India, 12 Arab nations unite to showcase diverse cultures


New Delhi : The mystical and colourful cultures of the Arab countries came together in a high-voltage jugalbandi with traditional Indian dance and music on the closing day of the India-Arab Forum Cultural Festival in the capital.

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The forum, an Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) initiative, was inaugurated Dec 4 and came to a close Sunday.

Performers from 12 Arabian countries, including Syria, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Morocco, Iran and Yemen, took to the stage in a riot of colours and styles that mark the folk arts of Arabia.

This is the first time 12 Arabian countries are collaborating with India on culture. The Arab nations are home to nearly five million Indian diaspora.

Kathakali dancers from Kerala, kathak dancers from north Indian and Pang Cholam or the drum dancers from Manipur vied for attention with Sufi mystics from Syria, the celebratory war-dance from Jordan and the colourful folk dances of Eygpt and Basra in Iraq.

The musical score was a medley – featuring Rajasthani folk music, Arabian percussion, traditional clappers and musicians from Palestine and Morocco.

The venue of the concert – the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) auditorium – overflowed with a cheering crowd comprising mostly young Arabian expatriates and dignitaries.

The show tried to drive the message of India-Arab synergy and cooperation home with unfurling of flags of the performing Arab nations, along with that of India – at the end of every act.

A group of 16 Sufi minstrels and mendicants, the Salatintarap Group, from Syria stole the show with their rendition of the “Circle of Demonstration” – an act that came across as both lively and spiritual. It featured dervishes – both children and adults – clad in their traditional white robes and tall hats.

“We are Sufi practitioners who follow Islam through Sufism,” Haj Ahmed Hallaq, leader of the group, told IANS. This is the group’s first visit to India.

“I wanted to visit the dargah of Nizamuddin and meet Sufi musicians from India. I wish ICCR would arrange for some Sufi performers from India to go to Syria so that we exchange our music,” Hallaq said.

Sami-Khsheiboun, violinist and musical director of Palestinian ensemble Al-Farabi Oriental Instrumental Music, said he had studied Indian classical music.

“I studied the emotions and the origins of the Indian ragas,” Khsheiboun said.

The five-member band played the violin, lute or the oud and the multi-string ‘kanoun’, a santoor-like instrument.

The troupe from Egypt comprising 40 dancers and 54 musicians presented traditional dances from across the country – representing the cultures of the Bedouins, Sinai and coastal areas.

“Our troupe set up in 1960 is one of the oldest in the country,” Sameh El Soreity, general manager of the group, told IANS.

India shares historical ties with the Arab nations – with similarities in culture and performing arts that date back to the Mughal era.