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Culture of Delhi

Over the millennia, Delhi has absorbed several ethnic groups and influences, evolving into a heterogeneous mix of people from different communities. The Jat inhabitants of the villages of Delhi and the older residents of north Delhi still continue to live in a timeless world of their own. On the other extreme, modern city life, with its cable television, expensive cars and the omnipresent mobile phone is like any other metro in the world. Delhi celebrates almost all major festivals of different ethnic groups, besides national holidays like Republic Day, Independence Day and Martyr’s Day when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.

In January, Punjabis celebrate Lohri by singing and dancing around large bonfires. Lohri marks the end of winter and special candies made of nuts, sesame seeds and jaggery are thrown into the fire and also distributed for eating. On 26th January, the nation watches the main Republic Day celebrations, with colourful tableaux and armed forces marching down Rajpath. Martyr’s Day marks the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation.

With the onset of spring in February, the Mughal Gardens in Rashtrapati Bhavan are thrown open to the public and Delhi tourism organises garden festivals. The joyful festival of Holi, with people smearing coloured powder and water on each other, takes place in March. Buddha Jayanti on the full moon day in May marks the birth celebrations of Lord Buddha. With the onset of monsoons, Janamashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. Flag hoisting ceremonies commemorates India’s Independence Day on 15th August. Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival of the Elephant God Ganesha has special significance for Marathis. The community participates in joint celebrations as well as private prayers lasting ten days.

In September, a unique festival of flowers, called Phoolwalon ki Sair takes place near Mehrauli in south Delhi. Dating back from the Mughal era, the festival is jointly held by Hindus and Muslims to foster communal harmony. In October, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi is marked by singing of devotional songs and prayer meetings at the memorial in Raj Ghat. Towards the end of October is the major Hindu festival of Navratri and Dussehra. While the ten-day Navratri festival is devoted to the mother goddess, Dussehra celebrates the victory of Lord Rama (Prince of Ayodhya and incarnation of Lord Vishnu) over the demon king Ravana. Troupes perform the Ramlila or story of Rama’s life, and on the tenth day huge papier-mâché effigies of Ravana filled with firecrackers are burnt throughout the city. The Bengali community celebrates by worshipping Durga, the mother goddess who killed the buffalo demon Mahishasura. Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated by lighting candles and earthen diyas (lamps) and bursting of crackers.

Besides these festivals, cultural centres have lectures, workshops, exhibitions and film shows round the year. The India International Centre and India Habitat Centre are the two most popular centres of intellectual activity where performing arts, discussions and film shows are hosted. Other centres are the Max Mueller Bhavan, Alliance Francaise, British Council, the American Centre, the House of Soviet Culture, Italian Cultural Centre and Japan Cultural Centre. Each of these centres promotes cultural exchange between India and their respective countries through exhibitions, workshops, cultural tours and libraries. The Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi’s premier fine arts institution, has a collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures. The Akademi also hosts exhibitions, film shows and seminars from time to time. The Sahitya Akademi and the Sangeet Natak Akademi promote Indian literature and performing arts, while the National School of Drama runs courses and organises theatre performances.

The old city area of Shahjahanabad is a repository of Mughal arts and crafts. Artisans, whose forefathers settled in the city from the time of Emperor Shah Jahan, continue to practice skills that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Among the major crafts in Delhi are Zardozi (fine embroidery in gold thread), Mughal miniature paintings, ivory carving (now done on camel bone and sandalwood), handcrafted jewellery with the special art of Meenakari (enamelling) and few remaining makers of Delhi blue pottery. Migrants from Rajasthan have introduced terracotta pottery and puppetry.

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