In an informal jam recording of the song – Pundalik Varde, the members of the Abhanga Repost band can be seen
sitting in a tiny room in t-shirts and shorts, reciting the names of all the
sants of the Varkari Sampradaya. Not the
lyrics one would expect from geeky youth – the names of the gurus of the bhakti
movement associated with the Varkaris including Jnanesvar, Namdev, Chokhamela,
Eknath, Tukaram and Gadge Maharaj.
Abhanga Repost is a folk fusion band which performs Abhangas written by these
composers who worshipped Vittala (or Vithoba) in Maharashtra. But they have
given these age-old compositions a modern twist.
Guitarist and vocalist Ajay Vavhal, harmonium player Piyush Aacharya,
bass guitarist Swapnil Tarphe, tabla player and multi-percussionist Viraj
Aacharya and drummer Dushyant Deorukhkar have come together to create a buzz
around the Abhanga.
Historically, the Abhanga has
influenced many musical traditions in India. The Sangeetha Ratnakara of
Sarangadeva, one of the most important musical texts of India, was from
Devgiri, which is in present-day Aurangabad. Both Hindustani and Carnatic
traditions consider this to be a definitive text on music.
One expert on Abhangas told this
author that while the first example of a scientifically composed South-Indian krithi
was Jayadeva’s Ashtapadis, it happened at the same time as the Marathi Abhangas
during Sant Gyaneshwar’s period. Marathi Abhangas have the same structure as
krithis — eight lines and then the writers’ name at the end. Ashtapadis are sung in different
locations in different manners. And the dhruvapada,
which is the most important part in a composition is still sung in a chorus
only in Marathi abhangas today.
He adds that the Varkari Sampradaya
(those who walk by foot every year to Pandharpur on Ashada and Karthika
Ekadashi) laid a lot of stress on community development and music in the
community had to come through the participative element, irrespective of
The dhruvapada is structured in such a way that the pitch is common to
male or female voices. This unique feature of the Marathi abhanga is not to be
found anywhere else in the world. It uses pakhawaj
(percussion instrument) as an accompaniment which has a lot of base frequency.
It also uses a very different tala structure of high frequency. Anyone
listening is touched as it traverses the entire range of frequency of human
All the members of the Abhanga Repost band have a good sense of Indian
classical music as they have performed with different classical/fusion
bands/artistes. “We have been listing to Indian classical music since our
school days and we also try to incorporate classical music in our compositions
of Abhanga,” says Swapnil.
Tabla player Viraj is undergoing training under Pandit Ramdas Palsule
and his brother and harmonium player Piyush has been trained by Pandit Ajay
Jogalekar. He is also undergoing vocal training from Vidushi Nandini Bedekar.
The band members also try to attend different classical baithaks to experience
the nuances of Indian classical music.
The band was started in 2016 by Swapnil and Dushyant whose families are
from the Varkari Sampradaya and so were familiar with these Abhangas. College
mates, their mutual love for music and a sense of community brought them
together. The lyrics of the Abhangas, deeply allegorical, appealed to the two
youngsters. “Each Abhanga has message for a society. It is so commendable that
whatever these saints wrote hundreds of year ago, is still applicable in the
21st century, be it be a call for revolution by Tularam, Bhakti worship by
Dnyaneshwar or social awareness by Eknath.”
Abhangs are typically very high energy renditions, where the devotees
dance, play the dholak and cymbals and everyone joins in the chorus. “In the
traditional renderings many Indian instruments were used as accompaniments
while presenting the songs. So we too decided to retain its originality by
using the tabla and harmonium (which are a must in an Abhanga rendition.) The
guitar imitates ‘iktari’ and drums and the bass guitar plays the role of the Pakhwaj
and Dhol and this is how we ‘Repost’ it!” says Swapnil.
He adds, “Our performance is nothing but a modern ‘Kirtan’. We also
dress traditionally while performing to keep that folk feel intact. We don’t
wear the clothes which the varkaria wear but yes we make sure our clothes don’t
look out of place.”
The band spends a lot of time on research on every Abhanga they render
before tuning it, to maintain integrity with the original as well as to retain
the meaning. They say while they themselves like all Abhangas, ‘Lahanpan dega deva’ and ‘Amhi bi-Ghadalo’ by Sant Tukaram are immensely
popular amongst listeners.
Lyrics of ‘Lahanpan dega deva’
lahan pan dega deva | mungi sakhrecha rawa ||
ratan thor |tyasi ankushcha mar||
jaya angi mothepan |taya yatana kathin ||
tuka mahne barve| jan whave lahahuni lahan||
mahapure zade jati| tehte lavhael wachati||
The lyrics refer to Sant Tukaram beseeching the Lord to give him
back his childhood because it is the only time when man is without Ahamkara or
The band members say for them Bhakti, revolution, art and music are the
same. “One has to practice dedicatedly to achieve these things. We can say
these are different roads leading to one destination that is divinity or inner
Their novel approach has brought new audiences to Indian music. “We have
received messages from many people who are non-Maharashtrians telling us they
were touched by the beauty of the Abhangas. We have also been successful in
taking this literature to youngsters who identify with a young band like us.”
The Abhanga has travelled far from its early underpinnings. Sant Namdev
has written poetry in Punjabi and his work feature in the Guru Granth Sahib. It
is also commonly believed that Abhangas influenced Carnatic
music, more specifically the Dakshina Bhajana sampradaya first started by
Maruthanallur Swamigal. This in turn influenced the Trinity when Thanjavur was
under Marathi rule. “So basically the concept is not confined to
Maharashtra. We haven’t yet played in the southern part of India but we would
love to perform there and spread the wisdom of these beautiful poems,” says
India Foundation’s Center
for Soft Power hosted a collaborative discussion on the theme “From Soft Power
influence to Economic & Political gains: India’s engagement with Brazil and
the South American region”. The main speakers of the event were Mr. Shobhan
Saxena, President of Indian Association of Brazil & Co-Founder, Bloco
Bollywood and Ms. Florencia Costa, Journalist & Cultural Curator,
Co-Founder, Bloco Bollywood. The round table was attended by numerous esteemed
Speaking on the topic Mr.
Saxena said “Bloco Bollywood is the most important Indian street carnival. It
is a great hit among the locals. It uplifts India’s image in Brazil.” He also
said “Through the carnival many sterotyped Information and Knowledge about
India is removed.”
Ms. Costa explained how
Yoga, Meditation, Indian Cuisine and Ayurveda as India’s great Soft Power
Ambassadors in Brazil. She explained about the Mahatma Gandhi Carnival in the
city of Salvador and how the peace principles of Mahatma influence the people
Both Mr. Saxena and Ms.
Costa said “Culture Connects Countries.” The event ended with a discussion
among the speakers and the guests.
Ayurveda is becoming more and more
popular in the USA, so much so that large companies like Unilever and Pepsi
reached out to me to consult them on Ayurveda in relation to food – Divya Alter
Alter grew up in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. She says her conscious relationship with
food began when she was 18; while interning at the kitchen of an underground
yoga ashram. She has been a vegetarian and a cook since then (27+ years). She
says for her food is more than a means of sustenance, it is a friend that has
“transformed and uplifted me on levels way beyond the physical.”
chef/author of “What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen”
cookbook, Divya runs her kitchen ‘Divya’s Kitchen’ in New York City serving
How did you get your name and identity from Vrindavan? What
fascinated you about Hinduism?
I am an initiated practitioner in
the Gaudiya –Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, and my Guru Maharaja, Krishna
Kshetra Swami, gave me the spiritual name Divyambara Dasi. Divya is a shortcut
of that, my nickname.
I studied in Vrindavan, at the
Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education, on and off for about 5 years.
Vrindavan Dhama is my favorite place on earth because it is saturated with the
deep spiritual sweetness of bhakti.
I was attracted to bhakti-yoga
because of the purity of the practice. Reading Sanskrit texts such as the
Bhagavad-Gita and the Bhagavata Purana made a lot of sense to me (and it still
Where did you learn Ayurveda and from whom. Ayurveda has
many strict rules about cooking and diet. Was it easy to make the shift from
your earlier diet and way of life?
I first encountered Ayurvedic
doctors and treatments while I lived in India. Dr. Partap Gupta treated me in
Vrindavan and inspired me to begin my studies in Ayurveda. It just made so much
sense to me. My main teacher is Vaidya Ramakant Mishra of the Shaka Vansiya
Ayurveda lineage. He truly transformed my health and my life. I’ve completed his
Pulse and Marma training as well as many other classes, including cooking
I was already following some of the
Ayurvedic dietary and lifestyle recommendations with bhakti-yoga; bhakti is a
very sattvic practice. Adapting to even more Ayurvedic principles took some
adjustment but it was not that difficult because I was committed to do
everything in order to cure my autoimmune disorder.
In terms of lifestyle, it is still a
bit hard for me to go to bed before 10 pm because I run a restaurant in
Manhattan that closes at 10 pm. But I’m working towards it.
Please could you tell me something more about your
restaurants, who are the clients who come back again and again, what do they
like the most there?
My husband Prentiss and I started Divya’s
Kitchen at the end of October 2016. It was the expansion of the culinary
education (www.bvtlife.com) and Ayurvedic meal subscription service we’ve been doing
in New York for 10 years. It is a vegetarian-vegan restaurant, and the menu
incorporates the Ayurvedic principles of food compatibility and digestion.
Our clients are very nice people,
from a wide range of backgrounds. We also attract a lot of yoga/Ayurveda
practitioners, health conscious folks, people with special dietary needs, and
more. Many of our regular clients consider Divya’s Kitchen a
home-away-from-home because we serve fresh, delicious home-style food and also
the ambiance is relaxing, home like. I think our regular guests appreciate not
just the quality of our food but also the friendly service and calming
Is it difficult to source Ayurvedic herbs and ingredients in
the US? Are people aware of Ayurveda as a medical practice?
I can easily find almost all
specialty herbs and ingredients that we use at our restaurant and cooking
classes—that’s one of the perks of living in New York City! Ayurveda is
becoming more and more popular in the USA, so much so that large companies like
Unilever and Pepsi reached out to me to consult them on Ayurveda in relation to
food. The interest and appreciation of Ayurveda is only growing.
A lot of people in the West are moving towards
Vegetarianism. Do you think Ayurveda can sensitise us to the environment and
the change that needs to happen for people to be more environmentally
Yes, definitely. At the core of
Ayurveda lies respect for all life and living in harmony with nature. Ayurveda
regards the environment we live in as one of the pillars of health (along with
diet and routine). The way we treat or mistreat Mother Earth has a direct
impact on our health. By applying the universal principles of Ayurveda in our
local environments, we can definitely contribute to the betterment of our life
on earth and inspire others to do so.
Which is your favourite Indian dish. Where and from whom did
you learn it from?
I like a lot of Indian dishes, but
perhaps the one I eat the most is khichari. Of course, there are as many cooks
as many khicharis! The way I prepare it is very nourishing and balancing. It is
the healthiest comfort food!
Have you personally experienced the benefits of Ayurveda in
terms of healing and well-being.
Yes, of course. This is what got me
into Ayurveda in the first place. Over the years, Ayurveda has come to help me
with different health struggles. In India, it helped me with a severe digestive
disorder, jaundice, and other ailments. In the USA, it helped me cure an
autoimmune disorder, chronic fatigue, and more. I believe in having a healing team—for
dealing with health issues, we need to work with specialists in different
medical and holistic fields, to approach the issues on all levels. I always
make sure to have an Ayurvedic doctor on my healing team.
Hiten Mistry is a young, dynamic,dedicated Bharatanatyam performer/teacher and dancer-therapist who lives in Leicester situated in the East Midlands region of UK. He has a BSc Honours in Mass Communications and Sociology. Presently he is studying Masters degree in performance practices from the De Montfort University Leicester.
What is most special about this highly motivated and talented artist is that he works as a Movement Facilitator in Health settings, and at National Health service (NHS) Leicester, using Bharatanatyam exclusively as the medium for improving the health of patients with mental health and cardiovascular disorders.
Hiten Mistry runs a dance company called Bharatanatyam Leicester, and teaches many students both at Leicester and Birmingham.
Here is CSP’s ineterview with Hiten Mistry :
How little were you when you began lessons in Bharatanatyam?
I was 8 years old when I began learning Bharatanatyam, I had watched my very first teacher perform Alarippu at my Gujarati school’s Diwali Program and I was instantly attracted to the form, the music, aharya (costume)and energy and felt so drawn to it that I really wanted to start learning. You can say it was a twin flame connection.
Who are your Natya Acharyas,what traits do you admire in them?
Smita Vadnerkar (Nupur Arts Dance Academy, Leicester U.K) – Extremely hardworking, a diligent teacher who gave a solid foundation in Bharatanatyam. She taught me that nothing is impossible if you apply yourself with total dedication and hard work.She really instills this courage, conviction, and passion for dance in me for which I am so very grateful.
Pushkala Gopal (Samskriti,UK) – Everything about her work on Bharatanatyam has inspired me. I admire her musicality, her Abhinaya and openminded approach to teaching facial expressions, her choreography is has such amazing ideas, and her mathematical rhythmic calculations are incredible!
The Dhananjayans ( Bharata Kalanjali, Chennai, India) – I absolutely adore the internationally renowned couple’s style for their clarity, strong nritta (footwork), emotive Bhava and their unique creative presentation-right from costuming to stage. Master and Shanta Akka are my Bharatanatyam Parents. I can watch them for hours and hours. I am fortunate to be a small part of their magnificent international legacy!
What makes a good performer and good teacher? Can both go hand in hand?
In my opinion, a good performer is one who has a solid grounding in all the elements of Bharatanatyam. A fine proficiency in both Nritta ( pure dance) and Abhinaya(facial expressions), one not overpowering the other but complementing each ability makes a good one on stage. It is a tight rope walk to maintain both. A good performer is one who is able to forget the ego of themselves and transcend the body into molding themselves in the characters, emotions, and narratives being portrayed in the dance they present.
Being a good teacher requires so many other qualities beyond the skills of being a good performer. For me it is down to the personality of the Artist, are they able to be a good host to their students? Keep them motivated? Inspired? On their Toes? Keep them challenged whilst bringing in lightness to the intensity that can often be associated with the training. BesidesCommunication and PATIENCE are so important!
I would say only few performers are able to be good teachers.
Which part of the UK have you performed and where else ?
I have performed all over the UK Nationally as a student and professional dancer, in community settings, and on the mainstream theatre venues.
My first experience of performing was exhilarating!It was a huge production based on planets and solar systems called Vyom by CICD,UK in Leicester at the Phoenix Theatre. I loved the ambience of theatre, the excitement of the rehearsals, meeting dance friends, giggling, laughing and enjoying being on stage for the first time in front of public, wearing glittery make up and a new costume, all added to the excitement for me.
I have also performed in France, Italy, Egypt, India.
When did Bharatanatyam spread in UK?
As many Indian Bharatanatyam artists migrated to Britain along came with them their dance form. In the early days it was the famous dancer Ram Gopal who brought Bharatanatyam and other Indian Dance forms to the major theatre stages around the UK and globally. He was for a long time the toast of Europe for the beauty and authenticity in brought in his dances, interweaving his skilled training in Kathakali, Bharatnatyam, and Manipuri forms. He introduced Britain to the marvelousness of Indian classical dance and performance. Ram Gopal was appointed OBE in 1999!
I was involved in a project called Incarnations – Choreographed by Shane Shambhu for the V&A Museum in London’s exhibition opening of Ram Gopal and his costumes, with the History of Indian Dance in the UK.
What Bharatanatyam topics interest the youngsters in UK ?
Bharatanatyam being such a comprehensive art form can really interest youngsters as an entire art but in particular, the dynamic Nritta (footwork) and Natya (dance drama )elements embodying a story and using Mudras ( gestures) appeal to them. Rhythm and Music are concepts that can help in the study of Mathematics and would attract students.
How can Bharatanatyam be made more popular than Bollywood?
Bharatanatyam needs to be made more accessible, exploring different types of presentation style, the use of English voiceover or more orchestration in music rather be very sahityam (lyrics)heavy.Melodramatic Abhinaya ( facial expressions) can completely go over the heads of British audiences!
Bollywood is popular as it is catchy, fun and easy to do, people aspire to be like their favourite actors or actresses and want to dance like them. Maybe we need more Bharatanatyam superstars to raise the platform for our art, create innovative platforms to bring mass appeal; but there is a fear of diluting the essence of the form in doing so.
My belief is that to experience essence, aesthetics and rigour, BN and it’s inherent spiritual, intellectual, emotional and transcendent qualities will always exist, people will seek to experience this and our art form will live on for centuries to come!
How has dance made you reach out to natives in UK ?
My work is predominantly in Bharatanatyam, whether I am dancing in health settings (Hospitals, Day centres, Care homes) or teaching in my dance company or conducting a workshop, or performing in a stage , it is Bharatanatyam everywhere.
British audiences love the storytelling and challenging nritta (footwork). In my work with the National Health Service, people are beginning to see the Holistic and Therapeutic benefits of Indian Dance. I regularly engage with these patients in hospital wards, care homes and day centres.
One of my many dreams is to conduct in depth research into the area of using Bharatanatyam in a creative capacity as an holistic therapeutic approach to improving health and well being of people.
How do they feel after your therapeutic sessions ?
Those who engage in this work really see the benefits of Bharatanatyam beyond its visual magnificence as a performing art. I make them try footwork, and hand gesture movements. This definitely helps to increase levels of their activities, motor movements. They feel infused with a new sense of hope that helps them heal and I feel so blessed to care for their well being.
What are your challenges and rewards?
I would say my biggest challenge are the gatekeepers in the fraternity, financial support for my work, access to opportunites that are few and far in between, and people in your own sector who sabotage you . All these threaten and jeopardise the development of the dance.
My biggest reward is seeing the joy, relief and the positive effects my work has on the people, my students who I teach on a regular weekly basis, and the dance therapy I do at the NHS. I have had people in bounteous joys and moved to tears in my performances. These moments reinforces my resolve to work, create and reach out more.
Where do you like to perform in India ?
I would like to perform all over India but as a Bharatanatyam dancer getting approval of your artistry is paramount in Chennai! I would very much wish the support of Govt of India for the various art projects I have in mind.
What are your artistic goals?
In a nutshell, my goals are to serve my art form to the best I can in my capacity, create a home for my dance work and to able to make British people and the society see how dance movements can make a great positive difference in their lives. I wish to tour throughout the country and abroad with my productions, along with my community of dancers. I desire to raise the global profile of Bharatanatyam.
How long would you like to be dancing?
I Dance therefore I AM. It is more than my identity, something I cannot describe. Bharatanatyam is my happy place, my companion. It is the truth of my existence. I am definitely one of Lord Nataraja’s chosen ones to serve this great art. I am humbled and blessed.
CSP caught up with Fatima Al Mansoori, the internationally
renowned yoga therapist from Bahrain on how she took to yoga, her keenness to
study yoga in India and the ways in which she is influencing Bahrain and the
Middle East in enabling them to be self-aware:
How did you take to yoga?
In July 2006 I had a major car accident and had mild
concussion, bruises and stitches. After that there were a couple of years of
struggling with fatigue, not feeling refreshed after sleep, and widespread
pain. In 2008 I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Doctors
said that there was no cure for it. I tried to find a cure, believing there
must be a treatment that would work, but nothing worked. I finally decided to
accept this dis-ease and be at peace with it rather than try to fight it.
Acceptance was the key, and then I found myself guided to live a healthy
lifestyle, practice yoga, eat healthy, and meditate. We live in a society that
constantly teaches us to fight and never give up, but not everything can be
sorted out with resistance; some things need acceptance. There’s a difference
between giving up and surrendering to God, and only through complete surrender
do we find peace and guidance. I didn’t know much about yoga but I knew that it
was more than what was being offered at the gym halls! I was God-guided to
travel to India to learn yoga. I never expected that I could be cured. My
intention was to improve my quality of life and manage the symptoms. As I kept
practicing an authentic holistic way, I started to notice results after three
months, and I felt noticeably better in six months. Within eight months I was
back to normal and my energy levels were even better than at any time before.
What specifically pushed you to come to India to study yoga? What made
you want to teach yoga to others?
I knew that there was something more to yoga other than just
a physical practice; I wanted to learn the therapeutic approach… I was
looking for authentic knowledge so I had to seek from the origins of yoga…
After recovering I wanted to resume my career (previously a
founder and director of a graphic designing company). I was so attached!
However, when I started sharing my experience on social media many people were
inspired by my recovery and needed help and guidance, so I chose not to look
back and decided to take a new path to serve humanity. It was one of the
hardest decisions I have ever made and one of the most important lessons I needed
to learn and practice/apply in order to grow. Let go.
What specific aspects of yoga were you most drawn to? Have you been
able to relate to the spiritual aspects of yoga? Were you aware of the
spiritual side of yoga when you first began practicing?
Patanjali’s Yogasutra and Ashtanga yoga. Practising Yoga
gave me a compatible perspective on my own spiritual practice as a Muslim. Yes
and I loved the interfaith aspects of spirituality.
How would you describe the perceptions that people have about yoga in
When I first started offering sessions most locals who
joined had never heard about yoga and some who had heard about it thought it
was a Buddhist ritual, some thought it was a Hindu religion and some thought it
was what they see in western movies – acrobats and stretching or posing. Some
even thought it was a Chinese form of cultural art!! Bahrain always had groups
who knew what yoga was and practiced it since the 90s – mostly foreigners with
few Bahrainis. Gyms and sport centres have been offering yoga asana sessions
almost everywhere in Bahrain but that doesn’t help in terms of propagating the
science, it actually gives a wrong perception of what yoga is! Since I came
back from India my mission was to share the health benefits and to propagate
yoga therapy which wasn’t popular. It has come a long way since 2011. It’s
never easy to get the acceptance and recognition from the medical community but
I had my recovery experience and that attracted a lot of medical doctors to pay
attention; they even started referring patients. Soon I was asked to offer
sessions in government and private hospitals and medical centres. It’s all
about integrating a scientific approach and using the right terminology and
continuing regardless of disappointments and shut doors. It’s also about
learning the gaps and where to fit. Soon it spread like wild fire… I started
getting invitations to deliver sessions at schools, community societies,
institutes and universities, cultural centres, EVERYWHERE – to all groups and
Is yoga officially recognised by your country’s government? Do you
require an official license or certification to teach yoga in your country?
No, when I went to the National Health Regulatory Authority
to inquire with regard to applying for my accreditation as a yoga therapist so
that I can get the necessary license to practice, I was told that it is not
categorised as a therapy since it’s not invasive so no license is required and
it can be taught as a sport! Since then I have been demanding categorisation
and sharing why it is essential on local media like TV, radio and newspapers
and on my social media accounts. It was a great achievement to hear the
Minister for Health at the Yoga Day in 2016 stating that “Yoga is a medical
modality” during her opening speech at the International Yoga Day event.
You are an adjunct professor at the Human Consciousness & Yogic
Sciences department in Mangalore University. Tell us about how you got into the
role and what aspects of yoga do you teach?
I was a student at the Department of Human Consciousness and
Yogic Sciences in Mangalore University and I completed the basics of Yogic
Science Course at the department. After two years I returned to deliver case
presentations and joined the Yoga for Stress Disorders International
Conference. I kept submitting my activities and after another year, I was honoured
with the professorship due to my achievements in the field. I have been
visiting to deliver special lectures to the students. “Teaching Yoga in GCC Countries,
Compatibility and Challenges”, “Public Speaking for Yogis”, “Yoga and the
Sustainable Development Goals”, “Yoga for Humanitarian Crisis”, “Integrated
Yoga Therapy Clinical approach” – these are some of my lecture topics.
Do you think there would be a demand among university students to come
to India to study yoga at an official institution like you did?
It’s challenging to live in the hostel or ashrams. They need
to adjust to the living conditions but I think it’s part of the experience, to
eat what is given to you and to not have the luxury to select your food or
room… acceptance and adjustment, becoming flexible and adapting to different
living conditions is a very important lesson. My first night wasn’t easy, I
remember walking to the registrar’s office the next morning with a swollen eye
due to a mosquito bite, and I remember she said “Which course are you signing
up for? I’m sure it’s the shortest course and I don’t think you will finish
Can you give us a sense of the students that you cater to by teaching
My sessions are individual, by booking. For therapy purposes
I don’t believe in group sessions… It’s a clinical approach. I have designed
a therapy course for chronic conditions. A lot of doctors refer patients with
stress disorders, breathing issues, IBS, obesity, diabetes, skin issues due to
stress, sleep disorders, headache, chronic pain as well as pregnant women. Some
come for prevention and some come seeking a cure. I do not and I will never
claim to give cures but all they need is guidance and they find their own way
to recovery. I’ve seen and documented that over and over again. Doctors are
happy with the results we are achieving.
How often do you visit India? Your impressions of India?
I love visiting India; I learn something new every time! I
should visit more often (every semester to deliver lectures) but I can’t always
visit due to needing to renew the visa. It becomes a stretch because I get
invited all over the world to speak in conferences and sometimes I can’t jump
to India from another country due to visa expiration!
On average what are the demographics of your classes? Is it mainly a
local audience? Are there Indian nationals who attend? What is the average age
of attendees roughly?
Everyone is welcome; mostly locals come – both male and
female, from children to teenagers, all ages up to retirement age. Some Indians
and Saudis cross the bridge to seek the therapy sessions as well as few
Europeans and other Arab nationalities, due to appearing in the most famous
Arab talk show on TV, which attracted people of different nationalities.
Finally, tell us about the vision and mission of your entity, the
Sustainable Humanitarian Development.
Apart from the clinical sessions, many group sessions are
offered free of charge to support the community groups of special needs, blind,
sickle cell patients and lots of other groups and there is an increased demand.
I have also witnessed from my humanitarian missions that the experience is of
great benefit and we get amazing feedback for providing the sessions to
refugees. Due to the increased demand and the need to grow, in 2018
humanitarian initiatives became a priority and I established SHD (Sustainable
Humanitarian Development) Educating, Training and Consultancy, so that I could
provide services and overcome the challenges much more efficiently. There is no
sustainable funding or support to such initiatives and that is why I ultimately
decided to launch Sustainable Humanitarian Development as a registered entity
so that it can sustain itself by offering payable corporate services,
educational programs and workshops that can provide basic logistic fees for the
The vision was:
– Establishing a Not for Profit, social entrepreneurship
entity in this part of the world was a challenge to begin with, due to the lack
of understanding of social entrepreneurship. Promotion of human welfare, while
working towards advancing the wellbeing of humanity and promoting human dignity
in the middle of man-made crises or natural disasters with active participation
to alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity.
sustainable lifestyles which can have a great Impact on quality of life, health
– Integrated Health
Promotion and community wellbeing.
– Providing corporate
training programs to boost occupational health and wellbeing
– Spreading awareness of clinical yoga therapy in Bahrain
and the GCC region so that it becomes an essential supportive component in
governmental hospitals and primary care centers and gather evidence on the
effectiveness for the treatment of different ailments and to promote and
encourage research in the field.
– To introduce mindfulness and yoga in schools in Bahrain
and the region.
-To conduct educational training programs and create career
opportunities in the field.
native of Seattle, Daniel Miller is a composer, programmer, instrument builder,
and field recordist. His creative practice centers on perceiving and responding
to the vitality latent in simple processes, materials, and technologies. Recent
creative interests have included explorations of found objects, live animated
interactive scores, and feedback cycles between performers and stochastic
processes or acoustic automata. In 2013, he was a recipient of a Thomas J.
Watson Fellowship, a grant that made possible twelve months of research on
music and technology in seven countries. This article is the trail of all the
sounds he covered in four continents.
recently, Daniel was a Fulbright-Nehru research fellow based in Mysuru, India
from 2017-2018 where he collaborated with Indian musicians and sound artists at
Srishti School of Art Design and Technology and was advised by Dr. Mysore
Manjunath at the University of Mysore.
By Daniel Miller
The glass terrariums
by my bedroll were covered, but not as securely as I would have liked
considering that they contained a diverse collection of Australia’s venomous
reptiles. My host was an affable professional snake catcher with a genuine admiration
for scaly creatures of all kinds. He took in strays, both reptilian and human;
his house, a suburban pad on the outskirts of Brisbane, was a menagerie.
Besides the snakes, there were crayfish in a former swimming pool, bearded dragon
lizards in a pen in the garden, and a rotating roster of human guests who
seemed to stay anywhere from a few days to a year. Among this small community
of geeks and students, itinerant circus artist and wandering buskers, my
obsession with recording the sounds of Australian frogs doubtless seemed only
slightly out of the ordinary.
At night my host took me out into the
abandoned quarries near town, where he taught me how to spot the glint
reflected by a spider’s faceted eye, catching the glare of a flashlight beam
even from its hiding place in deep grass. It was here too that I first heard
the bizarre chorus of “barking” frogs, attempting rather
unsuccessfully to capture their distant jeering cry on my tiny Zoom H4n digital
The year 2013–14 was one of the most transformative
experiences of my life, both as a person and as a sound artist and composer.
After graduating with degrees in music composition and philosophy from Lawrence
University, a tiny college in the rural American Midwest, I had the astonishing
honor and privilege to be granted a Watson Fellowship. Established by the heirs
of the late IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, the grant funds a year of
self-directed research overseas for selected graduates of 40 of America’s
small, liberal-arts colleges, irrespective of the graduates’ countries of
origin or citizenship.
My thesis—which I ultimately pursued
in seven countries on four continents—was that sound artists, musicians, and
composers are particularly perceptive to the sounds of their immediate
environment. Whether urban or rural, classically trained or self-taught, the
practice of listening deeply to sound changes a composer’s perception of the
act of auration itself. Inevitably the sounds of one’s surroundings influence
one’s music, and this is particularly true of artists who work with
microphones, the surrogate ears through which we attempt to copy, emulate, and
even distort the object of perception.
A condenser microphone is a fortress
built to protect an almost indescribably delicate membrane. At the microphone’s
heart is a minute drumhead, like a tin-man replica of the human inner ear, just
half the thickness of cling wrap and stretched under fearsome tension. Through
this delicate skin, perhaps covered in a fine lamina of gold, a fleeting
electrical charge courses, fluctuating with the vibration of the air and
passing on the barest tickle of current to circuits that will capture and
amplify the signal.
The field recordist is an artist with
the almost foolhardy task of pitting this feather-light stylus against all the
violence of sound in its natural habitat. We go to absurd lengths to protect
the tiny metal grill from the barest breath of wind, cupping our body around
the mic, or encasing it in blimp-like fuzzy nylon “socks.” Though some
prefer the gonzo thrill of hearing even the physical body and movements of the
recordist in the recording (a reminder that no human-made record is ever free
of the particular auration of its creator), if we are to truly listen deeply we
must practice being still—very still. One becomes aware of even the tiny
creaking of the bones in the hand or the sound of one’s own breath. Recording,
and listening through a microphone, becomes a kind of contemplative practice in
Dorothea Lange—the iconic photographer
of America’s Great Depression of the 1930s—is quoted in a biography by Milton
Meltzer: to take her camera with her in the morning, she said, was like
“putting on her shoes.” Tellingly, she goes on to emphasize the
importance of the camera as a tool for learning to “see without the camera.”
Similarly, field recordists commit themselves to using the microphone as an
instrument for learning to listen, with or without its mechanical assistance.
But while a photographer has
significant leeway in how they frame a scene—deciding what objects to include and
which to cut from the frame—most microphones are less directional. What the
field recordist can hear, the microphone can generally hear with even greater
sensitivity. To listen through a microphone is not to ever hear “the”
actual sound but rather a sound which is mechanically enhanced or attenuated.
We cannot escape intervening in that record, but neither can we ever entirely
control the outcome of a recording.
I found that these competing themes of
control and intervention versus exploration and discovery reappeared in
countless ways in the work of artists I met, collaborated with, and interviewed
during my twelve months on the road. But to understand the context, both
cultural and acoustic, of the musicians I met along the way, I first had to
engage with the environments I traveled through on my own terms.
Starting my journey in Perth, Western
Australia, one of the most isolated cities on earth, I hiked part of the
Bibbulmun Track, a 1000-kilometer-long trail that snakes down the coast through
dense Jarrah forests conspicuously inhabited by flocks of wild cockatiel birds.
My soundtrack, for the first time in my life, was the creaking of my heavy
pack’s straps, the bright red, iron-rich earth underfoot scarred in places by
tumultuous subtropical rains. In a rite of passage for any young field
recordist, I clamped little copper contact microphones (a simple microphone
that records vibrations in solid surfaces rather than in the air) to metal cattle
fences along the trail, listening to the reverberant hum of metal vibrating in
the wind. Laying the contact microphones face up on anthills, I listened to the
sound of tiny desperate footfalls as the insects investigated the intrusion of
this alien copper disc. One night, in my tent, I heard, from very close by, the
growling hiss of a goanna, a giant carnivorous monitor lizard that can grow to
two meters long.
Flying to Brisbane a month later, I had
the pleasure of meeting Lawrence English, the Johnny Cash of field recording,
as dapper and distinguished in person as he is in promotional photos for
Room40, his well-respected record label. English is a keen listener with a
penchant for philosophical contemplation, and his recordings are as extraordinary
for their clarity and complexity as they are for the creativity of their
environs. A recording which I always return to is his 2011 recording of a toy
store in Tokyo (Toy Store Ueno Japan.
“And the Lived In.” Room40, 2012)—a rich tapestry of electronic
warbles like a field of cicadas at dusk, a bizarre mimesis, the synthetic
masquerading as the biological.
Another Australian field recordist who
influenced me a great deal was Martin Kay. More abstract and interventionist in
his aesthetic, Kay has largely focused on “prepared” field recording.
A typical experiment for him is to place a microphone deep within a storm drain
or culvert to record the distant crowd noise some kilometers away from a major
In prepared field recording,
“composition” becomes explicitly about composing the placement of
microphones. Microphones may be placed inside enclosed or resonant vessels, the
vessels partially submerged or subjected to wind, ice, or steam; or the
microphone may be located in a generally inaccessible place, such as on the
roof of a moving elevator. (Japanese sound artist Toshiya Tsunoda once famously
recorded birdsongs with a microphone placed in the tailpipe of his car.)
In mid-October I flew north to the Indonesian
island of Java through white-knuckle turbulence that rocked the Airbus A330 as
we passed over the sultry beaches of Darwin. The former capital of the Mataram
Sultanate, Yogyakarta, has long been a cultural hub for Javanese traditional
arts and is now at the center of a new kind of artistic revival. Many of Yogyakarta’s
young artists draw on classical Javanese arts as well as the contemporary
concerns of their community to create work that is at once fresh and culturally
aware. Two artists who exemplify this trend are Rully Shabara and Wukir
Suryadi, who together form the band Senyawa.
I first met Suryadi at his farmhouse
at a distant edge of town. With little more than a GPS coordinate and a cell
number, I walked through shaded lanes and lush farmland, past feral chickens
and children who inevitably stopped to stare at the obviously quite lost
American guy who would have had to stoop to fit through any normal-sized doorway.
Suryadi’s house at that time was
filled with traditional farming tools, all in various stages of being converted
into electronically amplified musical instruments. In pride of place was an
enormous wooden plow, which dominated his front entryway, strung with taut
wires like the rigging of some shipwrecked vessel. A backroom contained dozens
of objects in various stages of modification: bamboo rice winnowing baskets
with attached contact mics, lutes made of hoes and spades, and a bamboo spear
strung around its circumference with amplified wires.
Like Senyawa, the community arts
collective LifePatch draws on environmental and agricultural concerns of the
community, staging workshops on water quality and fermentation, and creating
works of art that electronically sonify environmental processes. Its model is
deeply interdisciplinary and idiosyncratic; its core members include artists
and musicians, a biochemist, and a farmer. I spent many evenings in their
cluttered but creative clubhouse, the smell of tobacco smoke and hot electrical
circuitry richly accenting workshops on the open-source programming platform
Pure Data. Not to be outdone by Senyawa’s heavy metal aesthetic, LifePatch
members once placed flags with embedded electronic synthesizers and speakers
near the summit of Mt. Marapi an active (and very lively) volcano. Each flag’s
motion sonified the fickle and ash laden winds on the summit. (Sadly, the
installation was perhaps destroyed in an eruption shortly thereafter.)
In the months that followed, I
wandered from country to country, savoring the changing soundscape in each new
place, always in awe of the artists I met and the generosity of the musicians
who let me sleep on their couches.
I moved on to Taiwan and Japan,
hanging out evening after evening at SuperDeluxe—Tokyo’s legendary noise-music
dive famous for hosting the likes of JapaNoise idol and art-house heartthrob
Masami Akita (aka Merzbow). Immersing
myself in Tokyo’s vibrant underground noise music scene, I heard and met
artists such as free improv collective Marginal Consort and, on one
particularly memorable evening, “Zombie Music,” a recorder-playing
pneumatic robot designed by eccentric Japanese composer Yasuno Taro. My
reluctant departure from Japan in January was briefly delayed by a historic
snowstorm that stranded me in Narita Airport for three nights, sleeping in the
airport’s public observation deck and waking each morning to the unusual sight
of deserted, peaceful runways.
I spent the spring of 2013 in
beautiful, perplexing Buenos Aires, jamming in the eclectic
folk-instrument-strewn apartment of Alejo Duek, a member of the Argentine freak
folk band La Suena de los Elefantes. His workshops (Experimentación Sonora) draw an eclectic crowd of porteños: cynical
studio guitarists, New Age spiritualists, folk musicians, and painters. The
results fall somewhere between avant-garde and freestyle meditation.
Weekends I would often spend at cheLA,
a former asbestos factory turned center for media art and technology, which
hosted, among other things, a practice space for circus performers. Here I met
the charismatic Luciano Azzigotti who runs ConDiT, an experimental music
project founded in 2011. Since its inception, ConDiT has staged more than 60
events, many with an international scope. ConDiT composers have drawn on a
pre-Columbian tradition of cooperative labor and community service known as
Minka, reinterpreting this tradition through a method of communal artistic
creation, composing a musical work collaboratively over the course of a day.
Sonic coincidences—fortuitous moments
of overheard beauty—were everywhere, from my kitchen in Tokyo, to the cold
mountains of the Atacama Desert. One day, standing on a ridge high above the
town of Tupiza, in Bolivia’s arid southwest, I recorded a school band and a
military parade echoing in simultaneous oblivious counterpoint from different
parts of the little town, fading in and out of background noise of the dry,
dusty little town at the edge of the desert. Music is where you stop to listen.
Shortly before the end of my
fellowship, my trusty hydrophone (underwater microphone)—which had served me
well recording the cacophonous creaking of ice in the glacial lagoons along
Iceland’s south coast—met its untimely end in a boiling pool of geothermal
water along Iceland’s Laugavegur trail. Yet for the brief time during which the
hydrophone was able to record, I captured the most amazing soundscape, one
which none of us will ever hear with our unaided ears: the thunderous growl of
geothermal water boiling up from deep beneath a volcano, and at one point a
long, loud wail of escaping gasses, which scared me so much (listening in
through my headphones) that I scrambled back up the trail, leaving my recording
equipment behind, expecting at any moment that the hot volcanic crust around me
would give way to a freak geyser of boiling sulfurous effluent.
In my twelve months of
wandering, the only place I struggled to find any sound at all, was deep in the
Salar de Uyuni, the salt flats that cover 11,000 square kilometers of Bolivian
highlands. Here, on salt as hard and flat as ice stretching as far as the eye
could see, not even insects relieved heavy silence. In the occasional pools of
shimmering brine, no bubbles disturbed the soft hiss of digital silence in my
headphones. American composer John Cage talked frequently of hearing his own
blood rushing in his veins when he visited an anechoic chamber at Harvard
University in 1951. It was an important moment for him, a realization that we
are perhaps never without sound (save perhaps, as Lawrence English has
suggested, in the moments just before death). I can’t say that I heard my own
blood pulsing in the Salar, but I can say that I felt very strongly the
fragility of life in that moment and the great importance of sound for most
people even in the most mundane moments of our lives.
From a sociological viewpoint,
musical traditions can be classified according to how one participates in the
music making: participatory music, in which the community collectively acts as
both the performers and the listeners; presentational styles, in which the
music is presented by a group of expert performers before a quiet receptive
audience; music disseminated primarily through audio recordings; and even works
of experimental sonic art that originate entirely in the synthesizers and other
alchemical sublimations of the recording studio.
My own experiences suggest that we
might understand a global community of musicians in a different way, defined
instead by the object of their curiosity. In particular, I am interested in the
community of artists working outside of the limelight, perhaps with little or
no formal institutional backing. Their work may seem to be an obscure hobby,
but without the pressures of sluggish institutional support, their work can
connect with communities in new and interesting ways; their music is as
influenced by their environment as they choose to let it be. They are lovers of
strange sounds, tinkerers, and inventors. They are not exclusively of any
particular musical tradition, although they draw on and thrive alongside
classical, vernacular, and contemporary traditions in many countries. They
embody the spirit of do-it-yourself/do-it-with-others, open source, acoustic
Now more than ever the acoustic
eccentric thrives, ridding a resurgent interest in presumed “authenticity.”
The cool new gadget is the collection of wires, speakers, and circuit boards
hand-soldered in a garage somewhere. The sophisticated audio software that
processes the signal from a mic can be downloaded free from freeware repository
Of course we must not overstate the
accessibility of this music or the community that nourishes it. To participate
in an international community still requires some resources. While open-source
software may be “free,” it still requires the resources of a computer
to download it, and in many cases one must have some understanding of English (or
at least a programming language) in order to use it. Though DIY hardware
hacking can produce electronic instruments of great beauty from cheap and
available parts, these components are not free, and one must have the time and
knowledge to learn to solder and assemble them. Though contact microphones can
be made or found within discarded consumer electronics, the best condenser mics
are unaffordable for many. Experimental music, regardless of its providence,
still remains most accessible to the middle class in most countries, and there
remain important questions about “experimentalism,” an ideal that has
historically been valorized alongside colonialism.
Nevertheless, the internet and the
cheap availability of digital recording equipment have somewhat democratized
sound art. Whereas in the 20th century the heartland of electronic music
experimentation was in the large government-supported sound studios of Europe
and the mainframe computer labs of America’s Ivy League universities, today
with the resurgent interest in small-scale analogue circuitry and
“maker” culture, tinkering has become the new standards for
uncompromising creativity. Perhaps this trend will help to replace the
troubling concept of a monolithic and static “authenticity” (so often
implying latent exoticism or orientalism) with a recognition that most artists
draw on complex and evolving influences within a rapidly globalizing artistic
Ghose—a New Delhi-based concert promoter and organizer of the Listening Room
concert series, which presents noise music shows in several Indian
cities—recently told The Hindu Business Line reporter Bhanuj Kappal, Indian
artists have always been experimenting with DIY sound and noise “in the
privacy of their own homes.” (Kappal, Bhanuj. ‘Signal to noise.’ The Hindu
Business Line, May 27, 2016). It is an
encouraging sign that such music is increasingly receiving press attention in
many parts of the world; shows, often organized by the artists themselves, are
finding an audience outside of the small vanguard of audiophiles who themselves
produce or perform the music.
If my experience is representative,
chances are there are artists near you who are doing something unimaginably
strange and exciting with sound. But if not, you could always do it yourself.
music has been performed in North America, Europe, and Asia. Past collaborators
include Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, ensemble mise-en, the International
Contemporary Ensemble, Ensemble l’Itinéraire, Sound Energy Trio, the NOW
Ensemble, Ensemble MotoContrario, and folk duo Undlin & Wolfe. He was a
recipient of BMI Student Composer Awards in 2016 and again in 2017. A former
student of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Daniel is a recipient of degrees
in music composition and philosophy from Lawrence University. Most recently he
completed a master degree in the Digital Musics program of Dartmouth College.
Daniel is currently a Fulbright-Nehru research fellow based in Mysuru, India,
where he is advised by Dr. Mysore Manjunath at the University of Mysore.)
“The artist is the consciousness of society… but musicians’ role is very special. It’s a way of making an example of the perfect state of being for the observer, causing, if it’s successful, the observer to forget just for a moment that there is anywhere else existing except that moment that they’re engaged in, and to eclipse everything that was happening to them before they began that process of being the observer, or being involved in/engaged between art and music and listening… and to transform that life in just an instant, so that when they go back to the routine part of living, they carry with them a little bit of something else.” — Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith
experience with pianist-composer Vijay Iyer’s music was in 2011 through his
then newly released album Tirtha, which also featured guitarist R.
Prasanna and tabla artist Nitin Mitta. Listening to Tirtha struck a
chord within me as something truly unique and revolutionary, amidst the host of
shotgun attempts at fusing elements of Indian music with the vocabulary of
jazz. As a young Indian-American
scrambling to figure out what it meant to be a professional musician in the
U.S., I was immediately hooked and wanted to hear more. As I continued
listening, I found that Vijay’s music boldly defied genre and resonated with me
in profound ways, creating continuities within my consciousness where there had
only been contradictions before. Sounds and sensibilities that I never believed
could coexist were interwoven seamlessly in his music.
Since 2011, I
have had the honor and joy of working with Vijay in various musical situations
in New York City and learning a great deal about improvisation, rhythmic
modulation and composition. Through him, I met a whole network of his
collaborators — brilliant musicians and community-oriented artists — further
illustrating to me the compassion, expansiveness, and spiritual rigor at the
core of Vijay’s music. In 2015, I joined the new cross-disciplinary doctoral
program in music at Harvard University, which Vijay initiated as part of his
new appointment there as Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the
Arts. As his PhD student, I have gotten to know the academic roots of his
artistic philosophy. Vijay continually pushes his students to reflect on the
improvisational potential of social movements and the radical magic involved in
communities coexisting through sound. Below are excerpts from a conversation I
recently had with him on March 14, 2016.
In your life,
you have cultivated a delicate balance between your performance career,
academic research, and community activism. This strikes me as an incredibly
difficult nexus to occupy, rife with contradictions and conflicts of interest.
How do you envision the dialogue among these worlds and your role as a
facilitator in that conversation?
pin the tag “activist” on me, and I am honored, but I know political activists,
and I know I’m not one of them because they work really hard, tirelessly and
thanklessly, and really put their lives on the line… I think that there’s a
certain consciousness that underlies the work I do that is in line with some
core activist principles or ideals, but for me to call myself one is a little
bit false, so I’m careful about that. All these sensibilities that you’re
talking about come from being a person of color here in the United States. In
our case, we’re what are called “non-Black people of color” (NBPOC), which
means that we have a particular and complicated vantage, because we come with a
set of privileges that often get swept under the rug when we frame ourselves in
political terms. It has become hugely important to me, especially in recent
years, to be a little bit more honest about where we stand and what “coalition”
means, for example.
In my life, it
kind of all fell together, especially the period in the 1990s when I was living
in the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area, and in graduate school at UC Berkeley. I
just fell in with all these different communities… different crowds that I
found myself running with: African American activists and also young African
American artists in the Bay Area, you know, poet-activist-artists, performers,
MCs, music makers, DJs… I connected with Steve Coleman, George Lewis, Asian
Improv, and Amiri Baraka. So the academic path I found myself on was informed
by all of that, in the sense that I was basically finding my way into this area
of research — music perception and cognition research — but I found that it
didn’t represent the music that my life was increasingly centered around. It
didn’t really honor Black perspectives in music. What I found myself doing
academically was just trying to redress that in some small way by offering some
other supplemental theoretical framing through which we could understand music
perception and cognition that wasn’t predicated on all these Eurocentric
assumptions about what music is, how music works, and what’s important in
Coming to New
York in the late 1990s… A few of us tried several times and failed to start
this organization called Creative Music Convergences. We wanted to form an
organization to present experimental work by people of color. Because that
wasn’t something that was being valued in the scene here. We wanted to feature
intelligent discourse about music, and very strongly curated music, too. I’m
not sure I would call it activism… Artists have a slightly different function.
You take action in public, and it can become a sort of moment of focus, of
public focus — it can concentrate a lot of energy in one place because people
gather around it, but it’s not the same as doing activist work. It is just
compatible with activism, or it can be a precondition for activism.
The reason I
mention the word “activism” is because it’s radical for an artist to truly see
their work as engaging with society in a fundamental way. Art is widely seen as
transcending the social or as a way to escape the problems of society.
but it’s partly also about who gets to be an artist. And that’s probably really
where it started for me. I didn’t think I could be an artist. Eventually
opportunities presented themselves that led me to suspect that maybe the world
would let me be an artist. When we talk about art, we act as if it’s not in a
marketplace, for example. On the one hand, there’s the artistic impulse, which
everybody has. But on the other hand, there’s this thing that’s almost treated
like a substance. This “stuff” called art. And usually when we talk about that
substance, we’re already engaging in certain assumptions about where it comes
from, who gets to make it, and what makes it valuable. That usually has to do
with power, as distributed in culture…
I’ve known musicians who bristle at the term “art” or “artist.” Steve
Coleman is one, he doesn’t really wear that term very well*. He’s aware of the
whiff of elitism that’s inside that word. But on the other hand is insisting on
wearing that term, especially when we do it as people of color.
Coleman is an African American saxophonist and composer, and was one of Vijay’s
mentors. I had the opportunity to study with Steve as I started working more in
the jazz scene.]
reference your indebtedness to the African American creative music tradition in
shaping your music. What do you think world (particularly the South Asian
diaspora and India) stands to gain from engaging rigorously with the African
American experience and struggle?
speaking from a particular vantage of difference in the U.S., which is maybe
not so apparent or comprehensible to people in India. India is full of
divisions, and it’s extremely hierarchical, and there’s a tolerance of inequality…
not just a tolerance, but an investment, a preservation of inequality. In that
way, it’s not that different from here, actually. So that’s where there may be
some kind of link, or a way in to these concerns. It’s a historical reality
that the struggles for civil and human rights among African Americans here have
been informed by and have also informed struggles for equality among Dalits,
for example. Just as much as Gandhi informed Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X
has informed Dalit struggles, and Marcus Garvey informed Dr. Ambedkar. So
there’s been this awareness that there are lots of parallels. I find myself
constantly conscious of this, partly because I work in a musical tradition or
form that was created by African Americans… I would just hope that people hear
in African American music a certain kind of insistence on being heard — a
refusal to be silenced — and maybe imagine what might be some analogous
movements or social situations in India that you might learn about by listening
— by listening more carefully. I mean one thing music does is it dares you to
empathize with the person who’s making it…
In light of
these resonances, how do you personally connect with and define your heritage
I don’t really
find terms like heritage, or tradition, or even culture, to be very useful or
empowering, or specific enough to define the life that I live. What it amounts
to, for me, is a certain set of experiences. Heritage becomes a way of closing
the circle, or delimiting it. But when you really think about it as a set of
experiences, or movement within and across difference, we’re dealing with
diaspora basically — and particularly, having a vantage as a non-Western person
of color in a place that’s defined by these horrific histories. I’m not
descended from enslaved people. That doesn’t mean I can’t empathize with people
who are, or build community with them. But it means that I’m in a structurally
different position than they are, so building community across different
structural positions has to be part of our imagination. So my concern about
building community around nation, around ethnicity, is that it limits the
I feel at a
certain remove from communities in India, but I also know that we’re more
connected now than we ever were, so I do know that we’re all kind of at least
watching each other from afar. You know, when people see me enjoying what seem
like the trappings of success or prestige, being a professor at Harvard or
getting a MacArthur fellowship… then that’s used as some kind of validation of
“Indian pride.” And I find that to be really dangerous, because it’s about
coalition at the expense of others. What binds us is a set of experiences: it’s
not about genes or ethnicity, except insofar as those create a certain historical
circumstance for us to have a shared set of experiences. But it’s the
experiences that matter, not that other stuff… I guess I try to be aware of
similarities. And how similarities can emerge that aren’t purely ethnic, that
can lead us to find a deep common experience with someone who’s ostensibly
nothing like us…
Has music ever
helped you through potentially uncomfortable situations?
every day. It happened yesterday! That quote from Wadada, which you’ve probably
heard me mention a few times**, where he talks about how music can eclipse the
reality outside the door… That it offers a moment for people to imagine a
“perfect state of being” so that when they return to the “routine part of
living,” they take with them something else… So, the “routine part of living”
is made up of power relations and difference. In a way, it’s deceptively simple
when he puts it that way… The thing about music is that it vanishes as soon as
it’s done, it’s gone. So it’s only about how it works at the moment that it’s
happening. And then whatever mysterious residue it leaves as people scatter
afterward. It’s in those mysterious moments of gathering around this strange
ritual of making sounds together and listening to them. It’s like a ritual of
forgetting. At some level it’s not real, and at some level it’s the realest
thing there is. As a ritual, it’s staged and performative, but it’s also
working on the body in a way that’s very hard to talk about. That’s where the
work happens. It’s how we are in time together; it offers a glimpse of how we
can be in time together.
above — Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith is a trumpeter and composer, and an important
pioneer in the African American creative music tradition. Vijay and Wadada
recently released an album together on ECM, entitled A Cosmic Rhythm with
Each Stroke (2016), inspired by the artwork of Indian artist Nasreen
What do you
hope to accomplish through this new program at Harvard? What are the
ramifications for artists, for academia, and for society at large?
What I’m doing
is bringing everything I’ve been talking about to that environment. Which means
tapping into the energies that are there but also bringing in energies that
aren’t there. It’s about relation, about difference, about creating movement
within and across difference through production of knowledge, and through art
making and music making, which is a little different… They like to use the word
“research” to refer to what I do as an artist, as well as what Mahadevan does
as a physicist***. But I’m aware that what I do is a little different, because
it has to do with performance, which means it has to do with interacting with
the public and generating public perceptions. It means that it’s about
activating a certain awareness across difference. That’s what I see my role as
in a place like that, really anywhere I go. It’s just that I’m developing a
sense of how to do that at a place like Harvard. But I’m also developing a
sense of how to do that at a place like the Metropolitan Museum of Art****. Or
at a jazz festival, or an arts nonprofit. What I find myself doing at Harvard
is generating the kind of movement that feels right and that I’m able to do in
that circumstance — by cultivating certain relationships across disciplines and
inserting a certain destabilizing sensibility into the conversation, while at
the same time inviting students to respect the process of art making and really
take it seriously. Why the latter, I think it’s because what that does is it
gives more people an opportunity to do what I’m doing, which is to interact
with the public and deal with difference in those particular ways. So, working
with even a dozen or two dozen performers every semester, they will carry that
forward in a way that another kind of student wouldn’t. Because they’re going
to make it their business to carry those ideas forward in public.
Mahadevan is professor of applied mathematics, organismic and evolutionary
biology, and physics at Harvard University.]
[****Vijay has been artist-in-residence this year at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and curated a series of performances in
March to open the new Met Breuer building.]
(Rajna Swaminathan is an accomplished
young mrudangam artist and disciple of maestro Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman.
She has performed with several renowned Indian classical musicians and dancers,
touring widely in North America and India. Over the past few years, she has
been collaborating and performing with distinguished artists in the New York
jazz scene, including pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Steve Coleman. Rajna
holds degrees in Anthropology and French from the University of Maryland
College Park. She is currently pursuing
a PhD in music at Harvard University)
Janani Chaitanya, aka Jananisri, has studied Vedanta since 2007.
She completed a three and a half year intensive Vedanta and Sanskrit course in
India with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, scholar of Sanskrit and Vedanta. Swamiji
blessed her with the name Jananisri, meaning Divine Mother, at the end of her
study in India.
“At the end of the residential course Pujya Swamiji told
that one should never judge oneself by the ‘state of the mind.’ At the time one person next to me was crying
while another was laughing; it is such a relief that the thoughts and emotions which
come and go are not representative of ‘I’.”
Today Jananisri teaches beginning Sanskrit, Vedanta and
Vedic chanting and assists her teacher, Swamini Svatmavidyananda, editing and
publishing teachings of Vedanta. Quoting Swamini, she says, “When there is a pause
to re-collect the mind and see that it is ‘a state’ and not the truth of ‘I’,
Swaminiji’s description arises of walking the ‘I-notion’ from its mistaken
identification of being one with the mind to simply being ‘I’. ‘Walking’ the
incorrect understanding of ‘I’ to repatriate it with its true nature is an
image that I never tire from.”
Why did you choose to
come to SwaminiSvatmavidyananda and
I was in the right place at the right time.
Within the first hour of hearing Swaminiji talk I felt confident that
the questions I had about the inner world of humans and how it impacts the
outer world, could be answered. Because
Swaminiji’s teachings seemed so relevant to this question and to me, it did not
matter whether it was Hinduism or not.
I love how the teaching operates
at a subtle level with clarity about the truth of one’s own nature resulting in
being non-demanding, appreciative and compassionate. I have found that as clarity grows the
struggle to either conform or go against societal expectations decreases. I see the texts and shastras to be open and
all inclusive in a way that I’ve not encountered in other traditions. For instance, in Hinduism it is accepted that
no matter who you pray to, it is prayer and not a “sin,” as other traditions
might call prayers to a Divine Being other than the one identified with their
tradition. No matter whether one
believes in Allah, God, Ishvara, or any other Divine Being, for a Hindu prayer
will bless one.
Is it possible be
spiritual and yet a-religious? How is it beneficial to take the religious and
spiritual path instead?
think there is a spiritual path that is devoid of an altar of worship. The knowledge that ‘I’ is non-separate from
what is, the whole, Brahman, requires a place to lay down incorrect notions, a
place where one can ‘as though’ let go of what is not ‘I’. Those who know themselves to be whole,
however, do not see a ‘path’ or for that matter any differentiation between
religious and spiritual, so naturally they have no need for religion.
Does one have to
undergo pain and sorrow in the path to inquiry?
inner inquiry usually begins from a place of pain and sorrow and so it might be
that one confuses the pain and sorrow resulting from not knowing oneself – even
after one has started one’s inquiry – with pain and sorrow related to the
inquiry. Indeed, inquiry tends to push
one out of one’s comfort zone therefore leading to increased opportunities for
pain and sorrow to arise. However, the
pain and sorrow is not related to the inquiry and one finds that as one’s
clarity increases, pain and sorrow become less frequent, less intense and more
quickly recovered from.
Has learning Sanskrit
and listening to Sanskrit changed you. Was it difficult? Does it offer inroads
to greater understanding of Indian philosophy?
is a beautiful language that carries the culture of Indian traditions within
itself. For instance the word anilaḥ is
translated as ‘wind,’ but etymologically we can break it into the negative
particle ‘an’ and the root verb ‘il’ which means to stay still, resulting in a
definition of wind itself as that that which does not stay still. There have definitely been challenges in
learning Sanskrit but as the teachings of the Upanishads and shastras grows
clearer, it seems so too does Sanskrit.
F5 Escapes is a unique start-up company committed to
enabling and ensuring safety of women-only travel in India. Founders, Malini
Gowrishankar and Akanksha Bumb started the company with the premise to change
the perception that India is an unsafe travel destination for women. Today they
curate many experiences for single and group female inbound tourists and also
keep the local economy alive.
CSP caught up with the founders of F5 Escapes on why they
took to entrepreneurship, what drives them, and out-of-the-box ideas to promote
responsible tourism in India:
What inspired you to take up entrepreneurship and why tourism?
Akanksha: Travel planning has been a passion. I wanted people
to experience India in a way that forms a connection and not just as a tick on
the box. Tourism in India is an exciting place to be. It is challenging, no
doubt, but that is all the more reason to be in this space. Entrepreneurship
gave me the freedom of experimenting and approaching an itinerary in a
non-conventional way. Building something from ground up and creating a work
culture that is unique and reflects our shared values, is what keeps us
Malini: Travel and giving back to the community are things that
keep me going. Hence entrepreneurship, that too in tourism, was a natural
choice for me. The choice of women travel weighed heavily in the fact that
India wasn’t considered a women-friendly destination and the time was ripe to
solve that problem.
In your eyes, what is
the best that India has to offer in terms of experiential travel?
Akanksha: If it has to be one thing I pick, it will be people.
We are a beautiful chaos. India is such a diverse country and every nook has a
different story to tell. Although the people are so different from one another
– even within the same state boundaries – the warmth is consistent. Once you
start immersing yourself in the lives of your hosts, your experience becomes
layered, multi-faceted and so much more emotional.
Malini: For me, it is the mind boggling cultural diversity
again, over and above the rich geographical diversity and ancient history. No
other country has such a unique combination of features and I truly feel
honored to represent and showcase India in the travel arena.
Yes, Padhaaro Mhaaro Des. Vaango!
Your motto is to
redefine the way women travel in India through F5 Escapes. Can you explain?
Akanksha: Growing up, I never thought travelling as a woman
will be difficult or any different from travelling as a man. My naïveté stemmed
from the fact that as a young woman, I was accorded the same freedom and
confidence at home as my male counterparts. It was only when I looked around at
my female classmates and colleagues and saw their and their families’ inhibition
to go out alone, I realised that I was raised as an exception. When I started
travelling on my own, I understood some of their fears and inhibitions. Travel
for women needs to be redefined in India, not because women lack capability,
but because our mind-sets and general infrastructure do not support our free
movement. As a country, we are still not used to seeing a woman on her own; and
as women, we are seldom taught or encouraged to be on our own. F5 Escape’s
approach is two-pronged – change the mind-set that still isn’t very comfortable
seeing a woman by herself and create support systems, safety measures and a
vetted list of vendors to enable a safe and comfortable journey.
Malini: Interestingly, my life had been the other extreme and
that’s what made me take up to travel. I grew up in a very protected
environment where I was not allowed to venture anywhere in the same city on my
own, let alone travel to somewhere else by myself. I know for a fact that it
takes tremendous guts to take that first step. The presence of a support system
like F5 for women can accelerate this process of claiming their own space and
help them feel way more confident in the process. The rest, Akanksha has
explained very well.
In your assessment,
from which country does India get the maximum amount of interest and why?
Both: Based on the data we have, the USA has been a major
contributor to inbound tourism. A lot of first generation NRIs – across
countries – have a great interest in rediscovering their roots. This segment is
also potentially more open to experience authentic local tourism.
What are the ways in
which India can become tourist friendly and offer to the world distinct value
Akanksha: Civic sense. As a country we have failed so many of
our heritage monuments and natural landscapes.
Most of our hikes are littered with plastic. Some of our monuments are
defaced with spit marks and graffiti. As citizens, we need to be more aware of
how we dispose of what we consume and how we leave a place we enjoyed, intact
for other to enjoy it as well.
From the government and civic bodies, we need better waste
management systems and not just in cities. Most of India’s tourist destinations
are smaller towns and they just don’t have the wherewithal to handle the waste
that tourism generates; mountains especially.
Malini: Clean toilets – there is a lot of work to be done in
this area. Natural loos, compost toilets, etc., I am sure would find acceptance
among tourists as long as they are clean and hygienic. Embracing technology – a
tourist will feel much safer in a country if they have access to local
amenities – police, hospital, judiciary, etc. With the connected world that we
have, time is ripe to cut thru the red tape and make important services
accessible to tourists via technology.
Encourage problem solvers – encourage more and more problem solvers /
travel entrepreneurs – ensures that the benefits of the various schemes
actually reaches the folks who deserve to be helped.
What are the
increasing or changing areas of interests for inbound international tourists
Akanksha: I would like to believe that tourism is getting more
local in terms of experience.
Malini: I strongly agree with Akanksha. With travel
infrastructure becoming standardised across the world, local experiences are
the key differentiators of the future. I think language based tourism can be a
great idea. For example, someone from Japan can come to Tamil Nadu to study
Tamil. India is home to some of the most ancient languages in the world and we
have a ripe opportunity there for the future.
Medical tourism and
film tourism seems to be lucrative and are picking up. Your thoughts?
Both: As long as the money flows back to local operators and
the practices are ethical and unexploitative, why not!
What ought to be done
to enable the soft skills of the labour force in the Indian tourism industry?
Both: Sensitisation. The one thing we hear the most from our
foreign and domestic clients is that they get stared at a lot. The curiosity of
seeing someone who looks very different or even seeing a woman alone, results
in stares. It is often harmless and occurs just because it is not commonplace.
Sensitising the workforce about interpersonal communication – verbal and
non-verbal can go a long way in making India a women-friendly country for
What would be your
recommendations for India to tap into the potential of social media to attract
Both: Responsive tourism boards. Encouraging local operators.
Regular meets of stakeholders and more ease of doing business.
If you were to suggest a possible campaign for tourism in India, what would it entail?T
Katya Tosheva is a gifted multi-style dancer from Bulgaria, an artist who has found inspiration in three main classical dance forms of India, a country with which she has a deep emotional connection. Trusting her heart, Katya quit her job as an engineer and began an endless journey into the depths of Indian classical dance. She currently learns three Indian classical forms of dance – Odissi, Kathak,and Bharatanatyam under highly respected and internationally recognized teachers – Sharmila Mukerji (Bangalore), Ravi Shankar Mishra (Varanasi) and Nivedita Badve (Pune).
Her training includes dozens of individual classes and group lessons with famous teachers and performers such as Swati Tivari, Saraswathi Rajathesh, Kalayamamani Kutalam M. Selvam, Vidha and Abhimanyu Lal (India), Karan Pangali (UK), Christina Zanni (Greece) and Stefan Hristov (Bulgaria). Visiting different parts of India, Katya explores not only the classical but also the rich folk dance tradition.
Following her dreams, she has founded an Indian Dance School “Kaya”, where she shares her knowledge and interests with joy and enthusiasm. She conducts regular classes in Sofia and Plovdiv and teaches at Indira Gandhi School – the only school in Bulgaria related to India’s culture. In 2018, Katya received an invitation from the Embassy of India to perform for the Independence Day celebration and for the President of India during his visit to Bulgaria. Katya has also participated in numerous events dedicated to the traditions of India, in Bulgaria and abroad.
For three years, she was invited to teach in Serbia, and during her trip to India in September 2018, she won the first prize at the prestigious dancing festival in Pune.
Katya’s performances have been greatly appreciated in Greece, Cyprus, Spain, France, Serbia and India, where she engages the interest of the media. Her interviews are published in some of the most widely read newspapers, as well as on the national television channels Lok Sabha and Doordarshan.
Here is CSP interview with Katya Tosheva, the multi-talented dancer from Bulgaria :
What made you choose Indian dance?
I wouldn’t say I have chosen Indian dance – the dance chose me ! It came in my life so naturally … I didn’t even realise how the dance filled my days. I don’t know when and how it happened but I remember how it took me months to have the courage to search for teachers. I was thinking I will not be able to move so gracefully and so fast, to have the strength, the stamina… I still think the same way. But now I am brave enough and I keep trying!
Who were your teachers and how long was your training ?
I am still learning! This is a process which will never end. Presently, I am studying Odissi with Guru Sharmila Mukerjee in her Sanjali centre for Odissi dance, Bangalore; Kathak with Guru Ravi Shankar Mishra, Varanasi and Bharatanatyam with Nivedita Badve, Pune. I started 7-8 years ago and I through the years had the honour to take lessons from other respected artists in India – Swati Tiwari, Delhi and Saraswathi Rajadesh, Bangalore.
What are the dance forms in Bulgaria, how different is it from Indian dance ?
There are a lot of similarities between the folk dances in Bulgaria and India. We also have very rich dance tradition. The name of the dance is “Horo”. It is a group dance performed in a circle during festivals and all kinds of celebrations. There are other different styles from every region in Bulgaria. Each has it’s own typical costumes, ornaments and decorations. There is a special fire ritual dance performed barefoot onsmouldering ember, called Nestinarstvo.
How has Indian dancing changed you and your life style?
Dancing and Yoga has changed almost everything – my way of thinking, of understanding, my vision about what is important in life, my emotions, everything around me – people who I meet, things which I do every day. Surely I can say I live healthier and I am more active. After I quit my office job my schedule changed completely and I am happy to spend more time dancing than sitting in front of the computer!
We see you learn 3 classical styles simultaneously -Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi. That’s’ amazing ! What makes it easy and difficult when transferring from one dance form to another?
I have much more to learn about each of these styles. The good thing is that the stories,the mudras, and the expressions in dance are the same.The hard thing is to maintain the specific posture of each dance, to keep clean its essence. The difference in the position of the feet between Aramandi and Chowk is only a few centimeters:)
Any preference of styles?
I really can’t say I have favorite style. Each has its amazing beauty and it challenges me in a different way. I love Kathak because of its fast foot movements, the graceful wrists and the spins! Bharatanatyam with its sharp and geometrical movements, jumps and the expressive mudras are so beautiful!Odissi is impressive with its fluidity, torso movements andtribhangis.
How did you find the teaching methods of your Dance Gurus here?
Every one of them has its own energy and approach. But the demands of a good discipline, hard work and everyday practice is common. I am thankful for their patience, as I need more explanations in regards the meaning of the lyrics, all the stories and characters.
What are your practice routines? How did you manage your time from one class to another?
I try to have time for yoga practice every day, two days in the week for practicing every style. Also I have lessons with my students almost every day, which keeps me moving all the time. Of course when I have an upcoming performance I focus on the style which I will be performing. But many times I need to perform two different styles in the same program and this poses a challenge.
Did the Classical art form of India bind you and Rosen in your happy marriage ?
Actually Rosen taught my first yoga lesson and I this was very important moment in my life. I remember when we were dating and I gifted him a batik with the image of the meditating Lord Shiva. Now this batik is in our home in my studio. Many times Rosen helps me to understand the rhythm when we practice together. He plays the tabla for me on the stage,this is like a dream came true!
Do you work/perform together ?
Yes, we were happy to be students of the talented Bulgarian tabla player, jazz drummer and percussionist Stefan Hristov.Last year Rosen was with me in Varanasi and took lessons under my Guru Ravi Shankar Mishra. Since that time we had many opportunities to perform together at different festivals and events. We had the opportunity to perform for the Honourable President of India Shri.Ram Nath Govind .
Where have you been to showcase your arts ?
We have performed together at various festivals in Bulgaria for Asian Festival, organised by the embassies of the Asian countries, in TV shows, concerts, and many cultural programs. Rosen is drummer in a rock band and percussionist in different musical projects. I have had the chance to perform in other countries too – Spain, France, Serbia, Greece, Cyprus and of course India!
How do you manage the music for your dance?
For most of the performances I use recorded music, especially for Bharatanatyam and Odissi as in Bulgaria there are no musicians and vocalists who can perform Indian classical music. I am blessed to have live music for my Kathak performances, with Rosen and Marije Hristova – a very close friend and a talented violin player as my accompanists on stage. Recently we organised a classical concert with north Indian music and dance in Plovidv – the European capital of culture for this year. It was really an exciting experience for us – it happened for the first time in Bulgaria with non – Indian artists!
When did you establish your dance school ? How do your young students respond to Indian culture ?
I started teaching 4 years ago. I really wanted to have a group to share the happiness with. So in the beginning I had only adults students. I was renting different studio for my classes and often my students weren’t enough in count to cover even the rent. So sometimes we were dancing outside. One day we were in the yard of a school and while we were practicing a few kids came and asked whether they can join us. On the next day I went to the director of the school and introduced my self. To work with kids is amazing.We talk a lot, we build together our team, support each other. Of course our favorite moment is when we are preparing for performance.I am proud of the discipline of my students, the bigger ones help me with the smaller ones, everyone has a responsibility to take care of.
Do schools/ Universities in Bulgaria have knowledge about Indian dance ?
There is only one primary school connected with Indian culture in Bulgaria and it is the Indira Gandhi School where I teach. Sofia University has an Indological department where they teach Indian languages, history, literature, and culture. May be in the future they will include dances in the program too.
Please share with us your difficulties in the journey of a dancer. What suggestions do you have to solve them ?
The main difficulty for me is earning money. Many times I am invited to perform at festivals and all kind of events for free. It is really annoying when an artist needs to explain that there should be a payment. I hope in the future people will have better understanding and will care more about art. Of course there are all sort of challenges in the studio, but its part of the process. The pain in the muscles brings a lot of satisfaction and pleasure when the audience is appreciative.
Has the Govt. of India supported any of your programs?
I had the honor to dance for the Independence day celebration organised by the Embassy of India in Bulgaria and also before the President of India during his visit to Bulgaria in 2018. I was also invited to perform along with the famous Saraswathi Rajadesh in Paris, France on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. I have been invited to perform in cultural programs and festivals , organized by different Indian or Bulgarian organizations.
What is your goal as an artist? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years with the richness of the dances you are so passionate about ?
My hope is to be able to continue with my studying.To be able to travel again and again to India and to be with my teachers! To go deeper and deeper in this magical world of Indian art and to be able to share it with more people all over the world! I am sure I will continue with the three dance forms which I am learning now and, who knows, may be I will start exploring another one!
How do you find your Indian dance mates?
I just love my classmates!!! Especially those in Sanjali center for Odissi dance. Whenever I am in Bangalore I stay in a school and have the amazing opportunity to attend every class with the kids or with the senior students. I observe their dedication and passion, and it inspires me a lot! The best moments are when I am practicing with the others! They always give me useful tips about steps, telling me about the rituals and everything which I need to know.
What was the best and the worst thing about India during your stay?
The best thing about India is the diversity, the people, Yoga and the best of the best – I became the girl I wanted to be! The worst thing during my stay – if I don’t count the few times when someone tried to steal my things and lie to me, I can’t say I had bad experiences in India, everybody are really nice with me and I am happy to have friends all over India!
Katya’s interview for BBC News was translated into Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English and reached more than million views in two weeks!