RICHMOND Mayor Malcolm Brodie inaugurated the third annual West Coast Tagore Festival on Saturday, September 14, paying rich tribute to Rabindranath Tagore and reiterating that Richmond is a central place where multiculturalism is celebrated and different community organizations are strongly supported to showcase their cultural diversity to fellow Canadians.
For the third year in a row the festival was hosted by Vancouver Tagore Society with generous support from the City of Richmond. The mayor was presented with a bouquet of flowers by the society’s founding-director and treasurer of Raihan Akhter. A congratulatory letter from Premier Christy Clark was read by the society’s founding-director and secretary Duke Ashrafuzzaman and another letter from Indian Consul General Ravi Shankar Aisola was read by the society’s director Amlan Das Gupta.
A number of partner organizations including World Poetry Richmond, Writers International Network Canada, Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast and Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society participated in the Festival.
The day’s program began with an opening dance by Keya Ghosh to the tune of Tagore song “Nobo Anande Jago” which was followed by the welcome speech of president of Vancouver Tagore Society, Lee Tan. The morning session continued with Tagore songs by Shankhanaad Mallick (director of Vancouver Tagore Society), poetry by Renée Sarojini Saklikar, dance with Tagore poem by Maisha Haque, Anika Mahmud and Sanzida Habib Swati (director of Vancouver Tagore Society), followed by performances of Tagore songs, poetry and dance with Tagore song by Bengali children from Greater Vancouver: Pritika Biswas, Pranjal Biswas, Sonya Chatterjee, Rea Chatterjee, Raaj Chatterjee, Anika Venkatesh, Zahur Ashrafuzzaman and Anisha Biswas.
The afternoon session began with the trademark Woven Tapestry of Words by the World Poetry Reading Series. Poets Jemma Downes (English), Bong Ja Ahn (Korean), Frederico Gordo (Japanese), Selene Bertelsen (Middle English), Sanzida Habib Swati (Bengali), Anita Aguirre Nieveras (Tagalog), Lui Porc (Polish) and Ariadne Sawyer (Spanish) read different parts of Tagore’s poem “Thou Art the Sky” in different languages.
World Poetry presentation also included a delightful song by Selene Bertelsen. The session included dances by Fayeza Islam, and Soumyee and Shaily Gupta, an audio-drama adapted from Tagore’s short story Punishment, written and directed by Debashis Mukerji and performed by Debashis Mukerji, Avinanda Mukerji, Amlan Das Gupta, Siddharth Gupta (director of Vancouver Tagore Society) and Anika Mahmud.
Ashok Bhargava, founder and president of Writers International Network Canada, presented a talk on how the works of Kabir, a 15th-century mystic poet, inspired and influenced Rabindranath Tagore. This talk was followed by presentation of Tagore’s poems and poems on Tagore by four renowned poets from the greater Vancouver area: Bong Ja Ahn, Bernice Lever, Carol Shillibeer and Lilija Valis. Bong Ja Ahn also read the letter of congratulations from Korean Consul General Yeon-Ho Choi. Professor Jan Walls, representing the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society, presented Tagore poems in Chinese.
The grand finale of the day was an hour-long scripted presentation of Tagore’s songs, poetry and dance on the theme of “The Woman in Tagore’s Dance Dramas.” Amlan Das Gupta wrote the script and directed the segment while renowned musician Sabuj Mazumder was in charge of music direction. The vocalists were Avik Ranjan Dey, Aparajita Chowdhury, Avinanda Mukerji, Rafia Mahzabin, Sanzida Habib Swati, Amlan Das Gupta, Anika Mahmud, Debashis Mukerji and Duke Ashrafuzaman. The dances were performed by Anuradha Mitra, Keya Ghosh, Fayeza Islam, Shaily Gupta and Soumyee Gupta while Sabuj Mazumder played the guitar and Monish Chakraborti the tabla.
The cultural program was hosted by Duke Ashrafuzzaman, the beautiful screens that formed the backdrop was created by Shakhawat Hossain and the entire event was skillfully coordinated by Raihan Akhter with the help of a number of dedicated volunteers including Siddharth Gupta, Avik Ranjan Dey, Amlan Das Gupta, Debashis Mukerji. Shankhanaad Mallick, Zahur Ashrafuzzaman, Mazhar Haque, Shanto and others.
On the eve of the Festival on Friday, Dr. Sanzida Habib Swati and Duke Ashrafuzzaman hosted a two-hour session that included a slide show of some paintings of Rabindranath Tagore. Dr. Tirthankar Bose, professor emeritus of Simon Fraser University and vice-president of Vancouver Tagore Society, talked about the unique style and salient points of Tagore’s paintings. The slide-show, with beautiful Tagore songs in the background, was put together by Zahur Ashrafuzzaman. This was followed by poetry readings by poets Joanne Arnott and Wanda Kehewin of Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast, Alan Hill of City of Richmond, and Shannon Laws and Carla Shafer from Bellingham, U.S. After a video presentation of a short documentary, The Story of Gitanjali by Reba Som, poets from the World Poetry Reading Series, Selene Bertelsen, Jemma Downes, Anita Aguirre Nieveras and Frederico Gordo, read poems honouring Rabindranath Tagore written by themselves or by fellow international poets.
ASHOK Bhargava in his keynote speech noted: “Two luminous personalities like Tagore and Kabir have exerted enormous influence on arts, music, religion and ordinary lives in a very extra ordinary way.
“… Kabir was born in or near Benares probably about the year 1440. His birth itself is shrouded in mystery, some say he was the son of a Brahman widow, others that he was of virgin birth, what is known though is that he was brought up in a family of Muslim weavers. He was never formally educated and was almost completely illiterate. He was a dynamic mystic, a religious poet, a social reformer and a spiritual leader. A weaver by trade and a mystic by nature, his spiritual vision accepted no division between Life and Creator, man and God. …
“About 420 years after Kabir, Rabindranath Tagore was born in 1861into a high caste Brahmin family and began writing from an early age. He was educated in Bengal, and later England, where he attended public schools and university. Tagore was a poet, novelist, musician, painter and playwright who reshaped Bengali literature and music. At the same time he was a social reformer, educator, the humanist and a spiritual leader. It is interesting to note that an educated Tagore from a privileged family sought wisdom from the writings of an illiterate weaver who as a child was adopted by a Muslim family.
“Tagore’s poetry reflected Kabir’s mysticism, vision and thought abundantly. He loved Kabir so much that he translated some of his songs and published them under a title “One Hundred Poems of Kabir” which shows a convergence of his spiritual powers and poetic imagination to that of Kabir.”