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From the Archives: International travel produces archival treasures

May 29, 2018 Maggie Shane ATA Archivist

Photos by Cory Hare

These symbolic artifacts, now housed in the ATA archives, were given to Association staff in 1986 during a visit to India. The first (above, left) depicts a famous scene involving a charioteer from the Mahābhāratam, one of the most important epic poems of ancient India. The other depicts the Hindu god Shiva performing a divine dance that demonstrates power in the face of adversity.

Leading up to its official 100th anniversary in June 2018, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is celebrating its history through a number of initiatives, one of which is this column, entitled From the Archives. Curated by archivist Maggie Shane and appearing in each issue of the ATA News this year, this column will feature significant moments and individuals in the Association’s history, as well as interesting artifacts and documents from the Association’s archives.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association, as part of its active roles through the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and Education International, has been supporting teachers engaged in international co-operation for decades, beginning in 1964 with teachers travelling from Alberta to Malawi and Kenya to support teachers in those countries. 

On many occasions Association staff have travelled overseas to collaborate with international colleagues. Often, those staff returned with unique artifacts presented as gifts to the visiting staff officer. That is how two particularly fascinating artifacts came to be housed in the Association archives.

The gifts pictured above were presented to ATA staff in 1986 during a visit to the All India Primary Teachers Federation (AIPTF), where ATA staff delivered a workshop on institutional development. The AIPTF was founded in 1954 at Nagpur, the capital of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. This was a tumultuous time for Indian independence, and teacher leaders struggled to have their concerns and demands addressed. After India achieved independence, teacher organizations formed throughout the country.

Both of these artifacts are highly symbolic. The first depicts a famous scene from the Maha¯bha¯ratam, one of the two most important Sanskrit epics of ancient India. It chronicles the fates of the warring Kaurava and Pandava princes during the Kurukshetra War. This panel depicts Sanjay, a faithful charioteer, describing the battle to Dhritarashtra, the father of the 100 Sons (the Kaurava). Ultimately, the Pandava triumphed through the intervention of Lord Krishna, the Hindu god of compassion, tenderness and love. The Maha¯bha¯ratam is the longest epic poem ever written. At approximately 1.8 million words comprising 200,000 verses, it is approximately 10 times longer than The Iliad and The Odyssey combined.

The second statuette is of Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance. The Hindu god Shiva is depicted dancing the Tandava Nritya, a divine dance that shows Shiva’s power in the face of adversity or provocation. It is a fitting and cherished gift from teachers who overcame adversity to organize for their common interests.

These two artifacts are among the most unique in the ATA’s archives collection, and we are happy to have the opportunity, once again, to express our thanks to the AIPTF for these mementos of friendship, solidarity and international collaboration. ❚

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