Originally Published 2011-11-18 00:00:00 Published on Nov 18, 2011
It has become fashionable to categorise Pakistan as a 'failed' state and paint a grim picture. The picture is far more complicated than this and there is more to the story than what we often hear.
Cultural revival offer a way out in Pakistan
It has become fashionable to categorise Pakistan as a 'failed' state and paint a grim picture. The picture is far more complicated than this and there is more to the story than what we often hear. In fact, it would be injustice, if one does not take notice of the spirited youth and the various activities that they involve themselves in their efforts to make Pakistan a better place to live in. 

Pakistan has a rich cultural heritage particularly in performing and visual arts. Some of the dance forms that are an integral part of Pakistan's performing arts include Bhangra, Luddi and Sammi from Punjab, Khattak and Chitrali from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Lewa from Balochistan, etc. It also has a rich tradition in music which includes Qawwali, Hamd, Dafli, Balochi and Potahari music, etc. An unconventional form of indigenous visual art is the 'Pakistani vehicle art' wherein trucks and buses are painted with floral patterns, calligraphy of poetic versus, etc and is considered as moving or jingle art.

There is a rich legacy of art promotion despite political upheavels since 1947. Art and literature thrived in General Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's regimes. The 'Faiz Report' written by legendary poet and writer, Faiz Ahmed Faiz had inspired Ayub Khan to set up the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA). In the report, which is unfortunately still not published in its entirety, Faiz described the Pakistani culture to be pluralist, comprising Islamic sects, ethnicities, elements of western culture and various cultures of the minority groups in Pakistan.

Performing arts came under the shadow of the radical ideology promoted by President Zia-ul Haq and suffered considerably as a result. This era saw the victory of rightists who strongly advocated Pakistan to only have an "Islamic culture' which meant that music, dance, paintings were sidelined. Culture became a 'dirty' word. Women were banned from performing in public. Arts Councils and performing arts groups were banned under the martial law. Dancers were seen as immoral and polluted as dance itself was understood to be obscene and against Islam.

Today, a generation, largely unaware of the rich legacy of art and literature, is valiantly trying to revive the cultural heritage of Pakistan.  The PNCA and Lahore Council of Arts which is the successor of Pakistan Arts Council founded in 1949 hold cultural programmes such as dramas, puppet shows, movie screenings, and dance and music performances regularly. Interest in classical dance is now being rekindled.  Federal Ministry of Culture in Lahore has instructed PNCA and other institutions to start classical dance evenings.

In March this year 'Lok Mela', was organised by the National Institute of Folk and traditional Heritage which is part of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, to promote traditional cultural activities. All four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, participated in the festival which featured artisans-at-work exhibition, provincial cultural pavilions, folklore song and dance performances, cultural evenings, theatre performances, etc.

Cultural events are being used as a platform to reach out to the masses, particularly the youth. Strong messages are conveyed through many of the performances, one of the most recent one being "Karachi- The Musical". This musical portrays the reality of a city stained by gang wars and mafia, i.e. Karachi. Various performances laying stress on dance, music, poetry take place on a regular basis. A newly launched 'Nritaal Group" takes inspiration from Amir Khusrau who is considered an iconic figure for his contributions in South Asian poetry and is known as the 'father of Qawwali'. Parallel cinema and documentaries are also emerging in Pakistan that delves deep into social issues. 'Khuda ke Liye', 'Bol', 'The mud house and the golden doll' are just a few. One such documentary that has entered the Oscar nominations is 'Saving lives' directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.

Instances of such events are innumerable to mention here. A strong desire to revive the lost interest in arts and an involvement in related activities is increasingly being observed, if not through individual participation but at least by attending such events in large numbers. The future trajectory of Pakistan could be one replete with violence and extremism but a renewed interest among the young generation in their cultural heritage could provide a silver lining.

Aarya Venugopal is Research Intern at ORF

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