The Jaipur Literature Festival entered its 12th edition with its characteristic fervour, with the loud beating of drums and rhythms of traditional Rajasthani musical instruments reverberating in the premises of Diggi Palace here on Thursday while the Rajasthan Police beefed up security to avoid any untoward incident.
Personnel have been deployed both inside and outside the festival venue and all visitors are required to pass through metal detectors, followed by physical frisking. Over 40 CCTV cameras have also been put in place to keep a close vigil on the premises.
Early risers flocked to grab seats at the Front Lawn and catch their favourite speakers and musicians who have gathered here from all quarters of the world. Having braved the chilly Jaipur morning, they were welcomed by the melodious voice of Shruthi Vishwanath.
The Pune-based musician and composer, who has a background in the Carnatic and Hindustani traditions of music, was accompanied by musicians Yuji Nakagawa on the sarangi and Shruteendra Katagadeon the tabla. Vishwanath had the attention of the audience with her very first note. She opened with a musical rendition of the verses of 17th century spiritual poet Tukaram.
Vishwanath continued to sing songs and devotional poetry in four languages, ranging from Brajbhasha to Tamil and Marathi to Bengali. Exploring the intersection of folk and classical, she mesmerised the listeners with recitals of the works of Kabir and other mystic poets. To mark the end of a stellar performance, she sang “Vaishnava Jana To”.
Several thousand book lovers descended on the venue for the inauguration function in which festival producer Sanjoy Roy, co-director Namita Gokhale and with Rajasthan Minister for Art and Culture B.D. Kalla, shared their thoughts.
“Each year, we gather here to celebrate, talk, debate, discus, and most importantly create a space for dissent. There is very little space for those who have a dissenting point of view in today’s world,” Roy said, before highlighting the role writers have played over centuries in guiding mankind.
He also recalled that the festival began on a humble note with just about 170 visitors in the first edition and has now grown immensely, welcoming over 500,000 book lovers every year.
“In the hurly burly of our everyday life, we forget what the arts represent. There is a world beyond the usual canvas and it is through arts and literature that we are able to understand ‘the other'”, he said.
Noted Indian writer Gokhale, who is largely responsible for the representation of writers from the Indian languages, began her speech in Hindi and invoked Hindu god Shiva.
“Satyam Shivam Sundaram,” Gokhale said, represents the true essence of this festival, describing the annual gathering as the Maha Kumbh of literature that brings together a diverse, multilingual and inclusive community of writers every year to the Pink City.
“We are each other’s stories. The human race has progressed through our shared knowledge,” she noted.
Gokhale also read out a message from her counterpart and noted writer-historian William Dalrymple, who is not attending the 2019 edition of the festival following the death of his father, in which she highlighted that writers from Egypt to Mexico and from New Zealand to Zimbabwe have gathered here.
Kalla said that the festival has transformed the cultural landscape of the state, and highlighted that more and more writers, many of them very young, have been inspired by the festival.
The five-day annual event is often described as “the greatest literary show on earth”.
The festival officially kicked-off with an inaugural address by Nobel Prize winner Venki Ramakrishnan, in which he talked about the role of science in the contemporary world.
Science and mathematics are as much a triumph of human achievement and part of our culture as history, literature, art and music, and therefore all of us should enjoy them, he said.
The inauguration is followed by over 350 sessions over the next five days, on themes ranging from current socio-political scenario to history, mythology and science.
The Jaipur Literature Festival is produced by Teamwork Arts, with Roy as the producer and writers Gokhale and Dalrymple as its co-directors.