By Tony Maiella, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Upon first glance, it is hard to find Indian culture in Rio de Janeiro. Excluding Arab culture, most Cariocas have had little or no contact with the east. According to the Indian Consulate only 375 Indian families live in Brazil, mostly around São Paulo. Still, pieces of India are beginning to filter into the zeitgeist through the help of films, restaurants, yoga studios and government endorsed cultural events.
Yoga and meditation studios have long since become a part of the cultural landscape in the Marvelous City. In fact, Brazil has among the highest concentration of yoga studios in the world.
Various studios across Rio host yoga during the week and also regularly offer free classes. Located in Botafogo, the international organization Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers is a prime example. The nonprofit organization was founded by Swami Vishnudevananda and has the main goal of propagating the teachings of yoga throughout the world.
Raaj Mahal, in Botafogo, is perhaps the only authentic Indian restaurant operating in Rio. Serving over fifty authentic Indian dishes Raaj Mahal has been around since 1983, making it Rio’s oldest Indian restaurant in operation.
The Indian Consulate website notes that, “While São Paulo has at least six Indian Restaurants, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Paraty and Curitiba have one each … where one can sit and enjoy Indian cuisines with Indian ‘hot’ spices.”
Indian culture has also started to make its presence known on the big screen. The film Bollywood Dream – O Sonho Bollywoodiano, directed by Beatriz Seigner, is the latest example of an independent production that weaves Indian and Brazilian culture together.
Released on April 29th, the story follows three Brazilian actresses who travel to Indian with the dream of making it big overseas only to find that their notions drastically change. While it’s difficult to repeat the worldwide success of Slum Dog Millionare, Bollywood Dream is unique because it explores themes of self-identity within Indian and Brazilian cultures.
From May 19th to the 22nd, the Prefeitura of Rio de Janeiro and the Indian Embassy in Brazil present Mudra – A Showcase of Indian Culture. Taking place in Teatro Carlos Gomes (Centro) and Sala Baden Powell (Copacabana) the event will showcase accomplished Indian musicians and dancers.
“All of the artists are well-known for their artistic contributions and have received important awards from the Indian government for their use and dedication to the country’s culture.” said Carina Bini, of Tantra Art and Culture.
The groups have participated in prestigious international festivals. Most notably the exhibition presents the tabla player Anuradha Pal, “Queen of Tabla,” a percussion instrument usually played by men, who will travel to Brazil with her famous group Recharge.
Though Indian culture may not be prevalent in Rio now, clearly it is enjoying more attention. As Rio de Janeiro builds up to the 2016 Olympic Games, the desire to be a more culturally diverse cosmopolitan city is a priority for the government and also an opportunity for other countries that have an interest in Brazil.