Jammu Kashmir Fest Rocks London


The first Jammu Kashmir Festival in London attracted thousands …..reports Asian Lite News

JK Festival at Trafalgar
JK Festival at Trafalgar Square

The first ever Jammu Kashmir Festival was held in London from 21st Oct to 26th Oct. The festival curated and conceptualised by a leading Kashmir Pandit campaigner, Lakshmi Kaul is a unique way to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the state and showcase the pluralistic, varied cultural mix of its heritage to the British population.

The Jammu Kashmir Festival is being presented in association with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), The Nehru Centre, Incredible India (Ministry of Tourism & Culture), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), The Montcalm Luxury Hotels, Air India, Zee, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and Here and Now 365.

A small group of like-minded individuals, originally from Jammu Kashmir, India, now living in the UK have taken it upon themselves to tackle the skewed perception of this beautiful state with an immense potential for growth and investment opportunities.

JK festival - Naveen Choudhary and Bob Blackman
JK festival – Naveen Choudhary and Bob Blackman

The festival was inaugurated by Bob Blackman, Member of Parliament of Harrow East, Commissioner Secretary, J&K state government, Naveen Choudhary, Vice Chairman, Confederation of Indian Industry, J&K and Padmashree recipient, Regional Director, ICCR J&K and also the Director of Natrang Music and Dance repertory that enthralled Londoners by their energetic folk dance performances throughout the festival including at Mayor of London’s Diwali on Trafalgar Square, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and The Nehru Centre. The festival, spanning over a week saw many dignitaries and guests from India including the grandson of Maharaja Hari Singh and Member of Legislative Council, state government of J&K, Maharaj Kumar Ajatshatru Singh, Kashmiri Pandit activist and media man, Mr. Sushil Pandit, Chairman of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Mr. Sheikh Imran and a few local businesses and members of CII.

The dance performances enthralled the audience and they were mesmerised by the myriad colours, traditional costumes, props and the beautiful music that completed the journey into the folk traditions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Congratulating the festival team led by Lakshmi, Bob Blackman spoke of how during his recent visits to India especially his maiden visit to J&K, the need for highlighting the potential of the state was felt. He said, “the effort is most welcome by the people of J&K as it is a great way of changing the perception of the state in the world and showing them what the state really is.”

Lakshmi Kaul
Lakshmi Kaul

Mr. Naveen Choudhary congratulated the team on this unique effort and shared figures on how much investment in development projects is made each year by the state and central government of India for J&K. He welcomed the Jammu Kashmir Festival and said this initiative must be expanded to other parts of the world as well as other parts of India.

Lauding the effort, Tourism & Culture Minister, J&K said in a message of support to the team, “I would like to congratulate the Jammu & Kashmir Festival team for bringing together the diverse communities from across the state in an effort to showcase the great potential, cultural richness and diversity of the state. I am impressed by the efforts of Lakshmi Kaul who has led this initiative; highly commendable and desirable especially as instead of breaking the state into fragments, the Festival unites and brings together communities. On behalf of the state government, I wish them all the very best for the success of this initiative and hope it grows from strength to strength in the coming years.”

Lalit Sharma, Director of Jammu Kashmir Festival speaking of the richness of the state said, “The festival will be an opportunity especially to showcase areas within the state that are safe for people to visit and explore. This will encourage tourists and visitors to consider J&K as their next holiday destination therefore helping revive the economy of the state.”

In addition to the dance programmes, there was also a talk by Prof Andrew Kerr and a presentation by Jasdeep from the National Army Museum highlighting the Dogra Martial traditions of the state of J&K. There was an exhibition of artefacts and handicrafts along with a visual display of the history, heritage and arts from the state at the Festival that saw hundreds of visitors.

Dancers at the JKL festival
Dancers at the JK festival

As part of the week long programme, there will be a business round table at the Houses of Parliament hosted by Confederation of Indian Industry and chaired by Bob Blackman MP. This will see the participation of businesses from J&K as well as London exploring future potential and growth opportunities. The conclusion of the Festival will on 26th October which is the anniversary of the signing of the instrument of accession by Maharaja Hari Singh acceding J&K to India. The date is being marked by community organisations as the Jammu Kashmir Day and the request for its official recognition is being sent to the Government of India.

The Festival is the brainchild of a Kashmiri Pandit activist from London, Lakshmi Kaul. Looking back on the entire journey, she reflects “When I saw this dream, many said to me this was too ambitious and in the current situation, impossible to achieve. Multiple trips to India, hundreds of meetings and after months of tireless efforts, I finally had a few brave hearts share this dream and put their faith in me. A team was formed and built strong like a movement. The fruit of this labour of love all of us saw over the last two weekends. Volunteerism has unparalleled power and the impossible has been achieved! Jammu Kashmir Festival has proven that there are more reasons to celebrate life, unity, diversity than give up and feel dejected. To change perception outside, the perception within must be changed. The lost pride of our roots has been rekindled. The tide has begun to turn, perception has begun changing. My gratitude to all of you for walking with me on this path and helping us build a sense of pride in our many communities for our motherland.”

She adds, “The crowning glory of India, Jammu Kashmir has seen years of turbulence and ongoing unrest owing to the insurgency from its neighbours, resulting in the forced exodus of its native population, the Kashmiri Pandits. The current Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has shown huge commitment to tackling this conflict and bringing to the people of Jammu Kashmir, a stable and prosperous abode.”