As a college student, I had the privilege of being a part of a small group that would meet every week with Mulk Raj Anand, well-known author and the founder editor of Marg magazine. During our evening chats, we would share our aspirations and ideas and listen to his dreams of a new India. In the first issue of Marg, published in 1946, Mulk said in his editorial:
"There is... no time to lose. We have to be up and doing. We have literally, and metaphorically, to build a new India. And, as an architect of this new India, this beautiful and glorious country of our dreams, we have to see to it that there are no loopholes in our plans for the future if we can possibly help it. We must be strong and believe in our ability to reshape our lives. We must explore every aspect of thought and feeling... And we must refine our creative energy in such a way that we achieve a true synthesis between the lasting values of our past heritage and the finest impulses of the new modern civilisation which has been growing up around us."
This message is as relevant to the India of today as it was then.
If we look back on some of the great Indian civilisations, we find that these are periods in which art and culture thrived. Back then, rulers gave equal importance to artists, craftsmen and soldiers (who conquered new territories and built citadels of power for them). History is privy to the fact that during these times architecture flourished; painting and sculpture reached new heights; theatre, music and dance thrived in the courts and as well as amongst commoners.
Do we value the incredibly rich traditions of Incredible India or are we simply letting them crumble and fade away through neglect?
However, over time, we find the enthusiasm for art patronage has shrunk. Some critical questions arise: Are we building new monuments as part of vote-bank politics while national treasures are lying in disrepair and forgotten? Do we value the incredibly rich traditions of Incredible India or are we simply letting them crumble and fade away through neglect? Is it an integral part of our plan for smart cities? Is it part of the blue print for adarsh grams, even though craft is the second largest employment stream after agriculture, and as a socio-economic group artisans are among the poorest? And most importantly from a corporate point of view, is it part of our CSR strategy?
Today, in every corner of this vast country we find lone warriors of art who have held on to their craft and art forms and despite all odds have been trailblazers in not only keeping traditions alive but giving them contemporary meaning and relevance. These artists and performers have struggled to keep afloat, unknown to most. They have worked in remote regions and with minimal resources. They have worked with total passion and commitment without knowing whether their work will be sustained in the years to come. The celebration of the work of these champions, as well as the need for a revival of art as central to being and thinking and feeling, is what prompted Tata Trusts to present Kalapana, an arts and crafts festival which celebrates India's forgotten cultural heritage.
Over the years, it has been observed that interventions, ranging from conservation of monuments to exploration and experimentation of contemporary art forms, can help preserve and sustain art and culture at the grassroots level. In addition, by supporting and reviving institutions such as museums, and creating platforms which can show case indigenous traditional arts and craft forms, we can ensure their continued patronage, now and by future generations.
Our Indian cultural heritage constitutes a rich legacy that needs to be valued. It is vital to realise that art and craft cannot be treated as something elitist and ephemeral. It is instead integral to understanding the diversity and the beauty of our country and engaging with communities. Interventions to preserve and sustain these ancient cultural forms are a mode for not only celebrating the rich traditions of the past, but also learning from them in a way that defines the future. This integration of art with life will ensure that India once again emerges as a great civilisation.