Purvai celebrates the rich South Asian cultural heritage that is now an integral part of the Hebrides and Scotland today.

The inspiration for the project is Colonel Colin Mackenzie, the first Surveyor General of India and collector extraordinaire. Mackenzie was born in Stornoway in 1754, a stone’s throw away from where An Lanntair stands today. Arriving in India at the age of 29 as an officer in the Madras Engineers, Mackenzie was captivated by the cultures of India, he spent the rest of his life travelling exploring, surveying and documenting the ancient Cultures, arts, architecture, mythology and natural history of India.

‘Purvai’ – meaning warm wind from the East – aims to connect the people of the Hebrides with India and The Mackenzie Collection; unlocking its potential as ‘the largest and oldest extant archive to be gathered by a single European… recognised as one of the most important archival sources in existence about the late pre-colonial periods of Indian History’.

Purvai also aims to give artistic opportunities, providing the platform for ambitious creative projects that articulate and are heir to Mackenzie’s intrepid curiosity; splicing cultures, innovative, active, relevant, alive and present.

Past Projects:

2014 Artist Exchange

An Lanntair was enabled in 2014 by Creative Scotland’s International Research Fund to map an ambitious cultural journey across the subcontinent for Hebridean Artists. Selected artists were Sculptor Steve Dilworth and musician/composer Iain Morrison who travelled to India with Purvai Curator Catherine Maclean and An Lanntair’s Head of Visual Art Roddy Murray.

The first artistic output of Purvai was an innovative, experimental musical and audio-visual collaboration. B.L.O.T. The Delhi based Club Duo were An Lanntair’s first guest artists to travel from India to the Hebrides. BLOT! and Iain Morrison spent a week working collaboratively on the re–imagining and re-presenting the compelling, ancient sound of Scottish Ceòl Mòr. What emerged was an extraordinary mix of electronica, dance beats and kaleidoscopic imagery.

2015 Purvai Research 

In 2015  Purvai project received it’s first round of funding from Sharing Heritage Lottery Funding to carry out specific research on the Mackenzie Collection at the British Library, British Museum and the V&A.

We began to build the audience and awareness of the Collection in our community and we celebrated with a spectacular performance from Aziz and Dal the Asian Blues Collective.

Tamasha theatre also staged the play ‘My Name is’ based on the true story of Molly Campbell who left Stornoway for Pakistan in 2006 and the international custody case which followed.

2016 Purvai research and first festival

Purvai curator was awarded an INTACH scholarship to travel to India to carry out specific research on the Mackenzie Collection in libraries and museums across India, building and following on from the research carried out at the London institutions.

The research in both India and the Uk were all working towards curating and bringing together the first ever Mackenzie Collection exhibition.  By the end of 2016 the first loan request letters were in place.

2016 was the first full festival programme and Stornoway saw it’s first ever Sitar concert from Roopa Panesar and Dalbir Singh Rattan the performance received a rapturous response.

Aziz and Dal were back with another mesmerizing night of the Asian Blues,  we held our first Indian Cinema night and a full programme of workshops were available from Photography to textiles.

We also held a visual arts exhibitions from Focas India.


2017 Purvai Festival 

The largest of Purvai’s project to date, 2017 saw another vibrant Purvai festival at An Lanntair the first the first ever exhibition of the ‘Mackenzie Collection’ funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in partnership with Museum nan Eilean. You can read a full press release about the project here and watch the trailer video below.

The signature event of the 2017 festival was a new music commission entitled Yatra, meaning journey, composed by lead musician and Tabla player Dalbir Singh Rattan.

A specially commissioned musical score inspired by the journey of Colin Mackenzie, from the Isle of Lewis to India in 1783.  The resulting piece saw a diverse collective of musicians come together to perform the score. Charting a course through traditional Gaelic vocal traditions and Indian Raag mirroring Mackenzie’s own journey through islander’s songs of travel and seafaring, through to the traditional Indian raag and folk music which Mackenzie would have experienced and encountered during his life of travel and exploration in India.

Yatra also tells a wider story of the history and heritage between India and the UK, and what that connection has come to mean and embody today. A historical story made alive and present through artists working now, representing these traditions in a progressive and innovative way.

Yatra was also a key event as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017.  You can see a short film of the performance below.

New Passages our writers exchange project in partnership with Edinburgh International Book Festival Apeejay Literature Festival Kolkata also began in 2017. Writers from both Indian and Scotland are responding creatively to the Mackenzie Collection.

Two Scottish writers, Abir Mukherjee and Nalini Paul first traveled to Stornoway to research the life and work of Mackenzie through the ‘Collector Extraordinaire’  – the first ever exhibition of  his collection.

Then in January 2018 New Passages travelled to Kolkata to carry out more Mackenzie Collection research in the Museums and libraries of Kolkata and to take part in the Apeejay Literary Festival. The Scottish writers  met with counterpart Indian writers Sandip Roy and Sampurna Chatterji and now all four writers are working on their responses to the Collection, story and journey of Mackenzie.

The exchange is ongoing and a reciprocal trip for the Indian writers to Scotland is taking place in the summer of 2018 where they will appear at both Purvai festival and Edinburgh International Book Festival.