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Why You Cannot Leverage Indian Soft Power Without Producing Indic Art

The 1960s and 1970s were times of profound journeys for Indian art. The 1920s and 1930s were even better, perhaps. The constant struggle to find arts in the right spaces and space for the arts got the best out of artistes and collaborations. That wondrous era of remarkable 1960s — conversations in culture and revival of the arts had also seen Milena Salvini, who was awarded the Padma Shri for kathakali last month, get drawn to the Indian dance forms and become a part of a great period of cultural mutation in aesthetics.

Contributing to her journey was well-known Bharatanatyam exponent and guru M K Saroja. What made world artistes, such as Salvini, leap to India — back and forth? What inspired them to establish not only a vast audience across generations, but also centres for the learning of Indian arts?

Salvini went back to France. Centre Mandapa was established in Paris, to see students pick up and learn dance forms. In north India, Rishikesh received the Beatles. A lot happened here, some say. What conspired musically during the band’s inward quest at the banks of Ganga can be felt in the music they churned after their return. Today, artistes from around the world unlock their inner reserves on visiting Rishikesh, keeping one ear for the music of Ganga, and one to self.

The 1960s gave way to the 1970s. Peter Brooks would begin to build his work on Mahabharata. Leading guitarist John McLaughlin along with violin legend Vidwan L Shankar, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Vidwan Ramnad Raghavan, Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram, revolutionalised the very idea of collaboration and jugalbandi. And in the heart of India, Teejan Bai would pick up the ektara to unfold the eternal narration of Mahabharata through the Pandavani art and narration, compelling the world to hear the epic, its emotion, events and evolution. Today, Pandvani artiste Ritu Verma co-carries the legacy shaped by Teejan Bai, Padma Vibhushan Teejan Bai, as 2019 should know her.

The Remarkable Reverse

Today, Guru Justin McCarthy, immersed in his journey as a performer and guru teaching and propagating Bharatanatyam, clocks time in powerful choreographic works and the playing of nattuvangam. His work, “Where the streets are fragrant with sandal paste”, presented last year, was shaped keeping the history of Bharatanatyam in focus. The work is a must watch — for its use of space, music, the handling of art history, and aesthetics.

American saxophone artiste George Brooks, Heiko Dijker, an Amsterdam-based tabla maestro, Japanese santoor artiste Takahiro Arai, Shye Ben Tsur, a sufi singer from Israel, and Prem Joshua are among musicians, who have become reasons for many Indians to know and learn their own music and traditions. They nurture the aesthetic, the beautiful, the sacred in the Indic, more sincerely than many Indian artistes. How were they able to? Is it because Indian arts nurture the bearers of knowledge, embracing race, ethnicity, skin, colour, religion like Krishna’s flute embraces Braj and bhatkas? I would say “yes” as firm as a kathak foot tap.

“The resource was here.” When Jonathan Hollander broadened his brief interaction at the Conference of Soft Power with these words, it felt as if he had gently placed an excavated piece of ancient art — brushed-captioned-ancient and ignored — from a far away museum shelf, right at the museum entrance. There is no other way the journey of Indian art in its reservoirs, forms, abundance and variety on the world stage, could have found a brief conclusion. Indian traditional and classical arts, aesthetics, and artistes dedicating their lives to the arts, have been the intangible resource fueling and fining Indian soft power.

At the conference, Hollander, director of New York-based Battery Dance Company and a renowned choreographer and maestro of modern dance, stressed the correlation between people and development of dance as a universal language, whenever he referred to India. It was reassuring. His generosity to know more, to engage more, and to acknowledge Indian artistic generosity — all crucial indicators of the fact that Indian art and aesthetics work as silent catalysts in building a global language.

Battery Dance Company has engaged with and created a number of India movement traditions, and in Hollander’s own words came the expected refrain — on Chhau firming its place in the universal dance vocabulary. “Chhau is becoming a lexicon of movement,” he said.

Chhau is following kalaripayattu. And when India has done enough to see thang ta, the Manipuri martial art, there, it shall, too.

Turning the spotlight on the present, which also reflects his present in dance, Hollander simply brought the past to the foreground. This was necessary. You need someone to clock and value the beautiful, the aesthetic. It is reassuring. For Hollander, recently, the inspiration to generate and create new work, was Raag Durga. A composition in Durga sung by Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra became the strength and seed, propelling him towards a new production. The production — ‘The Durga Project’ toured India last year.

The Resource And Reach

In the contemporary visual art scene, artiste Waswo X Waswo and Nature Morte Gallery’s Peter Nagy are two brilliant, creatively restless and furiously active propellers. In Waswo’s love for Indian miniature is rich appreciation for and use of scenes of daily Indian life, people, motifs and colours. He draws the most poignant thoughts on nature, man, emotions, gender, love and inherent complications. The universality in his expression speaks of Indianness holding his brush and palette. To swim against the flow, some artistes threw themselves out of the power ring that surrounded Delhi-based artistes and art circles.

Daksha Sheth and husband Devissaro — a musician from Australia who was learning dhrupad in Delhi, at the peak of their youth, moved out of the city. From what I gather from Daksha’s own account given previously, the credit for the bold decision goes to Devissaro. The result was brilliant and magical. The young couple found home in Brindavan. They explored poetry and texts, unravelling several aspects of classical, semi classical and devotional music. Most importantly, they got the opportunity to offer nritya seva. For decades, the couple has conceived, choreographed, composed and performed several remarkable productions featuring elements of kathak, kalaripayattu to say global stories.

The resource is here. The resource — texts, ragas, art forms, footwork, rhythm, devotion, practice, travel, learning of the arts, stories, simple emotions, storytelling, narration, collaboration, colours, canvasses, their running memory and continuous transfer and exchange. It is here, in India, as art and in art. It speaks with the world, through Hollander and other members of his group, and through several other artistes, who give Indian soft power meaning, and aesthetics.

When Hollander includes material that’s Indic in spirit and Indian in body, it splays across from the shadows of time, the evolution of a tradition Ana Pavlova had visioned and Uday Shankar had moved every journey, emotion, every muscle, in rasa, for, in the 1920s and later. It builds a narrative and conversation with Hollander’s part of the world about India, and where he performs, when he includes Indian artistes to say a sentence or a story. Art gives Indian soft power the flowing gentleness of the Ganga, the expanse of the vedas, puranas, the Natyashastra. Art gives Indian soft power the breath, tears and sweat of people’s simple emotions.

Art gives Indian soft power the diversity of regions and castes, language of narration, dimensions of its inherently liberal gender discourse, the texture of colours, the grain of weaves and textiles that carry the rhythm of poetry. Art gives Indian soft power the fragrance of musical instruments, metals, flowers, incense, camphor, oil, hues, script and narration. Art gives Indian soft power the geometry of strokes, the music of composition, the touch of generations, lineages, and individual journeys. Since 1992, Hollander has been watching “what can happen when Indian dancers meet the American public”. The process continues.

The Propellers And Their Power

Indian classical and traditional movement, narration and visual forms do not just stimulate Indian soft power. They procreate its soul and matter.

Noted scholar, critic and dance historian Mohan Khokar himself had witnessed some of the most important shifts and milestones in the conversation between India and the world through dance and aesthetics. Among many such treasures from the past stored in the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection is the one about Ted Shawn, the American pioneer of modern dance getting a ‘circle of fire’ structured and made in Mahabalipuram in the 1920s, to use it in his dance, and getting it shipped. He would use it in performance and stand within it to depict Nataraja.

Uday Shankar was immersed in traversing his own music and dance vocabulary in Europe and had ‘Paris days’. As known, Rukmini Devi got lessons in western ballet first. She danced and performed Bharatanatyam later. The force behind her lessons was Anna Pavlova. As for Hollander, he got introduced to Indian dance before he got introduced to Western dance. For him, the propeller — Manipuri classical dance — its language propagated by the Jhaveri sisters, in western India, where it found diverse takers. Ileana Citaristi, noted Odishi exponent, tried to soak kathakali initially. This year, she completes 40 years of learning, performing, propagating Odishi and Mayurbhanj Chhau.

Bringing past to the foreground to enrich the present is possible for people who see the past in pride, and pride in the past.

Have you imagined what the response Uday Shankar would receive when he dances before the American and European audience, depicting Nataraja, and Shiva in his many moods, among other roles in movement and choreography? Hollander recounts his first introduction to Indian dance fondly, his first glimpse of Manipuri dance, warmly. Hollander has widened the ground for ‘reverse soft power’, by bringing Indian dancers to perform for the American public. The process is widespread.

Indian classical arts, the eight dance and two music forms, are the living depiction of the divine. They, collectively, are the second sacred element (the first being gyana — knowledge emanating from the vedas and sacred scriptures including the Natyashastra) in the world’s first glimpse of an introduction to India. “You have eight classical dance forms,” said Hollander. “The resource is growing, it needs more avenues and channels to get out professionally.”

Colours Of A Vast Canvas

Light an oil lamp. Carry it while you move towards the pillars and facades of India’s mythic past, the temples, the rock cut overtures, the magnificent monoliths, sculptures and temple art — both visual and movement traditions. Move along the banks of Ganga and Cauvery with the oil lamp. Place the oil lamp beside the vedas and the Natyashastra as the Ganga and Cauvery flow into your ear. Move the lamp along the length and breadth of sculptures denoting and depicting divine and human figures in the temples of south India. Move with it, to the bedrocks of harikatha, harinaamsankeertan and nritya seva in the west and east, northeast.

Throw open the door to Raja Ravi Varma’s restless laboratory of colours emanating from his interpretation of texts. Just a bit more. Wool yourself up, and step, with the oil lamp, towards Kashmir and Kangra, walking through Rajasthan. Here, let the light spread and speak with the miniature painting works. You are in the past, you think. In centuries gone, you think. But, whatever much you were able to see in the uplifting flame of the oil lamp is what the world still wants to see of India. It is, very much, also, the basis and the core of what Indian artistes, their global audience and foreign artistes have absorbed, learned, consumed and appreciated in their introduction to India.

Where the dusk and dawn of past and present meet, will you find F N Souza, A Ramachandran, Manjunath Kamath and G R Iranna weaving different worlds in colours and lines. The tangle, fabric, stitch, texture, knot, and dye in thread and cloth make the works of artistes Paula Sengupta and Nidhi Khurana, who map civilisations, countries, cities and memories put together in embroidery. Oaxaca in Mexico for Nidhi, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for Paula. Inspiration runs across continents.

Malavika Sarukkai flings open the doors to the weaver’s workshop, taking the audience into every sound, every micro beat and moment of the process of weaving and the textures woven, the boots and motifs. Rasa, can be studied in theory, not lived, if not for the Indian arts and consistent experimentation through performance, practice and viewing. Where else does the inanimate get life through the arts as it does in an Indic artiste’s mind?

Delving In The Divine

Indian traditional arts consider the pursuing of art as an offering to the divine. From the temple traditions to now, practice and performance go towards shaping a humble pursuit of aesthetic and spiritual realms and reveries. The artiste’s pursuit is not her alone. There is a community dedicated to the learning, witnessing and absorbing of the art that travels to the sacred and divine through the artiste and her pursuit in art. Hence, Indian art traditions and artistes have been consciously shaping the audience. So, the audience chooses and gets to choose who that artiste taking them towards spiritual realms through art, would be.

In the north, the Ganga, and in south, the Cauvery cradled many music and dance traditions that would see the flourishing of narrative and abstract aspects of dance and narration. The dance, narration and music vocabulary and grammar spread along with a reservoir of hand and face gestures, footwork, pace and rhythm. In the east and west, flourished the many expressions of the Vaishnavite tradition.

The Vaishnavite connected east and west. And East and West. In the south, at temples, the presiding deity witnessed the movement in dance, and music accompanying it, as an offering from the artiste — a devotee. The ritualistic flame from the oil lamp, spreading its energy, illuminating the sacred space, making visible the presence and attendance of the presiding deity, would expand itself through the performance, uplifting human consciousness. Precisely. Uplifting human consciousness.

Denigration of rituals, aesthetics, form and concepts Indic in origin, nature and character, is currently an epidemic in India. Pride, expression of pride, and celebration are its targets. Performing arts insulate that zone where target is hair breadth short of becoming victim. Recently, Kumbh was judged by a section of Delhi media as an indicator of rising unemployment in its host state Uttar Pradesh. The cantankerous and mindless injecting of the bitter perceptions into India’s cultural narrative will win anti-culture-anti-Indic media a propaganda or two.

The larger picture: India’s cultural consolidation of the Indic civilisation has gathered current and force during the last five years. Such perceptions will dash straight into those currents, to eventually devour and destroy them and the impact genuine Indic arts are creating. Kumbh is the riverbed, where the Hindu civilisational elements meet. They converge, dip and disperse in water, rituals and skin.

Ironically, it is also at Kumbh, that people from tier two and tier three cities, towns and villages, are getting a chance to witness the classical arts. The platform has been created by Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth. Performing against the backdrop of sangam, the confluence, are some of the living Indian legends, such as Vidwan T V Sankaranarayanan, Vidushi N Rajam, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Vidwan L Subramaniam, Vidwan Vikku Vinayakram, Pandita Prabha Atre, Begum Parveen Sultana, Vidushi Sonal Mansigh, Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Pandita Uma Sharma and Pandit Birju Maharaj. In 2003, at Assi Ghat in Benaras, I experienced the confluence of Ganga and Carnatic music — in a concert where Sankaranarayanan sang to devotees gathered for a Ganga Dusshera dip. Where else in the world, would rivers have spiritual call, such as the one that brings Sankaranarayanan to the sacred banks again and again?

If political propaganda could, at all, move as Indic soft power, India and the world would not want to dig deeper into Natyashatra, Indic history, temple architecture, documentation and excavations. How does Harinam sankeertan — Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Ram, Hare Ram, Ram Ram, Hare Hare, still throb on world streets, centuries after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had visioned that it would travel, from Krishna’s land, and spread?

The Stunning Creation Mysteries

Indic arts are bearers of both calm and the blazing core of knowledge. The day Ustad Vilayat Khan passed away, I reached out to world-renowned tabla maestro Pandit Kishan Maharaj, to hear from him some memories of the departed maestro. In his remembrance of Khan saab, Maharaj ji covered a universe in a single sentence. “Vilayat was the sun and Ravi is the moon of music.” He referred to the different energies and elements Ustad Vilayat Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar contributed to music. Men of different musical temperaments, they stunned the world with their quest into sitar.

In the process, floodgates opened to the cosmos laid between the frets of sitar, to ragas, composing and compositions. Some steps away, on the same horizon, were sarod maestro Ustad Akbar Ali Khan and the versatile genius Vidushi Annapurana Devi. They were the son and daughter of Ma Saraswati’s ardent bhakt, devout Muslim, and the preserver of Maihar Gharana’s soul and sound, the great guru Baba Allauddin Khan — together they were meant to bring a revolution into world music. Silence has concrete aesthetic appeal in Indic arts and expressions.

In the Indic query of the higher spiritual goals, the painful process of mastering the art does a few things to the great artiste. The work on grammar gets intensified. There are less investigations. There is more of exploring, more questions, more asking. The last series of S H Raza’s work, including the one he left incomplete; Mandolin U Srinivas’s sessions of practice, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s entire journey through devotional music within his body of work in khayal gayaki, show these aspects. Less answering and debating. Self doubt is seen as a virtuous nourisher.

It grabs so much space in the artiste’s mind, that sometimes it seeps into performance, on the dais before the audience. It is the whetstone that shines the art. There is less or no proving of validity of process and result. There is experiencing. Anubhuti. Gaansaraswati Kishori Amonkar, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, K G Subramanyan and A Ramachandran open this particular aspect of experience arts for the audience. There is respect for permission. Sveekriti. This you see when Pandit Mukul Shivputra, a man of his own moods, steps down from the dais, before even tuning his tanpuras to sing, just so he could touch the feet of Vidushi Kishori Amonkar. He takes her permission to sing. To present what he knows.

The Indic query into arts has mysteries many. Raza saab moved an entire universe within the bindu. And with the philosophical musings through the use of bindi, Bharti Kher, rattled sales figures at prestigious auctions.

The Abundance Of Interlink

Once the arts-to-public-and-public-to-arts interaction falls in the sphere of movement tradition, the audience does look for a common ground. The common ground is musical scales — which, so far, have been as unexplored as explored they stand. The common ground are costume, colour, stories, aspects that make the first visual contact with the viewer of a movement art, and rhythm. On the next plane, lie movements, the details in movements.

Uday Shankar churned the sea of movements in modern dance. His bodily response into the Dance of Shiva, and several other works, awakened the anatomy of movement. Chandralekha’s works, her linking of the inner and outer world through dance and movement, her philosophical findings in self, soul, body and gender, have a natural alignment with query and discourse on aspects most desperately relevant anywhere around the globe today. Her complex inking of this interlink was a process only she could begin and complete. Brilliant. Rare.

Indian arts provide the massive and mammoth feat of interlinking. It speaks of how this great civilisation nourished and nursed scientific temper, gorgeously, with the love for the arts. The art of interlinking music with physics, science with music, the mathematics of birth, rhythm and cosmos, science and naad, sound and science, poetics and hard numbers when seen through the prism of aesthetics, is far more universal, travels faster, stays longer in memory, than any dry talk delivered into collar microphones. Chandralekha gave the brilliant work Leelavati, based on the Bhaskaracharya’s work. She speaks in a video recording available on YouTube. “Leelavati is the celebrated text on Indian mathematics by Bhaskaracharya,” she adds, “addressed to his daughter Leelavati, it constitutes the creative peak of Indian mathematics”.

According to her, the text is a series “of most beautiful and poetic questions” from the mathematician to Leelavati “when she was a little girl”. “Ayye, baale Leelavati”, Chandralekha says in a warm tone. She further explains, “the questions are elegant problems in arithmetic, algebra, calculus and geometry seen in relation to the fantasy and imagination in the life and mind of a little girl”. She further adds, “learning is transformed into a creative and joyous activity through the Indian genius of interlink. Interlink between poetics and hard numbers. No wonder, then, that the little girl Leelavati later became India’s most well-known woman mathematician.” This work’s availability on the YouTube is a matter of chance. Its best preservation, however, would be when it reaches classrooms in India and worldwide.

Would countries enchanted by Bollywood works such as Dangal not be curious to see how poetics, dance, music and mathematics can be discovered in classicism? The interlink space, without doubt, is still open for India to dominate, if not monopolise.

Rhythm, as it exists in Indian rhythm structures and beat cycles, whether in the classical forms of dance and music, is the most powerful and infinite global conversationist. Pick any era of Indian tradition being performed or celebrated abroad, decade, year, day, concert and gig the world over, every time an Indian artiste or an artiste practising Indian traditional art performs solo or collaborates with, and it will show that rhythm alone has the potential to be the initiator, the medium of breaking verbal ice, or that of even music and performance between artistes, cultures, nation and people.

Indian rhythm allows musicality to mutate, cultures to bleed into each other, math to melt, to still time and to multiply the concept of zero, shoonya, beginning and end, that exists in Indian rhythm structures. Rhythm, when thought broadly, can be used to explore the idea of civilisations, history, eras, the cosmos, astronomy, science, as it has been to look into birth, death and life. Who would not want to give bold thinkers such as Aditi Mangaldas and Malavika Sarukkai the credit for daring to explore rhythm? Rhythm, as the sole common ground in Indian music dance crafts visual arts and fabric, is unbound energy, which can single-handedly confront the bloodless straitjacketed presentation of past as a ‘Hindutva tactic’ in a post modernist world.

Givers Of Lasting Impressions

The 1900s came as a breeze that revealed the hidden narratives and dance treasures. Anna Pavlova and Victor Dandre travelled to India, wanting to carry with them the lasting impressions of India’s dances. Today, that search has scuttled to a crucial juncture. There is hunger for good productions, sharper storytelling, content fireworks. Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra’s journey in India and around the world for the presentation of ‘Bhairav se Bhairavi tak’, a concert series that covers a number of ragas that lie between Bhairav and Bhairavi, is an immense success, and ongoing.

What is beautiful and arises from the core shaped by the great gurus, will travel light, long, steady, to become immortal. With no written notation aiding them at concerts, Indian musicians and dancers have revolutionised the pace of collaboration. Art passed on through oral tradition of learning has allowed them to write their own music for other legends. Pandit Ravi Shankar scribbled notation for his co-collaborators. Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt used simple basics to alter the variety of ragas and compositions — to get the best out of collaboration with a Chinese musician, when he realised that her scale canvas was limited.

Oral tradition helped vedas and the Natyashastra flow into traditional, visual and performing arts. Vedas and the Natyashastra, the bedrock of Indic culture, and, for centuries, of Indic soft power gave the arts the impetus to be understood as the bearers of text. Like the Ganga carries and spreads fertile silt, the arts have been flowing, bringing with them the sacred sediment waiting to be collected, read, felt, decoded and understood. Vocalist Mahesh Kale’s could become the eternal voice bathing the mandapas and stone sculptures of Hampi, and to give long lasting musicals on Kishkinda.

Indian arts draw the rasa from these sacred texts, and the rasa keeps them flowing miles. From them erupts the knowledge and path to pursue collaborations, the initiation — to trace routes and common grounds in practice. From practice, emerges the ground of dynamics between the hereditary and non-hereditary traditions. Noted American artiste Douglas M Knight Jr, writes in Balasaraswati: Her Art And Life, “The difference in Bala’s dance were differences not in content, which is conventionally thought to be the definer of traditional versus nontraditional dance, but rather in the artistic process. It is how dancing is done that is more suitable basis of distinction between hereditary and institutional dance than what the content is or who performs the dance.”

Beauty And Its Beholders

Indic artistes, mostly, have been silent achievers. Indian artistes carry the texture of life rooted or spent in India — body and soul in their work. Take for instance, the works of S H Raza painted in Paris, including the last series of works he painted before his death. In their use of colour, and surface, you’d notice the verve and inwardness — unusual, spontaneous, which few have achieved. On the other hand, are idiosyncratic and stubborn workings of some creative pushers for experimentation, elements and material. Quickly naming some in this category: Manjunath Kamath, who is pouring his immense talent, patience and photographic memory for details and depth to turn to sacred texts.

In the process, he turned Indian miniature into the most gigantic narrator. He expanded the canvas. The range of frames and work sizes — square-shaped dimensions some inches — entire walls and their length and breadth. This was essential in order to accommodate philosophical dimensions of his work that borrow the soul from Hindu mythology, among other sources and material. For Kamath, the number of works making one single work or title could even run into 1,008. Kathak maestro Guru Shovana Narayan has been at the forefront of studying the depth in flamenco in kathak-flamenco jugalbandi — deconstructing and nurturing a rich past through collaboration.

Riots of 1984, one of the ugliest events in Indian political and social history turned A Ramachandran to beauty. He saw a Sikh man being killed on the streets. And that was it. It was enough. “Why should I not engage with beauty and aesthetics all my life as an Indian artiste? Changing the society is not my job as a painter. I leave it for others who think they can change the world,” he said, looking back at those times, when I met him last year. Ramachandran has been consistently pursuing the temples, lotus ponds and life in lotus ponds, in Rajasthan villages. They are his subject. His muse is the Bhil life. His muse is the lotus leaf. His iconic self portraits are now coming full circle — funny, profound and intricate. Theatrical — as if he was emerging from a shastra or treatise on performing arts as muse subject artiste, all in one.

Manish Nai, Manav Gupta and Rathin Burman are consistently proving the universality of the material they use. Manish Nai, a Mumbai-based artiste from Gujarat pulled material out of adversity, literally, by using textile from bulks that were moved to his house after his father brought them home, in the event of a bad phase. He is hailed for his telling of Mumbai, the megalopolis. Rathin Burman uses metal, cement and concrete to create structural disharmony that bricks well into the heart. Manav Gupta uses terracotta — to speak for the environment, for the earth, to make rain, beehives, and sand-clocks out of humble clay objects. The world might still want to give us lessons on recycling (aesthetically).

Voids — The ‘Go’ Zone

Indic artistes and Indic artistic thought is aesthetically drawn to the idea and concept of physical distance — omnipresent at various stages between the art and the artiste, narrator and subject, art and audience. The last, physical distance between the artiste and his audience, which mans creative dreamscapes and sometimes even intellectual voids.

Physical distance is represented in works of Indic literature and art with utmost devotion. So grand is its presence in the elaboration of experience, of meeting and separation, that there are rasas and ragasassigned and available to represent.

What is beautiful, is usually, physically away. It is distant. It is physically distant — flung beyond the village forest, or beyond the banks of the river, or beyond, even the world. Everything between here and there of distance is worth the aesthetic consciousness that physical distance brings. It, because distant, is beautiful, definitely beautiful. What separates is mostly unlikeable, even ugly, stubbornly demonic. The separated are enormously beautiful, even divine, swung by or sewn into complicated relationships. Physical distance embraces the understanding and concept of the personal and impersonal within each and every human emotion experienced over physical distance.

The physical distance between Radha and Krishna. The distant Radha. That ratha of Krishna, carrying away with it the centre of raas and Radha’s life. All you’ll see, perhaps, is his pitambar trailing in the wind — in depictions on paper or in body movements, and you’d get a hint of the ratha’s velocity and the stillness of time. Distance. Of Ram from Sita. Of Ram from Lanka. Of Ramayana from, say, the shores of Indonesia.

Learning — The Eternal Tradition

Telling works and forms of art from others practised or shown in the other parts of the world, is not discriminating art, or works Indian or non-Indian. Indian classical art forms, works and material, are not practised, thought, designed and taught, in principle, to engage with traumatic encounters of the contemporary world. Their message is irreducible. Their form — a complex entity that celebrates the spiritual, the self, the conscious body and the conscious mind, the ordinary, extraordinary, human and divine.

Where India stands today, in recognition for the arts, crafts and weaves, is a result of the efforts of artistes and thinkers from older generations. Most of them were paving a path towards immortality through the traditional music, movement and verbal heritage. These learned men and women have helped assimilate a cross discipline mutation that was always found lingering in their repertoire and following. Their muse was art and the source of art — Ma Saraswati. Among the many greats, who set and strengthened the foundation for worldview through the arts were also Baba Allauddin Khan, Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Khan Dagar, Ustad Bismillah Khan — three dominant representatives of the eternal tripod of ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’.

In the Indian context, engaging in imitation is often seen as a sufficient and essential beginning to find the alphabet of artistic communication. The source of material for imitation in practice, it is seen, is either a guru, or self, or nature (her role in all manifestations, and all manifestations of nature), and many times, the three. Imitations set the tone for communication in the learning and practice of art — dance, music, visual art.

From the guru to the shishya, imitation is in the form of a lesson, exercise or instruction — mostly through the oral tradition of learning and teaching, learning, and unlearning. In rich Indic art heritage, the mirror-image imparting of compositions in Hindustani and Carnatic traditions, their grammar and intricacies, classical dance forms, folk and tribal visual art, theatre and movement traditions, the study of aesthetics and texts, have kept visual and movement traditions alive and thriving.

When the artiste steps a little aside, from his own guru, to show forth what he knows, is when imitation acquires a whole new meaning. A sense of discovery clasps the artiste’s progression through the material and performance in this exceptionally demanding weaning process. A whole new class of improvisations begins to surround the artiste’s response to the art and medium.

Each improvisation, or expression or stroke conceals within itself an era given to thinking and doing, doing and thinking of what is and makes the ‘aesthetics’. Each performance or work, years of a bitter sweet personal struggle with convention, an independent creative urge, and that hesitant but willing attitude towards experimentation.

In practice, Indic artistes begin to disengage with imitation at a chosen phase of their training under the guru. Then, the art turns over to express the boldest strain of thought. The learning spreads. To other canvases.

I met queen of kathak — Vidushi Sitara Devi when she was celebrating her 90th birthday in the capital. Here is a glimpse of how the legend believes in learning. “I knew I could never become T Balasaraswati or Yamini Krishnamurthy. But I wanted to learn Bharatanatyam to be able to become a complete artiste. I practised Russian ballet for over a year, and performed it for the film Hulchul made in the early 1940s to prove that I could take something up like that. There were times when Pandit Ravi Shankar thought I was ‘following’ him at concerts. He would ask, ‘Are you following me?’ I would observe him, I was not jealous of him or following him. I would try to learn from him. Things I did not know and he did. Things about dance and rules of performance he had set for junior artistes,” she said.

In his interaction with me in 2003, Pandit Kishan Maharaj narrated how, when great tabla virtuoso Ahmed Jan Thirakwa would (even) tune his tabla, in Benaras, people would leave homes and rush to hear him and jostle for space to get the best view and ear. Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra once shared how, during their days at ancestral home in Kabir Chaura, Benaras, they would pay attention to songs sung by the boatmen of Ganga. Ustad Bismillah Khan narrated how, during a visit to an Islamic country, he felt quite restive during his stay. There he was asked how being a devout Muslim he was a practising musician. He narrated how he sang the aazan in Raag Bhairavi.

Indic artistes see the divine in art. The art responds as expected. The art wraps their being. Their creative power pushes an entire lineage and repertoire to higher acclaim and stature. They experience the divine in the combined absorption of music and dance. They get a handle on the narrative and the abstract and that becomes one language — a natural coexistence. To some, it comes with the use of silence in their work, and to some it comes with fireworks. “When young, Kishan Maharaj almost broke my head with a baayaan of a tabla. Later we gave the best jugalbandis of our times,” Sitara Devi had told me.

One underrated aspect of India’s conversation with the world through the arts is generosity. Generosity in the sharing of knowledge. Indian artistes are generous in practice, generous when it comes to practice. Had it not been so, the veenas, mridangam, sitar, sarod, the classical dance forms, santoor, tabla, shahnai, khayal, dhrupad, ragam tanam pallavi in the Carnatic tradition, Pandavani, and other narration arts would have not crossed the states and regions of origin and the Indian shores.

Look Within, Generate Indic, Look East

Indian generosity opened the sacred courtyards to rasikas, learners and Fullbright scholars, such as Hollander, Douglas M Knight, Sharon Lowen and others. Today, thanks to the efforts of Indian Council for Cultural Relations, foreign students have the window to Indian and foreign classical arts, theatre stagings, and folk performances.

In the land where devadasis found base, space, devotion, and patron, people, today are beginning to walk an extra mile to document, reclaim and rediscover heritage in stone, temples, inscriptions and murals. To some, texts provide the pull, for others, the arts. Alarmel Valli, Malavika Sarukkai, Rukmini Vijayakumar, among many other artistes return to the ancient temples — to perform against the backdrop of performance in stone.

In the global context, India should look East and South East, in intention and depth. India must look towards Japan and South Korea. The Indian civilisation and the arts deserve not one but a hundred Ramili Ibrahim, a hundred Takahiro pursuing Indian music traditions, B Trisna, well-known dance guru from Indonesia who brought Ayu Bulan, the group celebrating Ramayana to India.

What India creates and generates for itself, before reaching out to the world, is extremely crucial today. Aesthetics and real art need space to breathe. The world is responding — with warmth, feisty works and collaborations. The great cultural milestones and leaps of 1920s and 1930s, the 1960s and 1970s need to meet new India, which is as rooted in the glorious past as it is futuristic and contemporary.

Source Swarajyamag

What Is Indic Soft Power And How Can India Leverage It In The Twenty-First Century?

India had its first ‘Conference on Soft Power’ in New Delhi from 17 to 19 December, hosted by the Center for Soft Power of the India Foundation in collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Center on Public Diplomacy of the University of Southern California, and Nalanda University, Rajgir, Bihar.

The conference was opened by Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and featured speakers from a number of countries who addressed a variety of subjects as part of this extensive event. It included theoretical perspectives and Indian soft power across multiple verticals — ayurveda, cinema, cuisine, arts, crafts and design, language, literature, museums, performing arts, spirituality, tourism, education and yoga.

Vice President Venkaiah Naidu addressing the conference 
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu addressing the conference
This article will examine various elements of soft power and global communication to provide an overview of the issues involved, and suggest a strategy to go forward.

Soft power is a new political term that few people understand today and often misinterpret. Today, soft power is defined primarily in terms of economics, like China’s One Belt One Road policy, but has many other ramifications. Soft power refers not only to the non-military but also the intangible forms of national influence other than weapons, war, and other forms of national defence that constitute what is called hard power. Soft power can be described as cultural diplomacy and civilisational influence in the broadest sense of the term. It includes intellectual, artistic, and spiritual factors, not just economic.

India is in a unique situation as a nation with its soft power influence, as the country is not just a recent modern political state like those of the Western world but one of the most important world civilisations over many thousands of years, perhaps, since the very dawn of history. Only China has sustained as enduring a civilisation, though India’s culture more strongly affected China, mainly through Buddhism, than China influenced India.

Meanwhile, Europe and Middle East saw the coming and going of many civilisations and empires, losing their ancient connections centuries ago, until gaining a prominence in the colonial era.

Soft power is gaining importance in this new era of information technology and mass media in which cultural influences impact more strongly the entire world. A country that cannot share or expand its culture is likely to become dominated by outside cultures, which can have long-term detrimental effects upon the identity and sovereignty of a nation, even putting it under the control of other countries, media or educational influences.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev at the conference 
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev at the conference
Generally, soft and hard powers go together. If a country does not have sufficient military strength, then its economic and cultural influence will likely be weak. Yet, if a country has little cultural strength or sophistication to go along with its hard power, then its military prominence on the world stage is also likely to be short lasting.

America’s Soft Power

We can easily observe the strength of America’s soft power in how American music, clothing styles and fast food have spread worldwide along with US-based technology, cell phones, high-tech movies and computer games, and American economic influences overall. While American culture is seldom profound or artistic, it is commercially savvy, well marketed and has an enormous influence spreading an American way of life, including American thought and values on intellectual, political and economic levels.

We can observe how America uses its hard (military) and soft (economic) power together for its benefit, making sure that the world is open to US markets and dominated by the dollar as its prime currency, which includes the sale of weapons as one of its most important economic exports. While the West talks of multiculturalism, it is mainly Western and American culture, businesses and political values that it is promoting all over the world, much as in the colonial era, though soft power is the main vehicle rather than hard power as was the case in the colonial era.

India’s Soft Power

India possesses a much older, more vast and profound culture than the West that existed long before the country’s Independence in 1947. Compared to the US, India’s culture is more diverse, less technological and harder to market in a uniform manner, touching not just the outer factor of life but the inner factors of higher awareness and our inner connection to the universe as a whole. India’s culture is not simply an economic force, though it has considerable room for economic expansion, but also a great spiritual power.

India’s profound culture has already spread throughout the world through yoga, ayurveda, Sanskrit, Vedanta and Buddhism, Indian music and dance, arts and crafts among its most notable forms. It has a modern culture of Indian cuisine, cinema and Bollywood, and current Indian music which can be added to these. This new modern presence of India’s culture reflects its earlier influence going back several thousand years throughout Asia, particularly through Buddhist and Hindu influences in Myanmar, Thailand, Indo-China and Indonesia but extending as far as China, Korea and Japan.

Yet, so far, there has been little overt effort on the part of the government of India to promote India’s culture as part of its political or economic identity. It almost seems that the government of India has lacked pride in Indic civilisation and its dharmic traditions, or respect for its global value, even when the rest of the world is embracing these. Yoga has gone global since Swami Vivekananda in 1893, and the World Parliament of Religions with the help of India’s gurus but not with much by way of government support or acknowledgement. Other countries like China have worked much harder to spread their soft power, including linking the Chinese community outside the country as an economic and political force.

Dialogue Between Civilisations

Yet, soft power also means dialogue and communication. It should not be about one country or culture imposing its authority on all others. In this regard, India’s dharmic culture penetrated south and east Asia without disrupting the local cultures, but as part of their own natural unfoldment.

What is necessary is a new dialogue between civilisations. In this regard, a dialogue between India’s ancient dharmic civilisation and today’s dominant Western technological civilisation is essential. India can provide the spiritual wisdom to carry science and technology to a higher level. Yet, for this to occur, Western civilisation must recognise India’s civilisational value and learn to listen to an Indic point of view on society, humanity and the nature of the universe as a whole. This line of communication is already occurring as many gurus from India interact with political, social, educational and religious groups worldwide, but can be developed much further.

India is the world’s oldest pluralistic civilisation based upon a model of one truth, many paths, like a great banyan tree. It can provide the receptivity and pliability of thought necessary to carry humanity forward into the ecological and planetary era in which we can no longer think of one nation, religion or culture dominating the world.

The Kumbh Mela And India’s Soft Power

2019 as the year of the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj is an excellent time to highlight India’s soft power. The Kumbh is the largest human gathering in the world, perhaps the most colourful culturally as well as spiritually profound, where great yogis, sadhus and swamis come to meet with the common people. In this era of global travel, the Kumbh will feature many foreign guests and visitors. The central government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the state government of Uttar Pradesh under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have developed an extensive infrastructure and organised special events to highlight the Kumbh in a dramatic manner.

Clearly, yogic spirituality has been the central cultural focus of India’s soft power and can be developed much further. Traditional yoga is not just asana but also pranayama, mantra and meditation. It includes extensive yoga shastras on all aspects of human life, culture and cosmic consciousness that are worthy of new study, examination and application.

Ayurveda as a traditional medicine and healing tradition of yoga deserves much more attention and sharing at a global level. Ayurveda as a system of medicine is recognised by the World Health Organization, but has yet to become legal in the West, unlike Chinese medicine that is widely licensed as a recognised health care system in many countries outside of China. There is much room for ayurvedic practices and products to enter further into global healthcare, and become licensed in many countries in the east and west. Sanskrit is another important aspect of India’s soft power via both language and communication. In fact, we could call Sanskrit the language of India’s soft power.

India’s traditional science that is part of its meditation traditions is another area of educational soft power. It can help redefine science not just as an outer search for information but an inner exploration of consciousness. This is particularly important in medicine today for taking us beyond dependency on drugs and into yoga and meditation to help counter the growing stress, psychological unrest and unhappiness becoming prevalent in our high-tech culture. Ancient Nalanda University reflected India’s educational soft power for many centuries in the ancient and medieval world. New Nalanda like institutions can do so again today. The India that people in the world look up to is that of its yogic and dharmic traditions, ancient temples and sacred sites, gurus and deity forms. This should not be forgotten.

Soft power goes along with knowledge and India has always been a knowledge-based civilisation. The new knowledge-based era can be one in which soft power as a positive communication, non-violence and the recognition of human unity and the unity of all life overcomes hard power as ending up in war and conflict.

India’s soft power through its dharmic civilisation is not simply a national resource but a global necessity to awaken the wisdom of consciousness necessary to handle our new information technology in a peaceful, harmonious and creative manner.

Certainly, India’s dharmic soft power can transform humanity and civilisation, if it is developed and shared with the motivation and insight appropriate for its depth and vastness.

Source Swarajyamag

Diplomacy Over Three Courses

Cesar Chavez, the Mexican American Presidential Medal of Honor awardee, and labour rights activist once famously said “if you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him — the people who give you their food give you their heart”.

Having North Korean fare — spicier kimchi than in South Korea, naengmyeon or raengmyŏn, a cold buckwheat and sweet potato noodle dish, and soju, an alcoholic drink —at Pyongyang while being entertained by cultural performances from North Korea may be far easier and cheaper than actually travelling to the North Korean capital Pyongyang to savour the fare.

There are over 100 North Korean restaurants — Pyongyang and Okryugwan — across Asia. These restaurants provide the much needed foreign currency to the reclusive ‘hermit kingdom’ through their noodle diplomacy or chopsticks diplomacy initiated after the collapse of their main supporter, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in the early 1990s. Arguably, this has done more for North Korea than having eccentric former NBA star Dennis Rodman champion the country and its leader.

The idea of using cuisine for diplomatic reasons — soft power — for furthering relations with other countries isn’t, of course, new. It has been used over the hundreds of years by businessmen, monarchs and ambassadors.

In fact, Israeli-Palestinian relationships would perhaps have been worse if not for the efforts of some path-breaking travel outfits that are attempting to “bridging the gap between the two cultures in a different way — by encouraging visitors to break bread with locals on both sides of the unofficial border”.

Food is an integral part of any India-Pakistan person-to-person contact too. World leaders and politicians negotiate hard and long, often bitterly, frustratingly and sleeplessly. But they have to eat. So why not break bread with each other in more relaxed environments?

Johanna Mendelson-Forman, an adjunct Professor at American University, says, “food humanises people — it humanises your adversaries”. During the 20 months of negotiations for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, tensions were high and the talks nearly collapsed at least five times, according to the New Yorker. Negotiators had always eaten separately but on 4 July, America’s Independence Day, the Iranians extended an invitation to the two sides to break bread together — with no shop talk allowed.

“It was the first time the Iranians and Americans looked at each other differently,” says Mendelson-Forman. “They saw each other as negotiators first,” agrees Dr Maria Valez di Berliner, a consultant in international transactions, “and then they saw each other as people”. Within 10 days an agreement was finally reached, with both experts convinced it was made possible by the Persian meal the two sides had shared and the rapport it had helped foster.

Food is something most people enjoy consuming. Food is a sensory experience with all five senses involved in its consumption; seeking variety in foods is growing more common especially in the era of globalisation thanks to rising incomes, travel, media coverage of food through blogs, TV programmes, events, chefs, restaurants and street food, and availability of affordable and different cuisine. People are becoming more adventurous, chefs are becoming more experimental, fusion foods are the rage along with expectations of healthy, tasty, quality food that is different.

However, culinary diplomacy or gastronomic diplomacy as an instrument of official state policy really happened with Thailand’s 2002 ‘Global Thai’ programme. The idea was to increase the number of Thai restaurants worldwide, which, according to The Economist, would “not only introduce delicious spicy Thai food to thousands of new tummies and persuade more people to visit Thailand, but it could subtly help deepen relations with other countries”. The programme has been a resounding success with the number of Thai restaurants outside the country crossing 15,000 in 2018 up from 5,500 in 2002. With this success under its belt, the Thai government is making a push to increase Thai cuisine in new regions (especially in the Middle East) while being one of the top five exporters of halal food by 2020 according to its stated five-year plan.

Apart from Thailand, other countries that have such official culinary diplomacy programmes include Peru (Cocina Peruana Para el Mundo or Peruvian Cuisine for the World), Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and Mexico. Japan has taken some steps too to further its culinary diplomacy programme. Former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak campaigned, in part, with the slogan “Korean cuisine to the world” to showcase the health benefits of Korean food. An estimated $77 million was invested in 2009 to launch this programme that included setting up of Khimchi institutes with a mandate to include Korean cuisine in the syllabus of internationally-recognised culinary institutes. Groups such as the Bibimbap Backpackers travelling around the world promoting bibimbap — a mainstay Korean dish with an assortment of meat, vegetables, eggs on top of rice seasoned with red pepper paste and sesame oil — to strangers were encouraged. When the leaders of the two Koreas met earlier this year, the menu included flat sea fish to remind Moon Jae-in of his hometown port city of Busan, but so too will Swiss rosti, a nod to the school years Kim Jong-un is said to have spent in Switzerland.

Malaysia is pursuing gastronomic diplomacy through its “Malaysia Kitchen for the World” programme since 2006. Such food globalisation contributes to the trade and to other local industries such as tourism. With over 647 Malaysian restaurants worldwide in 2012, the country is pushing hard on the food diplomacy front. In fact, the pungent smelling fruit durian is generating rocketing demand (and more lucrative returns to farmers than palm oil and rubber) thanks to its popularity in China. The government of Malaysia through the Malaysia External Trade Development Agency under Ministry of International Trade and Industry has taken proactive steps to promote Malaysian cuisine and restaurants overseas with the aim to increase the interests of the international consumers towards Malaysian cuisine. Furthermore, by increasing these interests, the aim is also to boost the affinity towards Malaysian food products, while stepping up the exports of processed food, food ingredients, agriculture produce, and attracting tourists to the country. Marshalling internationally-renowned chefs, arranging food festivals in major cities, pushing for coverage in food media and for Michelin Awards for Malaysian restaurants and appointing ‘gastrodiplomats’ as culinary ambassadors are the major initiatives launched to popularise Malaysian cuisine.

It is said that Japanese chefs and government tend to promote culinary nationalism, which prompted the Agency of Cultural Affairs in Japan to successfully advocate for washoku — traditional Japanese cuisine of rice and miso soup and other dishes based on seasonable ingredients — to be recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as an intangible cultural heritage asset in 2013. Sushi is the best-known Japanese dish globally when a ‘sushi boom’ was witnessed with the government, in 2006, attempting to introduce a certification system for Japanese restaurants worldwide, but this didn’t come to pass after criticism that it was appointing itself as the ‘sushi police’.

The Les Club des Chefs des Chefs (CCC), an association of 18 chefs of heads of state, who use culinary diplomacy to strengthen international relations, through their work at the White House, Rashtrapati Bhavan and more to promote their national kitchens. India hosted the chefs in 2016. Giles Braggard the founder of this club said, “chefs are great diplomats and good food helps in easing negotiations”.

The United States can taste a good diplomatic opportunity just by smelling it and well before it sees it. The country isn’t far behind in launching its culinary diplomacy in the way it does best. The initiative is driven by the private sector with support from the state. Academic institutions like the University of Southern California have culinary diplomacy as part of the their Public Diplomacy Programme bringing out issues on gastrodiplomacy in its publication, while the American University has a gastrodiplomacy course with sessions on topics like “is the kitchen the new venue of foreign policy”.

People like Sam Chapple Sokol, a research consultant and culinary diplomat, runs Culinary Diplomacy, that is at the nexus of food, culture and international relations. In September 2012, the US officially launched its Culinary Diplomacy Partnership Initiative. More than 80 chefs, including White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford, former White House executive pastry chef William Yosses, and Spanish-born chef Jose Andres, were named members of the ‘American Chef Corps’. The initiative is organised by the US State Department Office of Protocol. One goal of the programme is to send members of the chef corps to American embassies abroad on public diplomacy missions to teach about American cuisine.

An unhappy memory that will go down in the annals of food diplomacy for being unprecedented took place in 1992 between the second course — raw salmon with caviar — and third course — grilled beef with peppery sauce, when the then president, recently deceased H W Bush, made history by being the first sitting president to vomit on the prime minister of Japan.

Where Does This Leave India?

Intrepid Indian entrepreneurs — overwhelmingly out of necessity, not choice — have emigrated and set up Indian restaurants. These are mostly small, unprofessionally-run with untrained staff, with self-taught cooks producing unimaginative, oily, unhealthy food in unhygienic conditions. There is a great danger of about a third of these estimated 17,000 restaurants closing shop in the UK as they haven’t kept pace with changing tastes, rising costs, customer expectations, technology and lack of skilled expertise in the kitchen and in running restaurants. Indian food and restaurants have come a long way in the UK though since 1809 when Dean Mahomed set up the first restaurant dedicated purely to Indian cuisine, with chicken tikka masala being proclaimed as the British national dish in 2001, according to former foreign secretary Robin Cook, currently employing over 100,000 people and contributing 4 billion pounds to the exchequer. And, 90 per cent of these restaurants are owned by British Bangladeshis. An estimated 3 million Indians — among the wealthiest and educated — live in the US and yet there are just over 5,000 Indian restaurants compared to over 40,000 Chinese restaurants across the nation and about 50,000 Mexican restaurants. Sadly, the quality of fare leads one to lament about why delicious Indian food is surprisingly unpopular in the US. A 2015 Washington Post article had this to say, “many point to the fine culinary skills needed to create quality Indian cuisine, which result in higher prices. Everyday Americans don’t expect to pay above a certain price level for food, which leaves only sub-par Indian food as an option. And once you’ve had bad Indian food, it takes a while to want to roll the dice again.”

With a massive range of cooking styles, a vast array of recipes from all states of India, heady aromatic flavours, bewildering spread of ingredients, India should be a global foodie’s paradise from fine dining to street food. There is an enormous opportunity for creating highly-impactful Indian culinary diplomacy through Indian food entrepreneurs with innovative and trained chefs, usage of technology, customer service, branding, upgraded recipes to suit different palates, showcasing of Indian spices, ingredients and flavours, cooking styles, hygienic kitchens and well laid out interiors. This requires training, awareness generation, usage of technology, co-opting of global influencers and, of course, capital. When Italian, American, Thai, Chinese, Mexican food is making rapid inroads into India and catering to changing Indian palates, it is high time that India deployed its food heritage for purposes of its culinary diplomacy. Indian restaurants and chefs are slowly making a mark on the global food scene with a few attaining celebrity status.

Will internationalising Indian cuisine destroy its ‘Indianness’? Research has shown that globalisation will not make local cultures disappear if the local culture and flavour is strong and rooted. As Vargas Llosa is quoted in the 2001 book Food Tourism around the World, “all that is valuable and worthy of survival in local cultures will find fertile ground in which to bloom!” Food neo culturalism has been engendered nowadays among urban citizens around the world, where international foods like the pizza which originated in Italy or a burger that originated in America or a sushi that originated in Japan have been accepted with changes to cater to local dietary preferences. Yet, none of these foods have lost their status as the cultural properties of their countries of origin. Such fears are therefore unfounded given the incredible connection Indians have with their food.

It is time that India considers cultural diplomacy as a strategic mission for the country, mobilises its diplomatic corps and embassies, encourages the private sector that facilitates the establishment of training centres, enables the certifications for Indian food, trains chefs and other personnel, kitchens, creates sourcing channels for various ingredients, cooking styles, techniques and practices, quality, hygiene and health standards, branding including the mythology around Indian food and drink, popularises Indian recipe while creating new and innovative ones, and much more. A tall order? Not when seen in context of a rapidly growing $3 trillion plus global food service market waiting to be tapped. So, will we?

Source Swarajyamag

The Third Sanskrit Revolution: If Not In India, Then Where?

Type on your web search engine: “the top ten most pirated books of 2009”. What will you see? A Sanskrit book: the Kamasutra. You can dismiss it by saying: “it’s not about Sanskrit, it’s all about sex”, but you will be missing the point. What matters here is that Sanskrit had something meaningful to say about sexology. So meaningful that, even today after more than 1,500 years, it still has a strong appeal over the whole world. The same could be said, albeit in different degrees, about mathematics, astronomy, medicine, grammar, phonetics, computational linguistics, pharmacy, industrial chemistry, metallurgy, aesthetics, political sciences, psychology and, of course, yoga and consciousness studies. Even in gaming: the best ever strategy game bears a Sanskrit name: chaturanga or chess.

The meaningfulness of Sanskrit implies that it is universal and stands the test of time. It also means that it has deeply influenced the sciences of other cultures. Arthur A MacDonnell, the well-known British scholar, wrote:

Since the Renaissance, there has been no event of such worldwide significance in the history of culture as the discovery of Sanskrit literature in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

Perhaps, he was exaggerating, but we have almost forgotten what the discovery of Sanskrit meant for European scholars in the nineteenth century. Take for instance, the study of language. European scholars knew almost nothing about phonetics or the study of speech sounds. They could not distinguish between voiced and unvoiced consonant. Voiced consonants are made by vibrating the vocal chords, while unvoiced consonants do not produce such vibration. There are several pairs of consonants — like k/g, ch/j, p/b or t/d, where the mouth position is the same, but the voiced/unvoiced distinction makes them different. For example, p and b are both labial, because to pronounce them you use the lips. They differ, because p is unvoiced and b voiced. The same could be said of t and d. Both are dentals, since to utter them the tip of the tongue touches the teeth, but t is unvoiced and d is voiced. By the way, many technical terms of modern phonetics, like labial (osthya), dental (dantya), occlusive (sparsa), aspirated (mahaprana) or voiced (ghosa) to mention just a few, are just translations of Sanskrit terms that were already known 2,500 years ago!

Modern linguistics would have never been born without the discovery of Sanskrit by Western scholars. The grammar of Panini describes the whole Sanskrit language in 4,000 rules. If you print it, it would hardly take 40 printed pages. Paninian rules were coded in a metalanguage that allowed them to be extremely brief. If you decode those into natural language, it would turn into a book of more than 500 pages. American linguist L Bloomfield said that the grammar of Panini was one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence. In fact, we could easily say that Sanskrit itself is one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence.

The discovery of Sanskrit had a profound impact, not only in linguistics, but also in the social sciences of the nineteenth century. This is, what I call, Sanskrit second revolution. The first one took place in the Middle Age, when Muslim scholars transmitted Indian wisdom to the West, mainly through the Spanish Al-Andalus. Muslim authors such as Al-Khwarizmi (mathematics), Avicenna (medicine), Al-Farghani (astronomy), who were deeply influenced by Indian texts, made available Indian science to the West, thanks to efforts of the Toledo School of Translators. It appears that the first Arabic numerals, in fact Indian, which were written in Europe, are in the codex dI2 at El Escorial (Madrid). Muslim authors, such as Ibn Said from Almeria (Spain) in his eleventh century manuscript Ṭabaqāt al-ʼUmam (categories of nations) did not hesitate to acknowledge his debt to the Indian world. The image of India as a land of knowledge entered Europe through the Islamic world and became common knowledge to the European Enlightenment. French writer Voltaire saw India as the cradle of human civilisation and as the inventor of numerals, chess and didactic fables.

You may say: “well, this is all the past. What about the future? Can Sanskrit still deliver a third revolution?” To put it in less strong terms: Is Sanskrit today relevant to the modern world? I believe that Sanskrit is a living discipline that still can contribute to solve some of the problems raised by modern human sciences.

Pardon me, if for a while, I go into some technicalities, but to prove my point I would like just to mention several analytical devices that were discovered in the West only in the twentieth century. On the other hand, the Indian savants consciously employed these concepts many centuries ago. To number just a few: the zero suffix, the distinction between language and metalanguage, the usage of context sensitive rules, the fact that grammar was conceived almost as a programming language able to produce an infinite number of well-formed expressions. We still have not understood all the potentialities of Indian ontology and logic, nor have we tapped all the technical resources that the hermeneutics of mimamsa can offer us. In other areas of Sanskrit, we are witnessing the increasing interest of the modern world in such things as Sanskrit aesthetics exemplified in the theories of rasa and dhvani, which help us to understand the nature of aesthetic delight. There is interest in many areas of philosophy. For instance, the description of the human mind as a material unit of four distinct elements: buddhi, citta, ahamkara and manas. The distinction between mind and consciousness, so blurred in the West, is essential for consciousness studies. Mindfulness, as a technique of healing and concentration, has become so popular, that we have forgotten its Indian origin.

Today, many people take interest in Sanskrit because of yoga, ayurveda and meditation. Sanskrit and its derived languages, like Pali and the Prakrits, have a wealth of literature on the mind as an instrument of liberation and not of addiction and depression. To cut it short, there are still many things to be discovered in the Sanskrit texts that could be useful today. The problem is that to retrieve them is not an easy task. On one hand, people having a sound knowledge of Sanskrit commentaries, too often, show little interest in the related Western disciplines. On the other hand, people having a good understanding of today’s most-relevant issues generally have a very fragmented knowledge of the Sanskrit sources. Bridges need to be built between the two worlds and Sanskrit studies should apply its efforts to the common task of the bridging the gap between Eastern and Western human sciences.

One thing is clear. The third Sanskrit revolution can only begin in India. If India does not take Sanskrit seriously, nobody will. A few recommendations are in place:

1. Protect traditional Indian scholars. They are an endangered species and a storehouse of neglected knowledge. If they perish, the understanding of Sanskrit texts would become more difficult. Indic Academy has already started doing it.

2. Do not consider Sanskrit as representing a backward way of life. Sanskrit texts are full of open-minded and liberating ideas. We should stress its rational and liberal qualities. Be modern and use Sanskrit to decolonise your mind.

3. At the same time, do not forget that Sanskrit is not only an analytical language, but also a spiritual one, good for singing and meditating. A language for humanity and world peace. A language for dialogue.

4. Do not link Sanskrit to a particular ideology. Even if you are a devout Hindu, project Sanskrit as what it has always been: an open window to many, and often conflicting, views.

5. Make Sanskrit accessible. As Samskrita Bharati has proved, Sanskrit can be easily and joyfully learnt by those who already know an Indian language.

6. Build a strong net with foreign scholars. Sanskrit is cultivated by small groups of people all over the world from Japan to Argentina, from the US to Russia, from South Africa to Sweden, from Thailand to Costa Rica.

7. Be real. Do not make false claims. Sanskrit is neither the mother of all languages, nor the most ancient one. Sanskrit is not the most suitable language for computers. Sanskrit does not need empty claims. It has already many strong points. Strive to discover them.

8. Make Sanskrit universal, like yoga. However, do not forget its Indian origin.

9. Use Sanskrit to build a strong Indian culture with a soft heart, a culture that is universal and non-exclusivist, open to diversity and that uses one of the most refined and cosmopolitan languages that human intelligence has produced: Sanskrit.

To conclude, Indian intellectuals through centuries cultivated Sanskrit knowledge systems. These intellectuals have now mutated into a legion of Indian scientists, doctors, physicists, mathematicians, engineers and computer wizards, who work all over the world. India is only applying her secular genius to the field of modern science and achieving the same degree of excellence that she achieved in ancient times. That is why it is important for India not to cut its ties with the past. This is called the long-term consistency of a civilisation, which lies at the root of its very survival. Sanskrit is part of this long-term consistency. Let us not dismiss it.

Source Swarajyamag

Sankranti Sabha At The Veda Vijnana Gurukulam

Veda Vijnana Gurukulam has been organising a yearly Shastric exam since 2001. This event is called the Sankranti Sabha. It is a traditional exam which is oral in nature, in which a student studies a prescribed text and appears before the examiner.

On the 2nd of February such an exam was held in the Gurukulam. On this day, the exam was conducted for 60 students studying in 7 different classes. Scholars from Vedanta, Vyakaranam, Nyaya and Purva-mimamsa disciplines were invited as examiners. Advaita Vedanta texts like the Shankara Bhashyam of the Prasthanatrayam and Vedanta-paribhasha were prescribed. In Vyakaranam Siddhanta Kaumudi, Mahabhashyam, Paribhashendushekharah and Laghu Shabdendushekhara were given to the students.

Advaita VedantaPrasthanatrayam (Shankara Bhashyam)
Vedanta Paribhasha
VyakaranaSiddhanta Kaumudi
Paribhashendushekharah Mahabhashyam
Laghu Shabdendushekhara
NyayaTarka Samgraha
Tarka Samgraha Deepika
Tarka Samgraha Nyayabodhini
Purva MimamsaMeemamsa- Nyaya prakashah

The process of examination was a whole day affair. A small inaugural function was followed by the exams. which began at around 9:30 am. Each student was called up and examined individually. The teachers of the particular discipline were also present to gauge the performance of the student. The examiners also noted down the positives and negatives of each students performance. This was later discussed with the student and plans were chalked out for each individual’s growth.

On the 3rd of February, a Shastric discussion on a topic from the Brahmasutra Bhashyam took place. Prof. Mani Dravid Shastri presided over this shastric discussion. Prof. Ramachandra Bhat, former Vice-Chancellor was also present in the discussion. This nature of the topic of discussion was such that it allowed scholars from other disciplines to join the discussion. A panel of 7 scholars debated on the topic.

Brahma Shri Mani Dravida ShastriProfessorMylapore Samskrit CollegePurvottara Mimamsa
Prof. Vishnu NambutiriProfessorShri Shankaracharya University, KaladyVyakarana
Dr.Chandrashekhara BhatAssistant ProfessorRashtriya Samskrita Samsthanam Shringeri Campus.Vyakarana
Dr. Venkataramana B. V.Associate ProfessorKarnataka Samskrit University
Vyakarana, Nyaya
Dr. Ganesh E. BhatAssistant ProfessorRashtriya Samskrita Samsthanam Shringeri Campus.Vedanta
Prof. Mahabaleshwar BhatProfessor (Retd.)Rashtriya Samskrita Samsthanam Shringeri Campus.Vedanta
Vasudeva NambutiriVidvanMylapore Samskrit CollegePurvottara Mimamsa
Karthik SharmaVidvanMylapore Samskrit CollegePurvottara Mimamsa
Pramod BhatVidvanRashtriya Samskrita Samsthanam ShringeriVyakarana
Dr. Pavana kumaraAssistant ProfessorChinmaya UniversityVyakarana
VenkatanathanAssistant ProfessorKarnataka Samskrit UniversityNyaya
Gururaja KalkuruAssistant ProfessorPurnaprajna VidyapeethamNyaya, Meemaamsa
Vaishnava SimhaVidvanHiremagaluruVyakarana

The aim of this discussion was to give an idea to the students as to how shastric learning should be done and by watching luminaries they would also be inspired to study and achieve.

Indic Academy is proud of it’s association with the Veda Vijnana Gurukulam, and extended it’s support to this year’s Sankranthi Sabha.

Pragmatics of The Yoga Sutra

I consider myself extremely fortunate to study one of the most fascinating Indian texts – Yoga Sutras from some of the greatest teachers like Yogaacharya Krishnamacharya and Desikachar. Not once, but almost 5 times did I study the texts with them. Of course, my hunger did not stop there, and I started integrating the Yoga Sutras in my inner process work and learning theater methodology along with Prof.Pulin Garg and Desikachar. However, it was only 8-10 years back that my friends Saraswathi and Vani requested me to teach the Yoga Sutras, because only a few of us who learnt directly from Desikachar and Krishnamacharya are left. So, that is when I went back to teaching the Yoga Sutra. We went through the whole of the Yoga Sutra four sessions of 4 days each covering 1 chapter at a time. Now it is a second round of teaching the Yoga Sutra in detail, each time I visit it, it allows me to probe deeper into the psyche of the human mind. Here I go further into the pragmatics of Yoga sutras with Gayatri Iyer

Q. How are the Yoga Sutras formulated?

A. It is a text to understand the depth of psychology, consisting of short statements of 7 words each. One should look at it as an algorithm or formulaic statements to look at one’s psyche. A sutra is a string and the beads that adorn the string are our life’s experiences. There are numerous commentaries available that go in-depth into understanding it, but the commentaries are elaborations done in a specific context. So, one has to use the Sutra as a starting point to enquire about the truth of oneself. In recent times Jung is one of the people who often spoke about it as a great text to understand one’s psyche.

The whole text is divided into 4 parts-:

  1. samAdhi pAda– It deals with understanding the samAdhi states of the mind and if the mind is not focused then what are the illnesses that are likely to happen. There are suggestions to work with oneself to cleanse ones perceptive processes and see the world as is. Such a mind then allows a higher Intelligence to take over.
  2. sAdhana pAda– It talks about duHkha and how does one get into duHkha. It suggests the practices to work with the mind to try and end duHkha.
  3. vibhUtI pAda– It goes into further depth from the 2nd chapter, wherein it explains the various extraordinary possibilities of the mind once you get to a stage of dhyAna and samAdhi. It warns that one should not get carried away and should stay anchored in clarity.
  4. kaivalya pAda– A second look on how the psyche works and explains the working of states beyond the attainment of clear perception. How does one look at the world ‘as is’ and by focusing on even subtler states of mind one has a direct experience of the process of creation and of purusha.

Q. So, Patanjali was the author of the text?

A. Patanjali a yOgi of his time was authorized to put together and codify all the knowledge of yOga and therefore is the sUtrakAr for yOga. We see it happening in science also, for example in recent times the Nobel Prize winner Chandrashekhar codified the knowledge of astrophysics. Patanjali wrote the sutra, Vyasa wrote the bhAShya and explained the sUtra. These bhAShya are rewritten by others as the context changes so many people can write commentaries based on the previous bhAShya to refute or accept it.

Q. samAdhi seems to be the real focus here. Is it then so easy to attain samAdhi?

A. A reasonably attentive person can attain samAdhi for short periods of time, this is called kshanikA samAdhi. The key here is to understand the unclear states of the mind and use the practices suggested by the sUtra to remove the disturbing and distorting elements in one’s mind and to move into a subtle and sustained state of attention.

Q. So the sUtra does not really talk about Asana and praNAyAma?

A. Interestingly, only four sUtra of the whole text talk about Asana and about six speak about prANAyAma. A few more speak about the more tangible aspects of practice i.e., bahiranga sAdhana. Unfortunately, that is what has become the yOga of today. Selling a weight loss program based on Asana is much easier than coaxing people to learn yOga sAdhana to reduce one’s duHkha and lead a dhArmic life.

Q. So, then who are fit to learn the sUtra?

A. A lot of the participants in the last session were yOga teachers who had not only learnt the text during their training but also practice it in their life. It is therefore easier to reveal the deeper meaning of the sUtra and the recommended practices. For example, normally when one dreams the images are tough to recollect when one is conscious. But a person who is adhering to a sAdhana it is much easier for him/her to access it and seek some clarity in their lives by examining the dream. The state of dhyAna is more easily accessible to the practitioner. But it is difficult for people with no background in yOga sadhana to understand the depth of the sUtra. The sUtra become an aid to one’s practice. I still go back to chapter 1 when I observe my mind getting clouded. The blockages I feel is clearly played out in my body through an illness or ailment. Then I apply Asana/ prANAyAma techniques or subtle examination of my mind to understand the root of the kink to get back to being healthy. One really needs to develop the quality of listening to one’s duHkha. Any person interested in developing the sAkshi and sakhi bhAva ought to learn the Yoga Sutra. Any person in the helping professions, the healing professions or in leadership needs to understand the Yoga Sutra. Being adept in yOga is recommended as a prerequisite in many shastra like Bharata Shastra, Vastu Shatra, Artha Shastra and so on.

Q. Why do you follow a dialogue way of teaching?

A. In olden times, a student used to seek a teacher based on the question(s) he/she had and then he/ she would stay with the teacher in an Ashram to learn a concept through multiple dialogues and discussions. At the end what came out were some final aphorisms or statements called the Upanishads. It is for the seeker or student to then use these as a starting point to enquire further, apply it his/her life and develop their own sAdhana. This is the Upanishadic way of teaching. Infact Alex Osborn in the introduction to his book Applied Imagination credits the Upanishads for inspiring him to look at brainstorming. There is a theoretical and an experiential component to the whole system because a sUtra or an Upanishadic statement is not the end or something like ‘take it or leave it’. You keep coming back to it when you dialogue and enquire, and it opens something for you if you follow some of the practices mentioned. There is no better teacher or mirror to your psyche than the Yoga Sutra.

Q. Who has the adhikAr to teach the text?

A. Desikachar used to say that any person who has got in touch with their duHkha and is also continuously also working to reduce the duHkha to live more meaningful a life is a true sAdhaka. Additionally if one is concerned deeply about the duHkha of the world one has the adhikAram to teach.

Q. How does Yoga Sutra and inner work go hand in hand?

A. The sUtra per se can become a very dry text to study and understand, I believe it needs a human story like the itihAsa-purANa to make sense out of the sUtra. When looks at these stories as an allegory to ones own mind and ones own inner drama, the depth of the meaning comes alive. For e.g. in the Samudra Manthan is an excellent allegory on how to look at the mind, the blocks and inner distortions etc. Meru is equivalent to the spine, entering into a deep enquiry is the churning of one’s inner self. All the poison that comes out is dealt with and then in the next stage is when the various gifts arise and finally amritam is offered to the person. The purANic stories are a darshana because they mirror our inner journeys. Krishnamacharya would illustrate the sutra by relating purANic stories and sometimes share his own reflections. Desikachar would compare everyday issues with the sUtra.

Q. How was it a darshana for you?

A. Each time I studied the yOga sUtra with Krishnamacharya and Desikachar, it was explained in greater depth and clarity. Also, as our teachers, they understood where we were based on our conversations with them, the types of questions we asked and the issues we discussed with them. The meanings enunciated would reflect their sensitive understanding of our state of mind. So, it always led to a lot of introspection and clarification of my own inner processes. Also, I was engaged with Prof Pulin Garg and learning the Identity Group work from him and his colleagues. This was potent combination. In a laboratory learning process, one engages in deep self disclosure, and therefore has a deep view of ones own inner world and that of others. Often the universes they opened up were like real life illustration of the sUtra!

In my way of imparting the learning I encourage each person to share their struggles and insights. So these workshops become like a mini lab.

Q. So, the western psychology also acknowledges the Yoga Sutra?

A. Well, Jung studied it along with the Upanishads. He refers to these in many of his writings. Jung understood the power of the prANic energy inside us, whereas Freud reduced it to mere sexual libido. Many advances in Western psychology have come from a study of Yoga and Buddhism.

Q. What is the basis of the sUtra?

A. Yoga accepts all the tenets of Sankhya. Sankhya is the most ancient Indian philosophical text available to us. It speaks about the evolution of the world, the evolution of the mind, and about many fundamental realities. It is not a religious text as commonly understood. Yoga takes these concepts forward and speaks of practices through which one becomes capable of realizing the truths spoken of in Sankhya. The Yoga Sutra is therefore a pragmatic way of gaining an insightful mind and living a meaningful life. Its main focus is to remove the blocks to perception spoken off in Sankhya and awaken the dharmic flow of prANa that Sankhya refers to. Yoga is the practical side of Sankhya teaching us how to remove the preceptory blocks within us.

Q. What is the follow up practice post learning the sUtra?

A. The text must help you continuously enquire ‘How can I be the best that I can be?’ and how do I relate to others in my life, whether it is my work or home. The text must be applied to understanding your psyche and life. Apart from a personal sAdhana which is of utmost importance having the support of a shared study group is a great aid to enquire deeper. If this group can also be one where one can share one’s inner struggles the Yoga Sutra study can become the centre of an Upanishadic space. Some of the people studying with me are doing this and it is making a big difference to their lives.

Q. Are you still teaching the yoga sUtra?

A. Yes, as a matter of fact I am scheduled to teach the second chapter i.e. sAdhana pada as a starting point for those interested to start learning the yoga sutras in May 2019 at the Ritambhara Ashram, Kotagiri. Do reach out to for details

Mahabharata Immersion Workshop

Our personal energy is immense and can act in heroic ways, however, it is often locked up in our subconscious self. The Mahabharata Immersion is an invitation to experiment with oneself, delve unto the depths of the invisible, the in-articulated and the disowned parts of ones self by donning the traditional masks from the Koothu tradition.

The Mahabharata Immersion Workshop is intended to enable the participant to engage with inner work and the Purana fron an “inside -out” location. One wears the masks of the Heroes and in playing out the archetypal drama that occurs at various turning points, views oneself in the mirror of the emerging “here and now re-play” of the eternal motifs of life and relationships with significant others.

This programme offers participants the opportunity to:

  • Discover and foster one’s hidden heroic potential
  • Introspect upon the relationship between outer and inner process
  • Develop a personal foundation of Role effectiveness, interpersonal ethics and interpersonal discipline
  • Introspect upon the way one holds and gives meaning to one’s mission in life

The Learning Theatre

An individual is simultaneously a member of multiple systems – organization, society, family, and others. Each of these systems is a complex network of interdependent roles and processes with distinct values and norms. The diverse pulls and pressures of the systems and lack of integration and synergy in oneself result in diffused inner energies and consequently affects the expressions.
The learning theatre is designed to focus on inner energies and enable coherent expressions. An exploration into one’s inner process is enabled by bringing alive ones inner drama and the personas that play out these psychodramas.

Koothu Enactment

The participants will also work with actors from the Koothu tradition. Having explored the dynamics of heroism within, the participants will be introduced to the nuances of the myth. By working with the traditional masks, music, rhythm, and dance, the rasa of each hero is evoked and explored.
For example, through an exploration of ‘Draupadi Vastraaharanam’ (the disrobing of Draupadi), a powerful field is created where the helpless rage of the victimized is contrasted with the blind greed of the oppressor and the lack of conviction in the legitimate protector. The individual who explores this archetypal drama with authenticity enters the universal motifs of human suffering. Such engagement with one’s dukka is deeply insightful and healing. The stage is thus set for an honest introspection of one’s inner patterns of feeling and thought as well as one’s outer patterns of action.

Who can participate in the workshop?

The workshop is open to all professionals and people from all walks of life who wish to delve inwardly and regenerate oneself. This program enables one to discover and develop creative processes of their own unfolding, thereby facilitating self-discovery in others. No prior theatre experience is required for this adventure, although prior experience of inne work is always of value. Participants will be required to read the Mahabharata, and discussions will be initiated prior to the start of the laboratory to facilitate the exploration.

Our ancient texts recommend that all leaders and professionals be yogis. Yoga, when practised in a holistic fashion, ensures that a person becomes capable of being the best they can be. Leaders and professionals need to strive continuously to perform at their peak capabilities. This means that one has to make a continuous investment in one’s competencies, one’s inner well being, and one’s health. However, the meaning of Yoga is limited to Aasana and Prananaayama in most people’s minds.

Our myths were written to bring out the meaning of Yoga through the stories that illustrate how different types of minds perceive a situation and how they respond. The Mahabharata portrays the five Pandava heroes as the central archetypes of the human psyche, the Kaurvas as the anti-hero/shadow archetypes, and Krishna as the meditative mind. Through the drama played out by the Paandavas and Kauravas, the text discussed Yoga in the context of familial strife.

The Mahabharata is thus a dialogue on the Yoga of leadership, and dharmic conduct. It is a complete text of Yoga, capturing its philosophical profundity as well as evoking the person by using the narrative of different archetypal heroes who are placed in difficult and trying situations as they delve into themselves and overcome obstacles.

Indic Academy has decided to extend a scholarship to Kyla Churchman for attending this workshop. Churchman has been attending courses at Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai for the last four years. She has a background in theatre and is particularly keen to attend the MI Lab.


Date: February 17th to 19th, 2019

More details are available in this brochure.

The Pseudoscience of Indology: An Interview with Joydeep Bagchee

With The Nay Science: A History of German Indology, Professor Vishwa Adluri emerged as one of the most powerful critics of Indology, the nineteenth-century field established to study India. Professor Adluri has called Indology “scientized racism,” a “club,” and a “court.” He has been interviewed by Open, Swarajya, News18, Social Research, and IndiaFacts. Mukunda Raghavan of Meru.Media interviewed Professor Adluri’s student Dr. Joydeep Bagchee on the occasion of the completion of their second book, Philology and Criticism: A Guide to Mahābhārata Textual Criticism. Dr. Bagchee spoke on behalf of his teacher, and explained how they became interested in Indology and why historicizing the Mahābhārata was crucial to colonizing India intellectually. The following transcript was edited for clarity and length. The complete interview will appear soon as a podcast and a video from Meru.Media.

MR: What are your backstories?
I have a PhD in philosophy from the NSSR, New York. It is one the most prestigious schools for continental philosophy in the US. Hannah Arendt and Reiner Schürmann taught there. I met my teacher Vish there. I learned nearly everything from him. He provided me a strong reading of the history of Western thought and its relationship with Christianity. Through him, I inherited Reiner’s philosophical legacy. The Nay Science was our first major collaboration. But everything I write flows from Vish: he inspires me.

MR: How did you get involved with studying both Western and Indian thought?
As outsiders, we never felt these boundaries existed. We had already transcended political and national identities. We wanted to learn from different philosophers. Orientalists and comparativists obsess over differences between the Eastern and Western mind. But no such mind exists. Thought ranges freely across cultures. Many gratuitously belabor the idea of method, disciplinarity, slow reading, traditionalism vs. presentism. These ideas appeal to the sophist rather than the philosopher The philosopher is at home in the entire cosmos.

MR: What would you consider your areas of interest and expertise?
We have PhDs in Western philosophy. Vish’s specialization is ancient Greek philosophy. Mine is Heidegger and twentieth-century Continental philosophy. We also studied Indian philosophy. I studied Indian philosophy as an undergraduate in India. Vish studied Mīmāṃsa and Vedānta under Swami Prabhudananda Sarasvati, who is from the Sringeri Matha. Over the past ten years, we explored how debates internal to Christianity and Europe shaped the reception of Indian texts. We are now working on a book on the connection between race and history.

Photo Credits: Eric Kazmirek

Photo Credits: Eric Kazmirek

MR: What do we know about the Mahābhārata, its author or authors?
We don’t know the identity of the historical author(s). We know it was carefully copied and transmitted over centuries. There were conscious efforts to organize and seal the canon (e.g., colophons, parvan lists, etc.). The Mahābhārata was revered as smṛti and as pañcamaveda. It is thus living, continuing revelation. The Mahābhārata was thought to contain the essence of the Upaniṣads (the Bhagavadgītā). It was considered an egalitarian text: a strī-śūdra-veda that brought the Vedic Revelation to all classes. Once we grasp its philosophical and pedagogical intent, it is obvious that it has the brilliance of genius behind it: the literary figure called Vyāsa. The Vyāsa question differs from the Homeric question: nowhere in Homer is the author a character in the narrative. The Mahābhārata unsettles our notions of authorship and author. Vyāsa proved a stumbling block for Western scholars. To them, he was a legend: evidence of a “Brahmanic” takeover of an earlier heroic epic. They interpreted this to mean: no conscious authorship exists behind the Mahābhārata. The stories they created are simply wrong—manuscript evidence proves this.

MR: What are its main themes?
Most people would say “war” or “family conflict.” Scholars insist the war is central (most recently, Jim Fitzgerald). But this is reductive. The text says this is no ordinary war. The war is not a purely human conflict. It is another stage of the devāsurayuddha. It is divinely foreordained. Heraclitus says war is the father of all. We must approach the Mahābhārata similarly. It reveals the distinction between changing empirical reality, which is subject to karma, and Brahman, which transcends time, space, and causality. The Mahābhārata shows us how, caught in the web of time, humans struggle to master fate. By cleaving to dharma they take the upward path. The text analyzes mundane reality (jagat) and the soul (jīva) in the literal sense of taking them apart. They are revealed as epiphenomena of Brahman. The political drama at Hāstinapura, the genocidal conflict of Kurukṣetra are set amidst this. They remind us that the cosmos is inherently violent, an endless conflagration.

MR: What is its major overarching philosophy (and secondary philosophies, if any)?
Dharma is the central teaching of the Mahābhārata. It is not just one theme among others, but a matrix that organizes the narrative and debates on action. But dharma itself is grounded in a philosophy of being: an ontology or brahmavāda. Without hyperbole or anachronism, the Mahābhārata’s overarching philosophy is Vedāntic. The text also refers to Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Vaiśeṣika, etc. But if we look at these terms as positions in an intellectual debate rather than as schools or doctrines, the Mahābhārata is clearly committed to establishing the unity of Being and presenting Brahman theistically as Nārāyaṇa. It undertakes a systematic effort to mediate between different standpoints. The overarching aim is liberation as the final aim of all human effort.

MR: What is so important about the concept of ahiṃsā? How does it differ from Buddhist or Jain ideas of ahiṃsā?
Vish recently published an article on ahiṃsā in the Mahābhārata. It shows how ahiṃsā paramo dharma applies in a twofold perspective. As a value, ahiṃsā is the highest dharma. We are enjoined to minimize violence. However, violence does not proceed solely from man. Neither is it entirely at his disposal. Enlightenment ethics failed on this count. Strategies for minimizing violence must be combined with a transformative ontology. The universe is a violent place. Ultimately, ahiṃsā can be fully achieved only by realizing one’s identity with Brahman, which transcends time and becoming. This is the real sense in which ahiṃsā is paramo dharma. Hinduism thus avoids utopianism, while recommending a practice of thoughtful living.

MR: When did the West first interact with the Mahābhārata?
The earliest encounters were excerpts/retellings (Nala and Damayantī, Śakuntalā). This piecemeal approach did not translate into a cohesive interpretive strategy. Only after Christian Lassen presented his “historical” reading of the Mahābhārata did the text acquire unity in the Western imagination. The principles of this reading are well known. The Mahābhārata encompasses an earlier heroic core and Brahmanic interpolations. The core relates a racial conflict between white Aryans and black natives. The epic was originally composed for the king’s court. It glorified brave knights. Brahmans could not accept such a recollection of heroic deeds. They wished to reeducate and enslave the warriors. The Brahmans rewrote the epic to show that success depended on their favor. They added cosmology and new gods to the epic. They introduced offensive ideas such as Vyāsa’s niyoga. Other scholars also took up these ridiculous and patently self-serving hypotheses. Of course, the Gītā had its own history of reception.

MR: How did Western scholars view and interpret the Mahābhārata?
Lassen decisively shaped all Western scholarship. Every idea in Western scholarship can be traced to his 1837 article. If there is one work on the Mahābhārata Indians should read, it is this article (large parts are translated in The Nay Science). Lassen’s interpretation was congenial for Westerners. It accorded with the prejudice against Hinduism. Lassen had explained the mechanism of degeneracy: why India did not develop as the West had. It accorded with anti-Brahmanic prejudices. Lassen blamed Brahmans for India’s backwardness. He provided a historical narrative that, replacing indigenous ideas of history, integrated Indian civilization into world history. He anchored the biracial theory (the view that Indian civilization comprises two races, civilizing white Aryans and primitive black natives) in history. Lassen’s interpretation reified the concept of race and legitimized racial conquest as historical and natural fact. By claiming Brahmans invented rituals for money, Lassen undermined the soteriological and epistemic praxis of Hinduism. By claiming Indians were duped by Brahmans and did not know their texts, he deprived them of intellectual authority. Henceforth what a practicing Hindu said had less value than what the historically and critically trained scholar had to tell him. Most important, Lassen replaced the Mahābhārata’s own concept of itihāsa purāṇa with a meta-narrative of history, in which Indians themselves would participate (e.g., when they prove the Mahābhārata War “really” happened, i.e., happened in history). At this point, Hinduism ceased to exist as an independent tradition. It was subsumed into Christian supersessionism and its modern, secular analogue: world history.

MR: Who were the major players?
Besides Lassen, Adolf Holtzmann Sr. and Jr., Theodor Goldstücker, Hermann Oldenberg, Richard Garbe, and Edward W. Hopkins played a major role. For instance, the most widespread statistic about the Mahābhārata is that it was composed between 400 BC and 400 AD. This statistic is completely false. It is pure conjecture. Sukthankar demolished Hopkins’s dates. Yet Hans van Buitenen, Romila Thapar, and others still quote them as established fact. Hopkins himself drew most of his ideas about the Mahābhārata from Holtzmann Jr. He wanted to provide a more nuanced chronology than Holtzmann, but he accepted his basic ideas. These ideas also percolated to others such as Oldenberg and Garbe. Holtzmann merely embellished the basic interpretive scheme that Lassen had already provided. He and his uncle developed the idea of Brahmanic mischief in the context of German nationalism: they saw the Mahābhārata as a prototype for the Reformation and Bismarck’s Kulturkampf. Unfortunately, in the Indian case, the Catholic side, that is, the Brahman priests, won. They thus argued that critics should recover the original epic before its Brahmanic revision, thereby undoing the triumph of Brahmanism.

MR: What historical reality influenced their criticism and how did it do so?
Frantz Fanon deeply influenced The Nay Science. Let me therefore respond as I think he would. The most important feature is that it was an era of condescension. The “Negro” (Fanon uses this word consciously) is incapable of articulate speech. His representations are by definition primitive. He must be shown “reality.” He must be taught what he “really” means when he uses language (e.g., that he worships natural forces out of fear because he has not learned to control them as Western man has). This condescension survives today. Indology is the last field where racial prejudices can be lived. The second feature is a missionary agenda. Many Indologists participated directly in missionary activity (e.g., with the Halle and Basel missions). Nearly all saw their work as contributing to Christianity’s triumph. Albrecht Weber, Max Müller, and Paul Hacker explicitly affirm this. “Orientalistik(Oriental languages)” and “Hebraisitik(Hebrew studies)” developed as subdisciplines of Christian apologetics and its OT concerns. Likewise, the purpose of uncovering and translating Hindu scriptures was to provide foundations for evangelism. The third feature, especially in German Protestantism, was anti-Judaic and anti-clerical tropes, which were projected on Brahmans. There has been a sustained attack on Hinduism as a Brahmanic system of thought. Indologists benefited personally as traditional teaching was eliminated.

MR: What are the major flaws?
Obviously, if we approach any text with this many prejudices, dialogue is impossible. What we have seen for two hundred years is a Western monologue. Western scholars assured themselves of their cultural superiority: they had “discovered” science and rationality. They felt divinely vindicated: the “elect,” who were called upon to understand the dark half of humanity. Many still join this dying discipline to participate in a racial experience. A degree in Indology teaches less about Indian texts, philosophy, literature, or culture than a traditional education. It also does not teach textual criticism, as Philology and Criticism demonstrated. What is Indology’s appeal? Here, Fanon’s concept of “lactification” can help us. Fanon says a black woman undergoes “lactification” when she dates a white man. (I should add: Fanon isn’t talking about a relationship based on love, but one where whiteness itself is the appeal.) In other words, she becomes more white: in self-understanding, mannerisms, social status, etc. Applying Fanon’s insight to Indian intellectuals, we can identify a similar need to present as white—if not racially then at least intellectually, culturally, and socially. This takes the form of an unrelenting critique of Indian traditions, customs, and conditions. Meanwhile, Western scholars who not only teach but dignify and encourage this behavior are revered as prophets. They offer suitably secular redemption in the form of the belief “I too can become white.” Indology departments’ real appeal is that they offer Indians degrees in lactification. They teach them to speak about their traditions as though outsiders, with faint distaste. They teach them to disparage texts they don’t understand. They learn to say: “we don’t believe in these gods and ceremonies”. Rammohan Roy was the first thoroughly lactified Hindu.

MR: What has been the response to your work in academia both in the West and India?
Except the Indologists, everyone loved our books. Many Western academics appreciated our critique. They saw it as original and path-breaking. The Nay Science was compared with Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, its great predecessor. Indologists had problems with our work. Remember what we are doing is unprecedented: two Indians critiquing Western scholarship and turning a critical lens on Indology. A well-bred Indian should be grateful to Western scholars for “critically” expounding Indian texts. He ought to acknowledge he is “religious and confessionally bound” and bear a heavy cross for caste. Instead, we were using our knowledge of intellectual history to question Indologists’ claims of scientificity and universality. Indologists experienced anger and shame at being caught out in this racial game. They tried to reinstate racial categories (e.g., by accusing us of “Hindutva”). They knew it would never stick, but they desperately clung to the old game of racial oversight. It cannot be resurrected. Indologists’ authority—scholarly, epistemological, methodological, intellectual, and public—has crumbled.

Ethics of Comparison panel at the AAR Annual Meeting 2018, American Academy of Religion; Father Francis X. Clooney, S.J. speaking for Hinduism

MR: What is the status of the kinds of studies in India?
Unfortunately, a generation behind the West. Indians quickly assimilated the natural sciences and technology, but they lag behind in the humanities. Whereas global philosophy and race theory are current here, Indian universities teach a curriculum of dead European philosophers. People chant slogans such as right and left, but who reads Hegel critically? The reception of Sanskrit texts is filtered through Orientalists such as Friedrich Schlegel, Max Müller, etc. Many people know old chestnuts such as Schlegel’s remark, “everything, absolutely everything comes from India,” or Müller’s “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed […] I should point to India.” The fact that Schlegel made this statement while excluding black Africa from rationality, articulate speech, and humanity goes unmentioned. Irrespective of the ruling party, veneration of Europeans continues. Government conferences obligatorily feature a Sanskritist from every European nation, while ignoring Africa and Asia. I won’t speak of Indians who break out in hives when someone mentions the Rāmāyaṇa. Indians are ashamed of their texts—the more so the less they know their contents. They can only accept what Indologists have sanitized and sanctified and offered to them. Indologists are treated like godmen in India—a clear sign of internalized colonization.

MR: How does this impact our current understanding and engagement with the Mahābhārata?
Returning to the Mahābhārata requires a deconstruction of canons of knowledge and method created in nineteenth-century Europe. This is why, before embarking on positive interpretations, we wrote The Nay Science. It traced the history of Western misinterpretations of the Mahābhārata. We showed how prevailing dogmas about the Mahābhārata originated with Lassen’s racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Brahmanic views. In Philology and Criticism we showed how these views survive in barely veiled form in the work of contemporary scholars. Two hundred years of so-called critical Mahābhārata studies were a waste. Western scholars neither understood the work nor contributed to textual criticism. We should be very suspicious when scholars use “critical,” “text-historical method,” or “textual history” in relation to the Mahābhārata. They ignored the actual text for a fantasy, coining silly terms such as “oral bardic epic,” “Kṣatriya epic,” “Brahmanic takeover,” “normative redaction,” “textual makeover,” etc. Every time Indologists second-guessed Sukthankar, they erred. He is the greatest Mahābhārata scholar after Nīlakaṇṭha. I think of Vish as the greatest Mahābhārata commentator of our time, but he stands with me in acknowledging Sukthankar as the genius who appreciated what the Mahābhārata is. The final prejudice we must overcome is history equals the real. Once these layers of misinterpretation are removed, the text can shine forth again as an intellectual creation and a work of art.

MR: What is our take away?
Colonization leaves scars. Nothing is more dehumanizing than living in the gaze of the Other. As Vishwa says, the only possibility for dialogue is to become historically self-aware, ethical, and thoughtful. Many Indologists think they can make a career by baiting Indians, hoping for a fatwa of some kind. Scholars need to see that such behavior is damaging for them collectively. Particular individuals may gain notoriety by flaming. But the discipline as a whole suffers. Ultimately, we have to decide whether Indology is a discipline in the humanities or a social science with interventionist concerns. This also applies to Indians: for example, D. D. Kosambi. What is Kosambi’s original contribution to Marxism? He adopted a crude understanding of Marxist ideology, applied it reductively, and then tore up texts according to categories he had absorbed uncritically. This is not reading. It is vandalism masquerading as intellectualism.

MR: How do you recommend we address and engage with the text now?
We must remember two points. First, ancient texts are distant from us. Broken frameworks of reception, conquest and colonization, Western education, historicism, etc. make it impossible to read them straightforwardly. When we try, we project contemporary social and political realities on them. We impose our language and idiom on them. What results is a hybrid understanding. For instance, vāhanas are airplanes, astras are nuclear missiles, etc. We give calendric dates for Bhīṣma’s death or Kṛṣṇa’s avatāra. Orientalists mock Indians for this, but who took away their interpretive frameworks? Who destroyed the language—I mean the semantic system of meanings—they spoke? Isn’t the real problem that Indians have to transpose concepts that make perfect sense within their episteme into an alien episteme? Why must they explain their views to strangers, who anyway consider the Western worldview the sole normative one? This is why in The Nay Science we first undertook a deconstruction of Western interpretations of the Mahābhārata. We cannot understand a text traditionally unless we first bracket our contemporary episteme. The second point we must remember is: despite all historical distance, ancient texts still make a claim on us. They are the reason we have scholarship in the humanities, and not vice versa. Sukthankar once said, “What is the secret of this book of which India feels after nearly two thousand years that she has not yet had enough? It would be a rather hazardous conjecture to suppose that such a thing might perchance happen also to the works of the critics of the Mahābhārata.” Not only does the text make a claim on us; it also remains close to us, closer than we are to ourselves. Sukthankar again: “We must therefore grasp this great book with both hands and face it squarely. Then we shall recognize that it is our past which has prolonged itself into the present. We are it: I mean the real WE!” Scholarship on the Mahābhārata is worth less than the retellings published today. Through them, the text is making its claim felt and inviting us to rediscover ourselves. Vishwa keeps emphasizing the notion of continuing revelation in Hinduism. Texts approach us. We only need remain open for them.

MR: Any final words? What is your next book?
Indologists claim their work is critical and scientific, it is philology, and it provides a history of India. We already examined the first two claims in The Nay Science and Philology and Criticism. We showed how their work was neither scientific nor objective. Their philology hardly deserved the name: we established this vis-à-vis Lassen, Holtzmann Jr., Garbe, Jacobi, and Oldenberg in The Nay Science. In Philology and Criticism, we show how Andreas Bigger, Reinhold Grünendahl, Walter Slaje, Michael Witzel, Oskar von Hinüber, James L. Fitzgerald, John Brockington, etc. committed elementary philological errors. They had not understood basic concepts in textual criticism. Eli Franco (in his review of The Nay Science) states, “The nature and origin of ‘Indology’ [as Indian philology] were already clearly stated in A.W. Schlegel’s founding essay.” He also says, “premodern India was not in possession of its history,” and implies that Indians ought to be grateful to Indologists for providing them with a history. This is the final task: to show that the history of India Indologists provided is a racial history: a story about how civilizing white Aryans invaded India and brought culture to the aborigines. Once we show this in our next book, all three pillars of Indology—science, philology, history—will fall.

Shakta Mantras

Tasting Śākta  Tantra – an amateur’s experience

The East has always been a land shrouded in attractive mysticism. Religions, cultures, traditions, cuisines and most importantly, Knowledge of the Self have pulled millions from across the world over centuries, or millennia even, towards discovering the shortest path to the East and, in effect, discovering the Self. The tremendous diversity and depths of approaching the Divine that exist in the East cannot be understood by merely labeling all that is endemic to modern day nations with socio-political boundaries under the one single umbrella term of “religion”. Even the term religion is a subject of controversy, which the author wishes not to cover in this article.

bhārata[i], the land of sanātanadharma, with temples of all (and no) sizes and shapes dedicated to countless deities, has a matching number of perspectives of understanding the Divine and the Self. All these perspectives, called darshana-s, showcase the freedom of choice that is an inherent quality of the Indic culture. These darshana-s cover the entire range of possible personal spiritual philosophies – theistic, atheistic, agnostic, and non-theistic. Of these, the popularly known six which accept the importance of the veda(s) are nyāya, vaiśeṣika, sāṃkhya, yoga, mīmāṃsā, and vedānta. The popular three which reject the importance of the veda(s) are bauddha, jaina, and cārvāka. However, curiously enough, tantra, one often used means of approaching the Divine has not been included within the above popular classification, perhaps owing to its controversial nature of being associated with all things which evoke disgust and or are apparently non-sensical.

Students of Sanskrit are usually exposed to fundamental concepts in the darshana-s and other allied/associated literature. Being taught by traditional teachers who insist on the relevance of only the popularly accepted darshanas, this author was often motivated by the teachers to pursue independent studies in the field of darshana-s with a repeated fair warning that there were some subjects of study that were “out of bounds” and are “misleading” to the uninitiated amateur. With “uninitated” “amateur”-ish zeal, whatever subject this author decided to explore, be it vedānta, āyurveda, nāṭya, yoga, or vāstu, he ended up at that one topic that was “off bounds” – TANTRA! Thus, had begun the author’s serendipitous journey up the convoluting spiral staircase that is tantra.

It was precisely during this quest to capture and understand that elusive subject called tantra when an historically important international conference on śāktatantra was organized by and in Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic Studies in Madhya Pradesh in December 2018. Dozens of research scholars and/or practitioners of the śrīvidyā  tradition communed together near Sanchi, the divine place where emperor Ashoka had helped construct one of the most ancient relics of ancient bhārata and a symbol of motivation for modern day India. Amongst the dozens of lectures delivered with much fervor during the three days of the conference, a few captured the author’s attention. Here is a simple report/note on the same in the conference, which was attended by this author thanks to the generous grant awarded by IndicToday.

The conference was begun on a strong note by Dr. Yajneshwar Shastry, the then VC of Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic Studies. His introductory address gave an overall bird’s eyeview of śāktatantra. śākta tantra has always been ignored by mainstream research academia. śāktatantra may be classified into kaula (“as is” i.e. verbatim interpretation), samaya (the allegorical interpretation or acceptable-by-mainstream interpretation) and miśra (the mixed interpretation). The samaya tradition was the one supported and well promoted by Ādi śaṃkarācārya. While śrīvidyā refers to the philosophy, the sādhanā  involved deals with the propitiation of the Goddess śrīlalitā, also known as śrīvidyā . pañcadaśī – the one (made) of the fifteen (parts) – is the mantra which refers to the subtle body of the Goddess in the form of the mantra where each of the three sets of five parts refer to the vāgbhavakūṭa (part of the body above the shoulder), madhyakūṭa/kāmarājakūṭa (the torso), and śaktikūṭa (lower part of the body) respectively. The mantra used for the upāsanā is known as the mantrarājā, the royal mantra, which has no equivalent mantra elsewhere. pañcāśatvarūpiṇī, a name of the Goddess, refers to the fact that the aforementioned mantra is the mother of all other mantras. It is believed that a sincere individual, one with a pure heart like that of shiva, initiated into the śrīvidyā -upāsanā mantra can be sure that this very life during which he was initiated would be his last janma. The Divine Mother, as confirmed by viṣṇu  in His hayagrīva form to ṛṣi  agastya, gives all to those who surrender themselves completely to Her. There is a step-by-step cascade that is initiated in the process of upāsanā. First, the mantra invokes the devatā, who is worshipped as the śrīcakra. The śrīcakra becomes the upāsaka in due course and the upāsaka  comes to recognize that (s)he is the brahmāṇḍa, the entire Cosmos.

Dr. Siddheshwar Bhatt, Chairman of the ICPR, added some finishing details to the previous talk in a seamless transition. There is a well known statement[ii]“Not even a fool engages (in any activity) without (the promise/hope/possibility of attaining) any benefit.” [iii] That is why we see the Goddess as a benevolent Mother. She is Power incarnate. We need empowerment from the Goddess. mātṛśakti  is the highest power on Earth. That is why we celebrate the navarātri festival. bhārata is the land that respects the Mother Goddess. We see the important statement made by manu himself – “the gods roam where the Feminine are venerated.”[iv] The Goddess is the brahman of vedānta. It is the Goddess Herself who as the Ultimate brahman assumes the forms of the Trinity – brahmā, viṣṇu , and śiva – and reigns over the workings of the Universe.[v] The Goddess in Divine union with her śiva is the sole reason for the Universe to exist and function. [vi] The Power of this Goddess is infinite and can be heard from several sources. [vii] Her śakti (tirodhāna) on movement (spandana) leads to the systematic process of creation (utpatti), sustenance (sthiti), destruction (saṃhāra), and finally the state of her benevolence called anugraha. The Power of the Mother Goddess is symbolized with kāmadhenu, the Divine wish-fulfilling cow, who is known for her benevolence and beatitude.

The worshipping of śakti in both her forms, benevolent and fierce, are equally important. In Her benevolent forms, such as lalitā, tripurasundarī, and gaurī, She protects the honourable, while in Her fierce forms, such as caṇḍī and durgā, She destroys the malevolent. [viii] Both modes of worshipping are again classified into kaula and samaya.  The kaula form was popularly practiced in Kashmir, took the interpretation of the pañcamakāra-s (madya – wine, matsya – fish, māmsa  – meat, mudra – parched grain, and maithuna – sexual intercourse) quite literally, and was known as the vāmācāra – the left-handed path. The samaya form was practiced in other regions of bhārata, took an allegorical interpretation of the pañcamakāra-s (madya – amṛta, matsya – iḍā and piṅgala nāḍi -s, māmsa  – control of speech, mudra – satsaṅga i.e. spiritual companionship, and maithuna – tracing the kuṇḍalini), and was known as the dakṣiṇācāra – the right-handed path. Interestingly, Abhinava Gupta, the savant well known for his work on Kashmira Shaivism and poetics among others, was a practitioner of a symbiotic form of kaula and śrīvidyā. It is important to understand that śrīvidyā , one of the daśamahāvidyā -s (ten great vidyā-s), is both the upāya (means) and upeya (end) of the upāsanā. Hence, the upāsaka can be confident on the path of śrīvidyā .

The Individual and Cosmic Reality, both, have nine cakra-s. [ix] The unity of the microcosm and the Macrocosm occurs in 3 graded stages/levels which are known as the tripura (three cities) which may be represented as the pramātā (seeker of Knowledge), praṃāṇa (means to Knowledge), and prameya (Knowledge) as elaborated beautifully by Abhinava Gupta; or jāgṛt (state of wakefulness), svapna (state of dreams), and suṣupti (state of deep sleep) as spoken of by the advaitin-s. The gradation of these three stages are caused by spatiotemporal limitations. The sādhaka finally attains the Ultimate Reality, that is the bindu at the centre of the śrīcakra, where Mother śakti lies.

As soon as Dr. Bhat finished with a final passing comment on the bindu at the centre of the śrīcakra, this author was intrigued at the pattern formed by the śrīcakra itself. As though in response, Dr. Ramamurthy, from Chennai, shared an interesting presentation on how to draw the śrīcakra mathematically. The śrīcakra is an architectural marvel and hence, is difficult to draw precisely. There are two well known documented and published methods of mathematically constructing the śrīcakra. While the aruṇopaniṣad and the bhāvanopaniṣad are good references for understanding the fundamentals of the śrīcakra, lakṣmīdhara’s commentary on the saundaryalaharī speaks of two methods of construction of the śrīcakra. While one method is an inside-out method, the other is the outside-in method. In the first method, one starts from the bindu and constructs the outer geometrical shapes progressively from inside to outside, the second method does it vice versa. Usually physically constructed on a sheet of paper/metal, on the floor or on a raised platform, there is a need to test the accuracy of the construction using advanced tools and techniques. The speaker precisely constructed a śrīcakra in both methods on the CAD software and found that the first method had an error of 1.02 mm and the second 11.079 mm. The need to understand the error in this context is because a cakra is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional meru and that each cakra, dedicated to its own unique deity, has very specific vibrations around it. This is why beneath every mūrti in the garbhagṛha of any Alaya, there is a specific cakra established during construction.

While the concept of a temple being constructed with tantra as a core philosophy seemed exciting to this author, noted dancer Dr. Padmaja Suresh added more to explain the esoteric significance of nāṭya, dance, with relevance to tantra.

bhārata, in his nāṭyashāstra, calls nāṭya the fifth veda and that it is open to all without barriers. bhārata  belonged to the trikashaivamata. Abhinava Gupta, considered the best commentator on the nāṭyashāstra, was a tāntrikayogī himself. From karaṇas to mudras, nāṭya is a performer’s communion with the Cosmos. Though mudra-s are common in both nāṭya and tantra, mudras are a secret in tantra while they are public in nāṭya.

The śrīcakra and naṭarāja are both crucial to nāṭya. The śrīcakra, a mystical geometrical figure, contains triangles which represent the Union of śiva and śakti and a central dot (bindu) representing singularity. śiva, the nāda, and śakti, the Energy come together to create life. Their dance represents sat-cit- ānanda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss).

tantra is based on the principle from vedānta that all that we experience is a manifestation of Divine Energy. śiva’s and śakti’s word is spread throughout the world through the many tantra texts that are in the form of dialogues between the Divine couple. tantra, which focuses on awakening the kuṇḍalinī, seeks to apply actions that can imbibe the Macrocosmic Energy within the human microcosm.

The human body is a wonderful instrument meant for spiritual enhancement. It is a yantra, an instrument, which needs to be paid attention to for wellbeing in order to attain the Ultimate goal. nāṭya and tantra have a lot in common. nāṭya uses the body along with various costumes, ornaments and accessories unlike yantra-s in tantra. Devotional songs and chants are rendered in nāṭya unlike japa-s, homa-s, and mantra-s in tantra. But both achieve the objective only with proper sādhanā . Both require the strong bonds between the guru and śiṣya. Both are meant for attaining the Divine Silence and Joy. This is evident from the solkaṭṭu (the bol-s used for hindusthāni music) used in nāṭya and percussion music. The statement “tad-hi tvaṃ nam”, meaning “That verily thou (art) (and hence,) bow (to thine Self)”, became ta-dhi-tom-nam.

In a dance recital, later demonstrated by the speaker along with her students, Dr. Padmaja showed how some dance steps were meant for the propitiation of a temple (with a central meru) during circumambulation (pradakṣiṇa).

Any audience of the above few presentations would be fascinated and curious to understand how then was the Goddess represented with all these philosophies and cultural practices constructed around the Deity. Dr. Chudamani Nandagopal aptly clarified by presenting on the portrayal of lalitā in śaktinidhi, the first volume of the śrītattvanidhi, a voluminous encyclopedic work commissioned by Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, a Maharaja of Mysore in the nineteenth century. Though encyclopedias existed in the form of śivatattvaratnākara and mānasollāsa, the śrītattvanidhi is different. The original text, still preserved well, has large sheets of special paper with large meticulously handmade paintings depicting various aspects of art and culture of the times along with short descriptions in beautiful Kannada calligraphy.

In the first step towards understanding that “taboo” word – tantra, this author was led to an event centered on śāktatantra and suddenly the horizon of his knowledge was widened exponentially in a matter of three days. The enormously helpful conference was a thorough immersive experience where the topics covered included introduction to the theoretical foundations of worshipping the Mother Goddess; the associated texts authored by countless ancestors of bhārata throughout the last millennium; the contemporary cultural and anthropological significance of śāktatantra; and the linguistic, grammatical, and hermeneutic details involved in interpretation of śāktatantra  literature. As most of the lectures attended by this author were not completely understood owing to his limited exposure to the central theme of the conference, much is left unsaid and uncovered in this report. While the author went with one question – what is śāktatantra? – to the conference, he is left with far more puzzling questions that only time and deeper research may concretely answer to completion.

This author understands that this is not merely the end of his journey in tantra, but only a humble beginning. Amongst the overwhelming statements made by the speakers at the conference, one statement by Dr. Siddheshwar Bhatt resonated with him deeply –

He who acts (i.e. an executor) is a scholar (and not a mere holder of knowledge).

यः क्रियावान् स पण्डितः |

[i] All transliterations in IAST are deliberately not set to common English punctuation conventions

[ii] Translation of statements in Sanskrit presented in the article are by the author

[iii] प्रयोजनमनुद्दिश्य मन्दोSपि न प्रवर्तते |

[iv] यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता: |

[v] एको देव: त्रयो मूर्त्तयः |

[vi] Interpretation by speaker based on शिवश्शक्त्यायुक्तः यदि भवति शक्तः प्रभवितुम् |

[vii] परा अस्य (sic) (अस्याः ?) शक्तिः विविधा श्रूयते |

[viii] परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् |

[ix] नवचक्रयोगे देहः

Editor’s Note: This experiential essay is a result of the travel grant offered to the author for the Conference on Shakta Tantras held at Sanchi University by Indic Academy. 

Music and Artificial Intelligence – Workshop on Computational Music

Can music be coded? Can computer create music? Can you train a computer to create music?

Rishihood University in collaboration with Indic Academy brings a workshop on Computational Music by Vinod Vidwans on 23rd & 24th February, Gurgaon. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, whether a musician or a technocrat, this is an intriguing workshop on artificial intelligence and music to find the answers.

Prof. Vinod Vidwans has a PhD from IIT Bombay on Creativity as Design Intelligence. He is a multifaceted person commanding skills in fine arts such as Painting, Calligraphy, Hindustani Music, Graphic Design, User Interface Design, New Media design etc. on the one hand and skills in computer coding particularly in the areas of language technologies, web development, Artificial Intelligence etc. on the other. He is passionate about the theoretical knowledge embedded in ancient Indian Shastras such as VyaakaraNa, Yoga, Alankaarashaastra, sangeetashaastra, naaTyashaastra etc. along with practical aspects of them.

Combining all these skills and knowledge, he did experiments in imparting creativity to machine, i.e., computer.

About the Workshop

Prof. Vidwans created an AI creative expert system which makes a computer perform classical Indian concert on its own, like a creative human musician does. He created the system using the description and analysis of classical Indian music in the ancient treatises such as Naradiya Shiksha, Natya Shastra of Bharata, and Sangeet Ratnakar of Sharanga Deva. By doing this, he proved that these shastras have computationally significant and exhaustive description and analysis of music.

Through this workshop, he would like to pass on this understanding of him about the computational aspects of sangeetashastra i.e., the traditional musicology of Indian classical music to musicians and musicologists and students, researchers and professionals of computer science including the area of Artificial Intelligence.

Musicians and musicologists of Indian classical music shall be introduced to the necessary fundamentals of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. IT professionals, students, researchers and professionals of computer science shall be introduced to the necessary fundamentals of sangeetashastra, i.e., traditional musicology of Indian classical music. Both shall be introduced to modelling Sangeeta shaastra for AI and in creating a musician computer in this workshop.

The Workshop is for:

  • Musicologists, music researchers, students of music and performing arts
  • Engineers, technocrats, IT professionals, and scientists/mathematicians interested in Indic themes
  • Computer scientists with expertise in modeling
  • Performing artists with interest in theoretical knowledge
  • Scholars in Indic studies with interest in media, communication and aesthetics
  • Inter-disciplinary experts in diverse areas interested in Indian music and recent developments in computer science

Note: Participants need to bring their own laptops. Systems will need Windows 7 or higher system on the computers/ laptops. Participants do not need any prior specific technical or software skills.

Workshop Schedule

Day I – 23rd February

Session 1: Demonstration of the Indian Classical Musician Computer or AI Creative Expert System for Indian Classical Music

Tea break

Session 2: Indian Music- A theoretical overview and significance of Naradiya Shiksha, Bharata’s Natyashastra and Sangita Ratnakara of Sharangadeva, in generating Indian music.Sutra system and knowledge encoding strategies of the above-mentioned treatises. Demonstrating Grama, Moorchchhanas, Jati and Raga System and their classification systems using computers in contextualizing Indian music.

Session 3: What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? Paradigms in AI, Rule-Based AI, Contemporary Applications of AI in Music. Artificial Musical Instruments- Tanapura, Flute, Guitar, Tabala, String Instruments and other technological advances

Lunch break

Session 4: Practical exercises- explorations into artificial musical instruments, understanding their structure – participants will be introduced to fundamental concepts of sound generation with hands-on exercises in a step-by-step manner.

Tea Break

Session 5: Practical exercises continued. Participants will make a presentation of their output.


Day II – 24th February

Session 1: Breaking Indian Classical Music into its computable elements : svara, s’ruti- quantification into numbers: frequencies. Indian Swaras and 22 Shrutis on computers based on Indian theoretical concepts. Raaga, aarohaNa, avarohaNa,: telling the computer about these features. Characteristics of Vadi, Samvadi, Graha, Amsha, Nyasa, Apanyasa, etc. and their significance in Raga presentation and Demonstrating – Varna, Alamkara, Gamaka etc. using computers.

Tea Break

Session 2: Music Generation Process- Understanding hierarchies and various levels of computational music generations process. Discussion on Artificial Intelligence strategies for generating Indian music.

Session 3: Generating musical composition- Analyzing the structure of a musical composition. Understanding the grammar of music making from computational point of view.


Session 4: Practical-preparatory assignments to participants for generating music.

Tea Break

Session 5: Practical- assignments to participants for generating new musical composition.

Session 6: Presentations by participants

Course Details

Fees/Scholarships: The fee is Rs 7,000. It is inclusive of lunch and high teas. Students and researchers can apply for scholarships. The scholarship is granted on merit-cum-means basis. We have limited scholarships so you are encouraged to apply early.

Accommodation for outstation participants: The participants requiring accommodation can book their stay at the workshop venue (Bestwestern Skycity Hotel, Gurgaon) and multiple options located nearby, or contact us at for a bulk booking rate.

The participants will receive a certificate after completing the workshop.