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Virtues of Indian art and culture

India demands a cultural Policy that could preserve art and connect youth with their motherland

Publish Date: Oct 7 2016 2:13PM | Updated Date: Oct 7 2016 2:31PM

Virtues of Indian art and culture
Photo credit: Hrishikesh Bhatt
The cultural heritage of a community not just gives a peek into its history, but it also answers some of the most complex questions of ‘existentialism’ by giving  individuals an identity. As we know, individuals form communities and communities form nations, and culture gives every nation a unique, distinct identity to share and be proud of. Down the ages, the captivating artistic charm and charisma of the Indian subcontinent too has fascinated people from across the world. 
India derives its art and culture from various movements and invasions it has been through. Firstly, the Aryans, Muslims and then the British invasions not just left their cultural legacies with us but also exposed India to several other cultures of the world that resulted in formations and subsequent variations in tangible as well as intangible cultural aspects of the country. 
According to various scholars, while tangible cultural heritage undoubtedly includes buildings and historic places, monuments, artifacts, etc, intangible cultural heritage not only includes, various forms of music and dance, it also includes oral practices, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.
Notwithstanding its glorious history of abundant cultural heritage, India is on the threshold of losing many of these with many already being on the verge of extinction.

NGO/NPO’s perspectives 
Being a vast country with splendid yet endangered cultural heritage, India not just needs the government but also encourages assistance and cooperation of local people and non profit and non government organizations.
One of such organization is Artreach India that believes in changing the world through art. Working with children from diverse groups, Artreach truly believes that you cannot teach artistic values to people, you have to inculcate these in them. 
Highlighting some of the challenges that such organizations may face and the possible reasons behind extinction of art forms, the director of Artreach, Deeksha told Policypulse that the problem is related to the spreading of the word about their activities because people are often unaware of the kind of work organizations like theirs do.
“Apart from promoting arts, we also try to bring the children from different financial backgrounds together because we firmly believe that somewhere in the environment of creative learning, the social barriers will break down,” she said. 
Elaborating the same problem, another representative from Happy Hands Foundation informed that the problem is that the poor perception of art and crafts in India means that there just isn’t pride attached to being an indigenous artist. 
“We have different artisans whose kids are MBA, BBA, IT professionals, and they actually don’t want to carry forward the rich heritage that they are so lucky to be born in and can carry forward,” Happy Hands informed. 
This perception is what the organization is working to change. They hold workshops with indigenous artists for urban people to make them realize the effort, skill and beauty involved. They have had a very good response so far.
Another possible reason behind this is lack of financial benefits to artisans. Nobody can pursue passion when starving. Referring to ‘Cherry Art’ of Andhra Pradesh, Happy Hands informed “presently there are only three families within a family left who practice Cherry Art and the form will eventually die.”  
So as to suggest some solutions, both the organizations laid an emphasis on creating markets for these artisans that the Government can play a major role in actively creating and supporting, like in their successful Dilli Haat type ventures where an attractive haat or market is created with artists and artisans sponsored to come and live in Delhi and sell their wares for a certain period of time.
Supporting the statement, Deeksha said “For us the crafts people are repositories of knowledge and by giving them more and more work, you help sustain a particular form.”
Talking about famous art forms like Madhubani and Warli, the organizations told that some forms get extinct because they don’t get a similar status worldwide. 
When asked about their work in the field of conservation of various music and dances, Artreach said, “Though we don’t work for the conservation of art forms but we try to inform children about these forms, for instance if I show them a video of Assam’s Bihu dance and ask questions about it, then they will remember the form because now it is a part of their memory. You can save a form only if you know about it.” 
Nevertheless, whether we blame it on the continuous exposure to the western world, globalization, modernization, lack of passion, no profit out of indulging into cultural activities or other reasons, all of them demand for constructive cultural policies and subsequent policy interventions. 
The Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (SPICMACAY) is an initiative taken by Dr Kiran Seth, Professor-Emeritus at IIT-Delhi in 1977 that works on motto that there is no benefit in modernizing ourselves and establishing new codes of conduct if it is done at price of our cultural heritage. 
This initiative rather believes in enriching formal education via art and craft for which it engages most accomplished artistes of the country rendering programs of Indian classical music and dance, folk poetry, theatre, traditional paintings, crafts & yoga, primarily in schools and colleges. 
In its most successful venture of 2012-13, more than 7500 programs were organized in more than 1500 institutions in 800 towns in India and 50 towns abroad impacting more than 3 million students. 
Recognizing its contribution to art and youth development, in 2011, the program was awarded Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavana award.
Such initiatives demonstrate that art and education can go hand in hand without creating hindrances in the way of individual and collective development. 
Role of Cultural Policy and the present picture 
Though, conservation of cultural heritage is a challenging task, it might be easy to preserve tangible cultural heritage sites, but it is quite complicated to conserve what we call intangible culture, without significant policy formations and interventions. The possible reason behind this is the fact that intangible culture is ‘intangible’. People cannot touch it, it is meant to be practiced and once people stop practicing it, it will come to end in no time.  
So, cultural policies are needed to ensure conservation, preservation, to introduce various conservation measures and assess their impacts. 
Apart from this, a cultural policy also strives to strengthen the partnership of private sector and the local communities.
The art and culture policy in India took shape soon after Indian independence and presently the thrust is in four basic areas. Firstly, the issues related to anthropology, art history and archaeology, basically that are related to history are dealt by Department of Culture. 
Secondly, to introduce art and culture in education. Thirdly, to take care of artisan produce, especially handicrafts, and the fourth one is to establish a link between traditional craft and advanced technology.  
Presently, in the country, the privilege of making certain policies related to art and culture is enjoyed by the Ministry of Culture who has been allocated Rs. 2500 crore in this year’s budget. 
Under its various plans and schemes, the ministry provides grants, scholarships and various other monetary benefits to creative practitioners of arts and aesthetics.   
The Government of India engages various institutions to promote and sustain art and culture. To name some: there is the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) that organizes international cultural exchanges, offers scholarships, organizes camps and cultural tours and placements, and supports  cultural centers. 
Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) is established to co-ordinate activities in the visual arts. The only art academy completely devoted to contemporary art, it organizes art events, offers scholarships, co-ordinates some of international participation by Indian artists internationally as well as organizing international exhibitions in India. 
Apart from them, there is the Sahitya Kala Akademi working towards conserving Indian literature. 
Similarly, the National Museum in the country’s capital preserves various artifacts by hosting various exhibitions. 
Suggestions for a Cultural Policy    
The role of art and culture is indispensable and its impact on human life is overt and covert. Talking specifically about various music or dance forms of India, every state has a different culture and art forms related to it. But in today’s scenario, they seem to be restricted to marriage or other family functions. 
To preserve these art forms, it is important to bring them to public, national or in fact international domain. 
One considerable step could be taken from the government’s side by increasing the budget allocated to the concerned departments and institutes. According to WorldCP, an international database of cultural policies, although the government of India has spent in the last 35 years 600,000 crores on development, the amounts spent on culture have usually been around 0.11 % of its annual expenditure.
Also, the amount of scholarships provided to various artisans and craft workers can be increased.
NGOs and NPOs play significant roles in these fields and their involvement should be invited on large scale for which funds are needed. When asked about the problem, Director of Artreach said, “We don’t get any funds from the government. It would be nice if we get some.”  Happy Hands also informed that the organization is granted funds from other organizations but not the government.  
Similarly, creating markets for art and craft products and providing similar status to every art form could be done for which small scale industries can be established, funded and developed. 
Finally, a policy is needed that may serve as a bridge between modernization, development and cultural heritage.
Educational aspects 
Education is not just about teaching a person how to earn but how to learn. Education can play significant role in conserving various art forms. 
India saw the dawn of formal and English education after the arrival of colonisation. The curriculum introduced by the British had the objective of advocating its own glory and not promoting local cultural and artistic value. The principles of Macauley were encouraged to be taught in all its colonies. 
After they left, however, the focus has not shifted towards Indian arts and culture enough, and there is much that can still be done.
As per UNESCO, presently, there are around twenty universities out of eighty six that train students in music, sculpture, applied arts and crafts at graduate and post graduate levels, and only three of them offer courses in dances and theatre, the focus of most of the other premier institutes is on imparting technical and 
job-oriented education. 
Tourism: a crucial factor
‘Art needs admirers’. True enough.
Well, today due to more globalization, tourism has become the biggest source of aficionados for any art and cultural heritage. 
Apart from generating money, tourism helps preserve places which are of historical importance by declaring them as heritage sites. We have some of the greatest examples where tourism has helped in preserving historical sites that are examples of brilliant architecture for instance, Taj Mahal, Qutub Minar, Ajanta and Ellora temples and temples of South India. 
Similarly, it creates markets for the diverse creations by artisans, who can sell their handicrafts at good prices which in turn also encourage them to retain their crafts as well as help in preserving art forms.   
As tourism increases, this business also sees a hike. According to Exports Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH), during 2014-15, the exports of Handicrafts have shown an increase of   1321.87 crores, from   13460.23 to   14782.10 crores, an increase of 9.82% in rupees term. 
Apparently, there are many reasons behind the extinction of various art forms and so are the possible solutions, amidst them, it is the cultural identity of the country that is being affected, after all; our cultural heritage is what we have inherited from our ancestors.