Literature, culture rings in the Himalayas at Bhutan litfest

Thimphu: Seen as a window to unmask the shrouded mystery of Bhutan by celebrating its literature, art, culture and music, the annual "Mountain Echoes" festival`s fifth edition kicks off here Thursday.

The three-day festival promises to offer a balanced account of many myths, peek into Bhutan`s textiles and soulful music, along with staple dose of democracy, crime and gender writing.

An initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation, the festival is managed by Indian non-profit literature promotion group Siyahi with the support of Bhutan`s queen mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck who is the chief royal patron of the festival.

Leading Indian household consumer durables company Usha International is one of the main sponsors of the festival that will go on till May 24 at Nehru Wangchuck Centre and Taj Tashi in Thimphu.

Celebrating the true spirit of art begets art, the cultural melee will host more than 50 speakers from South Asia and around the world who will speak on the subjects spread over different genres: from texture of mountain writing to environmental concerns; crime writing to concerns with democracy; popular fiction and gender writing to poems and plays.

Brainchild of programme directors Namita Gokhale - also a key person in the organisation of the Jaipur Literary Festival; Pramod Kumar K.G, managing director of a museum consulting company; Kunzang Choden, the first Bhutanese woman to write a novel in English and Siok Sian Dorji, a print and broadcast journalist - the festival fosters cultural diplomacy between two democratic nations.

"I feel in the fifth year, this festival has taken a route in Bhutan and has become a global festival while keeping rooted with the culture and aesthetics of Bhutan," Gokhale told IANS.

Some of the interesting sessions that will give a peak into the Himalayan culture are: "Pema Lingpa Tradition" where Buddhist philosopher Ani Kinley and Dorji Gyeltshen will be in conversation with scholar and social worker Karma Phuntsho and trace life of the famous saint and "Pilgrimages and the Journey of Folk Literature" where speakers will connect the journey of holy walks with folklore.

Glimpses of Bhutanese life will reflect on the big screen through movie screenings and will throw life on the mundane life, their religious beliefs and role of the women in the Bhutanese society.

"Village on Treasure Hill", "Bhutan Women Forward" "Indian Roots of Tibetan Buddhism", "The Yak Herder`s Son" are some of the films that will be screened during the festival.

Two important ingredients of cultural exchanges are music and textiles, and that too have found a space in this festival.

How art in this landlocked county has flourished and taken its due course with changing times, and how it is adapting its traditional textiles weaves into everyday modern fashion would be narrated through exhibitions, while concerts by musical bands - Zhaw and the Ngorigaps, The Baby Boomers, Poisoned Apples and Daydream Farmers - will throw light on the lesser-known musical musings of the country.

Some of the prominent speakers who would make their presence felt at the festival are: Advaita Kala, author of "Almost Single", art curator Alka Pandey, Hindi writer Ashok Vajpeyi, writer and anthropologist Dolma C. Roder, sociologist Dipankar Gupta, academician Gavin Franc of "Long Exposure - The Camera at Udaipur, 1857-1957", Bhutanese author Lily Wangchuk, author-columnist-diplomat Navtej Sarna and filmmaker Tashi Gyeltshen.

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