Find out how our regional teams, alumni, friends of the university and incoming students celebrated Robert Burns Day across the globe.
By Fiona Murray
In January, many in our global community took the opportunity to celebrate the great Scottish poet on Robert Burns Day. Our regional teams do a fantastic job at organising events that bring together our alumni, friends of the University and incoming students - and continue to be an important focal point for our global community. We found out about some of the different events that took place and reflect on what celebrating Burns Night means to everyone involved.
Why do we celebrate Robert Burns Day?
Robert Burns Day (or Rabbie Burns Day) marks the anniversary of his birth on 25 January. He was a passionately proud Scot, whose traditional ballads, romantic songs, humorous satires and thought-provoking poems are a lasting legacy to the world - but he never forgot his humble Scottish roots. Burns Suppers are generally held up and down the country – and around the world - in celebration of his life and poetry. They generally adhere to the tradition of eating haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), drinking whisky and reciting his works. However, every Burns Supper still has its very own special form and flavour, as we discovered from our regional teams, Burns night has very much gone global!
Historic violin tours US
Burns celebrations took place across North America, and a key interest at the Boston, New York and Washington DC events this year was the Gregg violin. The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA partnered with the National Trust for Scotland and the Scottish government to bring the historic 1750’s violin associated with Robert Burns on a coast-to-coast tour of the US.
This beautifully crafted instrument was once owned by Robert Burns’ dance teacher, William Gregg. Burns attended his dance classes at the Bachelor’s Club in Tarbolton, Ayrshire, and said he hoped learning to dance would “Give my manners a brush” (although apparently this act was more likely to have been a devious form of rebellion against his father’s disapproval of such behaviour!) Throughout the tour, violin music inspired by Burns and the tradition in which he wrote, was played and enjoyed as part of the traditional Burns Supper experience.
Scott McQuarrie, Regional Director North America, said: “We are delighted to see the number of Burns Supper events increase across North America with events now being held in Boston, Greenwich, New York, Washington DC, Toronto, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles. The events provide a fantastic opportunity for alumni and friends of the university to get together to celebrate Burns and reminisce about their connection to Scotland and the University of Edinburgh. It was particularly pleasing to see a number of incoming students and their families show an interest in the Burns Supper events this year. The events provide a great opportunity for incoming students to engage with the university community at an early stage and showcase one of Scotland’s finest traditions.”
Burns celebrations across Asia
A wonderful array of Burns events also took place across India - in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, and the University hosted its very first Burns Supper in Sri Lanka this year. We heard about some great stories including a fascinating speech from an alumni who graduated back in 1972, and an amusing toast to the lassies that truly brought our community and cultures together.
The Burns Supper in Delhi was held at the India Habitat Centre on Saturday 18 January. The event saw a great turnout of alumni and partners. Amrita Sadarangani, Regional Director South Asia welcomed the guests followed by UK Consul Ed Bossley addressing the haggis in true Scottish style. There was lots of involvement as Dr Talat Ahmed, delivered the Immortal Memory and alumni - Janmejoy Mukherjee (International Business & Emerging Markets, 2016) gave the Toast to the Lassies, with Avani Naresh (MSc Marketing, 2013) responding to the toast.
“It was a delight to attend the Burns Supper Evening in Delhi and it was an honour to read the Immortal Memory to the Great Bard. As Co-Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, it this was an excellent opportunity to meet with many of our Delhi Alumni, including some of my own past students from UG to PG levels. The University’s South Asia team and Edinburgh Global do a fine job of bringing together our students and staff to celebrate such a significant Scottish cultural event.”
Dr. Talat Ahmed, Lecturer in South Asian History and Co Director, Centre for South Asian Studies
In Bangalore, there was a Burns Supper co-hosted by Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, British Deputy High Commissioner, South India at his residence on 24 January – whose wife Amanda is an online Masters student at the University. Jeremy welcomed recent alumni and partner guests, many of who had heard of the Burns Supper but had never been to one before. It was great to see the excitement amongst guests to connect with the University and each other.
It was also a delight to see one of our oldest alumni Dr. Kodira A. Kushalapa, aged 83, who graduated in 1972, attend the Bangalore Burns Supper. He handed over a gift of £100 as a contribution to the Development Trust as well as the recently released copy of his autobiography. During the evening, he delivered a wonderfully nostalgic toast, reminiscing of his time spent on his research studies in Edinburgh “on films and filters for aerial photography” under Professor Langdale Brown, in the Department of Forests and Natural Resources at King’s Buildings. Dedicating his work to forest research, Dr Kushalapa belongs to an ethnic hill tribe called Kodavas settled in a small (1400 sq km) undulating part of the Western Ghats called Coorg. The scenic beauty of the landscape with hills and dales resembles that of Scotland and he told us that some refer to it as the “Scotland of India”. He said: “After two visits, I have confirmed that Scotland is like Coorg and Coorg is like Scotland. It is now our duty and responsibly to conserve such beautiful wooded landscapes on this planet for our future generations to survive.”
In Mumbai, the Burns Supper was co-hosted by Crispin Simon, British Deputy High Commissioner, West India at his residence on 31 January. The event was attended by over 55 alumni and partners. Crispin Simon welcomed the guests, while Bhagyashri Salunkhe, Office Manager, South Asia Office, addressed the haggis and Amrita Sadarangani, Regional director for South Asia, delivered the Immortal Memory. Alumni Surya Nimmagadda (2016 MEng in Structural Engineering with Architecture) gave the toast to the lassies and Azania Thomas (2014 MSc Development Economics and International Development) responded.
“Burns night is always special in Mumbai. It gives you a chance to catch up with the alumni one hasn't met for a while and meet new alumni who are engaged in interesting fields like architectural restoration, psychology or environmental conservation. The tradition of Burns' Night is special when it comes to listening to Robert Burn's inspiring poetry over haggis and scotch. It also makes me very proud to be an Edinburgh alumnus.”
Azania Thomas, alumnus, graduating in 2014
The University held the first Burns Supper in Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the British High Commissioner’s residence on 6 February. The event saw a fantastic turnout of alumni, partners (existing and potential) and key contacts from the High Commission. British High Commissioner and OBE Mrs Sarah Hulton addressed and welcomed guests alongside Amrita Sadrangani.
James Stewart (2005 alum, Economics and Politics) delivered a Toast to Harish Lokhun, Regional Manager South Asia, who put the event together in Colombo, working with the British High Commission team. James sidestepped the potential Toast to the Lassies minefield and the very sporting Harish Lokhun was on the receiving end of a very humorous Burns poem – creative and entertaining! Erangi D’Costa, an exceptional alum and Chevening Scholar delivered a humorous and lively response, making for a fun conclusion to the evening. Overall, this first event offered an excellent opportunity to build connections with key stakeholders in country and future relations with the High Commission.
James Stewart, Economics and Politics Alum said: "It was a fantastic evening meeting up with people from across Colombo who had connections to my old University in one way or another. We had lots of fun experiencing good old fashioned Scottish culture in the High Commission's beautiful setting."
Find out more about our regional teams and how to connect with them on the Regional Team pages