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Vivekananda Kendra Institute Of Culture Preserving The Culture And Tradition Of N-E

Updated: July 20, 2013 11:15 am

India is the only country where the sublime truth of unity in diversity has been understood, appreciated and also practiced from time immemorial. We Indians have done this with regard to the various castes, communities and religions within India. We have also accepted and assimilated people from across the borders, whether they came to India as invaders, traders or refugees. In course of time, all of them have been accommodated in our national and cultural framework, as Swami Vivekananda stated: “We have never been a conquering race, and this blessing is with us.” This is because we never believed that we have to bulldoze all humanity into one, uniform, monotonous mould. It is only because we believe in our culture and that follows in our tradition.

In order to break this firm belief of Indian nation, the external forces are time and again trying to hit this cultural sentiment of the people, particularly in the Northeast. Under these circumstances, it is absolutely necessary that all our efforts should be made to re-discover the fundamental unity of India. With the idea of preserving art, culture and tradition of the people of the Northeast, Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture [VKIC] at Guwahati, Assam, came into existence in the year 1996, primarily with four-fold focus of exploration, propagation, motivation and execution.

The idea behind this institute is to study, do research and propagate the national unity of India, which is the crying need of the time, particularly with regard to the north-eastern region, where separatist and other forces are extremely active to disrupt the unity of India. The approach is governed by Swami Vivekananda’s thought: “Elevation of the masses without injuring their religion.”

But the challenges the region is facing are geographical, demographic, ideological and intellectual. These challenges include 4,500 km-long international border with five foreign countries, namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China and Nepal; A mere 22-kilometre land corridor connects it with the rest of India; Sparse population; The Chinese claim over Arunachal Pradesh, and of late, over Sikkim; Indigenous faith and culture under siege due to infiltration, anti-national and terrorist movements; West-centric theories of isolationism and separatism; Westernisation in the garb of modernization; Diversity/variety misinterpreted as separateness.

Communities of the Northeast, torn by attack on its traditional faith and culture, on its land, on its people, on its way of life, on its family and community bonds, needed the healing touch—a healing touch to understand itself, to live purposefully with self-respect and self-worth; in short, a healing touch to intellectually understand themself as a whole. Against this backdrop, a project of Vivekananda Kendra with its headquarters in Kanyakumari, the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture (VKIC) was established to
nurture roots through seminars, research, documentation and publications on the Northeast of India. The objectives of this project are to understand the richness of our traditional systems, to identify the unifying elements that bind us, to provide meaningful continuity to these practices in a fast-changing complex lifestyle, and to be relevant in time, hence development through culture.

It is needless to state that every part of India—east, west, south or north—has equally enriched the cultural life of India and each, in its own distinct way, has contributed to the rich and colorful national edifice. The picture would have been incomplete without the contribution of even the smallest among them.

Talking to Uday India, Prof DC Baroowa, Director, Research Advisory Council, Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture, Guwahati, said that The VKIC is doing tremendous work in preserving and documenting the cultural heritage of the northeast region. He also added: “This Institute provides the necessary research facilities to scholar doing research on the Northeast. The VKIC has been granted recognition as a research institute by Dibrugarh University, Assam.”

So far, the VKIC has completed six detailed documentation projects. These are Heritage of Kamakhya on Nilachala Hills, The Adis of the Siang Valley, Theravadi Buddhist Monastaries, The Dimasas of North Cachar Hills, The Sattra Institution of Asom, and Documentation of the Rabha Culture of Assam.

The VKIC publications too are significant because they try to communicate culture authentically—through the practitioner’s perspective. So far, 23 significant books have been brought out and a regular bi-annual journal, Quest is also being brought out by the Institute to propagate the cultural depth of the Northeast.

The north-eastern region being surrounded by international border has always been extremely sensitive from the strategic point of view. It continues to be so even today. The Partition of India, instead of solving the issue, has made it more complicated. Demographic equilibrium has come under strain through external factors like the influx of refugees, immigrants and infiltrators. Every nation is worried about the imbalance created by this inflow of human race from one country to another and takes steps to guard against the threat posed by them. There is a tolerance level beyond which no nation can permit alien inflow. If it allows the intolerance, out of indifference, ignorance or incompetence, the price that has to be paid is self-extinction in the course of time.

Every state in the north-eastern region is now facing the problem of people coming in either as refugees, immigrants or infiltrators from across the border. We have to be constantly alert to see whether the tolerance level is being crossed and what the impact of the inflow is on our socio-economic and cultural life. No nation can afford to be indifferent in this regard.

Swami Vivekananda, after whom the entire organisation is named, had realised the importance of the Northeast region with his deep vision. Towards the end of his earthly career, having almost completed his mission, he visited places like Guwahati and Shillong on a pilgrimage, taking his mother along with him. His biographers have pointed out how disturbed he was at the state of affairs of the region at that time. Things have not improved since then.

Pravin Dabholkar, Joint General Secretary of Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari, with special responsibility of the Northeast, who is now stationed at Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture, Guwahati, spoke to Uday India. He said: “The VKIC is an initiative by Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari, the spiritually-oriented service mission, headquartered at Kanyakumari. It was founded in 1972 by Eknathji Ranade as a logical sequel to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, situated off Kanyakumari. Dedicated to the task of national regeneration as envisaged by the patriot-saint, Swami Vivekananda, the Kendra currently works in 21 states through 650 branch centres, projects and activity centers. Although the VKIC was started in the year 1996, the centre was a dream of Eknathji Ranade, who was deeply concerned about the problems and developments in the Northeastern region. Ever since its inception, it has undertaken a number of service activities in the Northeast region. A splendorous region with a rich cultural heritage, the Northeast, in all walks of life, always expressed the great truth of Indian culture unity in variety.”

The VKIC is doing yeoman service for the Northeast. Knowledgeable elders and educated elites are coming together for the nourishment of culture; youth are getting involved to preserve culture; writing and interpreting from the practitioners’ perspective is taking place; Terminology of West-centric scholars being scrutinised and there is an increase in inter and intra community understanding and relationship and with that of India as a whole.

 By Jaydeep Dasgupta from Guwahati

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