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Indian Festival to Celebrate Culture in Indonesia

Bollywood fever will be spreading throughout Indonesia this month as the Jawaharlal Nehru Indian Cultural Center hosts a series of musical and theater performances. (Photo courtesy of JNICC)

India has a millennia-old link with Indonesia, which people in India know little about. Surprisingly, many Indonesians don’t know much about it either,” says MK Singh, director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Indian Cultural Center.

Thousands of years ago, Java and Sumatra islands welcomed Indians to their land as traders. The Indians left behind a cultural footprint that is still visible today in Indonesia’s theater and wayang performances of Hindu epics, the hand movements of Balinese dancers and the melodies and rhythms of dangdut music.

To celebrate and strengthen this cultural collaboration, the JNICC and the Indian Embassy are presenting the Festival of India. And to ensure packed houses, all events are free.

“We think that culture is like a thread that connects humans,” Singh said. “Our motto is ‘Friendship Through Culture.’ Our symbol is an open hand, which means that we are open and we’re not about politics or a hidden agenda,” he said.

“This is simply a cultural exercise. We’re trying to get Indians collaborating with locals.”

The festival kicked off on Oct. 16, however most of the cultural performances are scheduled over the next month. The program promises the bright colors, energetic music and theatrical dances of Bollywood that paint India’s cultural picture beyond its shores.

“Bollywood is everywhere because Bollywood is a commercial mix of everything that is Indian,” Singh said. “For example, in India, you can find the Manganiars of Rajasthan singing in the sand dunes. Their style of music has been picked up by big Bollywood composers and are incorporated in their songs.

“It’s the same with dancing. You’ll see all sorts of styles of Indian dancing in Bollywood films. They pick up African movements too, Philippine movements, there’s a bit of kathak [traditional Indian dance] — everything. So it’s all Bollywood.”

One upcoming highlight is The Company Theater’s “Hamlet: The Clown Prince,” a adaptation of the Shakespeare classic delivered by an all-Indian cast.

The play is about a troupe of clowns putting on a production of “Hamlet.”

The clowns mix up their lines, misinterpret meaning and throw out entire scenes, all in the quest to find in the play some relevance to their lives.

“The director, Rajat Kapoor, has put the Shakespearean characters into an Indian ethos. He has only retained the basic idea of Hamlet. So in a way, it’s an original work,” Singh said. “These clowns make for a hilarious take on the play. It’s still profound, but funny on the surface.”

Another event not to be missed is the Sangam Fusion Dance, performed by Yogyakarta-based dancer and cross-dressing comedian Didik Nini Thwok. Sharing the stage with Didik will be Pooja Bathnagat and students from JNICC, who will perform the classical kathak dance.

Kathak is sometimes referred to as Indian opera, as each hand gesture and facial expression symbolizes an act or feeling, allowing performers to tell a full story without saying or singing a word.

For those who want something more contemporary, the experimental Parikrama band will play a set of tunes influenced by rock, hip-hop and Bollywood.

“Parikrama are basically a group of guys that started as a rock band, but now they dabble into all, from Pink Floyd to Bollywood,” Singh said.

“They play regular band instruments alongside traditional instruments, like the Indian tabla and African djembe .”

In the spirit of collaboration, Parikrama will jam with a number of local musicians.

Events for the Festival of India are also taking place in Bandung, Medan, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Bali.

Festival of India

Until Dec. 15
For full program, visit
All events are free.
Please contact JNICC for tickets at
021 3155 120, or visit the center
at Jl. Imam Bonjol 32, Central Jakarta.

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