India-Venezuela Cultural Cooperation
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In spite of the distances separating India and Venezuela and the negligible presence of Non Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) in Venezuela, Indian culture is much loved, admired and practiced by Venezuelans. As a result, Venezuelans are positively disposed towards India and many of them regularly travel to India or have the desire to visit India.

Open Chairs on India
The two leading universities of Venezuela – the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas and the University of Los Andes (ULA) in the State of Merida – have been running Open Chairs on India (Catedra Libre India Siglo XXI) at their own initiatives. The Chair in ULA is much older and has published booklets and monographs on topics of bilateral interest and also organized lectures, exhibitions etc on Indian themes. The Catedra Libre in UCV recently organized lectures on themes such as “India as an Emerging Power” and “India’s Growth in Last 30 Years”.

India Study Centre
An India Study Centre named after Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was inaugurated in the University of Santa Maria (USM), Caracas on Ambedkar Jayanti (14 April 2016). The Study Centre is located in the Law Faculty of USM. It has a collection of books on India and related subjects in English and Spanish. The Centre also organizes conferences on themes related to India and Venezuela.

Mahatma Gandhi and Venezuela
A Statue of Mahatma Gandhi is situated at the Plaza Gandhi in Caricuao in the outskirts of Caracas and Gandhi is Jayanti is celebrated there every year. The statue has been looked after by the people living around the statue and particularly by Mr. Otilio Gimenez, a Gandhian. The Mayor’s office of Caracas has expressed interest in having another statue of Mahatma Gandhi as they feel it enhances the message of peace and non-violence.

The Foundation ‘Mahatma Gandhi –Venezuela’ was launched in Caracas on 23 June 2016. The Foundation is launching diploma courses on the teachings and principles of Mahatma Gandhi in Metropolitan University and the Central University of Venezuela on Gandhi Jayanti and International Day of Nonviolence on 2 October 2016.

Yoga/Meditation/Ayurveda/Agnihotra
Yoga is extremely popular in Venezuela and there are hundreds of Yoga Centres/Yoga Groups/Yoga Masters all over the country who are teaching various forms of Yoga (Hatha Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, Siddha Yoga etc.). It is common to see Venezuelans in large numbers practicing Yoga at public plazas and parks in Caracas during the weekends. As part of the teaching Yoga, the Yoga teachers also teach the importance of vegetarian food and a holistic way of life as taught in ancient Indian scriptures. Some of the leading Yoga Teachers in an around Caracas are Dada Chidrupandanda (An Indian who has been living in Venezuela for more than 15 years and imparts Yoga and Meditation classes at San Antonio de Los Altos in the State of Miranda and in the western State of Merida), Mr. Priyananda of Priyananda Yogin Arts & Centro Ashram Ahimsa, David Devakumar of Eco Yoga Venezuela, Maestro Joel Sandoval of Sivananda Hatha Yoga and the Yoga classes run by Maestro Amadeo Porras. Apart from Yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, Ayurvedic massage, Agnihotra Therapy (Through Fire) are also popular in Venezuela and several teachers who have learnt about them in India are imparting their knowledge to Venezuelans.

Indian dance and music
There are several local dance groups in Venezuela which practice classical Indian dances such as Odissi and Bharatnatyam and others which specialize in contemporary Indian dance forms. Local music groups and individuals promote Indian music by playing and teaching Indian instruments such as table, flute and sitar. These groups regularly take part in cultural events organized by the Embassy. A local organization ‘La Augusta Fundacion’ is active in organizing Indian cultural events in Caracas.

ICCR cultural groups occasionally visit Venezuela. Most recently, a three-member Santoor group led by Shri Bipul Ray gave performances in Margarita Island of Venezuela.

Indian Food
Indian food is very popular among Venezuelans. While there is no full-fledged Indian restaurant in Caracas, there are small eateries/caterers who sell Indian food. Embassy participates in food festivals organized in Caracas.

Mr. Sumito Estevez, a Venezuelan of India origin (his mother is Indian) is one of the most famous Chefs and celebrities Venezuela and Latin America who has done several documentaries on Indian food part from his usual programmes on Gourmet Television.

Temples
There are two Hindu Temples in Caracas – ISKCON Temple at San Barnadino and Pramakaruna Krishna Temple at Colinas Del Bello Monte. There are large numbers of Venezuelan devotes who are actively associated with these two temples and celebrate most of the religious festivals, particularly those associated with the life of Lord Krishna. Aarti is held in these temples everyday in the evening followed by Pravachan and Katha. These temples are also propagating vegetarian Indian food, Indian dances, spiritual and religious literature, Indian textiles and handicrafts etc.

 Sai Baba of Puttaparthi
There are thousands of devotees of Sai Baba of Puttparthi in Venezuela, many of whom are occupying key positions in the Government and the National Assembly. It is estimated that there are about 50 Sai Centres/Sai Groups across Venezuela. The oldest Sai Centre (Centro Sai) started in 1974 is located at Sabana Grande Boulevard in the heart of Caracas. The devotees regularly meet to offer prayers, organize kirtan and bhajan sessions, spiritual and humanitarian talks etc.  They also carry out charitable works. There is a school (La Unidad Educativa Colegio Valores Humanos) which is run by Sai Baba Trust in the western State of Tachira. The National Assembly of Venezuela honoured Sai Baba with a unanimous resolution in 2011 following his passing away and hailed him as one of the greatest Mahatmas, Spiritualists, Humanists of India and the world.

The Art of Living
The Art of Living founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shnakar is becoming very popular in Venezuela and the visit of Sri Sari Ravi Shankar to Caracas in April 2012 received wide media publicity. His main event at the prestigious Aula Magna of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas was an astounding success as the hall was full to capacity (about 3000) and there were many people waiting outside who could not get tickets. The teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, particularly his focus on non-violence, peace and reconciliation apart from meditation etc. have special resonance among Venezuelans.

The Brahmakumaris
The Bramakumaris are also present in Venezuela and they organize events such as prayer meetings, meditation, lectures on human values and also promote vegetarian food.

Followers of Sri Mata Amritananadamayi Devi
There are also followers of Sri Mata Amritananadamayi Devi in Venezuela who are organized in a group known as Amigos de Amma de Venezuela. Apart from their focus on spiritual aspects, meditation, yoga, vegetarian food etc., they are also involved in charitable activities.  

Missionaries of Charity
The Sisters of Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa are also present in Venezuela and are doing important works among the poor and disadvantaged people living in Barrios (slums). In fact, Venezuela was the first country outside India where Mother Teresa opened her Centre. 

La Gran Fraternidad Universal
Caracas is also the headquarters of La Gran Fraternidad Universal (GFU), an organisation founded by French writer and astrologer Serge Raynaud in 1948. Among the various activities undertaken by them are Hatha Yoga, Meditation and promotion of vegetarian food.

Conclusion
In view of the expression of tremendous interest in Indian Culture in Venezuela, the Indian Embassy is trying to promote greater people to people contacts between the two countries and is working on several proposals to bring Indian cultural troupes to Venezuela, organize Indian film festivals, photos exhibitions, have closer relationship with universities and educational institutions etc.



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