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Fascinated by the Orient

March 26, 2015, DHNS 21:25 IST

Silk Route

Maps, manuscripts and photographs, mostly clicked by Hungarian-British explorer Aurel Stein, who is credited with the unearthing of a civilisation from under the Taklamakan desert on the Silk Road, is on display here.

Taking cue from the successive conquests of Alexander the Great, Stein is believed to have developed interest in what happened to the Greek culture, as Alexander's army penetrated into Afghanistan, Turkestan and finally into India.

The ongoing exhibition at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, documents the adventures of Stein across central Asia through an array of photographs, mostly by Stein himself.

“The purpose of the exhibition is to reach out to the audience who have interest in exploration, archaeology, cross-border culture and to highlight the life and legacy of Aurel Stein who like, Xuan Zang - the Chinese monk traveller and scholar, travelled through the inhospitable Silk Route,” Agnes Kelecsenyi who has curated the exhibition told PTI.
There are about 10 dedicated boards illustrating the explorer's interest of the Orient, his family, education background and some of his notable expeditions including the Central Asian, Iranian and the Archaeological Survey of India, she said.

The exhibition is a miniature version of an earlier one hosted in Hong Kong which had almost 176 pictures vis-a-vis 100 odd pictures in this one.Salman Haider, former Indian Foreign Secretary, and High Commissioner to UK inaugurated the exhibition along with Szilveszter Bus, Hungarian Ambassador to India.

Calling the project evocative, Haider pointed out the huge cultural diaspora from India that it displays.“Aurel Stein in one of his memoirs on Central Asian desert describes how he found a pit and found great evidence on how people lived in that era,” he said.

Haider also upheld the objective of the exhibition to provide an opportunity for scholars to initiate collaborative research on analogous collection besides getting acquainted with Stein's understanding of great civilisations like those of India, China and Central Asia.
“We have had the benefit of being the repository of rich collection of artefacts from Central Asia and I encourage all to see what India possesses,” he said.

Stein has been described as “prodigious combination of scholar, explorer and geographer and archaeologist.”His name and works have become inseparable from the history of the Silk Road, which was not merely a Eurasian trade route linking China with the Mediterranean, but a conduit of ideas, beliefs, styles of art and technologies.

From 1887 Stein lived in India making his knowledge available in his adopted country, Britain, which provided the opportunities for him to work in areas where he could make best use of his knowledge and expertise.Born in Budapest in 1862, Stein studied Sanskrit, Old Persian, Indology and philology at universities of Vienna, Leipzig and Tubingen.

From 1888 onwards he served as registrar of Punjab University and principal of the Oriental College, Lahore and principal of the Calcutta Madrasah.Stein joined the Archaeological Survey of India in January 1904.He made four major expeditions to Central Asia - in 1900, 1906–1908, 1913–1916 and 1930. Between 1900 and 1916 he led three extensive expeditions for the excavation of sand-buried ruins in the Tarim Basin, discovering hidden languages and writings and shedding new light on the history and
cultural history of the people once living there.Between his journeys Stein spent most of his time living out of a tent in the alpine meadow of Gulmarg in Kashmir.

Many artefacts that Stein collected during his forays are now divided between the Srinagar Museum, the National Museum in Delhi, the British Museum and the British Library.The exhibition, organised by the IGNCA in collaboration with the Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest is scheduled to remain open till April 10.

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