Wednesday, June 27, 2007
27 Jun, 2007 l 1258 hrs IST, www.timesofindia.com
When the Prime Minister of an immediate neighbour and one of the most important countries in the east arrived in Delhi, our newspapers were full of Gordon Brown assuming power in London and some even reported about how his wife will be different from Cherie Blair in her public appearances and behaviour। So much is the western fixation, nay a hangover of the colonial era। Thailand is not only a very significant strategic partner of India but has long been a cherished cultural and civilisational friend. Its Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont arrived in Delhi with a high-power political and business delegation this Tuesday. His visit marks an important milestone in bilateral relations and the Thai delegation will discuss what has been on India's wish list for long – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Co-operation (Bimstec), and the Mekong-Ganga Co-operation project – sub-regional groupings of which India and Thailand are members. The Thai PM is accompanied by his foreign minister, commerce minister and energy minister too, indicating how important the visit is. It's ironical that we tend to appear arrogantly ignorant of the importance of winning the hearts of our neighbours. The eastern side especially, is completely missing from our television channels and papers, though they are the vital ports to strengthen our trade, business and security sectors. None of our newspaper barons have found it useful to have full-time correspondents in any of the eastern countries to report from Bangkok, Laos, Vientiane, or Angkor Wat. The entire East Asian block is left at the mercy of western and Chinese news agencies and we have opted to understand our closest and friendliest neighbour through American, British and Chinese interpretations. On the other hand, China has taken a lead in this region and emerged as the 'legitimate' heir of the Buddhist circuit. It's the growing Chinese presence in the economic, business and social sector in the entire eastern belt, once known the world over as the Suvarnabhumi region, that finally shook India from its deep slumber and for the first time, P V Narasimha Rao, the forgotten warrior of the Congress, formulated the Look East policy which was taken forward by the Vajpayee government in a big way and Jaswant Singh crafted a brilliant and effective format to further strengthen it. Historically and culturally, eastern Asia has been a Hindu influence region. The biggest temple of the Hindus is not in India but in Cambodia -- namely Angkor Wat. And the best part of it is that these countries feel proud of their Indian connection because that was built thorough love, compassion and friendly cultural links.
In a book Greater India by Arun Bhattacharjee, this has been explained thus: “That culture can advance without political motives, that trade can proceed without imperialist designs, settlements can take place without colonial excesses and that literature, religion and language can be transported without xenophobia, jingoism and race complexes are amply evidenced from the history of India's contact with her neighbours...Thus, although a considerable part of central and south-eastern Asia became flourishing centres of Indian culture, they were seldom subjects to the regime of any Indian king or conquerors and hardly witnessed the horrors and havocs of any Indian military campaign. They were perfectly free, politically and economically and their people representing an integration of Indian and indigenous elements had no links with any Indian state and looked upon India as a holy land..." When I was in Bangkok recently, the first thing that struck me was the name of their fabulous international airport – it’s called Suvarnabhumi. And there in the middle of it is a magnificent giant sculpture of Sagar Manthan -- 3 meters wide, 21 meters long and 5.5 meters high with a plaque introducing it as the “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk”. I told the gentleman taking me on a tour de vivre of the world's largest airport that we can't even think of having such a beautiful sculpture depicting a Hindu heritage story at any Indian airport because it would immediately attract the ire of secularist Taliban. He simply smiled and moved on. Suvarnabhumi means land of gold in Sanskrit and this name was chosen by the most popular king of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is officially known Ram the IX. He has been reigning since June 9, 1946, and has become the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-serving monarch in Thai history. In 2006, 60 years of his coronation were celebrated and although most of the Chinese and the western magazines and newspapers published colourful special stories on it, we hardly saw any interest in the India media about it. The respect and devotion King Bhumibol Adulyadej receives from people is simply unbelievable. He is truly a people's king, who devotes most of his time in developmental activities, though sometimes he intervenes in political affairs too, like last year when he supported the overthrowing of Thaksin Shinawatra's government under charges of corruption and nepotism. His decision was hailed by everyone – the Thai media and commoners alike. Thai temples, as magnificent as their cultural heritage, have everything that can inspire an Indian visitor. Statues of Vishnu, Ganesha, Saraswati, Shiva are found everywhere and the Hindu-Buddhist harmony can be seen at its best .The language is deeply influenced by Sanskrit, they greet visitors with a Sawasdee (derived from Swasti in Sanskrit meaning greetings to thee), and folded hands. There were stories that the King had Gangajal especially flown from Kashi along with learned Pandits to commemorate the 60th year of his coronation amid Vedic chants. Like we celebrate our Holi and Makar Sankranti they celebrate Songkran, as their national New Year’s Day on April 13th.
They call it Maha Songkran Day or the day to mark the end of the old year, April 14 is Wan Nao which is the day after and April 15 is Wan Thaloeng Sok, when the New Year begins coinciding with our Hindu new year on Baisakhi with such gusto and fanfare that it has become an international festival attracting thousand of western tourists. Their ochre-robed Buddhist monks begin collecting alms in the morning just before sunrise and the faithful wait outside their houses barefooted and with folded hands. All the food collected thus is used for the monks and students in the monastery under a strict regimen. When I witnessed this ritual, waking up early in the morning at five, I felt our priests should be sent to Thailand for a course in religious discipline and management. They have an ancient Ayodhya city, their first capital and they can show us how to protect and showcase national heritage in a much finer way that would make any visitor proud. Their temples are clean and well maintained, the guided tours to their religious sites and the methodical manner in which they do the rituals with a mesmerizing finesse should be an eye opener to those Hindus in India who have made it a habit to keep their temple the dirtiest and highly mismanaged places. Thailand is also passing through a serious Islamist insurgency and its borders have seen a lot of such skirmishes, especially with Karen tribes. But the India-Thai cooperation to quell the Naga, Manipuri insurgents on the border area has been a perfect one so far. Indian security interests in the Bay of Bengal area too demand a much more close relationship between us. That China should use the Buddhist 'legacy' to its advantage to emerge as the representative face of the Asian region and India be pushed behind, in spite of having a larger and much greater picture of its Buddhist roots is a matter of self-introspection exposing our colonial mindset and a 'secular' disdain for our heritage.
Posted by Tarun Vijay at 10:16 PM