Since the day China had declared to revive the ancient Maritime Silk Route (MSR) to the world, world leaders have been closely monitoring every movement of China in the geo-politics of the world. The Maritime Silk Route for India means China further gaining grounds in the Indian Oceans, which is not welcomed news to Indian ambitions in South Asia. Though India is also amongst the nations under the MRS, the sudden interest shown by its neighbors like Sri Lanka and Maldives into the project has got India defensive. India now under the leadership of Narendra Modi plans to bring about its ancient economic ties in the Indian Ocean region to propose an alternative, which could counter balance, the Maritime Silk Route of China. Many experts see project “Mausam” as India’s reply to the Maritime Silk Route of China. The project emphasizes on the natural wind phenomenon, particularly monsoon winds used by Indian sailors in ancient times for maritime trade, that has formed relations amongst nations and groups linked by the Indian Ocean. Secretary, Ministry of Culture Ravindra Singh, on 20th June 2014, presented “Mausam”, a Ministry of Culture project to an international audience at the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee at Doha, Qatar. The unique idea of this project showcased a Transnational Mixed Route (including Natural and Cultural Heritage) on the World Heritage List during the meet in Doha. The Director General UNESCO appreciated India’s initiative in launching this unique project and ambassadors of several countries including China, UAE, Qatar, Iran, Myanmar, and Vietnam expressed great interest in this multifaceted cultural project.
The endeavor of Project “Mausam”-Mausam: Maritime Route and Cultural Landscapes are to position itself at two levels:
Macro level, it aims to re-connect and re-establish communications between countries of the Indian Ocean World, which would lead to an enhanced understanding of cultural values and concerns.
Micro level, the focus is on understanding national cultures in their maritime milieu.
Before we get into the details of the Project let us turn back time and look into the historical importance of the project and the very definition of the word “Mausam”. The word “Mausam” or as they say in Arabic “Mawsim” refers to the season when ships could sail safely. The etymology of this word signifies the importance of this season to a variety of seafarers. This intertwining of natural phenomena such as monsoon winds and the ways in which these were harnessed historically to create cultural networks form the building blocks of Project ‘Mausam’. From time immemorial the Indian Ocean has been flourishing with trade. India used to trade with the Greeks, Chinese and to far off places. Fishermen, sailors, merchants traveled the waters of the Indian Ocean as early as the third millennium BCE, linking the world’s earliest civilizations from Africa to East Asia in a complex web of relationships. The commodities exchanged through these networks included a wide array of objects such as aromatics, medicines, gems, stones and ornaments, metals, and plant and animal products and these were transported through voyages and sold at markets or bazaars along the Indian Ocean littoral. The spread of religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions helped in breaking boundaries and in the expansion of the Indian Ocean “World”. All this can be seen in archaeological findings and textual references from a range of time periods.
Trade exchanges in the Indian Ocean can be seen right from the Harappan times. Seals have also been found on sites across the Arabian Peninsula to accounts of European sailors sailing across during those time. Looking at all these historical findings we can conclude the importance of the Indian Ocean during those times therefore we can only imagine the influence and the importance of the Indian Ocean “World” in the 21st century.
India and China have dominated the economic and the geo-political scenario of Asia for most part of the past decade. Therefore we can understand why India feels threatened by the presence of China in South Asia. With the Maldives recently showing tilt toward China by terminating contracts with India and handing it over to the Chinese puts India in a back seat in the geo-politics around the Indian Ocean.
Project “Mausam” is more of a cultural project where the whole idea is to hold researches and discover the ancient ties between the countries that used to trade here in the India Ocean. The project aims to explore the multicultural world of the Indian Ocean “World”. Right from using archaeological and historical findings we tend to document the cultural, commercial and religious interactions in the area, that extends from East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka to the Southeast Asian archipelago. The project wants to show the general public common heritage and multiple identities that we share with other nations with the help of studies and research on the trade in the Indian Ocean. The project tends to promote the study of Maritime Routes by holding international seminars and doing research on such topics. It also plans on holding meetings to help in such study and also adopting a multi-disciplinary approach for the working of the project.
Coming to the objective and the goals of Project “Mausam” the main objective of the project is transnational nomination of Maritime Cultural Routes, creation of a comprehensive database and UNESCO web platform on Maritime Cultural Landscapes and Routes. The project has two major units:
Project Research Unit
World Heritage Nomination Unit
As far as the goals of Project “Mausam” is concerned it is as follows, the first of its goals relates to reviving the lost linkages with nations. By this the Government of India wants to revive the past cultural ties and the values that were shared between nations during the ancient days by documenting and through research. The government wants to celebrate the ties that India shared with these nations and show them the relevance of such ties in today’s world. This will not only strengthen current ties between countries across the Ocean, but also set a precedent for new bridges of co-operation and continued relations and interactions. The second goal talks about creating links to existing World Heritage sites where India plans to provide a platform to connect discrete Cultural and Natural World Heritage sites across the Indian Ocean ‘world’ by providing a cross-cultural, transnational narrative. The third regards redefining cultural landscapes and lastly the project aims on achieving transnational nomination under World Heritage status thus increasing scope for visibility, research, sustainable tourism, heritage development and promoting other Cultural Conventions across the Indian Ocean region.
India under the leadership of Narendra Modi has no intentions to give China space and allow them to dominate in the Indian Ocean “world”; Project “Mausam” is a perfect example of that. India wants to hold grounds in the contentious waters of the Indian Ocean and wants to dominate the area and prevent China from setting its roots in the Indian Ocean. Project ‘Mausam’ is an exciting, multi-disciplinary project that rekindles long-lost ties across nations of the Indian Ocean ‘world’ and forges new avenues of cooperation and exchange. The project, launched by India in partnership with member states, will enable a significant step in recording and celebrating this important phase of world history from the African, Arab and Asian-world perspectives. To sum it up Project “Mausam” is a project that intends to bring the member nations together around a common cultural, commercial and historical spirit through research, meetings and others means and remind them about the significance of their ties which existed during their times of trade in the olden days in the Indian Ocean. In order to provide more clarity of what the project is all about here are some of the themes that are to be explored as per the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts (IGNCA), it is to be noted that a research unit for the project is being currently set up in IGNCA.