Nations need to come together for space research: Terry Virts


What does it take to be an astronaut? To get that important call to say that you have made the cut. Terry Virts, a NASA astronaut from 2000 to 2016 who flew two space missions: STS-130 in 2010, and ISS Expedition 42/43 in 2014-2015, says the call from NASA was one of the most wonderful and surreal events of his life.

The call from NASA came on July 20, 2000, the 31st anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. He was at a meeting at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California, where he was an F-16 test pilot. Along with 119 other astronaut applicants, he had been waiting anxiously for months to hear the space agency’s final decision where 17 candidates would be picked for the latest class of astronauts.

“The phone rang. NASA’s chief astronaut wanted to know if I was still interested in coming to Houston. I knew what that meant, of course, and I wanted to shout out loud. Instead, being a steely-eyed fighter pilot, I simply replied, “Yes sir, I’m still interested.”

Terry had dreamed of becoming an astronaut ever since kindergarten, when he read his first book about the Apollo missions. “I grew up wanting to be a pilot after reading a book about Apollo in kindergarten.  I remember my dad got me a ride in a red biplane at the county fair.  I loved it but was terrified that he would fly upside down and I’d fall out,” Terry tells CSP in an interview.  

A motivational speaker, Terry tells youngsters to never accept a NO. “I tell them ‘don’t tell yourself no’.  I was always told becoming an astronaut was a crazy Dream but I went ahead and tried anyway, not listening to my friends.   And it paid off, it’s really important that you pursue your dream and do not take yourself out of it.”

Terry is often asked what it takes to be an astronaut. Even after 16 years as an astronaut, he says it’s a question with no easy answer.  “The ability to stay calm under pressure in a fast-paced environment is critical, not just to succeed in space but also to make it through NASA’s training program.”

“Astronaut candidates get all sorts of instruction, but aviation training, mostly in the venerable T-38 supersonic jet, is by far the most important. That’s because the stakes are so high. It’s one thing to screw up in a ground-based simulator, quite another to do so in a T-38 flying at 40,000 feet. Make a mistake while flying at 500 miles an hour, and your ability to remain alive will be sorely compromised. But as someone who spent more than seven months in space, with a variety of crewmates, I can say that the most important skill for space fliers is the ability to get along with others. Especially on long-duration missions, it’s essential to be flexible and to have key “soft skills,” like being able to communicate effectively when problems arise and knowing not to sweat the small stuff.”

As a pilot and astronaut keeping fit is really important for Terry. “I do a mix of weightlifting and running, it was also important in space to keep your bones and muscles from atrophying from the weightlessness.  I do the same here on earth, but not often enough, I get so busy that it is hard to find time to exercise but it is really important to do so.”

Terry is what people call a multi-potentialite, a person of multiple skills. Idea synthesis, rapid learning and adaptability are the three skills that multi-potentialites are very adept at and Terry has it in ample measure. “For me I think the key was being interested in different things. I did not just study one subject. I majored in math but minored in French and love traveling around the world. I love foreign affairs and economics, in addition to all the technical subjects. I think if somebody really wants to be a great problem solver and make an impact they have to have a broad range of interests.”

In space, the varied nature of the job excited Terry. “No two days are the same. At different times during my stints in space, I was a mechanic and a pilot and a scientist and a spacewalker and Hollywood producer and a crew doctor and dentist. I was even a hairdresser for my Italian crewmate Samantha Cristoforetti, which was by far the scariest thing I did in space.”

While in space Colonel Virts captured more than 300,000 still images, more than on any other space mission. He also performed an integral role by filming and appearing in the IMAX film “A Beautiful Planet,” narrated by Jennifer Lawrence. He has photographed India from above. Speaking about the difference the eye of an artist brings to pictures, Terry says, “there are lots of automated video cameras on the space station and another set of lights, and the imagery is great, but they always seem like automated camera imagery. When a human takes a picture they have to use their creativity to get the composition and lighting and subject matter, and I think that those artistic elements come through in photography as much as they do in other art forms.”

Terry spent 200 consecutive days in space, proving that man can live and work in space over extended periods of time. He has written about his vision of putting man on the Red planet Mars. “In the 1960s it was to put a man on the moon. Now it should be to send humans to Mars and back beginning in the 2030s, with increasingly long-duration missions to the planet’s surface. This vision is clear, and it goes beyond mere “boot prints and flags.” Long-term goals should be to understand the environmental, geological, and biological history of Mars, but also to set the stage for human settlements on the red planet.”


“My philosophy is that I will not take a risk if it is not worth it, I drive like a grandma. But I will fly F-16s over Iraq or launch on rockets if I think there is a worthy reason to do so. It’s important to understand what the risk is upfront and then except it, don’t let it surprise you or come out of the blue.

He is very clear that a Mars mission should be a multi-national endeavour. “Astronauts from many countries working aboard the ISS have demonstrated a level of cooperation that is often missing down here on Earth; I recently commanded the ISS during the height of U.S.-Russian tensions, and I am proud of how well my international crew of astronauts and cosmonauts worked together.”

In July this year, Terry circumnavigated the poles setting a record in honour of Apollo. “We wanted to set this record in honour of Apollo, to do something that was adventurous and show that we can still do great things, and I had the honour of directing a film about this attempt.  In fact I am finishing editing at this week and then we are going to start marketing it. But the goal of the film is really to show the international cooperation that our crew had, we had over 30 different nations represented. We got to see the North Pole region and also talk about the environment, so I talk quite a bit about carbon management and climate change in the film.”

Living a life on the edge, Terry risk management is an important subject. “My philosophy is that I will not take a risk if it is not worth it, I drive like a grandma. But I will fly F-16s over Iraq or launch on rockets if I think there is a worthy reason to do so. It’s important to understand what the risk is upfront and then except it, don’t let it surprise you or come out of the blue.”

Now retired, Terry’s new mission is to impact people through speaking, writing, and TV/ movies. “The world has become so fractured, and without sounding overly dramatic I believe that democracy is at risk.  It’s been failing around the world, with the US leading the way.  So I hope to inspire people to see that it’s better to work together.  It feels like 1928 and I don’t want 1940 to happen.” 

Commenting on India’s space missions, Terry says “I think it is very exciting the countries like India are exploring space. It’s exciting that more nations and private sector are becoming engaged and space exploration. It’s just important that we use space peacefully, there have been some recent satellite explosions, anti-satellite military tests that have the potential to really ruin our access to space. Just imagine a world without GPS, and that’s not a fantasy it’s a very real possibility if we continue to blow up satellites in orbit,” warns the spaceman.

Carnatic music for workouts


Started in 2016, Madrasana is an attempt to present classical art in an intimate setting to bring the artiste, the art form and the listeners closer to each other to have a better connect.

MadRasana has released its Sessions Albums. These are one of a kind music albums specially recorded for those who listen to Carnatic music during workouts. The organisation had done a survey earlier in the year about using Carnatic music during workouts resulting in a new work out series.

MadRasana recorded 6 artistes with live audience. Each album has three sets of 45 minute duration, comprising of slow medium and fast paced songs. The artistes have tried to have each of the songs as a multiple of 5 minutes so it will be easy for listeners to make playlists that are 30 minutes, one hour or longer to coincide with listening pleasure. “We also realize that you will be listening to these albums on your headphones while working out – so they have mixed the albums using Binaural technology , so you can get a spacial orientation of the artistes as well.”

All the MadRasana Sessions were recorded with live audience in place and also using a new format of mixing called the binaural format. “Since we believe a lot of us are beginning to listen to these on our headphones – this format will be perfect as it gives a 3 D sound that places the sound source to give you a spatial orientation of the artistes as well. These concerts were recorded with the artistes in the center of the hall – all facing each other and he audience sitting around the artistes. The recording of these albums will also reflect the 3 D sound that gives the orientation in your head when you listen to them using headphones. These can be listened to on any other sound player,” said a MadRasana spokesperson.

The first in the series is an album by Carnatic vocalist Vignesh Ishwar. Speaking to CSP, he said “I am extremely thrilled to release our MadRasana Sessions Album . This was the first in the series of live recordings keeping in mind that many of you listen to Carnatic music while working out. The content is still the same as any Carnatic concert but modified suit those who use it for workout.”

Performing with Vignesh in this album are L Ramakrishnan on the violin and Sumesh Narayanan on the mridangam. Sri Balaji is on tambura. The album can be purchased on https://gumroad.com/l/MADSESVIG/madsesartvig

“MadRasana Garden Concerts” are formats of concerts held in natural open settings while “MadRasana Stage Concerts” are formats of concerts in an intimate indoor settings.

“MadRasana Unplugged” are professionally produced video and audio recordings specifically for the online digital media where they present just one song per artist with just the artiste and tambura or very minimal elements added so that the art form takes the center stage.

# 9: Pavithra Muddaya, Vimor Handloom Foundation

Pavithra Muddaya, Managing Trustee, Vimor Handloom Foundation has a family tradition of preserving India’s beautiful crafts. Her mother Chimmy Nanjappa was the first Manager of Cauvery Handicrafts, Bangalore in the late 50’s. Cauvery Emporium at the junction of MG Road and Brigade Road in Bangalore has been a cultural landmark showcasing the best of Karnataka’s handicrafts.

The idea of starting a saree business was her father A C Nanjappa’s brainwave after her mother returned from the World Fair in Montreal in 1967. On his goading Chimmy Nanjappa sourced sarees for a Delhi buyer. Later while accompanying her husband for his work in Molkalmuru she purchased some silk sarees, which she sold out of a trunk at home. After her husband’s demise in 1974, Vimor was registered as a partnership between Chimmy and Pavithra. What began as a necessity slowly grew into a passion to saving handloom designs and supporting weavers to succeed, says Pavithra of Vimor.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhya, Indian social reformer and freedom activist, the driving force behind the renaissance of Indian handicrafts, hand looms, and theater in independent India was a big supporter of Vimor. “Forty ago she appreciated that we were preserving traditional designs and supporting weavers. Her biggest advice to me when the saree design was not to both our satisfaction was ‘I do not want any excuses from you’. I was upset at that time but as I got older I understood what she meant and now this is a line I use with my weavers till date,” says Pavithra.

Over the last 50 years, Vimor has done yeomen work in working with weavers and preserving certain weaving practices and styles of sarees. “The most significant contribution that Vimor has done is that we have saved many traditional saree designs from being lost. We do this by recreating these designs with weavers. Doing this with empathy and integrity for the artisan and his crafts is of primary importance to us. Design intervention is undertaken in a step by step process accompanied by monetary advances and assured buy back, allowing him to function in a risk free environment, till he is independent.” This allows the weaver to grow successfully without using the Vimor name but continuing to use Pavithra’s designs. Today this has created a ripple effect where some of the designs are in continuous production for over 35/40 years impacting weavers unknown to Vimor. This has helped weavers grown from weavers to businessmen, says Pavithra.

This July the Vimor Handloom Foundation has opened a Museum called The Museum of Living Textiles in Bangalore showcasing textiles. The foundation will look at research and documentation of textiles, livelihood training for women in distress and advocacy and publishing weaver stories.

Some of the pieces are family heirlooms while others have been donated by family and friends. On display is a datthi seere, woven for children, with a length of 3.15 metres. The devi sarees are woven on much smaller looms to suit the size of a goddess’ statue. A rare Chanderi saree runs upto 64 inches. There are some Chinese and Cambodian collections too.

The Indian textile industry is so varied with even neighbouring states having different varieties and even within states like Andhra and Tamil Nadu there being many kinds of sarees. Indian handlooms are known for their richness, exquisiteness, variety and fine quality. “Handlooms comprise the largest cottage industry in the country. Millions of looms across the country are engaged in weaving cotton, silk and other natural fibers to bring out traditional beauty of India’s precious heritage and also providing livelihood to millions of families. There is hardly a village where weavers do not exist weaving out the traditional beauty of the region. The skills and activities are kept alive by passing the skills from generation to generation. What sets our handloom apart is the excellent workmanship, color combination and fine quality,” says a well-known textile retailer.

Pavithra, who has been working with the most beautiful of colours, patterns and designs, says “This is the most beautiful aspect of our country’s diversity. We should celebrate our local cultural spectrum and use these as inspirations to create products that are aesthetic in design, environmentally friendly and allows weavers to participate and succeed financially. At Vimor this is how we have always worked not letting geographic boundaries restrict us.”

The saree will never go out of fashion. How it is draped, what is accessorised, what is designed may change, but “sarees will always be attractive to women. Our strength at Vimor is our design ability and our customers have always supported this journey. Thirty five years ago we created working women’s light silks, these were price friendly, easy home wash maintenance. At that time there were many women in executive positions and these sarees were worn to office and meetings. We believe design has to reflect the time, and purpose so as to allow women to celebrate their individuality. This is what will always make the saree attractive,” says Pavithra.

Famous people drop in announced to Vimor and Pavithra has respected their privacy and “not used their names to further our business and they respect this fact.”

“Sheila Dikshit (late Delhi chief Minister) came to Vimor, saw my aunt wearing a kodava style saree and was curious about it, so we dressed her in the style before she left. When she returned to the Raj Bhavan, she told us that the staff was amused that she wore one style going and another coming back.”

Indian textiles are much sought after. “Weavers are benefiting from the global interest in Indian textiles as the sheer variety and skill is difficult to find in any other country. Today the youth are tech savvy with using Whatsapp and social media for marketing and can cater for any overseas customer to grow their business,” says Pavithra of the growing market for Indian textiles.

# 8 Dr H R Nagendra – From NASA to S-VYASA

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was disturbed to see Arvind Kejrawal coughing non-stop in New Delhi, he asked him to visit Dr H R Nagendra, Chancellor S-VYASA (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana) for a cure for an allergy cough caused by high levels of pollution in New Delhi. Prime Minister Modi himself visits Dr Nagendra regularly.

Dr Nagendra’s journey from NASA to S-VYASA is part of yoga lore. When the AYUSH Ministry set up a committee of Yoga experts in the country to direct the course of Yoga, Dr Nagendra was made the Chairman.

After receiving his doctorate in 1968, Dr Nagendra served as faculty of IISc in Department of Mechanical Engineering. He then went to Canada as Post- Doctoral Research Fellow in the University of British Columbia, Canada in 1970. From there, he moved to NASA Marshall Space Flight Centre, USA as Post-Doctoral Research Associate in 1971 and moved to Engineering Science Laboratory, Harvard University, USA as a Consultant in 1972. He served as Visiting Staff at Imperial College of Science and Technology, London later.

Dr Nagendra brought his brilliant engineering credentials to Vivekananda Kendra, a service mission, as a whole-time worker in 1975. Today he heads India’s and perhaps the world’s largest Yoga University in Bangalore. He has published 30 Research Papers in Engineering and more than 60 papers on Yoga. He has authored and co-authored 35 books on Yoga.

S-VYASA has partnered with over 20 institutions abroad including East Tennessee State University, Central Michigan University, The Centre for International Mental Health and School of Population Health, The University of Melbourne, Japan Vivekananda Yoga Kendra, Yonago,  Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Health Synergies, Indianapolis, Indiana, The Perrott-Warrick Project, Alexander Group, Taipei, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Centre, KWA Kuratorium Wohnen im Alter Gag, Munich, and others.

The University attracts around 200 foreigners per year and the numbers are increasing. S-VYASA centers run by Alumni are spread in 30 countries.

If one were to look at the research undertaken by the University in the last 5 years, it covers a host of topics, relevant to health and well-being. The most complex includes Cerebral auto regulation and sympathetic nervous system activity (SNS) while performing cognitive tasks during yoga practices which have different effects on SNS and the simplest is Effect of Fresh Coconut in A Balanced Diet A Randomized Comparative Study.

Speaking to the Center for Soft Power, Dr Nagendra says his vision was to bring Yoga to higher education after it was introduced at Primary, Middle and High school levels in Arunachal Pradesh Vivekananda Kendra Vidyalayas, which had the wonderful result of “total personality development in children. We should bring teachings of Yoga right form the Primary school level, thereby attracting students to its fold by traditional yoga practices. We have done it through Krida Yoga.” 

Asked if he expected Yoga to reach the heights it has today, Dr Nagendra says, “Ours was to do the efforts in all sincerity. Results, I believe was expected to come. But it is our PM who has made it possible to the extent it has grown now.”


In 2014, Dr H R Nagendra, Chancellor S-VYASA, the world’s largest university, put forth a new form of Yoga called ‘Vivekananda Yoga’ – modern, rooted and focussed on strengthening the mind. Dr Nagendra has been the Yoga guru for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking about him, Dr Nagendra says, “He is a role model for yoga and for the country. It was incidental that he came to Prashanti Kutiram when Mananiya Sheshadri (my uncle, mentor and role model who introduced me to Yoga and Bhagavadgita at the age of 6) used to come and stay here for many days. For Modi ji and me Swami Vivekananda is the Aradhya devata. So we jelled well. He saw the combination of Traditional Yoga combined with modern scientific research here in VYASA which I think attracted him.”      

Dr Nagendra says that scientific research as the specialty of S-VYASA with the largest contribution of research on Yoga to the world. “We have been able to unravel the secrets of Yoga from Yoga texts and bring them to benefit society by an evidence based approach.”

The aim and mission of S-VYASA, he says is to bring the benefits of Yoga and its applications to everyone in society by modern scientific research.  “Combining the best of the East with that of the West, to bring peace on earth, create ideal social orders featured by Wealth and Health, Bliss and Peace, Efficiency and Harmony.” On a Nobel Prize for Yoga and Ayurveda, Dr Nagendra counters, “India should develop and institute a bigger prize than Nobel Prize.” 

Thoughts on YOGA

“Most people think yoga means asanas. But now people are aware that Yoga is a way of life. The great master Patanjali said Yoga is to gain mastery over the mind – Yogaha chitta vritti nirodha. Yoga means the process of joining. We are small beings. We have to expand our personality and merge with the totality. Raising ourselves to become great human beings, super human beings, divine human beings, and reach perfection itself. That is the whole process of yoga and in that the mind is the most important.”

“Does concentration make you a Yogi? No. A marketing executive goes to work for 6 to 8 to 10 hours. He is full of concentration. When he returns home he is worried, he’s anxious about what is going to happen. In a few years he ends up in a cardiac ward. He is bright, intelligent, why does this happen to him. Patanjali says this is only one aspect of the mind. There is a second dimension to the mastery that is to calm down the mind. To silence the mind. You should be able to come out of the worrying or thinking loop. Come out of the enslaving loop and remain calm, quiet and silent. You are a giant on one side and a pygmy on the other. This brings an imbalance in the body. It causes and autonomous and endocrine imbalance. If not addressed it will lead to many diseases. Unfortunately, in our education system all over the world we are not taught techniques to calm down the mind.”

“Our children have become very brilliant, they can do things very fast, but when we ask them to calm down, no chewing gum in the mouth, no Walkman in the ear, no I-pad in the hand, it becomes a punishment. The objective of yoga is to develop the second wing through yogic postures, asanas. Use the body to gain mastery over the mind. Asanas are useful not only for burning calories but more important to gain mastery of the mind. Patanjali gives the answer – sthira sukham asanam. Sit still in a posture. Make the asnaa steady, start saying in the asana longer and longer, so Patanjali said imaginge a vast blue sky or ocean and keep your mind tuned to that. That is the third phase of asana, which is called sukha. Tuning your mind to ananthatha. In every position you must relax the body, relaxation of the effort.”

“Another tool is pranayama. The manifestation of pranayama is breathing. Gain mastery over breathing. You should be able to slow down the breathing. We all breathe 15-18 breathes per minute. We whoudl come down to 12, 10, 6, 2 per minute and then 1 breath in 2 minutes, 1 breathe in 3 minutes. When you slow down breathing, you slow down mind. In our university we call it the breath of the Brahmari time. It maybe 15 seconds or 20 seconds. Then you must elongate it. If you achieve 35-40 seconds you are in good shape. Anxiety, depression, dementia, everything will start vanishing.”

‘No country is quite like India’ – Megan and Mike Jerrard

Australian journalist Megan Claire Jerrard (Mapping Megan fame) has been traveling around the world since 2007. She has also been skydiving, bungee jumping, climbing the world’s highest peaks, mountain biking the world’s most treacherous roads and diving with Great whites. Her husband Michael Jerrard (Waking up Wild), is American wildlife photojournalist who has been recording and documenting animal behaviour since the age of 10. Both of them hope to inspire people to travel and discover the richness of our planet.

Mike Jerrard grew up in the United States where he has done a thorough documentation of North American Wildlife which has included projects such as radio collaring Florida Panthers in the Everglades, tracking Grizzlies in Alaska, and handling American’s most dangerous snakes. He also a fascination with uncovering the past, and his expeditions have seen him unearth massive ice age mammoths as well as discovering artefacts of lost civilizations.

Megan and Mike help travellers make up their mind as which place should be next on their schedule. In an email interview with CSP they speak about travelling and exploring India:

As a travel writer what are the things you would recommend people to experience in India?

MEGAN: I always first ask people what their interests are, and then choose what to recommend. India is such a diverse country, with something to fascinate and delight every traveller, and the only way people are going to have a memorable vacation and fall in love with the country is if they plan experiences around their interests.

For people interested in wildlife, I recommend a safari through tiger territory in the National Parks of Madhya Pradesh. For historians, there are fantastic sites like the Taj Mahal, or Qutub Minar. For luxury travellers, you can stay in palace hotels to feel like a Maharaja. For nature enthusiasts, Ladakh and / or the Western Ghats. And you could easily go on with recommendations for people interested in architecture, food, adventure, shopping, beaches, spirituality, etc.

You could easily spend a lifetime exploring India, there is so much to do, and so many incredible, unique experiences.

India is a deeply spiritual country. Is this something that you could perceive easily?

MEGAN: Absolutely, India definitely has a reputation as being a spiritual country, and I think this is something that people expect will be part of their experience. Every traveller I’ve spoken to who has returned from India has said that this is something that is strongly felt when traveling through different regions. It’s not something that many people can define in words, but all have described being in India as having a reassuring sense of harmony and connection with the world.

How do you usually go about in a foreign country? Is information about hotels, lodgings, transport in India easy to access?

I typically aim for two weeks if I’m exploring a new country, as this tends to be a good amount of time for a focused trip that takes a lot in. That said, if visiting a country like India where there is so much to discover and explore, we’ll spend as much time as we need, or plan return trips to be able to see more of the country.

I’ve found it very easy to access information about traveling through India. My perception is that it is a country that takes a lot of pride in tourism, and is always very welcoming and enthusiastic about visitors, so information has always been very accessible and easy to come by, whether from State tourism board websites, or individually run blogs who are passionate about showing off their country / region.

Does the vast variety of India from state to state appeal to you? Or has urbanisation created a certain uniformity.

We are very interested in getting off the beaten path and exploring the natural side of India; there’s definitely a certain level of uniformity in any kind of urbanization, regardless of where you are in the world, but there’s never any uniformity in nature. We’re very interested in taking a wildlife safari, in visiting Ladakh, and spending time in the Western Ghats. While we haven’t yet made it to India ourselves, we are looking forward to meeting and getting to know local communities and people once we do travel.

Your blog 5 Reasons to take an Indian Safari is very interesting. What are the 5 reasons

MEGAN: We also wrote an article on 5 reasons you should take an Indian Safari (which is our dream trip!), and a post on the types of people you’ll meet in Kerala (and of whom we’re looking forward to meet!). From our time spent researching where we would love to go in the country, we have a number of articles on India, including a post on 7 types of travelers who visit India.

Many of us dream of taking a safari at least once in our lives. And to travel through exotic landscapes and get up close and personal with majestic wildlife really is the experience of a lifetime.

Most people automatically assume they’ll head to Africa to go on safari, but there is in fact another region of the world so rich in wildlife that it might even put some African countries to shame.

India is a land of chaotic charm, but beyond its history, culture, and chaos lies a world of breathtaking natural wonder, where snow leopards roam icy peaks, tigers are the king of the forest, and elephants trek across vast plains.

The five reasons are tracking tigers in the wild – tracking tigers in the wild, a whole new world of wild animals, 166 national parks, diverse range of adventure, it can be super cheap! There are 39 tiger sanctuaries across India, though tiger territory is the central State of Madhya Pradesh. There are 5 tiger parks in this region; Bandavgarh, Kanha, and Pench National Parks are the main three, though Bandavgarh National Park (NP) sees the most sightings.

Bandavgarh is a small reserve, though it has India’s highest concentration of tigers, so if seeing a tiger is your main priority, this is the place to be. The park is open from October to June, though April, May and June are the best times to travel for tiger sightings.

Your blog on meeting five types of people in Kerala is a wonderful way of introducing the hospitality of a country

MEGAN: Travelers flock to Kerala to connect with nature; they travel to spend time on the glistening backwaters, to explore the tea, coffee and spice covered hills of the Western Ghats, and to invigorate their taste buds with delicately spiced cuisine. They travel for the wildlife sanctuaries, where elephants, exotic birds, and wild tigers all roam freely, and for the bliss of pulling up some sand on tropical beaches along the Arabian Sea.

Kerala is the true definition of a melting pot, but if there is one way to describe its people (known as ‘Keralites’), it would be by their free, soaring spirits. And perhaps it’s living in a place which is so intimately connected to nature that creates this approach to life; they go with the flow along slow moving canals to find deep journeys in little country boats. They seek adventure in bamboo rafts to spot elephants, away from the crowds on the cruise boats.

They lead very simple, down to earth lives, but laugh freely, live fully, and aren’t burdened by the glitter of stressful city life. Their lifestyles aren’t complicated, and they truly celebrate the magnificence of ordinary lives.

Your blog is a great help to visitors to different countries. Did you find any book useful when you first travelled to India?

MEGAN: We find personal travel blogs a lot more useful than books or travel guides, usually because they’re more recent, and provide more insight from the perspective of an actual traveller, so it’s very easy to put yourself in their shoes. And you can reach out and contact that person with questions about their article, for instance if you want clarification for planning your own trip – you can’t do that with a book or travel guide author.

How can we attract people to India’s great bioreserves?

MIKE JERRARD: Ecotourism is a very big movement at the moment, and it’s only gaining momentum; people are really very interested in natural experiences, and responsible, sustainable travel. I think the reason India’s great bioreserves are lesser known is because the country is known more for its cultural and spiritual tourism; nature based tourism isn’t often the first thing that springs to mind when people think of India; they think of grand palaces, historic forts, the Taj Mahal, food, festivals, of charmingly chaotic cities. India’s natural wonders get overshadowed by these other more prominent draw cards.

With that in mind, I think the way to attract people to India’s bioreserves would be to raise awareness and market them through campaigns that show people what they’re missing. India’s bioreserves are incredible, and I believe would sell themselves if people were aware of the experiences on offer there.

Even today people portray the roadside bullock and snake charmer. How do we change this narrative?

MIKE JERRARD: Stereotypes change through repetition of something that disproves it; like Australia being known for its culture of throwing a snag on the barbie, or crocodile Dundee, which, in reality is only a very narrow view of the country, a certain element of that narrative may always be there in the background, but you change the perception by constantly showing people something different; an image of the country you want them to perceive.

What would like shooting most in India?

MIKE JERRARD: We are most looking forward to photographing Bengal Tigers in the wild!

In your travels did you find any country similar to India?

MEGAN AND MIKE JERRARD: No country is quite like India – it is unique, original, and the reason we are most looking forward to visiting is for this very reason; because it is unlike anything else, and distinctly one of a kind.

# 7 Dr L Subramaniam – The Carnatic Violin goes West

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Today, L Subramaniam plays the solo Carnatic violin at the prime 3.30 am slot in major music festivals across the world, from the Dover festival in the UK to neighbouring Bangladesh. He is also India’s leading composer for international symphonies. His work is published by Schott Music, the second oldest and the largest music publishing houses in Europe.

Dr Subramaniam has invested the Carnatic violin with its own solo sound, repertoire, techniques and styles, and taken it to the best concert halls around the world – besides composing orchestral music for symphonies overseas. Violinist Yehudi Menuhin has said of Subramaniam’s compositions, “I find nothing more inspiring than the music making of my very great colleague Subramaniam. Each time I listen to him, I am carried away in wonderment.”

The Western violin’s induction into Carnatic Music in the late 19th century and its subsequent entrenchment over the 20th century as both a concert and recording must-have, in its role as an instrument closely following, but never ahead of, the vocal melody, must rank as one of the most remarkable occurrences in the evolution of any conservative, classical tradition anywhere in the world.

Something struck a chord in the Carnatic world, and it is no doubt the fretless, bowed, violin’s almost unique ability to reproduce every nuance and sustain of the human voice, vital in Carnatic’s modal, raga-based, gamaka-laden singing.

Indeed, recent research published in the science Savart Journal indicates that “great violin makers, such as Stradivari and Guarneri, may have designed violins to mimic the human voice.” The study’s author Joseph Nagyvary, an emeritus biochemistry professor at Texas A&M University, says that “violins ‘sing’ with a female soprano voice.”

But can the violin, then, be happy being only an accompanist to the centre-stage vocalist, consigned permanently to the notorious second-fiddle status? Having given of itself to Carnatic music, will it not seek to take something back as well?

Many great violin players including Thirkkodikaval Krishna Iyer and Govindaswamy Pillai, followed by   T Chowdaiah from Mysore, Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu and Pappa Venkataramaiah accompanied the greatest vocalists of Carnatic music, creating a golden period for melody.

Even in those early days, accompanists were not entirely satisfied in merely following the voice. While these instrumentalists became legends because of their innovation and creativity in adapting a western instrument to Indian music, for a long time it was difficult to conceive the violin as a having the potential to be a solo instrument. For one thing, any violinist, all old-timers agree, who showed off skill above and beyond the accompanist’s role, might quickly find it a struggle get concerts to play.

So the violin in Dr L Subramaniam’s hand, as he sits in his elegantly furnished home in Sanjay Nagar, Bengaluru, has indeed come a very long way. His father V Lakshminarayana had a vision for the Carnatic violin as a solo instrument, with its own repertoire, its own techniques and styles, not just in India but in concert halls across the world.

Today, Subramaniam plays the solo Carnatic violin at the prime 3.30 am slot in major music festivals across the world, from the Dover festival in the UK to neighbouring Bangladesh.

“If you work hard, then you can achieve great things like T N Rajaratinam Pillai did for the nadaswaram, Palghat Mani Iyer did for the mridangam or T R Mahalingam did for the flute. Mandolin Shrinivas is one of our finest musicians of all times, and in his generation he is the best. They were artistes who did different things and brought their chosen instrument to a different level. So people came just to listen to their instruments. My father believed that the violin had that potential,” he says.

It was in the late 1970s that Subramaniam finished his MBBS and went to the US. Prior to that he was playing with his brothers L Vaidyanathan and L Shankar as part of the ‘Violin Trio’. Trained by his father all his life, waking up at 4 am for practice almost every day, he had got to the point where he had his first chance to lead a major orchestral symphony at Los Angeles. But with his mother in hospital, he did not want to go ahead. His father insisted that he not give up an opportunity to play the violin as a soloist, that too with hundreds of western musicians playing behind him.

Lakshminarayana told him, “Just think of what you will be giving up. Our dream is to make the Indian violin a solo instrument. Here you have the opportunity to be a soloist, with hundreds of western musicians behind you and they are playing your composition based on an Indian Raga.”  Subramaniam led from the front.

When Subramaniam got his first chance to play at the New York Philharmonic, his mother had passed away and he was grieving. Again he was persuaded by his father and older brother L Vaidyanathan not to skip a chance to play in one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras. It was a special opportunity to write a piece for the New York Philharmonic, and work with Zubin Mehta. “My father was very clear what our role was. His dream was to make sure that the Indian violin was heard in major concert halls in the world.”

For all of this to happen, two major changes had to be brought about. The first was to branch off into solo playing, and the second was to strengthen the techniques and the content of the music to enable solo playing as well as to give it an edge while playing with Western artistes, to whom the violin essentially belonged.

FLYING SOLO

The first change was to carve a space for solo concerts in an Indian milieu which was inconceivable in the 1960s and 1970s, given the concert paddathi. But the change was necessary. “When you accompany people you have restrict yourself, you cannot play what you want to play. If you are a virtuoso player, practicing for so long every day, you want to exhibit your talent and art for people who really like it and who support it. In that kind of a situation there is a conflict. Because if you are a solo player and you play an accompaniment, then you are not called for the next concert because people start applauding your accompaniment as it is more expressive. Typically they don’t want a scenario where the accompanist is getting more attention that the main artiste. The only resolution to this was to decide to play only solo or only accompaniment.”

It was not an easy decision to make. The concert opportunities were not many and most artistes struggled getting a regular income. “There were a few AIR jobs through recommendations, with only a few available through merit. The rest of them survived by playing with somebody. For that somebody to call you means that you should ensure that you don’t overshadow them. This was the reality,” says Subramaniam.

Instrumental music in South India has had to fight for its rightful place. In Subramaniam’s view, it is often “people’s personal agendas, personal thoughts, personal prejudices which are always there in the framework. You are a brought up in a society where there are many preconceived notions about music. In India, our organisations put restrictions on what one can play. None of the Indian organisations have made me what I am. People heard me and called me all over the world.”

Subramaniam moved to the US in the early 1970s and around that period stopped accompanying vocalists. Earlier he would accompany Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar and it was during one such concert before Subramaniam’s final MBBS exam that Chembai told him he would become a ‘Chakravarthy’ (emperor) in playing the violin.

After singing for two hours, Chembai began a Todi. “I knew that it would take a minimum of another half an hour to 45 minutes. I told him mama, I have an exam next day and if I fail, I have to wait six months to write the exam again. I played a short Todi, then he asked me to play it once more. At that time he told me I would be a Violin Chakravarthy, and will not make a single penny from medicine even if I pass the exam. It was Deva Vak (divine word).” Subramaniam has never practiced medicine despite being a qualified doctor.

CONTENT AND TECHNIQUES                                                         

The second change that was necessary was to set up the Indian violin against the Western violin. In order to set up a solo style that was accepted globally, “we had to create new techniques because in terms of the violin, the West was far ahead and they considered even our greatest artistes as folk artistes or ethnic musicians who sat down and played the instrument.

“So the task before us was to create acceptance on par with them and create a desire to collaborate with us. Changing that mindset was difficult because they will not collaborate unless they feel you have something to collaborate with on par with their level of technique, their level of popularity or their level of musicianship,” says Subramaniam who since 1973 has collaborated with Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Ruggiero Ricci, Arve Tellefsen, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Al Jarreau, Jean Luc Ponty, Earl Klugh, Larry Coryell, Corky Siegel, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham and Maynard Ferguson.

Lakshminarayana had decided to innovate with the content, creating a solo technique in varnams, with multiple speeds, playing in a much faster tempo, which normally doesn’t happen in a vocal concert. “My father changed some of the right hand and left hand techniques and incorporated veena techniques so that it becomes our own technique and we were not copying the Western violin.”

The greatest challenge was to try to do things which were not easy for a vocalist, says Subramaniam. “There were a lot of things. Seeing what it feels to play with full range, and then try and go beyond that range. I recorded a varnam in 15 speeds pancha nadai with Palghat Mani Iyer playing the mridangam, which till today has not been duplicated because you need a player like Palghat Mani Iyer also to do something like that.”

Dr L Subramaniam at Albert Hall

The last century was a golden period for the Voice. There was MS Subbulakshmi, GN Balasubramaniam, Ariyakudi, Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer, the Alathur Brothers and everyone was unique in their own way. Their music was always innovative and vocal music flourished.

The content of their music, however, was not always based on lyrics, says Subramaniam. “They were not singing krithis alone. Krithis are a part of a concert. There’s the raga before, swarakalpana after, the Ragam Tanam Pallavi, etc. and a major portion of it could be improvised depending on the artiste. Are there words in the improvisation?  Similarly in instrumental music you can enjoy the music without words. We should have an open mind to say I will hear both if it is good. If as an organiser you give only what people are asking, then you can become like Bollywood, do Bollywood films. Here you have the responsibility of spreading the culture.”

To him the power of instrumental music is undeniable. Subramaniam says, “Instrumental music has been able to penetrate and spread our culture in the West, more than vocal music. You see in Western music the power of the orchestra. Why was instrumental music given that importance? They too had vocal music, but slowly they started writing music only for instruments. Right from the time of Bach to Wagner and Mahler. They did it with 200 people, 500 people. They write pieces with that magnitude for orchestra. The sound is absolutely amazing and mind blowing. In India, only those instrumentalists who were immensely talented or were exceptional, were taken notice of.”

COMPOSING

Today, Subramaniam is India’s leading composer for international symphonies. His work is published by Schott Music, the second oldest and the largest music publishing houses in Europe. He picked up a masters in Western Classical music, (formal training is useful for proper notation) and he composes music and notates it himself. “The Double Concerto for violin and flute” combines western scales and micro intervals. “Spring – Rhapsody” is a homage to Bach and Baroque music.

Over the years he has written and created works for the world’s greatest orchestras The New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta (“Fantasy on Vedic Chants”), the Swiss Romande Orchestra (“Turbulence”); The Kirov Ballet (“Shanti Priya”) The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra (“The Concerto for Two Violins”); The Berlin Opera (Global Symphony), the live concert of which was broadcast simultaneously over 28 nations for millions of people. ‘Astral Symphony’ is a composition for a full symphony orchestra.  

Dr Subramaniam received his doctorate in 2017 for his study on Raga Harmony – a study he undertook when a lot of westerners asked him how to compose music using the Indian system.

He has tried to create a system for both Indian and Western musicians to be able to compose orchestral work with a knowledge of western music and using the Indian raga system. “We can create full symphony works using the harmony in the raga system. I have selected 36 ragas out of the 72 and with these 36 ragas we can create any harmony. And whatever harmony has been used in the past also fit into this. So it is a complete system. These 36 raga scale fit in with the Hindustani raga system as well as the Western scales. Everything fits into it, plus, one can go on creating absolutely new harmonic systems. New tonalities which have never been explored can be taken up.”

If an Indian musician wants to write an orchestral piece, without knowing western music, they would have to depend on someone else to write it, based on the melody one chooses. “So, literally, it is not your music. In the West, when we say Mozart wrote a piece, he wrote every note. Bach wrote every note. In India, in Bollywood for instance, somebody gives an idea, somebody will orchestrate it, somebody will arrange it and someone becomes the Music Director. For our musicians to write Western music, they must have knowledge of harmonics, counterpoint, writing score, etc. Similarly if a western musician wants to write a piece using raga, then they must know our system,” adds Subramaniam.

 When Dr L Subramaniam started out as a soloist people said he was making a mistake. They asked “Who is going to listen to him.” In the generation preceding him, 95 percent of the violinists accompanied vocalists. But he was driven by a deep passion for the violin and wanted to play like his father said he should. “Nothing else mattered. If you have God’s blessings, guru’s guidance, and faith, and love and passion in what you are doing, nothing can stop you,” says Subramaniam. lorful Accent 6

# 6 Spastic Society of Karnataka – Helping kids with Cerebral Palsy

· In the last 37 years Spastics Society of Karnataka has served more than 50,000 children and their families · In the last 5 years SSK has served around 4000 children with Cerebral Palsy  · Parent Staff – Around 55 of our staff members are parents of persons with special needs · Number of special educators trained by Department of Human Resource Development & Training in Diploma in Education – CP at Spastics Society of Karnataka- 157 · Teachers trained in Inclusive Education at SSK: 280

Modern medicine has seen many advancements aimed at curing ailments, improving quality of life, pushing barriers in developing access to medical care. For reasons unknown, science is yet to find a solution for preventing cerebral palsy one of the most common neurological problems afflicting motor co-ordination in children. Muscular dystrophy is progressive and painful to watch. There are few things more distressing than to have to care for a child knowing that their condition will worsen every progressive year, at a pace more rapid than slow.

However, counsellors, therapists, neurologists and social workers at the Spastic Society of Karnataka have worked tirelessly, so that children and their parents can live more lightly.

Dr Mahadeviah, Paediatric Neurologist

For over four decades now, the Spastic Society of Karnataka, has been lending support to children and parents with special needs. This week, the organisation was declared a Merit Award Winner (Medical and Therapeutic) at the World Palsy Day awards 2019, Australia. The institution, headed by Rukmini Krishnaswamy, 86 years, has been selected for delivering comprehensive medical and therapeutic services which have impacted the quality of children with cerebral palsy.

The Spastics Society of Karnataka is a Non-Government Organization (NGO) dedicated to the welfare of persons with Neuro-Muscular and Developmental Disabilities. The Society provides a comprehensive package of diagnostic and intervention services to persons with Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Mental Retardation, Multiple Disabilities and Learning Disabilities.

Mrs Krishnaswamy, an alumni of Harvard University, has helped scores of children and parents at both the SSK campus in Indiranagar as well as at the outreach programmes in rural Karnataka. Even today, she makes it a point not to miss the assessment camps at different locations in Karnataka. She says the Centre is always focussed on “action that either achieves the goal or is a significant step towards the goal of the comprehensive rehabilitation of children with Developmental disabilities.”


“The service provided to the children and families is of the highest quality comparable to many centres even in the United States and other western countries.  We need a couple of thousand centres to serve the children with disabilities in this country, at the most fifty centres or even fewer exist. “

Dr Mahadeviah

The Diagnostic and Research Centre was set up in the year 1997 with an essential need to provide all medical and therapeutic services under one roof. With 80% of children coming from low economic strata of society, services under one roof was a crying need for parents who were going from one hospital to another; one doctor to another with their child with cerebral palsy. The Centre was the first of its kind in India and still remains as a model of comprehensive intervention.

Medical Diagnostic services are rendered by a team of specialists- Pediatric Neurologist, Pediatrician, Orthopedic Surgeon, Ophthalmologist, ENT specialist, Psychiatrist and Dentists.  Therapy services include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and sensory integration therapy.

Medical Director Spastic Society of Karnataka and Paediatric Developmental Neurologist Dr. Mahadeviah, who has worked extensively in the US says: “The service provided to the children and families is of the highest quality comparable to many centres even in the United States and other western countries.  We need a couple of thousand centres to serve the children with disabilities in this country, at the most fifty centres or even fewer exist.  Better than Before.  Let us hope many more will come up.”  Dr Mahadeviah is often consulted by Indians abroad for a second opinion on several neurological issues. His approach is practical and he has the benefit of having treated thousands of children with manifestation of a symptom. “We have millions of case studies because of our population. There are few things we do not come across in the span of our careers,” he says. This is something that India should capitalize on in terms of publishing evidence based research.

A team of physiotherapists and occupational therapists provide developmental therapeutic services to children, adolescents and young adults with cerebral palsy and other developmental conditions.       

The range of services in physiotherapy/occupational therapy/ speech; language; alternate augmentative therapy for children with cerebral palsy include – assessments and early intervention with home-based programmes for children below seven years of age; assessments and intervention for children between 8 years and 16 years for mobility and hand function; emotional or academic concerns/learning difficulties.

Mrs Krishnaswamy says “The aim is to enable children with cerebral palsy to become as independent as possible. To empower parents, family, and community to incorporate therapy in the child’s natural environment.”

The comprehensive medical therapeutic model of the Diagnostic and Research Centre was extended to other locations and state districts as a Cluster Model in partnership with District Government Hospitals and Public Health Centres, District Disability Rehabilitation Centres, where the team interacts with the medical panel onsite for early diagnosis and interventions. This model has been extended to different locations with the SSK team of therapists, special educators and medico social workers providing the comprehensive services. Since the children seen in these state districts come from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds, majority of the services are provided free of cost.

The Cluster Model

Priya Rao, Associate Director says the cluster model, which works in partnership with other organizations, especially government hospitals in the rural areas allow SSK to serve children with special needs, mostly from economically-disadvantaged background by providing quality intervention services closer to their home.

SSK’s special educators / therapists visit these hospitals and render services on a regular basis. The hospital staff are sensitised in the area of special needs. Parents of children with special needs at the respective centres are trained to support the existing staff at the respective centres.

“As an NGO we have financial constraints to start our own centres in rural areas. This model helps us use the infrastructure of existing hospitals to provide quality services for the poor and needy with less financial investment,” says Rao.

Indian Experiences – offbeat and truly rewarding


It is time that India starts selling her possibilities as an adventure destination, trekking, horse riding, white water rafting, or its off-beat boutique destinations where you truly discover the heart of the country, its culinary diversity or its art and crafts – Philippa Kaye

Philippa Kaye’s heart is in India, but her family belongs to Yorkshire with its beautiful greens. Having lived in Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Jaipur for several decades now, to her, India is “frustrating, illogical, often hilarious, humbling, surreal but never, ever dull. I have ridden priceless Marwari horses, been invited to royal weddings, threatened by the local mafia, trekked mountains, rafted white water, been wined and dined by maharajas, slept out under the stars, driven vintage cars, messed around in tuk tuks got caught up in Holi and ended up with hair dyed a permanent shade of green. Best of all, I have got to know its people and discovered that in India, anything is possible.”

The draw of the Taj Mahal continues and Philippa says that most people who visit India want to do the Golden Triangle, some the Taj and Tigers, some will want to do Kerala, some are drawn by the majesty of Regal Rajasthan “but that is because it is what they have heard of, it is what is marketed.  Other than these, I don’t think that most first time travellers to India know exactly what it is that draws them to India. They have a sense of the exotic, spirituality, mysticism, some people may say the food, but not many can put their finger on exactly what it is that appeals.”  

Philippa first came to India in connection with her work as a tour operator. The owners of the company she worked for had a policy that “if you hadn’t seen it, you couldn’t sell it” and “so when we were planning on launching India I had to travel around Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. That was my first ever trip to India in 1998.”

She wrote back then of her six week stay that she “liked the good hotels, was amazed at the temples, and my first experience on a houseboat on the backwaters blew me away. But after five weeks on the road, either looking at temples or being stared at and begged at, sometimes all three, I still wasn’t feeling the love. I liked India, but I couldn’t appreciate why people fell in love with it.”

She spoke to a receptionist at a hotel, Manoj and told him that “I just wanted to see an India where I didn’t get viewed as a meal ticket, or just have to look at a building.” He immediately invited her to his home village, 30 kms away and Philippa says this experience has stuck with her in the 21 years she has been in India.

“The first people I saw were three ladies, sitting on a verandah, their faces covered by a yellow paste. They smiled at me and put their hands together in a traditional Namaste, seemingly not aware of how strange they looked. Manoj told me they had covered their faces with a mixture of Sandalwood and turmeric, sandalwood for its cooling properties and turmeric for its anti-ageing properties, basically a traditional sunscreen.

Around the corner there were two women sitting on another large step.  One lady, who looked to be about a hundred, was looking at a collection of small shells, scattered on the floor, the other much younger lady was looking at her intently. I had stumbled across the village wise woman or soothsayer who told fortunes with a combination of etched palm leaves and sea shells.

By this time I had gathered a bunch children who were literally jumping up and down, shrieking and giggling with uncontrollable excitement. I paused to photograph them and a brave one came up and touched my skin, they had never seen freckles before, taking her cue from her older brother, a girl came up and touched my hair, auburn isn’t a colour they were familiar with. Before long I was being pawed by 7 or 8 of them. Attracted by the noise, people started coming out of their houses. The children were batted away and in the next instant I was invited into a home. Now this wasn’t a wealthy village by any stretch of the imagination, but this was to be my first experience of true, genuine Indian hospitality, where ‘Guest is God.’ I was shown around their simple home, offered water and then buttermilk. Naturally I was torn between getting ill and insulting these wonderfully kind people, who had very little but wanted to give me what they could. I took the plunge, sipped at the water and drank the buttermilk. They were delighted. We then had a conversation in sign language about families, numbers of children and whether they were boys and girls. Word spread further and the man from the street food stall sent me some of his snacks to try and having finished with her client, the village wise woman asked me if I wanted to have my fortune told. No one would take a rupee for any of this. In fact I was told it was insulting of me to offer. By the end of my two hours there I was captivated. This is where the true India lay, in the hearts of its people,” wrote Philippa in her blog.

The second time she came was on a 6 month sabbatical in 2006, to run a lodge in Kanha National park and then stayed on in India pretty much for next 13 years!  “Life in India is so diverse, it’s not always easy, far from it, but it is always interesting. My job also means that I get to travel and explore and discover a lot, I’d be on the road at least once a month for a week or more. It’s a never-ending journey, I always say about India that the more you discover, the more you discover that there is to discover. I am very lucky to have had this opportunity.”

When asked what she would recommend to tourists who were on a first trip to India, Philippa replies – Their India. “India is so diverse, so extraordinary and yes, somewhat baffling but it is also can be a personal experience. Most people have no concept of the possibilities of what a journey around a small part of India can offer and how this can be tailored to their specific likes and expectations.”

In a recent article, Philippa says that most people who think of travelling to India don’t know much about it.

“They only know what they have heard about – which I understand is a ridiculous statement to make, but hear me out. People have heard of certain destinations and some monuments and these are what they ask for when they are enquiring about a holiday to the country. What they haven’t heard of, necessarily, is India’s possibilities as an adventure destination, trekking, horse riding, white water rafting, or its off-beat boutique destinations where you truly discover the heart of the country, its culinary diversity or its art and crafts, the list goes on.”

How India is portrayed needs to be corrected, says Philippa. “India is portrayed as monuments, not adventure, cities rather than countryside, standard sightseeing and shopping rather than true heartfelt experiences; imagine how many more tourists could be attracted if the real message was put out there effectively. It is not thought of as a family destination, but in fact it is excellent for this, with a booming population and the massively increasing spend and mobility of the middle classes, family travel is increasing massively. I appreciate that the nerves of the inbound tourist prevent them from thinking of India when planning a family holiday, but those who have braved it have found it immensely rewarding, my own nephews and niece aged 10, 15, 18 and 20 still rate it 10 years on as the best holiday they ever had.”

When Philippa was selling holidays, she would try to connect the tourists’ interests to the destinations. “What are your interests, hobbies, is it food, photography, the great outdoors, do you like wildlife, where did you go on holiday last year, what would you do if you were to go away next weekend?’ Then the cogs would start turning. “Well, yes, my wife loves Indian food!” or “My son is an amateur photographer” or “My daughter is training to be a vet” or, “We love architecture/horse riding/walking/fashion”; this is when you can truly start creating a truly tailor-made holiday.  Armed with this personal information, you can plan excursions and activities, even within the Golden Triangle that will make it unique to that client and, in addition to the sights, give them the insights into the country that they will appreciate. This is tailor-making and through giving clients a truly enhanced experience that appeals to their sensibilities, repeat business will ensue.”

Philippa quotes the instance of a couple who wanted to visit Shimla for the toy train ride, Agra and a journey around Rajasthan. When she spoke to them, she found out that that the husband was into horse racing, and actually had 6 of his own horses.

“Which got me thinking, why not spend a day at the races in Calcutta? I could pull a few strings, get him to meet some of the owners and trainers and have a proper show around. It could have been a bus man’s holiday but he was delighted. His wife was into art, and so we threw in Lunch with Bomti, a local resident, socialist and art dealer, as well as a couple of art galleries. Calcutta in itself is fascinating so it’s not too hard to impress. Of course then the toy train ride then became the one to Darjeeling and time spent there which they loved, a few days at Glenburn and then followed Rajasthan and Agra. Was it the most logical routing? No, of course not, but this didn’t bother them one iota because they were actually doing a trip that was uniquely tailored around them, their preferences, their likes and dislikes, rather than a standard circuit.”

Another couple contacted her saying they had 8 days and wanted to see the Golden Triangle. They were heading to Nepal to trek up to Everest Base Camp.  “It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that they were quite active. Mr Jones was an anthropologist, Mrs Jones an amateur photographer, they both quite liked wildlife. I asked them if they were really bothered about the Taj Mahal (as I would) and they didn’t seem overly enamoured. It was then decided that I would send them two options, one a Delhi, Agra, Jaipur tour with added extras, a half day trek in Jaipur, a photo tour of Old Delhi, that kind of thing and a couple of nights in between, Ranthambhore or more ideally Ramathra, and then one itinerary where my imagination could get involved. This was a Jodhpur (see the fort but then head off to a private camp in the middle of the Thar Desert and visit the more remote villages and tribes that one rarely gets to see), Kumbalgarh with the trek through the Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, a romantic step well dinner and of course the Ranakpur Temples.  Then onto Jawai for the chance to see the Rabari tribals as well as a couple of obliging leopards and ending with trekking from there to Udaipur, visiting the City Palace,  experiencing a walking tour of the old city, a cookery demo at their hotel and a half day trek into the surrounding hills. They were sold on option 2, all of a sudden they didn’t care about the Taj, they had been given an option that appealed to their senses and sensibilities and booked it by return mail. They then went on to recommend us to a several other couples.”

Asked if foreign tourists like travelling on their own, Philippa says that not initially or on a first trip. “Most tourists, even ones who are confident when traveling in other countries, are slightly more hesitant when it comes to traveling around India. It really is the unknown and unfathomable and it is difficult to know where to start when planning.  For this reason, most travellers to the country appreciate planning their trip and like the safety of knowing that they will have someone to meet them on arrival, the right hotels to choose and the reassurance of know that there is a local office if they need it.  But, do they need someone to accompany them? No. Most independent travellers will appreciate local guides in destinations and like meeting local people but they don’t need anyone accompanying them.  Group tours are slightly different as accompanying guides can take care of logistics and timings and keep everyone together – it’s not always easy!”

One hears of Vegan tours to India, but Philippa says that it is never the sole reason for someone to come to India.  Would it be the sole reason that people decide to travel to India? No, I don’t think so. Would it be something that may help them make the final decision? Yes, knowing that vegan and vegetarian food is as common, if not more so than non-veg would perhaps be one factor which would help to sway them.”

India’s antiquity, the monuments, temples, have been much publicised in tourist brochures, and many promoters are also looking at the newer side of India. For Philippa, “It’s not necessarily a case of offering something from a more recent history, it’s about showcasing a different India, one that isn’t just the monuments in well-known cities, it is also about being more experiential and immersive. Take people on a walking tour of Old Jaipur or Old Agra and tell the stories, that’s what people want, to learn about the place, the people, the food. Try seeing Jaipur from the perspective of a hot air balloon rather from within a fort or a museum, go on a cycling tour around the countryside around Udaipur, these are the experiences that people are looking for even in the mainstream destinations.” 

Philippa says they are always on the lookout for people who want to showcase their little bit of India. “Our experience providers don’t look at what they offer so much as a business, rather a way of showcasing their destination to a traveller in a way that is meaningful, both for the local people and the travellers. Aside from mainstream destinations, we love finding people who promote offbeat destinations, rural India, take people off into the villages in remote Rajasthan or Himachal to name just two. This not only provides a unique experience for the traveller but showcasing how the rural population can make a living out of tourism also encourages them to stay in their villages rather than joining the mass exodus to the cities. We also love people who are passionate about adventure and who want to showcase this aspect of India, from white water rafting in Uttarakhand to trekking and cycling in Kerala.   But there is also India’s phenomenal natural history which isn’t done justice to.   By doing this, by showcasing that India is so much more than just her (albeit magnificent) monuments, we hope to start encouraging a younger generation of people to visit; a crowd in between the luxury culture vulture and the budget backpacker.” me=”Gri

(Philippa has been a specialist in travel to India for twenty years. She has been responsible for establishing Indian divisions for various UK based travel companies including Ampersand Travel, Real Holidays and Experience Travel Group. She has lived in India for over ten years and has consulted for various hotels and Indian DMC’s. She is passionate about showcasing ‘A Different India,’ beyond the mainstream destinations. She established Indian Experiences in order to provide consultancy services to the Indian travel trade. The team works with hotels in India, DMC’s and UK Tour Operators in order to enhance their experiential offerings, service levels, product development, content and social media. She also has a blog about India, www.memsahibinindia.com)

India records its past differently: Museum expert


London based museum curator and art consultant Deepika Ahlawat says that there are different ways of approaching history, and ‘any society in the past should be looked at from discursive frameworks internal to its functional logic’. 

“The source material for all my pursuits is the past and its study, so all this comes together rather seamlessly,” says Deepika who in 2009 helped curate an exhibition in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum titled Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts.

In its website, the Victoria and Albert Museum describes the Maharaja exhibition as having spanned the period from the beginning of the 18th century to the mid-20th century, bringing together over 250 magnificent objects, many being lent from India’s royal collections for the first time.

“The exhibition examined the changing role of the maharajas within a social and historical context and revealed how their patronage of the arts, both in India and Europe, resulted in splendid and beautiful objects symbolic of royal status, power and identity,” says the website.


Various civilisations in India recorded the past for different reasons in different ways. Looking for simplistic linear chronologies for certain events and people is a peculiar obsession of the western canon. In India, the recording of the past was more in the form of ideal forms, with no such fetish to establish events within matrices of chronic causality. So, it’s not as if there isn’t a history, but that what we consider history differs

Deepika Ahlawat

Paintings depict the secular and sacred power of an Indian king most spectacularly in the grand public processions that celebrated royal events and religious festivities. “Riding a richly caparisoned elephant or horse, the ruler was lavishly dressed and jewelled and surrounded by attendants bearing symbolic attributes of kingship: a royal parasol, chauri, fans and staffs of authority. The vision of a king in all his splendour was believed to be auspicious. It was central to the concept of darshan, the propitious act of seeing and being seen by a superior being, whether a god or a king. Although originally a Hindu notion, the idea of darshan became an integral aspect of kingship throughout the subcontinent,” says the V&A.

Deepika describes the experience of putting together the Maharaja exhibition as an interesting and complicated experience. “The challenges were both intellectual and logistical. One challenge was to ensure that the exhibition narrative did not devolve into a 3D version of a glossy magazines fetishisation of the Maharaja figure, reducing this entire history to a caricature. Logistical challenges included transporting fragile art works from various palace collections in India to London within extant Indian regulations on the matter, which often differed substantially from global museum practice.”

Her favourite piece in the exhibition was a “tiny miniature borrowed from the Royal Asiatic Society, a 19th c copy of a 17th c original, showing Maharaja Raj Singh of Mewar celebrating the completion of Rajsamand, the largest man-made lake of the age. He had it built to relieve drought in Mewar. It comes from the James Tod bequest to the RAS.” Rajsamand was constructed an artificial lake Rajsamand in 1622 A.D, and is magnificent illustration of the then architecture and public works.

For those who say that Indians do not chronicle their past because of the largely oral tradition of transmission of knowledge, Deepika says “this conclusion often stems from alien frameworks of understanding the past. Various civilisations in India recorded the past for different reasons in different ways. Looking for simplistic linear chronologies for certain events and people is a peculiar obsession of the western canon. In India, the recording of the past was more in the form of ideal forms, with no such fetish to establish events within matrices of chronic causality. So, it’s not as if there isn’t a history, but that what we consider history differs.”

Interpretations often pass off as history. The truth often lies somewhere in between all the versions that are available to people. For Deepika, “There are few facts in history. The past is unassailably inaccessible. What we have at a given moment are informed and critically argued opinions, backed with certain evidence we consider bolsters our preferred narrative, while, (if the historian is any good) , also engaging with material that disproves this chosen narrative, and proving why this negative evidence is unsatisfactory. Anyone who insists they have pure ‘facts’ is probably a poor historian within any framework.”

Deepika has spoken about history being hijacked by people to “tell particular bits of a story”. She quotes the example of “the incredible hit job upon the idea of Indian kingship by creating the caricature of the Maharaja figure as an effete, spendthrift, womaniser. This was first done by the British and then even more forcefully by the Nehruvian Republic.  This directly impacts upon the period of history I study, so I consider it an egregious intellectual assault. Others who specialise in other subjects would have their own distorted narratives to bear with and, hopefully, correct in due course.”

For the narrative to be fair to the culture it portrays, Deepika as a museum professional says, “Logistically, it would be nice to have a better, more robust and more independent museum network which allowed regional histories to be told in fuller, less caricatured ways.  To me, the cultivation of better critical thinking skills from early childhood would be a great beginning to a better society. This would also allow for better, more subtle, more nuanced engagements with history.”

Images of the Mother Goddess

By Monidipa Bose Dey

The ugra aspect of the devi is best characterised by her Mahishasuramardini image, which has been depicted in various ways over the centuries. The Vedic text such as Vajasaneyi Samhita, Taittiriya Aryanaka, Kena, Mundaka Upanishads, Sankhayana grihasutras mention Durga in her various forms; the soumaya (quiet/placid) forms among them being that of Gauri, Parvati, etc. Her fiercer aspects are named as Kali and Karali (same as the two names of the seven tongues ascribed to Agni, Rudra), Chandi, Chamundi, and the Nava Durgas.

The earliest images of a Mahishasuramardini found are terracotta plaques from Nagar in Rajasthan, belonging to the 1st c. BCE – 1st c.CE time period.

Photo 1: Mahisasuramardini

The four armed Devi in photo 1 is of 1st c. CE from Nagar Rajasthan, and she is seen holding up a mahisha/buffalo (theriomorphic representation of the asura), by pushing him up with her front right hand and pulling his tongue with her front left hand. She carries a rectangular armour or khetaka in her back left hand, and a trisula in her back right hand. Her simha/lion vahana sits quietly below her, and seems quite uninvolved in the tussle going on above him. Few more similar images were found from Nagar (ranging from 1st c. BCE to 1st c. CE), thus showing the presence of the devi worshippers (Sakta group) in this region even in the pre-Kushana era (Agrawala, 1958). Similar images of the devi from the Kushana period were also found from Besnagar and Mathura (photo 2). The findings of these murtis in the late 1940s- 50s dispelled the earlier theory (by Banerjea, 1941) that Mahishasuramardini murtis were not extant prior to the Gupta period.

Mathura museum holds 6 statuettes of the Mahishasuramardini of the Kushana period from various sites in and around Mathura, of which one is four armed and the rest are 6 armed. According to Agrawala, a plaque kept in the Mathura museum belonging to the Kushana era depicting Mahishasuramardini is of particular interest. Here the devi is 6 armed, her upper hands hold an iguana, while her lower left hand holds the asura and she carries a sword in her right hand. Interestingly enough the asura here is in human form, and there is no buffalo (Agrawala, p.123, 1958). Agrawala also quotes from Mrs. Odette Viennot’s reports that an exhibit number 8622 in the Indian Museum (Kolkata) is likely that of  a Kushana period Mahisasuramardini , where again she is holding an iguana in her upper arms (Agarwala, p. 124, 1958).

The pre Kushana and Kushana era Mahishasuramardinis are simple in form and lack the complexities of the ‘Devi Mahatmya’ iconographic descriptions.  The devi wears the typical Kushana era styled dhoti and girdle, and carries a sakti (spear) and trisula. One important aspect to be noted here is that in the fight between devi and the mahisha, the battle is more of  a bare handed fight than the use of weapons. The devi has no attendants and even her vahana simha is absent most of the times. Thus, the pre-Kushana and Kushana era Mahisasuramardinis are more rustic in appearance, and can be said to be a pre-cursor or a prototype of the devi that we find described in details in the ‘Devi-Mahatyma’ (which was complied around 4th c.CE). Besides Mathura, the 1st BCE to 1st c. CE Mahisasurmardini sect was spread across other parts that include Nagar, Bhita, Ahichchatra, etc.

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Photo 2: Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon (Mahishasuramardini)
Kushan period, 2nd century CE, Uttar Pradesh, Mathura. Photo Source

While identifying Durga in early Indian coins, it is believed that a 1st c. BCE coin of the Azes, which depicts a female figure standing on a lotus, one hand holding  a lotus and the other in katyavilambita pose, with the forepart of a lion by her side, and a bull (Shiva’s emblem) on the reverse is among the earliest coins depicting Durga-simhavahini. Some of Huvishka’s coins (2nd c. CE) depict the devi as Uma, where she carries a lotus or a cornucopia/matulunga (OMMO written in Greek characters), that were identified by Prof. E. J. Rapson and Jitendranath Banerjea. While some have pointed out that the female deity shown on Azes coins  appear similar to that of the Syrian-Elamite goddess Nanaia (seen in some Kushana era coins); however, the devi figure seen on Azes coins is purely Indian in style, with her katihasta and trivanga postures (Banerjea; Dasgupta).

There are also various seals of the devi found from different parts of the country. A particular seal from Rajghat (Uttar Pradesh) is interesting, where the devi carries a wreath in one hand and a four pronged sula in the other hand, with the letters Durggah written in Gupta script. Another seal from Bhita (Uttar Pradesh) shows the devi standing with a trident-axe in hand and in katihasta pose.  The Gupta period yielded another beautiful bronze murti of the devi from Nalanda, where she is trinayani, with four arms carrying aksmala, kamandala, and hooked staff (the fourth arm being broken). Here interestingly we see a godha or an iguana below her, which got associated with the devi in Sakta worship, and can be easily linked to the Mauryan-Sunga period figures of Mother Goddesses seen with alligators (Banerjea). There are also the usual figures of the lion and bull near the base of this bronze murti. Another bronze murti of the same period found at Deulbandi (Bangladesh) shows an eight armed form of the devi, in sampadahasthanaka posture on a lion, who is couchant on a padmasana and triratha stand. She carries sankha, chakra,  khadga, ghanta, trisul, khetaka, sara and dhanus in her 8 hands, and her name as inscribed on the pedestal is Sarvaani, which is a name for Gauri or Parvati, as Sarva is another name of Shiva. Generally Sarvaani or Parvati is shown with four arms, carrying a linga-aksmala, trisula, and a kamandula, and this form of the devi, which is popular in medieval Bengal (seen in the photo 3), is also seen in parts of south-east Asia, such as Java.

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Photo 3: Parvati of Pala period from Bengal

Other seals from  Nalanda of the late Gupta period show the devi as Durga simhavahini where she is four armed, sitting on lion and on padmaasana. It is also believed that simhavahini devi seen on the Chandragupta Kumaradevi coins, and the lion slayer ones seen in gold coins of Chandragupta-II all represent Durga.

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 Durga enthroned facing, seated on recumbent lion left, holding cornucopia and diadem, Brāhmī legend at right: Lichchhavayah: Gupta period , gold dinar, c. 335-375 CE (photo source)
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Seal from Nalanda, Gupta period, depicting Durga Simhavahini, 600-700  CE, National Museum (Delhi).

Durga in her Mahishasuramardini form, while being present in iconography from the pre-Kushana period, became popular in Hindu temple iconography mainly from the Gupta period in eastern India, from where it rapidly spread to all parts of the country and even to foreign lands.

Images of Mahishasuramardini

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Mahishasuramardini destroying the buffalo with two bare hands. Stone. Mathura. Circa 200.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She holds a khadga, solar and lunar symbols. Photo courtesy: John Anderson
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Cave 6 Shakti Durga as Mahishasura-mardini. Gupta year 82 (401 CE). photo from wikipedia
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Mid 7th century CE, North India, from the Victoria and Albert Museum collections. Source
Aihole, 8th c. CE
Mahishasuramardini (Durga Destroying the Buffalo Demon) Artist_maker unknown, Indian Geography_ Made in Uttar Pradesh, India, Asia Date_ Mid- 8th century Medium_ Sandstone Dimensions_ 29 1_2 × 18 1_4 × 4 3_4 inc
8th c. CE, UP, Source
Durga, Pala art from east India
Durga, Pala period, Bengal.  Source
Enshrined in a central niche an eight-armed Chamunda, a terrifying form of the goddess Durga_
Relief sculpture of Mahishasuramardini in an exterior niche of the Vaital Deul temple, c. 750 CE, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India. Source
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The Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon (Mahishasuramardini) | 8th c. CE, Odisha, India | Philadelphia Museum of Art. source
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8th – 9th century Durga Mahishasuramardini ,  Sirpur Chhattisgarh. From Wikipedia
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Mahishasuramardini,9th century
Indonesia (Java)
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Mahishasuramardini,9th century, Borobudur. photo source
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Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon
Indonesia, Central Java, 9th-10th century Sculpture
Volcanic stone
Source
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East Java, 13th c. CE  Source
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Durga killing the buffalo demon, 900-1000. India. Granite. The Avery Brundage Collection. Photo from the internet
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mid 10th c.CE, MP, India Source

Napier Museum

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Mahisasuramardini, Pala, Bengal, 10th-11th c.CE. Source
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Mahishasuramardini, Odisha, 13th c. CE, British Museum, London. Source
Kadamba dynasty, 12th-13th century CE, Archaeological museum in old Goa
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Mahishasuramardini, Dulmi, Manbhum district in Bihar.  British Library
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Kerala, 17th c. CE (photo from the internet)
Terracotta Durga - Uro
Bengal Terracotta, post 16th century CE. Photo by Ajoy Konar.

(Born and brought up in Calcutta, the author has stayed and worked in Calcutta, Mumbai, as well as in Delhi. Currently she works as an educational consultant and reviewer. In the near past she has worked as the head of Publications for a Delhi based NGO (Youth For Heritage Foundation), which was working towards creating general awareness about heritage.)

References

Agarwala, R., C. The Goddess Mahiṣāsuramardinī in Early Indian Art. Artibus Asiae Vol. 21, No. 2 (1958), pp. 123-130.  

Banerjea, J. 1941. Development of Hindu Iconography. Iyer, K. B. An Early Gupta Seal of the Mahiṣāsuramardinī. Artibus Asiae. Vol. 31, No. 2/3 (1969), pp. 179-184. 

Majumdar, R.C. (ed.); K.K. Dasgupta (Joint Ed.). A Comprehensive History of India: Volume III: Part I.

(photos taken from the internet and used here are purely for representative purposes, and have no commercial use)