In May 2012, the visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Myanmar President Thein Sein emphasised the centrality of culture in further deepening the close bonds between people of India and Myanmar and they expressed satisfaction with the signature of the Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) for the period 2012-2015.
In November 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Myanmarese President Thein Sein, at their meeting at Nay Pyi Taw, discussed on the need for more cultural contacts, including sending Myanmarese students to Nalanda University. Above two recent events depict fairly well the significance of Cultural bonding between the two neighbouring nations. The intimacy of relationship between India and Myanmar are rooted in the shared historical, cultural, ethnic and religious ties. As the land of Lord Buddha, India is a country of pilgrimage for people of Myanmar. It is the immense people-to-people interaction due to the geographical proximity , that has played a crucial role in promotion of a healthy bilateral relation between the two nations. The cultural links impart a special character to the enduring association between India and Myanmar.
India and Myanmar have been faithful friends of past and this sort of friendship can’t be developed forcefully just by trade and investment. How can one forget the ‘struggle for independence’ which imparted to both these brother nations their freedom from the British rule? In recent times, many significant milestones have been conquered in the cultural aspect of India-Myanmar relation. The cultural wing of the Indian Mission has been organizing regular cultural activities besides having active Yoga and Bharatanatyam classes with dedicated teachers from India. These initiatives help not only the NRIs to get a feel of their nation but also promote the Indian culture on a foreign land, among the native Burmese people. An International Conference on Buddhist Cultural Heritage was organized in ‘Shwedagon Pagoda’ in Yangon. On sidelines of this prestigious event, a Buddhist Cultural Heritage Photo Exhibition was organized.
The Indian mission in Yangon has been very actively coordinating with the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi to organise Festivals of India in Myanmar during the year which include cultural events such as Indian Film Festival, Indian Literature Festival, Exhibition of rare Indian books, Exhibition of Buddhist books/works of art and Indian Food Festival in Yangon and Mandalay. Yoga which is the physical, social and spiritual practice of transformation of mind and body, is no longer endemic only to India but has gathered a large number of followers worldwide specially in Myanmar. This practice has helped the people to connect better.
The inauguration of the ‘Global Vipassana Pagoda’ in Mumbai, a replica of the famous ‘Shwedagon Pagoda’ of Myanmar marked a high point in the cultural closeness of India and Myanmar. It has been built out of the dedication and devotion to the Buddha, his teaching and the community of monks practising his teaching. Its traditional Burmese design is an expression of gratitude towards the country of Myanmar for preserving the practice of Vipassana. Going back to Yangon, it is worth to be noted that Government of India installed a sixteen feet tall ‘Sarnath-style Buddhist Statue’ at the Shwedagon Pagoda premises in Yangon in December 2012. This benevolent act by India remains as a shining symbol of cultural and civilizational connection between the two countries.
The ‘art and craft’ of Myanmar were strongly influenced by the eastern part of Indian territory. The Mon(an ethnic group) of southern Burma are said to have been converted to Buddhism around 200BC under the encouragement of Indian king Ashoka, before the partition into Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism. The Buddhist art of the Mons was especially influenced by Indian art of the Gupta and post-Gupta periods.
The success of the Bollywood films in Myanmar can be gauged from the fact that the distribution rights of a Hindi film ‘Taal’ for the entire country were reportedly sold at $10,000. The amount is impressively high by Burmese standards. The posters of Indian movie stars have become a common scene on the roadsides of Myanmar. Infact, the city of Yangon has witnessed shooting of some Hindi films in the past and the elders recall and relish the films like ‘Mother India’, ‘Nagin’ and ‘Bobby’ as very good ones. Indian movies have left an indelible mark on the psyche of the local population of this picturesque city with the youth avidly watching the latest Bollywood flicks and humming all time popular Hindi film songs. What more is needed to call it ‘Bollywood mania’?
In a popular imagination, the 5 B’s which frame the India-Myanmar relations are Buddhism, Business, Bollywood, Bharatanatyam and Burma teak. Out of the five, three pillars of the relation have been set on cultural ground. Namely the common devotion to Buddhism, the taste for Bollywood among the Burmese folk and training classes for Bharatanatyam in Burma have contributed tremendously in fostering the friendship and mutual understanding between the two neighbours. It is the common leisure or recreational activities which actually bring the people together and generates affection.