• Published on: 17th July 2017
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Almost two centuries after his death, the first ever exhibition of a unique collection of South Asian art and antiquities amassed by Stornoway-born collector, Colin Mackenzie, is to become the centrepiece of a festival devoted to the links between the Western Isles of Scotland and India.

The exhibition, ‘Collector Extraordinaire’, which opens on 12th August at Museum nan Eilean, Lews Castle, Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, features thousands of unusual items from the world-famous Mackenzie Collection.

The objects include beautiful figures carved in stone, thousands of drawings and sketches depicting ancient monuments, people and customs, maps, coins, and ancient palm leaf manuscripts.

Colonel Mackenzie, who was born in Stornoway in 1754, left his job as a customs officer at the age of 29 to join the East India Company. He quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the first Surveyor General of all India. In this role, he travelled across the vast sub-continent, charting sites such as the Taj Mahal and the world-famous Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram overlooking the Bay of Bengal.

Mackenzie never returned to his beloved Lewis and died in India in 1821. He is buried in a cemetery in Calcutta. Almost two centuries after death, for the first time ever, elements of his collection will be displayed together under one roof on Lewis, just a stones’s throw from where he and his family lived on the South Beach side of Stornoway’s harbour.

Mackenzie’s collection, held by The British Museum, The British Library and the V&A in London, as well as libraries in India, is treasure trove of information relating to the people and places Mackenzie encountered two centuries ago during his travels around India, Sri Lanka and Java.

The story of Colin Mackenzie has now inspired Purvai, 2017, a festival devised by Stornaway-based arts centre, An Lanntair, which will celebrate the Hebrides’ South Asian heritage links, bringing them to life for a 21st century audience.

The heart of the festival is a packed ten-day programme from 10th to 19th August, which will take place at An Lanntair. This coincides with the opening of Collector Extraordinaire at Museum nan Eilean. Additional Purvai events will continue until November.

Purvai features world class concerts, theatre performances, visual arts exhibitions, expert talks, an Indian drumming performance by local children, a feast of Indian food and dance workshops.

Purvai highlights include:

Yatra (tr:Journey); Performance of a brand new commissioned score depicting Colin Mackenzie’s journey from the Outer Hebrides to India told using traditional Gaelic vocal traditions and islanders’ songs of travel and seafaring, through to the traditional Indian Raag and folk music he’d have experienced and encountered during his travels in India. This will take place on Friday 18th August at An Lanntair. A scaled-down version will be performed at a special free Unbound night at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 21st August. The full show will tour in India during January 2018.

▪Sitar virtuoso, Roopa Panesar, and tabla maestro, Dalbir Singh Rattan (also lead composer on Yatra), present an evening of classical Indian music on 10th August, while Kaviraj Singh Dhadyalla introduces Indian classical Santoor music on 16th August

▪Actor, director and playwright, Sudha Bhuchar, will stage her critically acclaimed play, Child of the Divide, which tells the story of a young boy separated from his family during the Partition of India on 17th November.

• Photographer and artist, Arpita Shah, will research stories of South Asian Hebridean families and their journeys to Stornoway and the islands through the medium of tea. The result will be a fully interactive Chai stall where people can share their own individual stories, discussing notions of home and identity over a Copan Chai. Copan is the Gaelic word which refer to a cup of tea. (Throughout October)

Sona Datta. presenter of BBC4’s Treasures of the Indus discusses the famous temple and monuments of Mahabalipuram in South India (extensively documented in the Mackenzie Collection) on 12th Aug

▪In a collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, award-winning crime writer, Abir Mukherjee, joins poet and 2017 Robert Louis Stevenson Writing Fellow, Nalini Paul, to present a literary journey capturing their personal responses to the Mackenzie Collection on 15th Aug

Catherine Maclean, curator of Purvai, said: “Purvai 2017 is the culmination of more than five years work, researching the Collection in London and India, travelling and engaging artists from the Hebrides with India and South Asia and vice versa.

“I am delighted audiences will finally get to see and experience this remarkable collection during Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, especially here on the Island.

“Colin Mackenzie never forgot the Island and held onto his Hebridean and Gaelic identity throughout his life in India right up until the end. The Collection is a significant,  important and rich body of historical material, but how we can interpret and use it as an inspiration for new creative works, understanding and relating to one another, is what’s really important today.”

Collector Extraordinaire has been made possible thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Purvai is also a Signature Event of Scotland’s 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology celebrations.

Purvai Project has also received funding from British Council to take elements of the project to India as part of the British Council’s UK INDIA 2017 programme.