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Speech by Secretary(East) at the Indian Council of Cultural Relation in New Delhi on Indo-Vietnam cultural relations: Retrospect and Prospect

February 22, 2016

H.E. Mr. Ton Sinh Thanh, Ambassador of Socialist Republic of Vietnam to India,
Prof. Lokesh Chandra, President of ICCR,
H.E. Vu Xuan Hong, President of Vietnam Union of Friendship organization
Eminent Scholars, Journalists and Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am delighted to be here amongst this distinguished gathering to speak on such an interesting and important subject. I feel proud of Indo-Vietnam cultural relations which are historically deep rooted. India-Vietnam relations go back to 2nd century AD. The influence of Indian civilization is evident in the Cham temples, which have stood the tests of time and still stand majestic. Some of them are being restored with the help of Archeological Survey of India.

The prosperous state of the economy prompted Indian merchants to explore new trading destinations in South East Asia, including Vietnam. An acculturation process was started due to the growing trade activities and contacts between these regions in the early centuries. The value system, religion, art, craft and culture were transmitted by the traders and Buddhist monks. It is also believed the Indian maritime traders had influenced the establishment of the Cham kingdom.

Buddhism has a long history and dates back to the 3rd Century B.C in Vietnam. Furthermore, some Historians are of the opinion that the first oldest Hindu kingdom, Funan ruled from Vyadhapura was established in the lower valley of the Mekong. According to an inscription, Kaundinya defeated and married the Nagi princess soma in the first century B.C.

According to Chinese sources, the name Chiem Thanh derived from word Champapura and the name of Champa was mentioned in Sanskrit inscriptions of 658 A.D, has been discovered from central Vietnam. Most of the king’s name were in Sanskrit; such as Bhadravarman, Indravarman etc. The Sanskrit inscriptions of Cham time reflect the popularity of Sanskrit language and literature in the ancient Vietnamese society. It is believed that Bhadravarman was versed in Vedas. Marriage, funeral ceremonies and other traditions resembled those in India during that time.

The salient features of fine arts, dance, music, painting, sculpture and handicraft are also evident of the cross cultural linkages between India and Vietnam. Ruins of about 200 Hindu temples scattered in Vietnam are a live story of our civilizational links. Myson was the first temple city of Champa was established by Bhadravarman in the 4th Century and MySon temple architecture has a resemblance with Indian Temple architecture. This has been a Shavaite tradition and the alphabets of Cham language sound like the Hindi varnawali.

The carvings of Cham period depicted events of Ramayana and Indian mythology such as Marriage ceremony of Ram -Sita, Krishna playing the flute, Indra and Dancing apsaras, Vishnu and Sheshnag and the Shivling. The depiction of musical instruments such as Pakhawaj, Mridangam, Drums etc. are reflective of the influence of Indian music. Vietnam's famous 'Lakhon Bassac' dance drama is based on the epic of the Ramayana (Ramleela).

The legacy of Champa’s arts includes brick temples, fully round sculptures both in stone and bronze, high reliefs, bas-reliefs, ceramics and embossed metal works. Probably the image and pose and the gestures of most widely illustrated of all the Cham sculptures is the 10th century "Tra Kieu dancer” reflects Indian influences.

We also see the influence of Tamil Chettiyar community in Ho Chi Minh City where there are three temples and one of them particularly the Mariamman temple has both Indian and Vietnamese devotees. There is also influence of Buddhism and now exchanges happening on a fairly regular basis. There is a Vietnamese Buddhist pagoda in Bodh Gaya and also a number of Buddhists from Vietnam travel there on pilgrimage. There is an increase in spiritual tourism on this account.

The Mekong-Ganga Cooperation initiative has been build around cooperation in the region defined by two great rivers, the Mekong and the Ganga. It is a forum which is unique in its civilizational foundation. It is also a forum which has tremendous potential to become a powerful catalyst for socioeconomic development in the region.

What are the future prospects? To my mind, this is an apt illustration of the ancient links of civilization, culture and commerce that existed between India and Vietnam. These links give us shared perceptions of the evolving commercial and political environment in the region and the world at large. Thus India-Vietnam relations have a far more profound basis than generally known and let's not forget the growing popularity of Indian soap opera, which is also an indication of how similar our value system are. India values its relations with Vietnam. Our shared interests and aspirations form the basis of our relations. It was said by Late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong that our relations are as clear as the blue sky without any clouds.

As cultural relations play an important role in building people to people contacts, future areas of cooperation can be film production in Vietnam which will help in increasing tourism between the two countries as Bollywood has been attracting tourism all around the world. A high level film delegation from India visited Vietnam in December 2015 at the invitation of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism and have found the locations in Vietnam spectacular for shooting of Indian films. We must encourage cooperation here.

Vietnam is a pillar of India’s Look East Policy. We attach high priority to strengthening our cultural engagement with Vietnam under ASEAN and Mekong Ganga cooperation framework besides bilateral level. Our contacts are historical and an abiding influence. We need to give it a contemporary face through exchanges of youth, sports, promotion of tourism, enhancing air links, Bollywood, Yoga and Ayurveda on the one hand, and strengthening our Defence and Commercial ties on the other.
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