Home Art & Culture Celebrating Indo–Swiss Cultural Diversity and Dynamism

Celebrating Indo–Swiss Cultural Diversity and Dynamism

Celebrating Indo–Swiss Cultural Diversity and Dynamism
Celebrating Indo–Swiss Cultural Diversity and Dynamism
Celebrating Indo–Swiss Cultural Diversity and Dynamism
Celebrating Indo–Swiss Cultural Diversity and Dynamism


In commemorating 70 years of bilateral ties between India and Switzerland, it is significant to dwell on the role played by culture in facilitating cooperation and collaboration between the two countries. While power in international relations and foreign policy has traditionally been defined through economic might and military capabilities, there is an increasing realisation that it is positive attraction and persuasion in the form of soft power that will actually achieve foreign policy objectives. States are now influencing one another through cultural exchanges and initiatives that build lasting bonds. Indeed, it is such soft power that brings together countries as diverse as India and Switzerland.

In 1948, post India’s independence, a Treaty of Friendship was signed between Switzerland and India, with regular
high-level bilateral visits on both ends. There have been Indo–Swiss cultural exchanges in domains as diverse as art, architecture, food, entertainment, literature, and music, among others and they have particularly seen a boom in the globalisation era.

One of the major features that India and Switzerland have in common, is cultural heterogeneity. Both the countries are models for Unity in Diversity. Presently, Swiss art and architecture finds representation in India through Pro Helvetia—The Swiss Arts Council established in New Delhi in 2007. It promotes cultural exchanges between the two regions with a focus on exemplary creativity as well as diversity in representation. India too, has left its mark on Swiss culture through the proliferation of Bollywood, Indian cuisine, and more recently Yoga and Ayurveda. It will be difficult to find a village in Switzerland which does not have Yoga practitioners.

Visual Art and Architecture: Creativity & Innovation

Visual art and architecture are tangible symbols of cultural ties. India and Switzerland’s architectural collaborations have a rich history with India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru inviting the Swiss–French Artist Le Corbusier to design the city of Chandigarh. Indeed, Chandigarh’s modern architecture, Le Corbusier’s dream project, is representative of a modern and independent India. The plan incorporated Le Corbusier’s principles of light, space, and greenery and stands testament both to Corbusier’s vision as well as the Indo–Swiss legacy in architecture. In 2015, an article published by BBC named Chandigarh as one of the perfect cities of the world in terms of architecture, cultural growth, and modernisation. Furthermore, in July 2016, Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex was declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. In many ways, the symmetrical architecture of Chandigarh makes us reminiscent of Western modernity in architecture, of which
Le Corbusier remains a pioneer. Till date, this remains one of the most successful creative collaborations between Switzerland and India.

As of today, Pro Helvetia awards studio-residencies to South Asian nationals who wish to reside long-term in Switzerland and take up creative projects in the fields of visual arts, theatre, and literature, with the aim of promoting mutual exchanges between South Asia and Switzerland. These exchanges go a long way in promoting people-to-people contact and enhance creative expression. The aim of this project is to take artists away from their familiar artistic environments in order to facilitate newer forms of creative expression and diversity. The artists working in varied media often question and challenge everyday social and political conditions, both in India and Switzerland, giving their art value. Furthermore, these Indian and Swiss artists create sustainable networks with one another that lead to long-term ties of friendship and camaraderie.

In 1989, a ‘Festival of India’ was held in Switzerland. In 1991, a ‘Festival of Switzerland’ was held in the four metropolitan cities and in Bangalore. ICCR has also been sending cultural troupes to Switzerland.

Bollywood’s Tryst with the Alps

 Despite regional disparities, the Alps have played an essential role in shaping the history and culture of Switzerland, notes Oliver Zimmer. When Indians think of Switzerland, they think of its innate beauty, the beckoning Alps and indeed, Bollywood. The unique association between India, Bollywood, and Switzerland cannot be exaggerated. When Indian tourists step into the icy terrain of Mt. Jungfraujoch, the tallest Swiss peak, a life-size cut-out of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol’s poster from the 1995 blockbuster, Dilwale Dulhanya Le Jayenge welcomes them. Indian film directors and producers have flocked to the Swiss Alps in search of artistic inspiration for their song and dance sequences since the trendsetting film Sangam (1964) which was shot in European locales.

According to ETC MarketInsights (2015), for five decades, Alpine landscapes have featured in over hundred non-western productions, turning Switzerland into the most preferred honeymoon destination for Asian visitors.  Furthermore, the Swiss tourism market has also cashed in on this special connection. For instance, the Swiss Government has propelled a drive to attract residents of second-tier cities in India. This campaign includes aggressive marketing strategies under consumer outreach programs, advertising promotions including television commercials in leading channels, and training programs for travel agents in Tier II and Tier III cities in India.

The Bollywood connection for Switzerland’s tourism does not end with Yash Chopra’s scintillating song and dance sequences. More recently, Switzerland Tourism’s move to hire Ranveer Singh–a sought-after Indian actor with a social media following of over seven million people–as its brand ambassador, has resulted in a spike in young Indian travellers under 35 by over 25% during the 2017 summer season, according to SWI swissinfo.ch.

Presently, India is among the top 10 source markets for Switzerland at the eighth position and according to Switzerland’s Tourism CEO Juerg Schmid, is third as the long haul source market. “We expect the growth trend to continue and in next decade India is likely to move up the ladder as the source market,” he said. In terms of foreign policy, a move towards providing Indian tourists with e-tourist visas to Switzerland would go a long way in facilitating people-to-people interactions and give a further boost to Indian tourists between the two nations. On the other hand, the Government of India, too, extended the e-tourist visa facility to Swiss citizens in February 2016.

Strengthening Cultural Ties: Gastronomy, Yoga & Beyond

 Gastronomically, Switzerland has catered to both the Indian Diaspora and tourists alike, with authentic Indian food. Several vegetarian restaurants have mushroomed, particularly in the much-frequented tourist destinations of Switzerland, to satisfy the Indian palette. On the other side, ventures such as Swiss Gourmessa in New Delhi promise to bring some “Swissness” to India through their freshly baked bread, premium Swiss chocolates, and gourmet pastries. For those who cannot resist cheese Swiss-style, there are a variety of options of cheese fondue in and around major cities of India as well.The International Day of Yoga (IDY), a brain-child of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi Government, was celebrated for the first time on 21st June, 2015 in Switzerland. The 4th International Day of Yoga (IDY) was celebrated by the Embassy of India in Berne from June 16-24, 2018 in various cities in Switzerland. It concluded in Berne with a unique philately exhibition at the Universal Postal Union focusing on Yoga-related stamps. An Ayurveda Festival was also organised at all the venues coinciding with the International Day of Yoga celebrations. It received positive response from the Swiss public. The International Day of Yoga and the Ayush festival were organised at the following venues:

  • Berne
  • Basel
  • Zurich
  • Davos
  • Flaach
  • Bad Ragaz
  • Neuchatel
  • Spreitenbach
  • Lausanne

In essence, cultural links between Switzerland and India have blossomed, particularly in the fields of art, architecture, food and entertainment, since the 1980s. However, there are currently no institutional agreements or Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) on cultural cooperation between the two countries. Institutionalizing cultural ties will go a long way in forging lasting bonds between India and Switzerland and also promote trust and confidence. From the Swiss Government’s perspective, consideration for e-tourist visas for Indian tourists, will provide further impetus to Indian tourists going to Switzerland. With regard to India, further endorsements to attract Swiss tourists to popular destinations such as Agra, Rajasthan, and Goa could foster greater cultural ties.

By Ms. Shruti Balaji from Dept. of International Relations Studies, London School of Economics