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Saudi Arabia brings cultural, religious exotica to India

Wednesday September 28, 2011 01:48:25 PM, IANS

A figurative portrait from Saudi Arabia on display at the Lalit Kala Akademi.

New Delhi: Sugary dates, Persian calligraphy, colourful contemporary art, henna designs and holy Zamzam water from Makkah are some of the exotic flavours from Saudi Arabia in the culture corridor of the capital this week.

A weeklong Saudi Arabia cultural showcase - one of the biggest ever in India - is on here from Sep 27-Oct 1 with an arts blitz at the Lalit Kala Akademi.

Presented by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), the festival is the first initiative of the cultural wing of the ministry of external affairs to build better people-to-people bridges between India and Saudi Arabia.

In a touching gesture, the culture showcase "performed a Haj ritual" by offering guests holy water from the Zamzam Well, a sacred spring located 18 km from the black stone at Kaaba, a building, on the complex of Masjid-al-Haram. The water was offered in miniature jars by holy men - dressed in traditional robes - who look after the well in Makkah.

Haj pilgrims drink water from the well in a religious ritual during the annual pilgrimage.

"The well dates back to the era of prophet Abraham. It was ordained by god to spring forth at Mecca for the well-being of the people. In course of time, it disappeared and was resurrected before the birth of prophet Mohammed. The people and now the government of Saudi Arabia have cared for it down the ages. The government has mapped it and located its source feeds. The water is very very clean..." Imad Zamzami, whose family has traditionally cared for the well, told IANS.

"My grandfather and father have looked after the well before me," Zamzami said.

The ICCR this year inaugurated its overseas cell in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. An 88-member delegation of artists, performers, scholars and officials is representing the kingdom in India.

"The cultural event comprising multiple components is being held in India indicates the growing profile of cultural diplomacy between the two countries. We opened our cultural wing in Riyadh this year and we plan to host Indian cultural events in South Africa. After all this period, there is nothing better than culture to understand each other," Suresh Goel, the director-general of ICCR, said.

The weeklong Arabian art exhibition at the Lalit Kala Akademi has brought more than 150 heritage photographs, Persian and Arabic calligrahic art, digital art, multi-media art, paintings, sculpture, animation and comic book art from South Arabia from India.

"Art is appreciated in Saudi Arabia. Almost every household has an amateur or professional artist - and boasts of a work of art as accessory. Women can pursue arts provided they do not offend religious sensitivities. We cannot draw suggestive human figures," Amal Mohammed al Zahirani, an artist and interior designer from Jeddah, told IANS.

Zahirani uses glue, varnish, antiques, acrylic and metal for her three-dimensional abstract art and sculptures. She estimated that the kingdom had 200 women artists who have made a name for themselves.

Inaugurating the showcase, Sanjay Singh, secretary, east, in the ministry of external affairs said, "India and Saudi Arabia enjoy cordial socio-cultural relations".

He said more than 1.8 lakh pilgrims want to visit Makkah for Haj this year. Singh also traced the history of bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia since the first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited the country in 1956.

"We hope to organise more such cultural festivals in India. We are talking to people in India - this relation will continue," Saleh-bin-Abdul Aziz al-Meghaileth, deputy minister of international culture relations, Saudi Arabia, told IANS.

Saleh is heading the Saudi delegation.




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