tuning in from around the world.

Adrien McNeil with Bobby Singh

Setting the tone of the festival, an ensemble of six Indian and Australian artists under the banner of Sur Sagar, presented a fitting and uplifting musical piece. Their high quality was
matched by other musical performances during the rest of the festival, such as by Dr Adrian McNeil (Sarod) & Bobby Singh (Tabla), and Dr Rashpal Singh (Sitar) & Aman Pal (Tabla).

The Vishwarang Festival also celebrated Tagore’s myriad contributions to music through excellent vocal renditions in Bangla, Srijani Dan, Chirasmita Chakraborty Das and Saikat Das.

In the field of literature, the extraordinary Australian talent was at display during the Writers Sessions in both Hindi (Rita Kaushal, Lakshmi Tiwari, Santram Bajaj, Vijay Kumar Singh and Sanjay Agnihotri) and English (Kiran Bhatt, Chris Raja). The writers opened their hearts about their source of inspiration, the Indian connection in their writings, as well as the challenges they face in Australia. Australian writer and journalist Ben Doherty talked about his experiences in India and his novel Nagaland, while Roanna Gonsalves, author of the award-winning book of short stories The Permanent Resident, discussed her evolution as a writer. Nim Gholkar (of The Diary of Immigrant’s Wife fame) spoke of how her work in fiction crafted her career as a life coach and motivational speaker.

vishwarang writers
Ben Doherty, Nim Gholkar, Rekha Rajvanshi, and Roanna Gonsalves (left to right).

Poetry as an art form was a strong feature of the Vishwarang festival, with three dedicated events. Rekha Rajvanshi, herself a poet and writer, hosted 12 Hindi poets from across Australia including Harihar Jha, Anil Verma, Subhash Sharma, Abbas Raza Alvi, Prageet Kunwar, Soma Nair, Rai Kookana, Kushal Kushlendra, and Kishore Nagrani. Up and coming youth poets Mrinal Sharma, Abhisek Tongia, Vrishali Jain, Pooja Vrat Gupta, Sandhya Nair, Sarabjit Sohi, Rupinder Soz, Manit Bhaskar and Pankaj Upadhyaya strutted their stuff in a session hosted by young writer Virat Nehru. Urdu Mushaira was conducted by well-known poet Asraf Shad featuring seven other poets Yasmin Husaini, Mahesh Janib, Yasmin Shad, Syed Zaidi, Farhat Iqbal, Baqar Raza and Rekha Rajvanshi. These sessions were the exemplar of the talent that exists in Australia in the field of poetry, displaying well-developed craft in terms of sensitivity and expression in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi.

In an interesting session, Prof. Peter Friedlander of the ANU and Prof. Peter Mayer of Adelaide University spoke about their long connections with India, in fluent Hindi. Prof Friedlander discussed the interest in the Hindi language here in Australia. Prof Mayer, during his interview with Prof Rai Kookana and Prof Purnendra Jain (both of the University of Adelaide), discussed the social changes he has seen in India since the late 1960s and how in the field of Technical and Further Education, the Australian model is worth emulating. Profs Kookana and Jain discussed the impact that Gurudev Tagore has had in Australia and Japan. It was pleasing to note that despite not having visited Australia, Tagore had an immense impact on Australian poets (e.g. the late Judith Wright), composers (the late Raymond Hanson) as well as sopranos/singers (Greta Bradman and Heather Lee). Prof Jain, an accomplished Bansuri (Indian flute) player, stole the show with his Banusri Vadan on Vande Mataram (India’s National Song).

Vikrant Kishore in conversation with Peter Dietze
Vikrant Kishore in conversation with Peter Dietze

Cinema is another avenue through which the strengths and deep roots of Australia-India connections emerged during the festival. Film-maker Ana Tiwari, interviewed by film buff and writer Neeru Saluja, discussed the makings of a range of her documentaries in Australia. The highlight of the links with Bollywood was best demonstrated by Peter Dietze (the grandson of famous Himanshu Rai of Bombay Talkies, one of the first and best film studios in Bombay), interviewed by Vikrant Kishore. Peter shared how he came to learn of his grandfather, which led to his deep dive into some of Bollywood’s oldest films featuring Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani, and the development of his exhibition set in the Bollywood of yore. This unusual story was a rare find for a festival such as this.

Neeru Saluja with Ana Tewary

The art of drama was featured in a session by Jyotsna Jyoti with Vipul Vyas and Saba Zaidi Abdi on 7th November.

Artists Mittu Gopalan, Anudeepa Kadiresan, Francine Haywood, Priti Shukla Avijit Sarkar, Sanjeev Menon and Hiren Patel showcased their paintings and explained their themes.

Woven through various sessions were dance recitals providing energy and colour (e.g. Kathak by Gunghroo Dance Group and Bharat Natyam by Nritya Niketan)

Pawan Luthra chats with Steve Waugh

While talking about India-Australia relations, can cricket be far behind? In another outstanding offering, Vishwarang presented Aussie cricket legend Steve Waugh in conversation with Pawan Luthra (CEO, Indian Link). Pawan was able to draw Steve out
admirably on his love for India, and how he was captivated by the spirit and energy of the people during his very first visit and how he tried to capture this in his recent documentary.

Pawan Luthra in another session provided a glimpse of the history of Indians in Australia and detailed the rapid growth of the Indian community here. India is acknowledged for its soft power. How the Australia-India bilateral relation and business via this sector can be enhanced, was the topic of discussion among business experts Sheba Nandkeolyar, Ramanad Garge, Dipen Rughani, Charles Thomson and Irfan Malik.

Rekha Rajvanshi an Indranil Halder in Tagore tribute

Vishwarang was an offshoot of the Indian cultural festival of the same name, an initiative of Rabindranath Tagore University in India’s Madhya Pradesh state, aimed at keeping alive the arts legacy of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. This year it stretched across 5 continents and 15 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Russia and Singapore.

In Australia, it received the blessings of the High Commissioner of India Gitesh Sarma, as well as prominent Australians and Indophiles Julian Leeser (MP) and Jodie McKay (Leader of the Opposition in NSW). They all emphasised the role of VishwaRang 2020 in enhancing Australia-India relationship and harmony between the two communities in multicultural
Australia, especially during the COVID-2019 period.

With inputs from Rai Kookana

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