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IN CONVERSATION WITH VRINDA RAJE SINGH

— JASMEEN DUGAL

Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar- Chairman and Managing Trustee- Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation follows a personal commitment of preserving the City of Udaipur as living heritage. His vision is being fulfilled through a set of initiatives — one of them being the annual World Living Heritage Festival — to make heritage relevant. Organised by the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, jointly with UNESCO New Delhi Office, the World Living Heritage Festival in Udaipur witnessed the fourth International Conference on Living Heritage; the art and crafts bazaar for master-craftsmen to showcase their offerings; traditional music and dance performances to enliven the morning and evenings, and heritage walks across interesting trails in The City Palace and the by-lanes of the old city. In conversation with a charming lady who is the backbone of the mammoth event, who ensures every single aspect of the event runs smoothly, who looks after each guest personally, who goes out of her way to provide each one us with the warmest hospitality: Vrinda Raje Singh, CEO, Joint Custodianship Initiative, Eternal Mewar.

 

We have just experienced the fourth World Living Heritage Festival. You were the backbone of the event. Do give us an insider's view from the moment you conceived this edition till the successful completion.

 

As a team, we've had the support and guidance from Dronah Foundation and Dr. Shikha Jain, the UNESCO Director and their officers, the Embassy of France to India, our own Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation: the fourth edition of the World Living Heritage Festival was conceived on a larger scale, with participation of a lot more people and institutions. We are grateful that Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, Chairman and Managing Trustee of our Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, supported and encouraged our every plan to take the Festival to greater heights. I'm happy that this time Rajasthan Tourism lent us their support and publicised the Festival on their website and social media. Corporate bodies and their associations were approached but we have to work harder to get the best and most ethical corporates associated with the World Living Heritage Festival.

 

You have been an integral part of WLHF since the very beginning. How do you feel it has evolved in terms of the vision- the magnitude of the event- the awareness?

 

Of course, the awareness has grown, the appreciation has grown and the involvement has grown in many different ways. Please remember that we are talking about 'world living heritage'; we are not just referring to the heritage of our land, or our continent. It has been the vision of Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar to preserve 'world heritage': it has shown us the way ahead to think globally and bring the finest and best practitioners to the Festival. While we have covered tremendous ground in the past six years, we have come a long on our own steam but still have a long way to go. The Festival has to go national and international in the coming years: we look to the support of our partners to achieve this goal. As you are aware, there was a team from Chambord which actively participated in the Festival; Domaine national de Chambord is in collaboration with the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation since 2015.

 

This season witnessed a lot of students engrossed in sessions of very powerful speakers from across the world including the UNESCO Director and The Ambassador of France to India. What are the ways in which you could make it interactive and relevant to the younger generation nationwide?

 

Yes, there was a conscious strategy to involve students, researchers and academic institutions. We had participation  from the students and faculty of Ahmedabad University, Amity University, Singhad Institutes, Centre for Heritage Management and The National Museum Institute, to name a few, who were completely immersed in the conference proceedings, the workshops and all the programmes! It was very satisfying to see their involvement. The feedback of the almost-125 students who participated has also been invaluable.

 

Young people and inter-generational relationships are vital to ensure intangible cultural heritage is alive. How do you perceive we can get young people today- in the time of social media and gadgets- to engage with intangible cultural heritage?

 

Technology and social media is giving a great fillip to issues like living heritage and heritage preservation. You can share more and involve a lot more people from any part of the world. Moreover, the young can take these concepts and apply them to their colleges, places of work, their own family. Many of us have preserved memories through letters or mementoes given by our grandparents or teachers; we were able to keep alive some valued memories or rituals passed on in families. Once you begin to value and respect the past, you begin your journey on the road of living heritage and expand it beyond your individual realm to the community, the country and the world.

 

WLHF witnessed a gamut of cultural and heritage activities centred on Living Heritage i.e. Plenary sessions- bazaar where artisans were given a free platform- interesting workshops- temple trail- heritage walk- morning ragas- evening folk concerts. What was the response you received from people who attended? Did they imbibe the spirit of Living Heritage?

 

The workshops at the Zenana Mahal of The City Palace Museum were well-attended and extremely engrossing. Not just the students and delegates of the Conference but visitors to the Museum too found themselves sitting across the master craftsmen! I was personally most impressed by the sikligars, who are the traditional craftsmen engaged in keeping the arms and armaments in excellent condition. Their skills are indeed praiseworthy, their knowledge worth preserving for future generations. The evening concerts at the Fatehsagar Pal, along the picturesque Fatehsagar Lake, were indeed memorable. We started with pure folk to sufi to folk rock engaging with tates across genres but keeping it relevant to Living Heritage. The audience enjoyed all the performances tremendously, with foot tapping rhythms and songs of the Jogiar Mahabharata, singing along with the Nooran Sisters and dancing with the band, Swarathma. It was very well received though at every stage, the issues along with e-appreciation of the living heritage of our culture was becoming apparent to the thousands who thronged Fatehsagar Pal. Because whether it was Sufi musical traditions or Bharatnatyam, each performer was keeping alive their own music, paying homage to their gurus and respecting their roots. The morning concerts at Gulab Bagh were also spectacular though most of the performances were of bhakti sangeet and appealed to a more mature audience.

 

After the resounding success of Season 4 can you share a nugget of wisdom on how each one of us can practice intangible living heritage on a deeply personal level and be flag-bearers of our rich heritage?

 

Respect the past. Before you can study or uphold cultural traditions of yesteryears, we need to inculcate the respect for it.

 

Do share some feedback that received about this season.

 

Excerpts of an email that Deshna Shah of Anugraha Studio, Mumbai wrote to Vrinda Raje Singh:

 

'As I write to you, I am still digesting all that happened at #WLHF2018. It was such a wonderful festival with so much food for thought and so much to learn from you and your teams hospitality and warmth. While content of the conference and the presentations, discussions, round-tables, performances are understandably the key, for me the learning and inspiration of human qualities surpasses all of this. While I took away a lot from the various speakers and interactions with everyone from the conference, what I really took away the most and will have the most lasting impact on me is you and your teams warmth, hospitality, discretion, awareness levels and your sensitivities and sensibilities. Observing you, Neha and interactions with Raju ji and even brief conversations with Mudit and Utesh ji - all had the same tone of such warmth and sensitivity. What one says is important for sure but the manner in which it is said really impacts and sets the tone for the listener to receive it in a certain way. The way you and your team interacted with everyone around was something to draw inspiration from. I observed that you acknowledged every single individual even on stage with no generic comments but very specific compliments. This gesture will mean so much to everyone at the receiving end including me and I hope to be able to imbibe this quality from you.

 

The festival for sure was well organised and in settings such as these my expectations were of it being super formal which had already made me nervous before I arrived looking at your speaker line up and general festival curation. But with the kind of warmth you exuded, the experience was far from formal - one that made us all feel at home. I truly believe that creativity or even constructive thoughts emerge when one can be ones own self and feel comfortable. You left no stone unturned in making all of us feel at home which really allowed us to deliver our best. I also feel that conducive environments and people that one surrounds oneself with has a huge impact on ones own self sub-consciously if not consciously. The vibe of the spaces we were in - complemented with the ease, warmth, articulation, organisation of you and your team made the festival 'space' really positive - one that would bring out the best in all. I am not saying any of these things to please you or anyone else. These observations for me are aspirations and benchmarks that I would like to set for myself and imbibe from all that all of you had to offer.'
 

Vrinda Raje Singh
Vrinda Raje Singh
 
WORLD LIVING HERITAGE FESTIVAL
Vrinda Raje Singh with Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, Chairman and Managing Trustee- Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation
 
WORLD LIVING HERITAGE FESTIVAL
Vrinda Raje Singh at the crafts bazaar
 
WORLD LIVING HERITAGE FESTIVAL
Vrinda Raje Singh at the formal inauguration of the crafts bazaar
 
06-NOVEMBER-2018
 
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