Is this the reward for loving India?

Foreign angst

Is this the reward for loving India?

An incident which occurred miles away in the temple town of Puri last week, has touched hearts in Delhi as well. Padmashree awardee Odissi dancer of Italian origin Ileana Citaristi was manhandled and abused aboard the chariot of lord Jagannath during the holy procession in Puri. Reportedly, she refused to pay the priests a dakshina of Rs 1000 and was therefore slapped, called names and made to get down from the chariot.

To add insult to injury, the next day, a declaration was made that from now on, no foreigner will be allowed on the chariot during the procession. The incident has upset many artistes in Delhi who, like Ileana, may have come from different countries, but have embraced Indian classical dances and adopted the Indian culture like their own.

Devayani is one of the best-recalled names when it comes to Indian classical dancers of foreign origin. 25 years back, she arrived from Paris, learnt Bharatnatyam from the masters of the art, even gave herself a new name and became a celebrated dancer across India. She informs Metrolife, “I am shocked to hear what has happened in Puri.

Foreigners are anyways not allowed inside the temple. The procession is the only time devotees of other caste and religion can get close to lord Jagannath. Why are they stopping this syncretic tradition?”

“I have been to temples across India and in most places, I have been welcomed with open arms. My most cherished memory is that of dancing in the precincts of Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu for a film. It was a most spiritual, exhilarating experience. It feels sad that someone should now tell me that I can’t do that.”

Quincy Kendell Charles - a British-Trinidadian - has been learning and performing Kathak in Delhi for five years now. He is equally outraged, “This is clearly discrimination. I have spent almost half my life learning Kathak and the nuances of Indian culture. After all, it is not possible to separate the dance from its cultural aspects. Now, I am learning in-depth Hindi and Sanskrit too. Is this how India treats those who dedicate their lives to upholding its heritage? Is it fair to treat us like second class citizens?”

Indian artistes are also unhappy with the development. Guru Prabir Datta who runs the Nava-Pallava Kuchipudi dance institute says, “This is a behaviour really unbecoming on the part of priests. I would say the priest who assaulted her should be punished and not the foreigners who find peace in our religion and traditions.”

“More so, this is the time when India’s soft power – that of its culture – is attracting artistes from all over the world. We should welcome them with open arms and not drive them away.”

Sharon Lowen, the acclaimed Odissi dancer from Detroit, USA, however, has another perspective, “I will not raise any objection to this announcement as I don’t see myself as a foreigner claiming privileges in India. I am a guest here and will be happy with whatever is offered to me. During my previous visits to lord Jagannath’s procession, I have had the good fortune of pulling the rath. That is a blessing in itself. Why obsess with getting onto the rath and offend some people?”

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