Overcoming 'hesitations of history': Uniting South Asia through 'symphony'

“Let us sweat in peace, not bleed in war,” the famous words of  Indian Ambassador Vijayalakshmi Pandit before the United Nations has been the motto of The South Asia Symphony Foundation, a Bengaluru-based foundation that works toward building peace and mutual understanding in the disunited South Asian region through the medium of music

Kavita Bajeli-Datt Dec 23, 2020
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“Let us sweat in peace, not bleed in war,” the famous words of  Indian Ambassador Vijayalakshmi Pandit before the United Nations has been the motto of The South Asia Symphony Foundation, a Bengaluru-based foundation that works toward building peace and mutual understanding in the disunited South Asian region through the medium of music. 

The foundation is a brainchild of Ambassador Nirupama Menon Rao, former Indian foreign secretary and former ambassador to the US and China, and her husband Sudhakar Rao, former chief secretary, Karnataka state India, whose capital is the tech capital Bengaluru. 

Founded in 2018, Rao, who is also a passionate poet and musician, was inspired by the dream that “South Asia must overcome the hesitations of history and build an architecture of dialogue and cooperation that can nurture and sustain our common humanity and recognize our shared destiny". 

Believing that young South Asians must discover the strength of communicating through music, its nuances, and its diversity, and building harmony, the foundation aims to promote greater cultural integration for the cause of peace in the region of South Asia –especially the eight countries in the region - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

The foundation has expanded the definition of South Asia to include the diaspora of South Asian origin from around the world. 

The foundation has held music workshops, master classes, lectures, and training in orchestral music for young musicians by internationally renowned master teachers of orchestral music. The idea is to foster artistic talent and creativity among these young musicians of promise. 

The focus of the foundation was on the South Asia region because Rao, who has a diplomatic career spanning 40 years marked by key postings across the world, felt that music will be able to bound the region together by its commonalities rather than differences. 

This cultural diplomacy was in full view when the foundation last year held a concert ‘From Gandhi to Beethoven - the Call to Freedom’ to celebrate the 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, in Bengaluru. The concert had a full-fledged orchestra of 65 musicians, representing India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Kazakhstan, the US, the UK, and Germany. 

In an interview with The Telegraph newspaper, Rao said: “The creation of musical repertoire for orchestral performance based on the folk, classical and popular music of the region is also an important focus of these efforts. Musicians from India and fellow South Asian countries are thus able to craft a shared musical identity of the subcontinent of South Asia that is rich, composite, and yet plural.” 

She said the idea was to “help the rest of the world to view the region in a new light.”

(The writer can be contacted at kavita.b@spsindia.in)

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