The opening ceremony of the 9th Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF) made for an extraordinary experience. The High Commissioner of Bangladesh, Deputy Chief of Mission of Pakistan, Deputy Chief of Mission of Taiwan, Cultural Counsellor of China and the religious Buddhist head from Palpung, Tibet, lit the inaugural lamp on 11 October. Where else can this happen but in India? This amazing country has always been a confluence of cultures interfacing, blending, unifying towards harmonious co-existence.
The soft launch of the festival -- which kickstarts on 16 October -- was attended by several dignitaries, artistes and the crème de la crème of Delhi's society. In less than a decade, DIAF has become a signature capital event suffusing Delhi with the colours of music, dance, theatre, films, art exhibitions and children's events.
This year will be bigger and better. The Opening Gala will be held at Purana Qila on October 16 and will be free for all. Against the magnificent centuries'-old splendour of the Qila, Delhiites will witness a new take on 'Vande Mataram' as a multi-style dance production, followed by a cross cultural fusion between the The Taiwan Bamboo Orchestra ( that has scored music for the Hollywood blockbuster Mission Impossible ) and the Bamboo Symphony from Kerala. A rare concert featuring Arabic and Hebrew music performed by the renowned Soof Band from Israel will be followed by enthralling the Whirling Dervishes from Egypt.
DIAF offers a non-discriminatory model for a festival with performances ranging from the most traditional to the most contemporary expressions of all art forms. In keeping with the uniqueness and diversity of India's artistic and cultural traditions, DIAF offers a huge bouquet of arts -- with something for everyone's taste and age.
There's nothing snooty or exclusive about the festival. Everything is on offer for free, including the expesnive National Operas from Taiwan and China. Performance spaces range from large heritage monuments to formal theatres, amphitheatres, malls , eclectic music spaces and parks - thereby attempting to reach a large cross section of the public.
DIAF's journey over the years is quite a story in itself. It began in 2007 when India's contours were changing internally and internationally because of a new generation of wealth and a bourgeoning middle class. With it's economic footprints increasing in a fast globalising world, the time was right for India to step up to express it's soft power by organising an annual international festival.
But the model was new and unexplored.
To say it was a huge challenge forging partnerships with government and semi-government agencies, embassies and cultural centres, while simultaneously training personnel to work in the culture sector and to find the necessary funds to support the vast festival calendar, is an understatement. Even today, Indians are pretty conservative when it comes to parting with money and funding new ventures, especially in the field of arts and culture.
All of the '90s and into the 2000's, Indian culture was seen through the prism of Bollywood. DIAF wanted to demolish the myth of Bollywood as the torch bearer of Indian culture and to re-align people's focus on the myriad art forms prevalent in each region in India, and thereby help revive and sustain these art forms and artistes. So DIAF gets about one percent of the financial aid that other international festivals get, through government or other patrons. This too is not certain.
Funding DIAF and finding the 'right' partners to help in kind, year after year is an exasperating exercise.
To date, this challenge remains unaddressed, though the credibility and the footprints of the festival have travelled far beyond India's borders.
This year's Festival has an amazing line up of artistic groups. In keeping with Prime Minister Modi's vision Vasudeva Kutumbakam (the world is one large family); DIAF has strategically brought in groups from different parts of the world.
The International component of DIAF has a 'Look East' segment with performances by the Chongqing National Opera from the Sichuan province of China, Lovebird Spears, an Opera, Martial arts and Chinese Drums from Taiwan, Taiwanese Bamboo Orchestra, Legong and Sumatra dance from Indonesia, and a cross-cultural music band from Singapore.
'Look West' includes famous bands from USA, Israel, Czech Republic, Poland and Turkey, Flamenco music from Spain, Salsa from Mexico, contemporary dance theatre from Portugal and France and Tap Dance from the United Kingdom.
Performances from Central Asia include music and dance from Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Jordan performs from the prism of West Asia art forms. SAARC will be represented by theatre from Pakistan, dance from Sri Lanka and an art exhibition by Preema Nazia Andaleeb from Bangladesh.
This year's Festival features two special weekends called 'Welcome Africa' and 'Africa in India', on the side lines of the Arica Summit that is taking place in Delhi during that period. Many African countries, including Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zambia, Nigeria, Congo, Uganda and Kenya will perform for DIAF in a public outreach program at the Nehru Park.
The Union Ministries of Culture and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations are important collaborators of Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF).