INDIAN CULTURE AND VIETNAM – INDIA CULTURAL COOPERATION
Assoc. Prof. PhD. Pham Quang Minh, Vice Rector of Universtity of Social Sciencies and Humanities, Vietnam National University.
Assoc. Prof. PhD. Le Van Toan, Director of Centre for Indian Studies, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am delighted to be present here today, to speak to you on “Indian Culture and Vietnam - India Cultural Cooperation”. I would like to thank Assoc. Prof. PhD. Le Van Toan, Director, Centre for Indian Studies at the Ho Chi Minh Academy of Politics, and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Do Thu Ha, Dean, Faculty of Oriental Studies at University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University for taking this initiative and for kindly inviting me today.
Any discussion on Indian culture cannot begin without understanding what makes it one of the richest cultures in the world, why it is distinct from other ancient civilizations and what is the current context of Indian culture in today’s globalised world.
India, as you well know, is the second largest population in the world; we represent one-sixth of the world’s humanity; we practice every religion known to man, including at least four to five religions, including Buddhism, that were born in India; we speak more than 30 major languages with their own ancient script and literature and over 1000 dialects.
Over the years, we have absorbed and assimilated several external influences, while retaining our quintessential Indian culture. What makes, Indian civilization distinct from other ancient cultures is that we are the only living continuous culture in the world. This means that the Gods we worshipped 5000 years ago are the Gods we worship today. There is no other ancient civilization, be in the Chinese, the Egyptian, the Mesopotamian, or any other, that has survived in philosophy and thought, in the same way that ancient Indian philosophy or religion or civilization has.
History books will teach you about other rich, ancient cultures but these cultures have not survived today. They remain confined to ancient monuments and history books. But Indian culture is different. Today’s culture resonates back to our centuries old philosophy and culture.
Why is it so? We survived because while we allowed ourselves to be influenced by other cultures, we preserved our distinct nature. We remained tolerant. We believed that the world is one family and that God is one. And that there is a oneness of universe, even if there are different paths to reaching him. Aryurveda, yoga, yogic philosophy, respect for nature, and respect for elders--some of these are manifestations of this ancient Indian wisdom.
As a political system, we are a very noisy multi-party democracy, with a free media, an independent judiciary and public debates on any issues of concern to society. That has also crept into our social and cultural values. We make more than 1000 films, over 700 television programmes, and publish more than 1000 newspapers and journals. That has allowed new ideas to flourish and thrive.
We practice more than 7 classical dance forms that have been passed down to us through centuries and at least two distinct classical music forms. Our folk songs and dance traditions also go back centuries, enriching our performing arts, dances, dramas, and of course cinema, where the world renowned Bollywood is an important component. Again, what makes the Indian film industry distinct from other cinemas of the world is that it is self-sustaining. It has flourished entirely on its own, without any Government patronage, entirely on the support of its audience, which has today a global outreach. It has a universal appeal, because it addresses universal values of family life, of love, and of harmony with universe.
This desire for living at peace and in harmony with the universe, which is quintessentially Indian culture, is also evident in our history. In our 1000s of years of history, you will find that we never attacked another country. Indian influence in other parts of the world never spread through conquest or war. It was a peaceful influence, through religion, philosophy and based on principles of coexistence. It spread through trade and exchange of ideas. This is particularly true of our ancient links with the entire South East region, including with Vietnam.
When India and Vietnam were fighting for independence, the leaders of our Independence movement, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and President Ho Chi Minh were in direct contact with each other. From prison, President Ho Chi Minh wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru:
“Thousand miles apart, we have not met,
we are communicating without words,
shared ideas link you and me.”
Although these words were spoken in the context of two struggling nations, fighting for independence from colonial rule, they are equally relevant to the cultural and civilizational linkages that exist between our two countries. For this reason, culture, education and training has remained a very important aspect of our development cooperation with Vietnam in modern times.
India-Vietnam historical and civilizational linkages go back many centuries. These are evident today in the practice of Buddhism, both in India and in Vietnam. The beautiful Champa monuments in My Son, Nha Trang, Phu Yen and other places in central and southern Vietnam, tell another story of our ancient historical links. There is also a very distinct Indian influence in Vietnamese cuisine and the use of spices in different food and dishes cooked in Vietnam.
Over the centuries, Vietnam’s history and society was affected by several external influences. Throughout the course of its history, Vietnam had to fight several wars, including 18 major invasions. What made the Indian links to Vietnam different from other external influences was the fact that our links were totally peaceful; they came through trade, culture, religion, and the philosophy of peaceful coexistence and non-violence. There was never any conflict. That, in my opinion, is the most important feature of our ancient links. It is perhaps because of this strong foundation of peace, that our relations have endured in modern times and become even stronger.
Over the years, since our independence, we have continued to forge even stronger political, economic and defence relations. We have also enhanced our cultural cooperation, people-to-people contact and linkages through education and training. There is an entire generation of leaders and decision makers on both sides that has grown up based on these linkages that were created early on in our post-independence relations. In the course of my one and a half years stay in Vietnam, I have come across many scientists, academics, media persons, engineers and Buddhist philosophers, who have studied in India and brought with them positive experiences that have contributed to bringing India and Vietnam closer together.
In fact, Vietnam has been one of the largest recipients of our training programmes under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme. Presently, 150 ITEC slots are being offered to Vietnam every year along with 16 scholarships under the General Cultural Scholarship Scheme (GCSS) and 14 scholarships under the Educational Exchange Programme (EEP) and 10 scholarships under the MGC Scholarship Scheme.
Over the years, we have also tried to create several institutional linkages for greater academic exchanges. In 1976, we signed a bilateral Cultural Agreement. Since then, a series of successful cultural exchanges have taken place. Last year in March, we again organized a very successful Festival of India in Vietnam It had several components: a Classical and a Folk Dance Recital, a Buddhist Festival, a Food Festival, Henna art demonstration and Yoga classes. Subsequently, several other cultural events have taken place, including a very successful celebration of the 1st International Day of Yoga in June this year.
It showcased the importance and relevance of yoga as a science that promotes physical and spiritual fitness, peace, harmony and oneness of universe. The possibilities are immense and it is our effort to constantly improve upon our past successes.We would soon be opening a cultural centre in Hanoi with a full time yoga teacher from India.
During Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to India in October last year, it was agreed that the Archaeological Survey of India will help to renovate one of the temple complexes in My Son, which remains an enduring symbol of our ancient linkages. I am certain this project will contribute to attracting more tourists from India and from other parts of the world. In my opinion, tourism remains an important aspect of our cultural and people to people contacts. There is a huge untapped potential in tourism which we must exploit by opening direct flights, creating more awareness through better marketing and use of popular Bollywood cinema.
We are both young nations where large percentages of our population are below 25 years of age. What we teach our youth today, is what they practice in the future. While we always remain proud of our ancient linkages, and nostalgic about the friendship cemented by the founding fathers of our independence movement, the future of India-Vietnam relations rests with the youth of our two countries. You will be the future leaders of our two countries. We need to educate our youth about the potential in our relationship. The foundations laid by strong cultural, educational, and social influences, will therefore play a very important part in forming public opinion. I look forward to working with the USSH and all others present here to forge closer cultural and educational linkages with my country.