Posts Tagged ‘indian culture’

From India to America: Notable Firsts

Thursday, May 20th, 2010
A Sikh boy gazes outwards with curiosity in Amritsar, India.  Photograph by Murray Stanford

A Sikh boy gazes outwards with curiosity in Amritsar, India. Photo: Murray Stanford

As the second most populous country on the planet, with over 1.18 billion people, India has had a tremendous influence worldwide. Geographically, it is ranked the seventh largest country while boasting the eleventh largest economy in the world. What you may not know is that India’s economy is making great strides—it is now  growing faster than any other in the world. By some estimates, India’s gross domestic product will quadruple by 2020 and even surpass the United States’ by 2050.

Here in the United States, we have seen Indian Americans make great strides with five notable firsts that deserve to be mentioned.

  • Dalip Singh Saund became the first person of Asian descent to join the United States Congress in 1956.
  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was an Indian born American astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 with William Alfred Fowler for their work in the theoretical structure and evolution of stars.
  • Dr. Kalpana C. Chawla was the first Indian American woman to fly into space.
  • Mohini Bhardwaj is the first Indian American Olympic medalist. She won the silver medal with the US gymnastics team at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004.
  • And maybe you thought Doogie Howser, M.D. was complete fiction, but Balamurali Ambati, M.D. (born July 29, 1977) was the youngest person ever, according to Guinness Book of Records, to become a doctor. Ambati graduated from New York University at the age of 13 and Mount Sinai School of Medicine at age 17, becoming the world’s youngest doctor in 1995.

You can learn more about Indian Americans on Homespun: The Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project and read personal experiences on their blogs —The Indian American Story and Bookdragon.

Have you been to India? Share your story.

Never been to India? That’s okay, you can go on our Mystical India tour!

Building a Mall by the Taj Mahal?: Dispatch 14 from Extraordinary Cultures

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Richard Kurin is the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture here at the Smithsonian Institution. He is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of knowledge systems, folk arts, museums, and development. He is currently Study Leader on our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey Around the World tour, and will be blogging periodically while traveling. This post is fourteenth in a series. To see the other posts, click here.

Dateline: Agra, Part II

A Smithsonian traveler joins in the dance. Photo: Richard Kurin

A Smithsonian traveler joins in the dance. Photo: Richard Kurin

A few years ago there was another threat to the Taj Mahal, a proposal to build a shopping mall and amusement park along the banks of the river, running from the Taj to another world heritage site, the Red Fort. The whole area would be commercialized with stores, rides, food concessions, even roller coasters. The proposal was backed by powerful politicians and “developers”—though one wonders what that term means in this context.

Such was the subject of the most extraordinary performance on our around the world tour produced by Rajeev Sethi especially for our group.

Rajeev is a world class designer. I first worked with him in the 1980s on the Festival of India. He created and designed Aditi—a marvelous living exhibition celebrating the traditional Indian life cycle at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He designed the Mela or Indian fair, for the 1985 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and then worked with the Smithsonian, Yo-Yo Ma, and Aga Khan’s organization on the Silk Road for the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Along the way he’s designed pavilions for world’s fairs, museum exhibitions, hotels, movie sets, numerous programs in support of traditional artisans, and government policies.

Singers entertain the crowd. Photo: Richard Kurin

Singers entertain the crowd. Photo: Richard Kurin

Rajeev’s production, held at our hotel amidst giant billboards, stage sets, hanging screens and curtains was called Taj Mall—Agra Bazaar Revisited. This was a truly astounding participatory experience. We walked into a multi-phonic bazaar pulsing with 170 performers singing, dancing, playing music, doing magic, acrobatics, and puppetry, juggling, doing impersonations and other Indian street art—not to mention courtesans wooing admirers or wandering mystics wooing adherents. We were visually overloaded with the sights of weavers, kite makers, pigeon flyers, embroiderers, stone workers, gem setters, talisman makers, street doctors, perfume sellers, wrestlers, bone setters, box photographers, bangle makers, shoe makers, faux vegetable vendors, and numerous others. It was as if all of India’s traditional arts, from every community, from every quarter of the country had gathered in the space of a tennis court and in concentrated, distilled form, presented the best of their work. Hindu village women danced with oil lamps afire and Muslim devotional singers extolled a sufi saint; even a Catholic girls’ choir sang—in both Hindi and English.

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