BRICS Mirror of Times Russia and India culture



“BRICS: in the Mirror of Times” How Russia and India enrich each other’s culture

The tenth episode of the joint project by TV BRICS and GAUGN is dedicated to the development of cultural ties between the two countries

In the tenth episode of the joint project by the TV BRICS International Media Network and GAUGN “BRICS: in the Mirror of Times”, dedicated to cultural and educational ties between India and Russia, Olga Kharina, a researcher at the Department of World Economy of Relations of the Higher School of Economics, an expert on South Asian countries, spoke about how the mutual influence of the two countries has affected modern educational programmes.

The project was supported by a grant from the Russian Ministry of Education and Science as part of the federal project “Popularisation of Science and Technology”.

The eminent Russian artist and philosopher Nicholas Roerich once said about Russian-Indian relations: “India’s heart is drawn to the immense Russia. The great Indian magnet attracts the hearts of Russians.” And cultural exchange and cooperation in education have always strengthened this rapprochement between two seemingly different countries. How did it all start? How has the mutual influence of the two countries been reflected in today’s educational programmes? And how do Russia and India enrich each other’s culture today?

Russian-Indian relations have lasted for several hundred years. Tell us how it all started and name the main milestones of this interaction.

If we recall, for example, the Tale of Bygone Years, even there Nestor mentioned India as one of the countries that encompasses the vast interests of our state. The names changed, the countries changed, the composition changed, but our relationship was very stable, as it turned out. And even in the XI century, chess was found near Novgorod, which actually came from India. If we do look at the stages, of course, it is somewhere between the 10th and 11th centuries – the time of nomadic tribes, when our cultural ties were just beginning. Then it is, of course, religious interpenetration, more precisely Buddhism, which gradually penetrated into our territory. Then it is somewhere XIV-XV century, when we remember the same campaign of Afanasy Nikitin. At that time we had actively developing trade relations, merchants arranged mutual exchanges, traded in spices and furs.

Then our relationship also went very deep, growing into each other. Then there was the colonial period, then we already had a growing interest in terms of scientific diplomacy, many scientists became curious about India, some of them visited the country.

Now many scholars say that even some elements of folklore, which came from India, are traced in Russian folklore when they compare the texts. Even ancient women’s jewelry is compared.

If we further distinguish the periods, it is, of course, the XIX-XX centuries. And as you already mentioned, it is Nicholas Roerich, his wonderful works. He was a resident of India and passed away in the South Asian country. And accordingly, it also affected our exchanges. And then we can distinguish the interwar period, where the emphasis was on diplomatic cooperation.

If we take the period of independence, then, of course, after 1947 we started the most active stage of cooperation, we had a cultural and educational upsurge. First of all, we are talking about cinema. Various Indian films began to be brought to the Soviet Union. Actor Raj Kapoor is gaining incredible popularity in our country.

This is love for him, these are films that were imbued with a warmth that was close to our people – many people watched them several times in cinemas, quoted them, sang songs. For example, the song “Tramp” was translated into Russian.

The next active period was the 1970s and 1980s, they were associated with Indira Gandhi. She came to the Soviet Union many times, and we began to develop educational exchanges and scientific cooperation. All this manifested itself in the fact that Indian students began to come to us, who were studying in institutes primarily in medical and technical specialities. For us it was a great, I think, recognition and respect for our education, its level and quality.

In the 1990s, there was probably a slight stagnation. At that time our country was undergoing a transformation and we were not in the mood for any visits and cultural events. And by the early 2000s, we had a dip in the study of Indology. And now it is beginning to blossom again.

What about educational programmes? You said that Indian students used to come to the USSR back in the 1970s and study medical specialities. Are they coming today and what are they studying?

Yes, indeed, it is our medicine that is very popular among Indian students, simply because we really have a very high quality base of fundamental education, this is actively recognised, and in India as well. In addition, technical, IT specialities, everything related to high technologies are very popular today. It is worth noting that we now have about 19,000 students, 16,000 of whom study medicine.

When we, for example, invite students on various scholarship programmes for humanitarian specialties to our universities, they take this initiative with great pleasure, even simply because our education, with all the quality it has, is cheaper than, for example, in European countries or in the United States.

If we talk about university co-operation, we are also seeing a significant breakthrough now – agreements are being concluded with various leading Indian universities such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, Bangalore University, Delhi University. They are interested in cooperation. At this stage, while our documents are being checked and prepared on both sides, we are implementing programmes of cooperation, exchange, involvement of Indian students just at the level of such local faculty events, faculty seminars, involving them in training, in joint projects. They are happy to take part, for example, in writing joint articles with Russian students in English. It’s a very interesting and rewarding experience for both parties.

Talking about the cultural sphere, it is clear that Bollywood, Indian films and cinema are known not only in Russia but all over the world. Apart from films, are there any common exhibitions, activities, cultural events to bring our peoples closer and unite?

These are various festivals which again are related to Indian cinema. A famous Indian film festival is held annually in Russia, where contemporary films are judged. Not so long ago there was a festival in India where folk ensembles from different parts of Russia, for example, from Dagestan, from Krasnodar Krai, came and showed our cultural traditions. The response to this event was absolutely phenomenal.

Besides, we have a Russian House in India. Not long ago there was a concert dedicated to the works of Rachmaninoff. Of course, it is cooperation in the field of literature – various book exhibitions, translations into different languages of the peoples of India.

In your opinion, what prospects and opportunities exist for further strengthening and expanding cultural and educational ties between Russia and India?

I would certainly add more of some cultural exchanges and joint activities. And another very important point: I believe that these all relationships should come from the bottom up. So it is not true that at the state level we are supporting the country. Still, it is necessary to permeate each other at the level of society. Take K-pop, for example – this music has reached huge masses, and now people in other countries around the world have a great respect for Korean culture. The same, I think, is what we are missing in the context of India specifically. After all, India has really great cinema, great music, talented composers, writers. Even at the level of television and series – they’re very high quality. I think it’s the scale and scope that we’re lacking.

I’m not saying that we need to tell and show about India on every channel, for example, but still it could be somehow more comprehensive, probably more versatile, so that people really have the opportunity to learn more about India. We need to launch more country studies events, cultural events that tell exactly about India not the stereotypes that many people know.

India is a traditional partner for us, with whom we have never had any conflict situations, we have always supported each other at various historical stages. We’ve always stayed true to each other. It seems to me that this loyalty should also be supported by scientific and cultural cooperation.





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