श्रुति स्मृति चतुर्दश अष्टादशविद्याः (śruti smṛti caturdaśa aṣṭādaśavidyāḥ)

Centuries before  the founding of the world’s oldest surviving universities – the University of al-Qarawiyyin (founded in ~859 CE) and the University of Bologna (founded in~1088 CE) – it is recorded in Chinese sources that Bhārat’s Nālandā, situated in today’s India, in its heyday had ~10,000 students and ~1,500 teachers, with students visiting from Japan, Korea, China, Central & Southeast Asia!

The lyrics of this single श्रुति स्मृति चतुर्दश अष्टादशविद्याः (śruti smṛti caturdaśa aṣṭādaśavidyāḥ) contain lines from texts Yājñavalkya Smṛti and Viṣṇu Purāṇa which are historical/textual attestations of categories of learning and subjects — parts of systems of Indic knowledge  — that were taught in universities like Nālandā. 

In short, this is hence a tribute to Indic Knowledge Systems caturdaśa aṣṭādaśavidyāḥ (https://bit.ly/2DbnjS2) — which bring together categories/texts as diverse as āyurvedaarthaśāstranāṭyaśāstraaṣṭādhyāyī — that had existed before the founding of today’s oldest surviving universities,  until first, the grotesque physical destruction of these places of learning by invading forces and then systematic marginalisation of these systems of knowledge in the mainstream education system, first by colonising forces and then their Indian (ideological) successors. 

This single, launched on May 13, 2019 at the Center for Soft Power, Chennai, was made more vivid by custom choreography by renowned Bharatanātyam performer and CSP Researcher Ms. Pavithra Srinivasan (https://www.pavithrasrinivasan.dance/).


Raag/am: Bairāgi/Revati
Sung by: Shruti and Smruthi Kalyanasundharam
Melody: Megh Kalyanasundaram

LYRICS (Translation by Dr Korada Subrahmanyam)

सरस्वति नमस्तुभ्यं वरदे कामरूपिणि । विद्यारम्भं करिष्यामि सिद्धिर्भवतु मे सदा ॥
O! Sarasvati! you grant boons, you can have your desired form – I offer my namaskara (means: I am inferior to you and you are superior to me) to you. I am going to start my study: let there be success to me always.

श्रुतिस्मृतिपुराणानाम् आलयं करुणालयम् |नमामि भगवत्पादं शङ्करं लोकशङ्करम् ||
I offer namaskara to Bhagavan Sankara, who is an abode of Srutis, Smritis and Puranas, an abode of  kindness and who provides comfort to people (thru Jnanam).

पुराणन्यायमीमांसाधर्मशास्त्राङ्गमिश्रिताः। वेदाः स्थानानि विद्यानां धर्मस्य च चतुर्दश || 
The Four Vedas viz. Rgveda, Yajurveda, Samveda, Atharvaveda, Puranas, Nyaya, Mimamsa, Dharmasastram along  with the six Vedangas, viz Siksha, Vyakaranam, Chandas, Niruktam, Jyotisham, Kalpa: these fourteen are the abodes of Vidya (Jnanam) and Dharma.

आयुर्वेदो धनुर्वेदो गान्धर्व श्चेत्य नुक्रमात् । अर्थशास्त्रं परं तस्मात् विद्याह्यष्टादश स्मृताः || 
Ayurveda, Dhanurveda, Gandharvaveda and Arthasastram, the four Upavedas, coupled with the said fourteen are called eighteen Vidyas.

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Aum, Peace, Peace, Peace!

For more, see: https://shrutismrti.wixsite.com/ashtaadashavidyaa and https://www.academia.edu/39123151/Soft_power_Indic_Knowledge_Systems

Soft Power: Indic Knowledge Systems, Technology and Management

The Center for Soft Power hosted a discussion on the topic of “Soft Power: Indic Knowledge Systems, Technology and Management.” The discussion was led by Dr. Korada Subrahmanyam, Chairman-Intermediate Board Sanskrit Textbook committee and Professor of Sanskrit, Centre for Applied Linguistics and Translation Studies, University of Hyderabad and Mr. Megh Kalyanasundaram, alumni of Indian School of Business with diverse professional experience spanning management, technology, research, learning platform development and music.

The Center for Soft Power hosted a discussion on the topic of “Soft Power: Indic Knowledge Systems, Technology and Management.”

Dr. Korada began the discussion by explaining in great detail, the various elements of the Ashtaadashavidyaa, which are the 18 forms of Knowledge that was consolidated from the totality of the Vedas. He explained the intricacies of each element, and how it represented a specific form of knowledge that is uniquely Indian, and which can be of great importance to the world going forward.

“What is a Veda? A Veda is a mass of knowledge” – Dr. Korada Subrahmanyam

Mr. Megh Kalyanasundaram, spoke about the need to bring much of this knowledge to the modern world through the use of technology. He spoke of the need to digitise this knowledge and create avenues through which this knowledge can be accessed online. He described his efforts in doing this through two of his projects: श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता | #gita and Srutismriti | Vidyasthanani Caturdasa Astadasa.

“India at one point was leading soft power in the field of education” – Mr. Megh Kalyanasundaram

The Singer by the River

On the occasion of Thyagaraja’s Birth Anniversary

Author of three books on Saint Thyagaraja and several other books on South Indian singer-saints, Professor William Jackson shares his love for India and her music.

The Singer by the River is a novel about the South Indian singer-saint Tyagaraja (1767-1847). The story of Tyagaraja, growing up in the village of Thiruvaiyaru and becoming the greatest composer of South Indian music is interwoven with the stories of his brother Jalpesh, who is remembered traditionally as a troublemaker and trickster. While Tyagaraja follows his inspiration to find spiritual heights through creating mystical music, his brother gets into trouble time and again, disturbing the plans of his family, and his community, and incurring the wrath of rulers who try to reign and control their fates and the land. The story of the saint and his brother is both poignant and humorous.

By Professor William Jackson

I fell in love with India when I first visited for six months in 1970-71. It was a new beginning for me, I learned so much. I drew pictures of elephants, monkeys, cows, flowers and birds. I met friendly people, saw the ocean and temples, experienced the Indian dawns, storms and sunsets. I wrote poetry and read books like The Yogavasishtha, and The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, about a Tibetan sage. India gave me a new beginning, a fresh set of principles. Yes, I fell in love with India.

My PhD is from Harvard University, in the Comparative Study of Religions. My special area of focus in that program was Hindu traditions. The story of my path leading up to that degree program is a long and winding one. I grew up in the Catholic tradition in Rock Island, Illinois, in the time of the Latin liturgy. That meant an education in Catholic schools, and serving mass as an altar boy, reciting the Latin responses to the priest, and also singing in a choir. 

“Thyagaraja’s songs have a meditative quality, the sounds put one in a meditative mood, in my experience.”

When my first marriage ended in divorce when I was twenty-two or so, there was no place for me in the Catholic Church, because divorce is forbidden. I went to India to learn from a spiritual teacher, and part of the tradition I followed include bhajans, as well as meditation, and social service.

 That led to many friendships with Indians. One friend, Ram Ramachandran gave me a book by Raghavan and Ramanujachari, “The Heritage of Thyagaraja.” Ram also took me to hear M.S. Subbalakshmi sing in a concert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My PhD program was in the Comparative Study of Religion, which is also known as the History of Religions. When it was time (after several years of studying Sanskrit, and courses on Indian Literature and studies of various religious traditions (my favorite were the poems and songs of mystics from around the world) I had to pick a thesis topic; because I knew from my spiritual teacher and from friends that Thyagaraja was considered an authentic voice of bhakti, I chose to study his life and works, to learn all I could about him. I spent 18 months in India doing PhD research between1980-82.    

I love the sounds of Indian classical music, but I am not a musicologist, so the sahitya rather than the sangita is what I work with as a scholar. I am a poet and for a long time I have written lyrics—jotting them in notebooks. I enjoyed reading the lives of the saints in my childhood, and so the poet-composer-saint Thyagaraja was a historical figure I wanted to study. I felt that music has a power beyond explanation. I wanted to write about the mystic-musician.

 I loved to attend many concerts during the time I was studying Thyagaraja in Chennai. I interviewed musicians and musicologists because I was ignorant of the tradition, and was determined to learn as much as I could. I’m a historian of religion and so I am concerned more with the lives and works of the saints, rather than music. Later, when I became a professor at Indiana University, my job description was to continue researching other topics related to my study of South Indian devotion and music. And so I studied Namasiddhanta in the Kaveri delta, and the Vijayanagara empire singer-saints, etc.

“There’s feeling in Thyagaraja’s songs and also wisdom. “

I studied Sanskrit with Prof Daniel Ingalls for three years at Harvard, and studied Telugu at the University of Wisconsin, with Prof Velcharu Naranayan Rao, and at the University of Madras I studied Telugu (especially Thyagaraja’s Nauka Charitra text) with Prof Krishnamurthy. While in Madras for my PhD thesis research I met with T. S. Parthasarathy almost daily for 18 months to go through Thyagaraja’s krithi lyrics, translating them with him, and writing out the meanings. I studied the Kannada of Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa with Narayana Bhatt in New Delhi.

Thyagaraja’s songs have a meditative quality, the sounds put one in a meditative mood, in my experience. The lyrics of course express moods of devotion, the dramas of a devotee’s relationships to the Supreme Being. They also express reminders, sometimes in proverb-like lines, to be a good person, avoid pitfalls, and keep the faith, surrender to God’s will. So all those universal spiritual teachings are inspiring. There’s feeling in Thyagaraja’s songs and also wisdom.

It is not a perfect fit with the academic life, because bhakti is devotional love and love is not easy to talk about in a strictly rational world, but there are ways to translate the lyrics, tell the saints’ life stories, show how spiritual and creative people have been important in culture and in history.

I’ve been exploring archetypes in various ways all these years—the archetypes in singer-saints’ songs and life stories, the archetypes in storytelling, the archetypes in cultures and in psyches. In the last two decades I’ve studied archetypal psychology, in the writings of C. G. Jung and James Hillman especially. The deep images in our dreams, in our religions, in our creative works, are very important, they determine a lot. They attract us and impel us.

So for years as a university professor and writer of books and articles I worked to put forward an appreciation of the wisdom in the works of inspired people. I feel that wisdom is life-supportive, and shows the way to fulfill one’s life.

(William Jackson, Professor Emeritus Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis)

Discussion on “Expanse of Kalaripayattu in the Globe Today”

The Center for Soft Power hosted a discussion on the topic of ‘Expanse of Kalaripayattu in the globe today”, in association with Kalarigram – a traditional Kalaripayattu school established during the year of 1950, under the patronage of Guru Veerasree Sami Gurukkal.

The discussion featured students of Kalarigram from Finland, Croatia and France

The Discussion was led by Lakshman Gurukkal, the lead teacher at Kalarigram and an Ayurveda pracritioner. He is a a Guru of the Sri Vidya tradition. Lakshman Gurukkal has been awarded by the Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India, with the title of Senior Fellowship in Kalaripayattu and Natyashastra. He spoke about the origins of Kalari, saying that “you cannot see this kind of a martial arts anywhere else in the world.” He described how Kalaripayattu was refined in Kerala but has roots all over India. He also described the difference between Kalaripayattu and other forms of combat and marital arts, saying that the aim of it is not just to kill an opponent but also to ensure that no harm is done to one’s own body by ensuring that the movements are not interrupted.

Shri. Lakshman Gurukkal on the importance of Kalaripayattu

Steina Ohman, a student of Kalarigram from Finland, described how she first came to India as part of an exchange program to study physical theatre in India. She kept coming back to India following this program, so much so that she began to spend more time in India than in Finland. She even had a brief stint bringing other Finnish students to India. She now lives in Pondicherry with Kalarigram.

Steina Ohman explains how she was exposed to Kalaripayattu through an exchange program

Daniela Boban, a student of Kalarigram from Croatia, spoke of how she first came to India as part of a three week holiday and has ended up staying for the last 4 years. She was introduced to Kalaripayattu as Kalarigram was next to where she was staying on her visit to India, and upon starting the art form she began to notice the profound effects it had on her, both physically and mentally, and so she decided to stay. “Kalari helped me break the my preconceptions of myself” she says.

Daniela Boban speaks on the impact the art form has had on her physically and mentally

Laurence Morlon, a student of Kalarigram from France, first came to Auroville 7 years ago in order to study dance. During her dance classes she was introduced to Kalaripayattu. While initially she found it difficult to balance both dance and Kalari, she began to fall more and more in love with the art form and soon became a devout student of Kalarigram. “In Kalarigram I found a home, and a refuge for my soul” she notes.

Laurence Morlon on finding a sense of belonging through Kalaripayattu

The discussion ended with a brief demonstration by the students.

Harikathas – the story of the Divine

Dance, music and story come alive in India’s unique story telling traditions, writes Asha Malatkar of Story Walks

Harikatha is a very demanding art form in that it borrows from dance, storytelling, music and has different flavours emanating from a variety of genres. Harikatha performers have a deep understanding of Indian mythology and their evocative performances are immensely popular with international audiences too because of their style and creative expression.

A three day Harikatha festival in Bangalore recently, curated by Shrivatsa Shandilaya saw six women showcasing their craft.

The Harikatha culture has been known to be in existence for hundreds of years and it is difficult to say if the various dance forms had their own origins or had their genesis in Harikatha or vice –versa. This question led dancer Rajeshri Shirke, a Kathak dancer to research the origins of Kathak which she found was in the Harikatha tradition.

Shrimati Rajeshri Shirke from Maharashtra

Hailing from Maharashtra, she has amalgamated the art of Harikatha, and Kathak with the energy of lavani to infuse meaning and emotion into her perception. Rajeshri and her expressive team members had excellent percussion and vocal accompaniment and the audience was on their feet with tears of joy and appreciation for the beautiful story of Kanopatra, a beautiful courtesan who gave up her life to Lord Vithoba rather than submitting herself to the ruler of Bidar.

In contrast Parvati Baul’s bucolic version of man seeking the meaning of life, was quiet and very stirring. In pursuit of the meaning of life the poetic presentations were touching in their appeal. The simplicity of the ektara providing both drone and rhythm was a rare treat for urban music lovers.

Parvathy Baul from Bengal

Parvathy Baul’s long matted hair touched the ground and her saffron clothes are complimentary to her deep and emotional voice, accompanied by the ektara and the duggi drum tied to her waist. Her dance movements are enhanced by the sound of the ancient anklets that adorn her feet and her face wore a faraway look, transcending her from the here and now. The never ending exploration for the divine is a blissful preoccupation taking her away from the mundane world.

Parvathy’s expression is based on poetry about deep philosophical questions in simple words, phrases and metaphors and songs of the baul singers who seek to spread the message of love of music. Lalon Fakir, one of the Baul traditions best known poets in the late 1700’s, is credited with hundreds of compositions. The single-minded pursuit and devotion to the divine is a blend of Hinduism, Sufism and Buddhism’s – syncretic approach. As a result, the Bauls find everything in this journey of life commonplace and their lives are most unconventional because of their singular pursuit.

The Harikatha tradition from Tamil Nadu by Suchithra Balasubramanian evoked great interest and her musical abilities along with the sense of timing were fitting. A great performer and a keen student of Carnatic music and tala, her talent of putting across the characters of the Vatsala Kalyanam were apt, witty and focused at once. The audience heard her eagerly and she engaged them fully throughout the katha. In the Harikatha tradition in Tamil Nadu, there is the pundalikam or an introduction, panchapadi where the praise of Ganesha, Vishnu, Sarasvati, Guru and Anjaneya are sung, and the prathamapadam which gives the description of the protagonist and the last part where the storyteller has to prove the heroic descriptions given earlier.

Shrimati Suchithra Balasubramanian from Tamil Nadu

Further north in India, in Mahararashtra, the word kirtan was used for devotional songs earlier and then came to be used for a new format of devotional musical recitation in Maharashtra and the first kirtankar was Sant Namdev in (1268-1350). The Marathas then went to Tamil Nadu in 1675 and Varahur Bhagavatar who gave discourses standing was the first person who started this tradition there. The main body of the kirtan was the Nirupana which detailed the story and used songs set to different metres such as the Dindi, Ovee, Abhang, Lavani and others. Normally the Jalra or cymbals and chipla or castanets were used as accompaniment and the anklets on the feet had bells used as rhythm. The beat of 7,5 and usi, common in dance is used in the Harikatha performances.

The Marathi kirtan is of two types, the erudite Naradiya and Varkari style. The first is divided into two types, the Purvaranga and Uttararanga in which stories are told. The Varkari has compositions mainly by saints, with Padas and the Abhangas, and are sung in groups and referred to as Namasankeertanas but there is no story telling.

A celebrated Harikatha artiste, Uma Maheswari from Telangana also brought her talent and vast experience to the stage. She is the only woman who can perform Harikatha in Telugu and in Sanskrit. With a garland around her neck and the chipla in her hand she related stories around Rukmani Kalyanam. Her voice modulation interpreting the characters in mythology was superb. She is steeped in Carnatic music learnt from her father and has a beautiful rich voice. Swaying with the lilt of the music and tapping her feet to the rhythm provided more focus to her dynamic storytelling instilling the importance of dhyanam, chintanam and smaranam like Swamini Swathmabodananda Saraswati, the chief guest, held.

Shrimati Uma Maheshwari from Telangana

V Malini, a Harikatha artist from Karnataka has the unique distinction of reciting the Ramayana in 1minute and the Mahabharatha in 1minute and 30 seconds. With nearly 30 years of experience she has developed a good rapport with local audiences and had an energetic style of presentation. Her explanation of the various characters made them come alive and the witty asides were appreciated by the audience. Saraswati Bai, she said was the first woman harikatha artiste in India and that in earlier times women artistes were discouraged from taking up this art form but are now accepted by audiences.  Nearly 30 years ago two women artists – Shrimati Bhagirathi and Shrimati Vasanthi, trained by Shri Upadhya Krisnamurthy a veteran Harikatha vidhwan of yesteryears, from the temple town of Belur enchanted audiences with their talent, ensuring continuity and a future for this art form.

Shrimati  V. Malini  from Karnataka

The Pandavani performance by Ritu Verma from Chattisgarh, was conveyed with great emotions and her voice brought the various characters out alive. The craft of Pandavani uses no props at all and the artiste has only the ektara adorned with peacock feathers and small lilting bells. The ektara functions as Bhima’s gadha, the flute of Krishna or Arjuna’s bow depending on the character depiction. The accompanying music is provided by the harmonium, kartaal, dholak, manjira and the tabla.

Shrimati Ritu Verma from Chattisgargh

The episode she presented was the dice game and the sequence of events that led to the vastraharanam of Draupadi. The story is taken forward with a song or prasang, with descriptions of the various characters of Duryodhana, Shakuni, the Pandavas and Draupadi which were very expressive. Draupadi’s hurt conveyed to the Pandavas was touching and her questioning of Shakuni’s support and berating of the Kauravas brought out her amazing histrionic talents. Her pleas to Lord Krishna to come to her aid, was heart-rending and peppered sometimes with light-heartedness bringing the audience into the present.

Pandavani presentations are in two styles or shaili. The vedamati style where the performance is done kneeling and the story is in the doha-chaupal metre, like in the case of Ritu Verma. However Teejan Bai’s shaili is Kapalik where the performer is free to improvise on the basic content in both the songs and the storytelling methodology.

India’s vast story telling traditions are alive and thriving thanks to these artistes who bring together several musical and dance forms to tell a story.

Lithuania discovers Hinduism

This article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian on April 13th, 2019 – written by Mamta Chitnis Sen

It is summer in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and I am seated in one of the classrooms of the historic old building of Vilnius University listening to Professor Nijole Laurinkiene’s presentation on the Sun in traditional context. Mid-way through her lecture, I hear distinct chants of “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” filtering in through the large windows behind me. A group of young boys are singing praises of Lord Krishna outside the campus grounds.  Looking at my surprised reaction, a musician who is also attending the lecture and is seated next to me says with a smile in his broken English laced with heavy Lithuanian accent, “That is Indian no? We have lot of Hindus here who follow Krishna and even Shiva.”

Baltic and Vedic traditions merged in the festival Goloka Rasos. Photo: V. Tumenas

Intrigued, over the next few days of my stay in Vilnius while I did come across several Lithuanians confessing to be fans of India and its culture, I also had opportunities to interact with a select few who have immersed themselves completely into becoming followers of Hindu traditions.  While some enrolled themselves with Hindu organisations like International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Shri Sathya Sai Baba and Brahma Kumari, there were others who were seeking the internet to seek information on what it takes to become a good Hindu. Students of Indology in Lithuania appeared to be at an advantage over others as their curriculum enabled them to undertake trips to India to understand and explore the country and its religions.

Located in Eastern Europe, Lithuania is called a gem of the Baltics as it shares borders with the Baltic Sea on one side and countries like Latvia, Belarus, Poland and Russia on the other. That Hinduism should have reached its shores seems to be an interesting thought in itself.

Indologist and social anthropologist Samanta Galinaityt, a first year Master’s student at the Institute of Asian and Transcultural Studies at Vilnius University, who has travelled to India twice believes that though there are a lot of similarities between Lithuanian traditional Gods and Hindu Gods but it is hard to say that Hinduism as a concept exists in Lithuanian culture.

“In my strong opinion, different concepts of Hinduism are getting popular nowadays, but they are just concepts. For instance, we have a lot of different Yoga schools in Lithuania as well as a lot of houses related with Ayurveda. Of course, there are some individuals who practise or follow Hindu traditions but usually in small groups, communities or in private.”  Samanta continues that she has met quite a lot of Lithuanians following the religion too. “I have seen a lot of Lithuanian devotees from ISKCON community, but there are also some individuals who follow the Hindu Gods as well. There are people who follow Hindu religion, but there is no data based on this,” she points out.

I meet one such follower a 50-year-old art collector, (he wishes to remain anonymous) who claims he makes it a point to visit his favourite temple in southern India twice every year, and has also given up meat to become a full time vegetarian.

In her paper “Strangers Among Ours: Contemporary Hinduism in Lithuania” written by Dr Milda Alisauskiene, Professor with the Vytautas Magnus University as part of a special volume on Hinduism in Europe, she analyses the phenomenon of contemporary Hinduism in Lithuania from historical and sociological perspectives and discusses diverse forms of its expressions and public attitudes towards it. Her paper points out that Hinduism in Lithuania might be considered a new religious tradition.

Dr Alisauskiene writes that groups representing contemporary Hinduism are active in large cities and smaller towns of Lithuania. “The adherents of these groups are citizens, majority of them have higher education, usually within natural or technical sciences and have cosmopolitan worldviews. Majority of contemporary Hinduism communities in Lithuania have affiliates in smaller towns, they also organise meetings in the rural areas but these are allocated for mainly citizens. Women prevail among the followers of contemporary Hinduism and men make up around one third of the followers. With this aspect contemporary Hinduism does not distinguish among other religious phenomena as women religiosity and their active participation in religious activities is well known and widely discussed phenomenon among researchers of religion in Western and post-communist societies.”

The age of the members of contemporary Hinduism groups, she continues, varies; though around 35-50 year-old individuals prevail.

She further writes, “Two public surveys conducted in 2007 and 2014 showed the dynamics of Lithuanian population knowledge about religious groups existing in the country. Among groups of contemporary Hinduism best known was ISKCON (34% in 2007 and 48% in 2014). Public knowledge about other groups of contemporary Hinduism differed. In some cases like Osho community knowledge remained the same, in other cases like Sathya Sai Baba community, Sahadza Yoga and Brahma Kumaris public knowledge slightly increased.”

Dr Alisauskiene further states in the paper that historical analysis showed that interest in Orientalism and Hinduism might be traced to the sixteenth century, however the institutionalization of this interest took place in the nineteenth century with the establishment of study programmes in Vilnius and later other universities.

“During the Soviet times, religion was removed from public life, however private religious practices continued. ISKCON started its activities in the late 1970s and its adherents experienced persecutions from Soviet authorities. Since the 1990s, with new conditions for freedom of religion possibilities, groups of contemporary Hinduism became even more active. ISKCON and Osho were two organisations whose activities were mostly visible in the 1990s. Art of Living and other so called spirituality groups of Hindu origins were more active in Lithuania.”

She continues that groups of contemporary Hinduism in Lithuania are mainly global organisations with centred management and controlled content of teaching, even more if the leader is still alive. “Despite global aspect these religious organisations in Lithuania have localised their activities in a new social context. The manifestation of such localisation is emphasis on the spirituality essence of these groups instead of going into the competitive field of religion with mainstream Roman Catholicism. An important feature of contemporary Hinduism in Lithuania is the ethnicity of members who are Lithuanians and not Hindus.  Contemporary Hinduism in Lithuania is a social phenomenon indicating and manifesting social and religious transformations from homogeneous field of religion to religious diversity and reflecting the trends of religious individualisation,” she states.

But Dr Audrius Beinorius,  Professor of Indian and Buddhist Studies, Institute of Asian and Transcultural Studies Vilnius University thinks otherwise.

“Dealing academically with India for more than 30 years I don’t believe there has been a rise in people following the Hindu religion in Lithuania, because many people are becoming more and more secular and not intended to replace one religion (local Catholic Christianity) with another (Hindu). They are searching mainly for practical spirituality, that would conduct a healthy way of life, help control stress and emotions, increase self-conscious attitude and so on,” he says.

Gaura Purnima celebrations at the Dvarka Temple in Vilnius, Lithuania.Photo: ISKCON

ISKCON, he continues, is among the older Hindu religious organisations that was perhaps not most popular at the end of Soviet occupation period and was one of the spiritual alternatives of atheistic communist ideology.

“During last 10 years this movement is evidently decreasing in number of followers, perhaps it contradicts the local habits of social life.”

He points out that indigenous Baltic religion has many common elements with ancient Vedic religious culture and less with contemporary Hinduism.

“Lithuania was the last European country to accept Christianity. Baltic people have been fighting for almost 300 years against united European crusaders to project their own ancestral religion, language and culture. Thus similarities between Sanskrit and Lithuanian languages are tremendous, as the names of Gods namely Viešpatis (Višpati), Dievas (Devas), Vejas (Vayu), Ašvieniai (Ašvins), some mythological elements, fire rituals, polyphonic religious chanting etc.” He states that it’s a pity, not much is left during last 400 years of brutal Christianisation.

“The indigenous Baltic religion movement nowadays is mostly reconstructions. And thus these people are deeply interested in Vedic tradition and Hinduism, not because having intention to become Hindus, but because living examples of Hindu practices could help in reconstructing ancient Baltic religion.  To my knowledge except ISKCON movement members there are almost no cases of Lithunians consciously and formally converting into Hinduism. Even followers of numerous yoga schools, among which Shivananda Yoga Center is the most popular, never consider themselves as a Hindu. Because chanting of mantras is considered to be auspicious and purifying your mind and soul, but that does not imply becoming a Hindu.”

Dr Beinorius believes that he does not see any sudden interest in Hinduism among Lithuanians. “Yes many people are visiting India, travelling to historical and archaeological sites, relaxing in beaches, claiming Himalayas. People are interested in the cultural heritage of India: Indian classical dances, classical music, Ayurvedic treatment, Jyotish predictions, meditations or even Bollywood cinema, but as I said before cultural interest has nothing to do with intentions for religious conversion.  Lithuanians, like other Westerners are not entirely able to connect Indian gurus seriously and properly as Indians do, because too strong sense of individuality, pride and non-obeying that hinders their devotion. They are more interested in following a kind of ‘scientific raja yoga’ created by Swami Vivekanda, Advaitic perspective of Sri Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj, or Intellectual Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, than purely devotional bhakti of Sai Baba, Art of Living of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and similar. Perhaps our people trust themselves and their own efforts instead of waiting for blessings from gurus of divine anugraha,” he says.

Responding to the queries on whether ISKCON has seen a rise in Lithuanians seeking to follow the Hindu religion, Shatakula Das, of ISKCON Communications, Vilnius, Lithuania, said, “Yes, ISKCON has seen a rise in Lithuania for many years. ISKCON is part of the Gaudiya, or Chaitanya Vaishnava, tradition, which hails from the eastern regions of India. While we don’t have the exact number, an estimated 2,000 people are connected with ISKCON in Lithuanian through the Summer Vaishnava festival (which is hosted by the temple) and other program and events which are held regularly at the local centre. ISKCON Lithuanian’s  facebook group Lietuvos Vaishnavai has 2,166 members. There is no exact statistics on the number of followers we have every year but approximately 10 new people appear yearly at the temple or festival,” he states continuing that ISKCON in Lithuania started in 1979.

“In December 1989, the first community of Krishna Consciousness was registered in Vilnius and after a few months in Kaunas. Now we have 5 communities registered and many legal public entities such as Vedic Centers, or Vaishnava Culture Centres around Lithuania.”

A journalist for over 15 years, Mamta Chitnis Sen has worked with several reputed publications.

Roundtable on “Education and Soft Power”

India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power, in collaboration with DAV group of schools, hosted a roundtable discussion on the topic of “Education and Soft Power.” The discussion featured two esteemed scholars – Prof. Gulab Mir Rahmany, Associate Professor of Political Sociology from Afghanistan and Prof. Dilafruz Nasirkhodjaeva, Senior Researcher of Economics and Market Economics from Uzbekistan. The roundtable was attended by a number of respected academicians and researchers.

Prof. Rahmany spoke of the historical relationship between Afghanistan an India, which extended beyond a millennium. He spoke of how India has played an integral role in promoting higher education in the country, so much so that there are now even ministers within the Afghan government who completed their PHDs in India. He even noted that India’s current Minister of Textile, Smriti Irani, was a household name in Afghanistan due to her role Tulsi, in the soap opera   

“In the period between 2014 to 2019, over 1400 Afghan students have graduated from Indian universities.” said Prof. Rahmany

Prof. Nasirkhodjaeva spoke on how India was the first country to establish an embassy in Uzbekistan, and how Bollywood played an integral part in making Indian culture something that is known in every household in Uzbekistan. She described how there even existed a channel dedicated to showing nothing other than episodes of the Mahbharata on a loop. She spoke of the impact that the Sikh population in Uzbekistan has had, noting that they have been as essential element in bringing Indian culture, and also trade, to Uzbekistan.

“There are even children today who are being named Shah Rukh and Salman because of Bollywood.” noted Prof. Nasirkhodjaeva

India-Czech Republic Cultural Relations : Past, Present and Future

The Center for Soft Power hosted H.E Milan Hovorka, Ambassador of Czech Republic to India, for a Round-table discussion on 13th March, 2019 on the topic of “India-Czech Republic Cultural Relations : Past, Present and Future”

The roundtable was attended by eminent guests representing various aspects of the political, commercial and cultural sectors

The ambassador spoke about the historic relationship that both India and the Czech Republic has had, and how this relationship extends into numerous fields, culturally, politically and economically. The ambassador also took a number of questions from the other participants on various subjects including on immigration and cultural preservation.

“I believe deeply in the power of culture to promote bilateral relations” said H.E. Milan Hovorka, as he spoke about the current status and future potential for cultural collaboration between India and the Czech Republic.

Interaction with International Students of KYM

CSP, in association with Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram hosted an interaction with the students of KYM’s international teacher training course on 28th March, 2019.

CSP hosted the International teacher training class of KYM at its headquarters in Chennai

The interaction featured chanting from senior KYM teachers as well as the students shedding light on what brought them to India, and their experiences in immersing themselves into Indian Culture.

The students, who came from a multitude of countries, spoke about their experiences in visiting and learning about India, as well as chanting some of the mantras that they have learnt.

The course consists of students from numerous countries including, USA, Nigeria, France, Poland, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, UK, Netherlands and Belgium.

Roundtable on “India-Russia Soft Power Relations”

India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power hosted a round table on the theme “India – Russia Soft Power Relations” in collaboration with the Russian Center of Science & Culture. The round table was attended by numerous esteemed guests including H. E. Oleg N. Avdeev, the Consul General of the Russian Federation in Chennai.

CSP hosted its first “India-Russia Soft Power Realtions” Roundtable in collaboration with the Russian Center of Science and Culture

Speaking on the topic of “India through the eyes of a diplomat” he described his journey from being a budding Indophile visiting India for the first time, to now being the Consul General and having travelled extensively across the country. He said “The first time I came to India in 1984, I learnt many things that I have never learned while studying India before. Speaking on his experiences in rural India, he said “I was greatly impressed by the simplicity and devotion with which people live their lives.”

H.E. Oleg N. Avdeev, Consul General of Russia in Chennai , enlightened the roundtable on his journey of coming to India and experiencing the country through the perspective of a diplomat

Other speakers included Mr. Gennedii A. Rogalev, the Director of Russian Center of Science and Culture, Mr. Venkatesh Kumar, Director and Screenwriter, Mr. R. Muthukumar, Founder– President, BRICS generation and Mr. & Mrs. D. K. Hari, authors. They spoke on “India – Russia Soft Power Relations”, “Role of Cinema in Russia”, “Russian relations in South India” and “India – Russia relations – A connect over a millennia” respectively. The speakers covered a gamut of topics like Language, Cinema, Painting, Poetry, Games like chess, Defence Equipments, Diamonds, Circus, Science & Technology and map the connect between India and Russia on these themes. The discussion also featured a presentation on the influence of Indian culture in Russia and a performance inspired by the Panchatantra tales by CSP Research Fellow Pavithra Srinivasan, as well as a presentation of Yoga’s growing popularity in Russia by CSP Junior Research Fellow, Aman Nair.

Mr. Gennadii A. Rogalev, Director, Russian Center of Science and Culture spoke on the topic of India-Russia Soft Power relations, exploring the history and the different facets of the cultural relationship between the two countries
Mr. Venkatesh Kumar, Director & Screenwriter, spoke about the role of Cinema in India and Russia’s cultural relations as well as the work he has done to promote close relations between the two countries in the field of Cinema
Mr. R. Muthukumar, Founder – President, BRICS generation spoke on the need to create more direct links between India and Russia at the state level, and the need to ensure that these cultural interactions are not solely limited to cities like Delhi.
Mr & Mrs D. K. Hari, Authors, delivered a presentation on the topic of India–Russia relations: A connect over a Millennia. They delved into the civilisational links between India and Russia and how the two societies have had large scale exchanges in many fields throughout history
Pavithra Srinivasan, Research Fellow at CSP & accomplished Bharatanatyam artiste, gave a brief outline of the influence of Indian culture on Russia, followed by a performance on the value of true friendship derived from India’s ancient fables – The Panchatantra tales.
Aman Nair, Junior Research Fellow at CSP, made a presentation on the research conducted by CSP which looked into the growth in popularity of Yoga in Russia