The High Commission of India and the Indian Cultural Centre Kuala Lumpur (ICCKL) have organised the inaugural Festival of India, in conjunction with the 2015 Malaysian Year of Festivals, to showcase the best of Indian arts and culture to local audiences.

The event runs from mid-March to June, and its programme includes folk dances, classical performances, photo exhibitions, Islamic art, calligraphy exhibitions, food fairs and film showcases.

“We have been very keen to bring some of the best aspects of Indian arts and culture here,” says Indian High Commissioner T.S. Tirumurti. “That is the main reason we started the Indian Cultural Centre five years ago, and the response has been excellent.”

“Last year, the teachers and trainers who conduct classes at the centre ventured outside of Kuala Lumpur to conduct workshops and classes. Hundreds of people attended. So we thought, why not have this converted into a festival, so that we can bring India here to not only increase the interest Malaysians have in Indian culture and art, but also to increase the people-to-people links.”

The festival will take place in the Klang Valley, Ipoh, Johor Baru, Malacca, Penang, Seremban, Sungai Petani in Kedah) and Kota Kinabalu.

The renowned Kalakshetra Academy starts the festival with a bharatanatyam ballet, Kannappar Kuruvanji, at the Petaling Jaya Civic Centre on March 13. Led by academy director Dr Priyadarshini Govind, the performance tells of a hunter-prince who finds salvation through faith. Presented in classical and colloquial Tamil, the dance represents the aspiration of the soul to merge with the divine.

Acclaimed bharatanatyam dancer Valli will grace Malaysian audiences with her moves. –

Meanwhile, a photography exhibition curated specifically for Malaysia will run for two weeks at the National Visual Arts Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, starting March 16. It features 65 photographs and panels from India’s Chola temples, which are part of UNESCO’s list of heritage sites, and will be supported by an interactive presentation to show locals how to observe and appreciate Indian temple architecture.

These famous houses of worships are described as “Great Living Chola Temples … built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of south India and the neighbouring islands. The site includes three great 11th- and 12th-century temples.”

Acclaimed dancer and choreographer Alarmel Valli gives another bharatanatyam performance at the PJ Civic Centre on March 19. There will also be bhangra and giddha folk dances from the Punjab.

Bhangra, danced to music from a dhol (drum), a chimta (iron scissors plate) and folk singing, is usually performed at Vaisakhi, the harvest festival. A vibrant and colourful performance, it incorporates moves and sequences from other Punjabi dances like the luddi, jhummar and dhamaal.

Giddha, a dance by the women folk, is equally energetic but also features feminine grace and elegance. It is derived from a traditional performance known as the ring dance. These shows will be presented by a group of 25 dancers and musicians from the North Zone Culture Centre in India.

From India’s West Zone Cultural Centre, 20 dancers will present three Gujarati folk performances – dandia raas, garba and tippani.

Dandia raas is performed by men and women in traditional Gujarati costumes, accompanied by classical Indian instruments like the tabla (drum), dhol and shehanai (double reed oboe). Garba, among the most popular Gujarat dances, is performed by women, moving in a circle as they clap their hands to the beat of the dhol. And tippani, which comes from the Chorwad region of Gujarat, is popular among labourers as it provides a rhythm for their work.

Indian photographer S.A. Ramesh helms another photo exhibition, Chennai Nalla Chennai, which offers a perspective on the people, customs, quirks and life of Chennai city. His vibrant pictures are both in colour and monochromatic.

Bollywood fans can look forward to Life On The Silver Screen: The Story Of Indian Cinema, an exhibition that takes on a journey through a century of Indian cinema, through the use of visual and graphic aids, film clips, artefacts, replicas and interactive multimedia.

Other events lined-up for the festival include a Tamil literary event, Digital India: IT & Space Exhibition, Exhibition On Islamic Art & Calligraphy, India-Malaysia Links – From the Indian Archives, Malayalam Film Festival, a food festival, and the International Day of Yoga on June 21.

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