The festive season lasts round the year in India. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are followed by the literature festival in Jaipur, with all the clichés following in its wake: one keeps hearing that it’s the Mecca, the Kumbh, the Woodstock and Glastonbury of the book lover. Just as the Diwali season is preceded by the annual Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF), which is now in its ninth edition. Ideally, one must conjure up journalistic clichés greater in magnitude to the ones mentioned above, for the DIAF is a genuinely grand affair — both in terms of its scale and its timeline that stretches for almost half a month.
One look at the number of venues booked for the festival, and you’re already left wondering how best to plan your month ahead. The DIAF itinerary takes you right across the NCR, with every imaginable spot in the city’s culture circuit covered. Now that Friday’s opening ceremony at the Purana Qila — that featured acts from Taiwan, Israel and Egypt — is done, the focus shifts to the India Habitat Centre, National Museum on Janpath, Kamani Auditorium, Siri Fort and Gurgaon’s Epicentre, to name only a few of the venues that will host DIAF events over the coming days.
And the variety of events on offer, the number of disciplines covered, is also baffling to say the least. Since this is a “multi-art” festival, as the official website puts it, one expects a wider range of forms and artistic genres highlighted on the event’s billing. Which is exactly what one gets: dance and music, as well as film and theatre will be some of the forms under the general spotlight at the DIAF 2015. Participants come from across India, while the international delegation includes artists from China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Poland, Mexico and the United States among other countries.
The international headliners include names like the Sichuan Opera Theatre from Chongquing, China (which will be performing as part of the “Grand Closing” at FICCI Auditorium on 31 October); the Ming Hwa Yuan Arts and Culture Group from Taiwan (at Kamani Auditorium on 30 October), Nir Motzeri Music from Israel (at Central Park in Connaught Place on 27 October); and the BaniSwaif Group from Egypt (performing at Zorba the Buddha, MG Road on 17 October).
This much as regards the “Look East” segment of the DIAF. Its counterpart is, of course, the “Look West” segment, which features, among other things, performances by flamenco artists from Spain, a tap dance troupe from the United Kingdom and salsa specialists from Mexico. In the words of the organisers, this east-west balance is meant enhance DIAF’s standing as a “serious platform of cultural diplomacy”.
There’s also a special focus at this year’s DIAF on the African region. The itinerary of not one but two weekends has been designed with Africa on the mind. “Welcome Africa” and “Africa in India” are segments that will feature artists and performers from a range of African countries, like Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya among several others. Organisers say that this cultural nod to the creative side of Africa is supposed to complement the Africa Summit, which will be hosted in Delhi laterthis month.
Participants for this year’s Delhi International Festival of Arts come from across India, while the international delegation includes artists from China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Poland, Mexico and the United States among other countries.
The theme for this year’s festival can also be summed up in one phrase: “India and the world”, with equal emphasis on both “home” and “away”. On the home front, a number of seasoned Indian classical musicians and dancers are participating, as well as theatre professionals like Arvind Gaur and Bharti Smita. “Delhi International Arts Festival projects India as a cultural super power, achieving diplomatic relations with other countries through soft power,” said the DIAF founder and festival director, Prathibha Prahlad, herself a great exponent of Indian classical dance. “The participating countries and embassies hold the DIAF in such high esteem that they have initiated high profile visits by ministers and other dignitaries to India when their artistes participate.”
It can’t be doubted that cultural diplomacy is the best form of diplomacy, and the DIAF is by all measures one of the most articulate and cogent forms that cultural expression can take in a city like Delhi.
Finally, there comes a Shakesperean twist in all this: a series of mini festivals or sub-festivals, if you will, have been planned at the DIAF (festivals inside a festival!) featuring some of the best names in arts and culture from the world over.
We got the DIAF people to enlist for us the sub-festivals that will all be part of the main event this year: “There’s the Indian Classical Dance Festival, Classical Music Festival, Folk Dance and Music events, Percussion and Choral Music Festival, Theatre Festival, Film Festival, Children’s Film Festival and World Arts Festival.” That’s a handful already. And the festivities have barely even begun.