January 05, 2008

Prinsep forgotten at Prinsep Festival



We should be grateful to INTACH and HSBC for taking a very positive step to revive and rejuvenate the Strand along the Hooghly by organising the Prinsep Festival at the forgotten Prinsep Ghat -- that wonderful piece of architecture on the river.

With the twin towers of the Second Hooghly Bridge towering in the background, it was a wonderful setting for the evening program featuring a very vigorous Manipuri Dance by Preeti Patel and an equally impressive interpretation of the Dasha Avataras in BharataNatayam by Bhanumati. Not being a dance critic I will not hazard a display of my ignorance by commenting on the quality of the presentations .. but from the perspective of a layman, it was a truly enjoyable experience.

What was a little disturbing though was the immense ignorance about James Prinsep and the reason why he was honoured by his fellow citizens !!

Neither the compere nor any of the other dignitaries had anything to say about the man who was the first to decipher the Brahmi Script and paved the way for our understanding of what is now known as the Rock Edicts of Emperor Ashoka !

Keeping aside the legendary Bharat ( after whom Bharat and Bharatvarsha is named ) it was Emperor Ashok who gave a physical shape to the political entity that has now evolved into the nation-state that is India today ... and it is his symbols and emblems that was rightly chosen by post-Independence India as its national logo : the Ashok Stambh !!

James Prinsep was an employee of the East India Company and worked in the mints at Banaras and Calcutta. He was passionate about ancient India "but the crowning achievement of all his labours over the decade was the decipherment of the Brahmi script and the consequent clearing up of many of the mysteries of ancient Indian history."

This script was used in Ashokan rock editics and so in a sense we should be grateful to his labours for introducing us to our own glorious heritage !! No wonder his fellow citizens had honoured him with this ghat on the river.

Mr Simon Wilson, the Deputy High Commissioner of the UK, was present at the Princep Festival last night and I was expecting at least him to mention this wonderful piece of fact to the luminaries ( or chatterati !) who had assembled ... but unfortunately he missed this opportunity to showcase the good work done by his countrymen for India. Perhaps he would be better prepared next year.

But all said and done, it was a wonderful experience.

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