Those who had the good fortune to be present at guitarist John McLaughlin's Shakti bash with his Indian friends at the Royal Festival Hall two months ago will already be familiar with part of the line-up for Tiranga. Ustad Zakir Hussain's volcanic tabla-playing and Vidhwan U Shrinavas's exploits on the electric mandolin were the high points in Shakti, and are sure to galvanise the event. But what is Tiranga? The word itself means "three colours" - as in the Indian flag - but it here denotes the variegated group of luminaries who will be representing India's performing arts on India Republic Day. The above-mentioned musicians will be joined by singer Pandit Jasraj, santoor-player Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and the poet Javed Akhtar.
Behind this event lies a charity whose scope belies its size. Consider these disparate events from the past few months: Asha Bhosle at the Wembley Arena, Matthew Barley's Indian fusions at the South Bank, Shubha Mudgal and Nikki Yeoh fusing East and further-East at the Wigmore Hall, the pioneering Indian photographers at the Brunei gallery and the National Ballet of China's Raise the Red Lantern at Sadler's Wells. All were sponsored by Asia House, Britain's leading pan-Asian organisation.
Stefan Kosciuszko, Asia House's chief executive, says Tiranga was put together in Delhi earlier this year. "It worked so well that we decided to recreate it in London, as a celebration of Indian national identity, partly for Londoners of Indian origin, and partly for a broader audience."
He points out that when they held an exhibition on the sari, in which women from the poorest part of Bihar showed how they were made, 80 per cent of the audience was non-Indian. "Whenever a new ambassador comes into London from any Asian country, I tell them to regard us as a bridge which they can use to get their message out to the wider public." His other main objective is to bring the often warring Asian nationalities together. He's planning a mini-festival of Korean culture across several venues, and he's investigating how they might weld in a North Korean element. He hopes Tiranga's audience will include Pakistanis, too.
That shouldn't be difficult with performers of this calibre, since they are all seasoned campaigners for transnational cross-fertilisation (indeed, Kumar Sharma's santoor - the 100-string lyre - is the native instrument of the disputed territory of Kashmir, so it belongs just as much to Pakistan).
Javed Akhtar is Bollywood's leading song-writer and is engaged in a crusade against religious strife among Hindus and Muslims. He leads outreach programmes to promote tolerant secularism. This is how his poem for Tiranga begins:
"When the sun rose/ A saffron beam/ Brought the message of dawn/ And touched the silent marble court/ Then the green arose/ And woke all horizons/ Nature awoke/ Mountains stirred and rivers/ villages and towns/ Every road stirred, each lane/ Then when the breeze blew/ It echoed a passionate call/ For unity."
Tiranga, Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (020-7960 4242), 26 January
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