Understanding Indian Women: Love, History and Studies
The Asiatica Association, Journal of South Asia Indian Women, under the auspicies of the Department of Linguistics, Philological and Literary Research of the University of Macerata, has planned and organized an international symposium on ancient and modern Indian Women as they are, and as they are represented in arts, history and literature. It was the first symposium of this kind in Italy. The successful symposium was held on October 18-19, 2002 in Milan.
Our guest of honor was Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, who conceived and founded the famous Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, of which she was the Academic Director, and President of the India International Centre. She has also served as a secretary to the government of India and the Ministry of Education, department of Arts and Culture, in which she was responsible for the establishment of many institutions of higher education in the humanities. Advisor to the Indian Government for thirty years, she has been acknowledged and honored by numerous academies, amongst which the Sangeet Natak Academy, the National Academy for Visual Arts and Fine Arts and the French Academy for the Study of Asian Civilisations Figure. She is the author of more than fifteen major publications on Indian Art and has been on the faculty of the universities of Delhi, Pennsylvania, Colombia and Berkeley. She has participated for many decades in UNESCO seminars and conferences.
She was not only a scholar and in charge of education at the highest levels, she was a dance performer.
Her paper, Female Form in Indian Sculpture, dealt with the attitude to the female body in Indian thought and art, and has offered a comparison between Indian sculpture and Ancient Greek sculpture. With the energy and the freshness that characterize all her lectures, a couple of which I had the honour to attend in Boston, Kapilaji showed dozens of slides and illustrated them so well, that the female bodies of the sculptures looked alive in our room and a whole world revealed in front of us.
More than her lecture, she offered me the pleasure of her company full of wisdom and strength, sincere yet subtle and diplomatic. We visited Milan and Como, on the lake, and in the days we spent together I had the rare pleasure of knowing a bit a person whose insights and comments on arts, politics and education will continue to enlighten my life forever. I expected to meet a politician and a scholar; I found an extremely bright woman whose teachings have educated me and will educate future generations.
This is why I am sure you will enjoy the video excerpts from the symposium, and especially on Kapilaji, that we are preparing. Andrea Rachele Fiore, who has helped me in organizing and managing the whole symposium, has also taken care of the videos and the pictures.
The Consul General of India, Ms Sujatha Singh, introduced the symposium. She underlined how Indian women are not relegated anymore in a ghetto, but are involved in all levels of public life.
The symposium hosted eleven scholars from Italy and abroad. They gave a 20-25 minute talk, which was followed by a discussion of 5-10 minutes. The scholars included Marilia Albanese (The Ladies of Kambujadesha: Indian tradition jewels in the Khmer land), who talked on inscriptions on Cambodian queens and princesses; Fabrizia Baldissera (Heroines and Anti-Heroines: Resourceful Widows in Ancient Indian Literature), who talked on widows in Sanskrit literature who escaped their traditional lot assigned; Carlo Della Casa (Women in Jaina Literature, the Difficult Equilibrium between Female Monastic Restriction and Reality, and the Debate on Liberation), who talked on women and their controversial relationship with men in Jaina literature; Donatella Dolcini (Glorification of Women's Heroism in Indian Patriotic Songs), who gave a talk in Italian on the many characters of heroic women in Indian patriotic songs; Enrico Fasana (Karnidevi the Shakti of the Charans), who talked on the goddess karnidevi of the Charans of Rajasthan; Cinzia Pieruccini (Representing women: images in the arts of ancient India), who talked on women in Indian art; Mario Prayer (Shakti and womanhood in Tagore's criticism of nationalism), who talked on with Tagore?s confidence of the richness of Indian civilization, which he saw as simbolyzed by the shakti; Daniela Rossella (Women as a source of bliss and as an obstacle to renunciation), who talked on women, who are regarded in Kavya both as source of bliss and as an obstacle to renunciation; Sally J. Sutherland Goldman (Love's Labors: Love and Narrative in the Plays of Bhasa), who talked on how Bhasa constructs the narratives of his love stories in his plays; Michael Witzel (Female Rishis and Philosophers in the Veda?), who talked on the revaluation of women who are known to have composed hymns in the Rgveda.
Adv. Rani Jethmalani sent me a paper on Court cases on dowry in New Delhi and made us know the new platform of feminist's campaign in India on this matter, but unfortunately we did not have time to read her paper. We did not have time to read my paper, too, on Benito Mussolini and Indian women. Professor Agata Sannino (U. of Palermo) attended the symposium, offering her lucid insights to the discussion. Roberto Donatoni (Adelphi Ed.) took part to the discussion, too.
I would like to thank here all the participants to this successful symposium. A special thanks to Dr. Ludovico Magnocavallo, who helped in the organization of the symposium; and Andrea Rachele Fiore, who filmed it for two days.
The first paper we are publishing is titled Common Representations of Women and Men in the Ṛg Veda, by Dr. Gabriela Ilieva (New York U.). The paper has been edited by an exceptional editor, the well- known Vedic scholar Dr. Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies (Harvard U.). Of course, possible mistakes or omissions are due to the author and not to the editor.
The second paper we are publishing is Travels in Asian Cyberspace: A Brief History of Asian Studies Online by Dr. T. Matthew Ciolek (Australian National University, Canberra). As some of you might remember, Dr. Ciolek has also published the interview Asia Academic Resources on The Internet: How To Collect, Organize, And Manage Them in IJTS, vol. 3 no. 1.
Enjoy the reading!