The Netherlands and India Ties A Glorious Journey through the Ages


After Indian independence, The Netherlands and India have enjoyed good relations. The first Dutch Ambassador to India Mr. Arnold Lamping was one of the three Ambassadors present in Delhi at Prime Minister Nehru’s famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech on 15th August, 1947.

The story of the Dutch relations with India would begin with the arrival in Goa of Dutch sailor Jan Huyghen van Linschoten who sailed for India on 8th April, 1583 from Lisbon and arrived in Goa on 21st September, 1583.

Centuries back, the Dutch established bilateral contacts with India. The first recorded agreement between the two countries, of 11th November, 1604, was between the Dutch East India Company and the Saamoothiri (Zamorin is the anglicised version) of the erstwhile state of Kozhikode (Calicut) to form an alliance against the Portuguese military presence in India. In 1610, the Dutch settled in Pullicat. They established their spice factory in Malabar on the western coast and in Coromandel on the eastern coast. They also settled their trading outposts in different parts of India mainly along the Indian shores, the largest one being at Cochin. The Dutch erected a factory in Chinsura near Kolkota which was used as a base for the Dutch intra-Asian trade in the year 1656. The Dutch historians today believe that the Dutch in those days did not try to build an empire in India

Long ago, Dutch soldiers fought with the Mughal army. In 1661, the Dutchman Johan van Leenen carthographed a map of "Bengale". These maps also confirm that the name Assam is not given by the British. In the following year, the shipwrecked sailor Frans van der Heiden wrote in his diary about the land and the people and his experience as a conscript of Mirjumal’s army and their battle with the Ahom king of Assam. Archaeological remnants of Dutch settlements can be found in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal - where traces of Dutch influence in maps and manuscripts, ornaments and furniture and the famous Delft tiles have been found. Exchanges between historians, economists, sociologists, and orientalists constitute a major element in cultural interaction between the two countries.

It is said that it was the Dutch, who introduced Sanskrit and also Hindi and Tamil to Europe. In 1651, Abraham Rogerius, who was a priest, translated the Vairagyashataka and the Nitishataka of Bhartrhari into Dutch. In 1672, another priest Philippus Baldaeus published an extensive travelogue of his experience in South India including a concise description of Tamil. There were academic contacts between the Netherlands and India during the British rule. Sanskrit was taught at Leiden University dating as far back as 1865.

Over the years the multifaceted Indo-Dutch relations have gained maturity and depth. In the Netherlands, the scholarly interest to the new cultural history of India and the history of cultural encounters is steadily rising. This is reflected in the flood of publications, seminars, conferences, and dissertations. Dr Mohan Singh Mehta, a former education minister and Prime Minister of Banswara in the State of Mewar during pre-independence was the first ambassador of India to the Netherlands.

After Indian independence, The Netherlands and India have enjoyed good relations. The first Dutch Ambassador to India Mr. Arnold Lamping was one of the three Ambassadors present in Delhi at Prime Minister Nehru’s famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech on 15th August, 1947.

Initially, the Indo-Dutch relation revolved around development cooperation which lasted till 2003, when India took the noteworthy initiative to stop receiving aids from foreign donors. Since then, relations between the two countries have been wider-ranging, focussing more on technical cooperation in key areas such as transport and logistics infrastructure, water management, environment, agriculture and food processing, services and science & technology, in promoting knowledge transfer and cultural cooperation.

Indo-Dutch bilateral relations have continued to develop and gain momentum in the past years. Both the Indian and the Dutch governments attach great importance to the bilateral economic relationship and look forward to further consolidating the robust and rapidly expanding ties between the two countries

India has always enjoyed the Dutch admiration and understanding for its culture and achievements. The first performance of Pandit Ravi Shankar was organised on 27th May, 1957 at the Concert hall in Amsterdam. From 1958 onwards, Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), Amsterdam started the tradition of inviting well-known Indian artists to perform at the Royal Tropical Institute. Through these performances, the Dutch public got exposed to classical Indian music and dance. In addition, around 1973, the Foundation India Music started to organise Indian concerts in the Mozes & Aaron church, Amsterdam. In 1985, this became a part of the programming of the Royal Tropical Institute.

Indian Diaspora from Suriname and the Dutch admirers of Indian classical music have created the right environment for the acceptance of Indian music and dance. Among the Dutch, there is a growing interest in Indian classical music and light classical forms like ghazal and bhajan. Mohini Devi, a Dutch national, who studied Indian dance in early fifties and gave dance lessons to the Dutch was one of the pioneers of Indian dance in the Netherlands. Many dance schools have sprung up in various places where one can learn Indian classical dances, folk dances and also the modern Indian dances (Bollywood dances).

From the seventies, Indian dancers started settling in the Netherlands. A large number of Surinamese Indians perform, teach and treasure this form of art. Many of them have done Arangetrams (professional initiation). Dutch students at different levels visit India to refine their techniques and skills. Kalakshetra of Chennai is a source of inspiration - a significant institution where many of the Dutch students pursue their higher studies in this discipline. Almost all the well-known artists from India have performed in the Netherlands and visit this country regularly. On 13th February, 2008, the Association of Platform Indian Dance (PID) was established to stimulate cooperation and exchange of know-how between different Indian dance styles and dance schools, to support and encourage artistic developments and to present dancers and teachers of Indian dance through a common platform.

At different Dutch world music schools, lessons can be followed to master the art of vocal music and playing of Indian musical instruments. In the field of cross-over music and dance, a new trend is slowly developing. Young local artists have started experimenting with playing Indian music together with Jazz and/or Arabic music. Classical dancers have choreographed Bharata natyam with western and African music.

Cooperation in the cinematography started in the early seventies, although Satyajit Ray’s film was presented to the Dutch public around 1966. In the early seventies, Indian films were screened once a week in the Seinpost Theater in Scheveningen. Indian films are screened regularly in Dutch cinema halls. Cities like Amsterdam include screening of Indian films in their local film festivals. The annual Hindustani Film Festival is held in The Hague. Several Dutch companies are active in producing documentaries and future films relating to the Indian culture and heritage. The Bollywood artists perform in the Netherlands regularly. In any case Bollywood is now a craze. In June 2005, the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Award ceremony took place in Amsterdam. During that period, it looked like as if for a for few days Amsterdam was invaded by the Indian film industry. The Indian Diaspora in the Netherlands has their own TV and radio stations. Concertzender and VPRO, the two major Dutch radio stations regularly air Indian classical music. There are several commercial Hindustani radio stations serving the community. It is also a source of information for the community especially for family affairs like birth, death and marriage.

The entertainment industry in India is going global. This development provides opportunities for the creative industry in the Netherlands. With a two-way program and support of the Dutch government, Dutch companies are establishing creative hubs in the Netherlands in the Creative Media sector and are interacting with their Indian counterparts. The Indian Media and Entertainment Convention - FICCI Frames 2010 - was held in Mumbai where the Netherlands was the official partner country. A Dutch trade delegation participated in this convention as well.

Painters from the Netherlands were not only inspired but were also influenced by Indian art. It is said that some works of the Dutch great master, Rembrandt, were also influenced by India. Rembrandt specialists are of the opinion that about 20-25 sketches of Rembrandt, dating back to the period 1654-56, are copies of Moghul miniature paintings. Many galleries support the works of Indian artists and sculptors. Some of them organise exhibitions of the works of Indian artists. The Dutch artists regularly visit India for inspiration and work.

Works of several Dutch authors are translated into Hindi. Indian classical and modern works are translated regularly into Dutch language. Frederik van Eeden, a physician introduced Tagore to the Netherlands. In 1913, he translated Gitanjali and Tagore visited the Netherlands in 1920. Modern thinkers and philosophers such as Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and Krishnamurty had their admirers in the Netherlands. Krishmurthy visited the Netherlands several times. The Dutch interest was much deeper than something purely academic. India was the land of spiritual wisdom and ancient texts, full of philosophical insight, written in a language of a civilisation, which blossomed even before Europe had any idea of the use of paper.

The cultural and friendship/fraternity societies play an important role in expanding and facilitating social get-togethers between the Indian Diaspora and the Dutch. Other meeting points of both communities are the Melas and Milans organised in various places by different organisations. Milan Festival of The Hague is said to be the biggest Indian open-air festival of mainland Europe. The three-day festival attracts more than 80.000 visitors. The annual Miss India Holland pageant is another event, where the Surinamese community actively participate.

Indian philosophy and religion, yoga or spirituality is inseparable from each other. People are attracted to yoga for various reasons. Yoga teachers and yoga schools can be found all over the Netherlands. More than 300 yoga centres cater for the growing need where one can get lessons in yoga. Almost every town and city in The Netherlands has yoga schools.

Ayurveda, another ingredient of Indian culture is increasingly introduced and practiced in the Netherlands. There are medical doctors, who have followed courses in Ayurveda. Besides the Ayurvedic doctors, there are several Ayurvedic massage practices and to train these specialists there are several special colleges.

Food is an integral part of Indian culture. The number of Dutch tourists to India as well as businessmen visiting India is increasing. They are all exposed to the varied and rich Indian cuisine. On the other hand, the number of Indian tourists visiting the Netherlands is also on the rise. Many Indian companies have established their base in the Netherlands. To cater to the needs of the Dutch public and different groups, Indian restaurants are mushrooming all over the Netherlands. Amsterdam alone has more than 40 Indian restaurants. Lessons in Indian cooking are given at several places in the Netherlands. Indian shops selling Indian fresh vegetables, spices, lentils, Basmati rice and flour can be found in almost all major cities and towns of the Netherlands. There are web-shops catering to the need of the Indian Diaspora.

The Dutch are fascinated by the achievements of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, and Rabindranath Tagore and have some special attractions for the names of Ganga, Delhi and Bombay. The Dutch municipalities have named more than 50 streets in their honour. Gandhiji is honoured with three statues in three different cities. In the Peace Palace (International Court of Justice) in The Hague, there are busts of Gandhiji and Nehru.

Along with the other countries in the world, the Netherlands also commemorated the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. To pay homage to the great poet-philosopher, different functions were organised in different places. Thanks to the embassy a bronze bust of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore sculptured by Mr. Gautam Pala, a gift from the Government and the people of India was unveiled on 6th May, 2011, at Public Library of The Hague. On 9th May, 2011, another bust was unveiled at the Courtyard Huizinga Building, Leiden University, Leiden. A special commemorative function to conclude 150th Anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was organised. On 12th May, 2012, Friends of Tagore and Embassy of India organised the event jointly. Women's empowerment activist - Smt. Elaben Bhatt conferred with Dutch Freedom Award at a ceremony attended by Queen Beatrix and PM Mark Rutte.

On 2nd October, 2011, on the occasion of his birth anniversary Mahatma Gandhi was honoured in the Netherlands in a special way through opening of an Indian Cultural Centre named - Gandhi Centre The Hague, which is an acting as an important platform for developing and maintaining cultural contacts with Dutch community interested in India. Gandhi Centre The Hague, since its inauguration, has developed into a vibrant physical entity, equipped with staff and infrastructure, for promoting friendly relations and cultural cooperation with the Netherlands. An important element of the Centre’s activities would be teaching of yoga, meditation, dance, music, Ayurveda, Indian languages, among other things. For teaching of yoga and meditation, there is already a resident teacher on deputation through ICCR. Regular tabla classes are conducted by local teachers as well.

The first International Day of Yoga was celebrated on 21 June 2015 at the Atrium City Hall of The Hague. Over 600 people from various sections of the society comprising of local Dutch population, Surinami Hindustani community and Indian Diaspora participated at the event with great enthusiasm.

Holland-India Festivals The Hague is an annual festival. It is an initiative of Korzo theater, Indian Film Festival The Hague and Zuiderstrandtheater, The Hague. The Indian Film festival, The Hague Indian Dance Festival and Indian Music Festival are three major partners of this festival.

India attaches considerable importance to its relations with the Netherlands. In May 1985, the two countries signed a Cultural Exchange Programme, on cooperation and exchanges in education and science, art and culture, literature, mass media and archives. Direct cultural contacts between institutions of the two countries have been expanding steadily. The then-PM Dr. Manmohan Singh visited the Netherlands in 2004 and during the state visit of Queen Beatrix to India, on 24th October, 2007, another cultural agreement was signed. In November 2008, together with a number of cultural organisations in Amsterdam the Concertgebouw organised a spectacular festival which was devoted to India, with the theme of the festival being ‘Blended Cultures’. It is a cultural encounter referring to the large variety of the different cultures which live together in India. The Dutch PM also visited India in the year 2015 and hailed initiatives like Digital India and ‘Smart cities’ that offered opportunities for collaboration that will harness ‘knowledge, expertise and companies’ between both countries.

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