Purvai 2017: Connecting Scotland's Hebrides with India

Catherine Maclean
Catherine Maclean
Catherine Maclean from An Lanntair talks about how the Purvai project helped people learn about the shared heritage of the Hebrides and India.

On 10 August, The Purvai Festival 2017 was launched in An Lanntair Arts Centre, Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. It marks a historic event in Stornoway: the first ever exhibition of Colin Mackenzie’s India Collections.

Colin Mackenzie was one of Scotland’s most famous 19th-century explorers. Born in Stornoway in 1753, he went on to lead a life of travel, discovery and exploration in India as a soldier, engineer, cartographer, polymath and collector. He produced some of the first cartographic maps of the country and became the first Surveyor General of All India.  

Preserving Colin Mackenzie's collection

Despite the importance and significance of his collection there has never before been a curated exhibition of the Mackenzie Collection. Now thanks to support from HLF this has been realised and the ‘Collector Extraordinaire’ exhibition can finally be viewed, 234 years after he left Stornoway for India.

[quote]"Purvai 2017, with the Colin Mackenzie exhibition, brings back to life a forgotten part of Hebridean heritage, which reaches far beyond our island shores."[/quote]

The exhibition includes a range of fascinating material on loan from the British Museum, British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is on display with our project partner organisation - Museum Nan Eilean at Lews Castle, Stornoway until 18 November.

Mackenzie’s Collection has inspired the artists performing and engaging in Purvai 2017 with collaborations drawing on both Gaelic and South Asian traditions. This includes the score ‘Yatra’ (meaning ‘journey’) – the first new creative work to come from the collection bringing to life the story of Mackenzie through music and visuals.

It depicts Mackenzie’s journey through traditional seafaring songs in Gaelic through to the Indian raag and folk music which he would have experienced during his exploration of India. Stornoway also enjoyed its first ever Indian Classical Santoor Concert – which received a standing ovation, as became customary for the artists' performances throughout the festival.

Exploring links between the Hebrides and South Asian heritage

Purvai 2017, with the Colin Mackenzie exhibition, brings back to life a forgotten part of Hebridean heritage, which reaches far beyond our island shores. This festival marks the beginning of an exploration of South Asian heritage and culture in the Hebrides which will feature a visual arts installation in the shape of a fully operational Chai stall and the collection and sharing of personal family stories and histories through the medium of tea.

Critically acclaimed production ‘Child of the Divide’ will be showcased in November to help tell the story of those who moved to Scotland after the partition of India 70 years ago. January 2018 will see the Purvai project travel to India to engage audiences with the shared heritage between India and Scotland thanks to funding from the British Council and Creative Scotland.

The funding we have received from HLF Scotland is the culmination of five years work and research into the Mackenzie collection and truly is an extraordinary part of Scottish heritage which still has much to be explored, uncovered and analysed.

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