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Rediscovering the past

Anushree Agarwal, Dec 30, 2015, dhns 20:53 IST
memoirs Exhibits at 'Africans in India: A Rediscovery'.
The African legacy in India goes back to the 1300s— a fact not many are aware of, be it due to lack of research or paucity of substantial historical evidence. ‘Africans in India: A Rediscovery’, an ongoing exhibition in the City, aims to shed light on and trace the African heritage in the country.

Curated by Dr Sylviane A Diouf and Dr Kenneth X Robbins of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, it was first hosted at the Center itself. It was later presented at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

The exhibition includes photographic reproductions of paintings from private collections and museums as well as contemporary photographs.

“It tries to recollect the contributions of Africans in India in terms of architecture, art and political fervour. It shows that they were one of the most exciting groups of people who came to India and blended in the culture here,” says KM Chandrashekar, Programme Officer, IGNCA, Southern Regional Centre, Bengaluru.

Migrating from East African regions around Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, Africans came to India for trade purposes and as slaves in the 1300s. They went on to occupy prime positions in Indian history, becoming rulers, kings, generals, high ranking officers and architects, all known as ‘Sidis’ or ‘Habshis’, and posed to be tough contenders to the Mughals — something that is not well-known, highlights Chandrashekar.

The famous rulers among them were Malik Ambar, chief minister of Deccan; Ikhlas Khan, prime minister and commander-in-chief of Bijapur Sultanate and Nawabs of Sachin and Janjira.

These Africans even possessed cavalry and a strong army to safeguard their provinces from enemy empires. Their contributions also extend to minting of coins, currency notes and postal stamps for correspondence with neighbouring empires and they were city planners as well.

“They were one of the most tolerant and secular kings and possessed great magnanimity. Hindus, Muslims, Jews and several other religions flourished under their rulership.

In fact, during the Indian Independence, they were open-minded enough to give up their empires to the Indian unification and around 600 princely states were integrated into the Indian State. The exhibition captures all these aspects of the bygone era,” adds Chandrashekar.

Even today, the Africans in Karnataka are concentrated in the district of North Canara in places like Sirsi, Halyala, Dandeli and Yellapura. To this day, Sachin State in Gujarat has around 13 villages under Sachin (a descendant of the Africans), who is an advocate by profession.

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi hosted the exhibition in October 2014. Due to immense popularity and interest in the exhibition, it has been travelling to various cities across India. It has been displayed at the Science Centre, Surat; Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda and Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar.

The exhibition was also presented at the prestigious India Africa Forum Summit held in October 2015 in New Delhi. It will be on view in Bengaluru till January 15 at IGNCA-Southern Regional Centre (SRC), Kengute Circle, Magadi-Kengeri Ring Road, Near IIPM, Mallathalli, Jnanabharathi Post from 9.30 am to 5 pm.

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