India-Arab ties span over two millennia: Saudi envoy (Lead, correcting last para)

Mumbai, Sep 10 (IANS) Business and cultural relations between Indian and the Arab civilizations can be traced back to the very beginning of recorded history and had a profound influence on each other which continues till today, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to India Saud Al-Sati said here.

Al-Sati said that through regular interactions between the two civilizations, the ties have developed to such an extent that many Saudi girls have “Hind” as their name and families have surnames of “Al-Hind”, meaning “India” in Arabic.

He was addressing a distinguished gathering of artistes and celebs at the inauguration of “The Theatre of E. Alkazi” – named after the renowned Pune-born Indian theatre personality with roots in Saudi Arabia – in Mumbai late on Friday.

Certain Indian goods like swords and other articles were very popular among the ancient Arabs who also brought Islam to India around 14 centuries ago after its advent in 7th century AD.

The Abbasid Caliphate in mid-8th century AD saw the founding of “Bait-ul-Hikmah” or House of Wisdom where scholars translated ideas and scholarly works from all over the world into Arabic.

It translated many Indian works including those of medicine, maths and astronomy and literature, the prominent being the “Panchatantra”, a collection of ancient Indian fables in Sanskrit.

Its original Sanskrit text was lost after it was translated to Persian and the Arabs translated it from Persian to Arabic as “Kalila wa Dimnah” and it reached Europe and other parts of the world, Al-Sati said.

The great scholar Al Beruni visited India in early 11th century and wrote an encyclopedic book on India, presenting it in an enlightening form to the world, besides translating books from Sanskrit to Arabic and vice-versa.

India reciprocated in equal measure. Various Muslim kingdoms introduced Arabic educational systems, attracted top learned men from the Arab world, and annual pilgrimage to Mecca also added to the cultural exchanges.

Even today, Arabic is taught in many colleges and universities across India, contributing to the Arab culture and literature, and this is duly acknowledged by the Arab people, Al-Sati said.

The ambassador described Ebrahim Alkazi, 91, as “a theatre legend whose contribution to the fields of theatre, fine arts and culture has been extraordinary.

“He is acknowledged and credited for innovating the Indian theatre, staging more than 50 plays in his lifetime, producing some of the finest actors and directors of the state and screen in India, besides contributing to preservation of Indian cultural history through his Alkazi Foundation of Arts,” Al-Sati said, paying glowing tributes to Alkazi.

He revealed that Alkazi’s father Hamad was a trader from Unaiza in Saudi Arabia’s Qassim region who subsequently settled in Pune where Ebrahim was born in 1925. Displaying interests in literature, arts, culture and dramatics from an early age, Alkazi was educated at the St. Vincents High School in Pune and later St. Xaviers College in Mumbai.

He joined the college’s Dramatics Society and came in touch with stalwarts like Sultan Padamsee, Derreck Jefferies, Hamid Sayani and Jean Bhownagary. Later they formed the Theatre Group, Mumbai’s first serious group performing in English.

Over the next few decades Alkazi continued his trailblazing works in India, the US and Europe before becoming the director of the National School of Drama and the Asian Theatre Institute.

Present at Friday’s inauguration ceremonies were theatre stalwarts like Vijaya Mehta, Alyque Padamsee, Amal Allana and Feisal Alkazi.

–IANS

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