The Center for Soft Power hosted Valentina Ranzi from Italy and Catherine Emmerling-Garet from France, on 26/02/19 as part of a roundtable on Yoga at its office. The roundtable explored both their journeys from being first introduced to Yoga to now, when they have fully immersed themselves into the study and teaching of Yoga.

  1. How were you first introduced to Yoga?

Valentina recalled how she was first introduced to Yoga in 1980 through mediation. As a child she had looked towards art to find a deeper purpose and was able to come into contact with first meditation and then yoga. And in doing so she found that Yoga helped her understand herself better than anything else she had experienced in the west. She spoke of how she learnt Ayurveda and Yoga from an Indian family in Italy.

Catherine spoke of how she was first introduced to Yoga by her mother, who was a practitioner herself. Her first introduction was when her mother took her to see BKS Iyengar when he was visiting Paris. However, it was only when she moved to New Zealand that she took her first course on Yoga.

  1. What aspects of Yoga drew you towards learning it? Was it merely the physical or was there any spiritual aspects which resonated with them?

Valentina noted that initially she was more immersed in the concept of Bhakti through her meditation. And it was through this meditation that she then discovered the physical aspect of Yoga. And recently with her trip to India and her increased study of Yoga, she has come to understand the spiritual aspects of Yoga.

Catherine described how she her first major exposure to India was studying about India at university, which then led her to studying Hinduism. And now since she has come to India, her spiritual path with respect to Yoga has taken on a completely new shape. She now devotes her time to studying the Vedas and other Indian texts.

  1. How is Yoga perceived in your home country? What are some of your experiences in teaching foreign students?

Valentina said that while Yoga is nowadays quite popular in Italy, it has historically been seen as strange. However despite its popularity, much of Yoga in Italy is still focused specifically on the physical aspects, and ignores the other elements such as the spiritual and philosophical elements of Yoga. That being said, she noted that Pranayama is starting to gain more acceptance in the mainstream.

Catherine spoke of how in her experience it was those expats who came to study Yoga in India that were more open to exploring the depths of yoga, as opposed to foreign audiences abroad.

  1. In your experience do students eventually begin to delve into the spiritual aspects of Yoga after being initially introduced to only the physical aspects of it?

Valentina noted that in her experience not many students transcended into the learning of Yogas spiritual side, when compared to those who immerse themselves into the physical side of it. However, this is not to say that no students do not make the cross, such students exist but the number is small.

Catherine echoed similar sentiments, saying that Yoga forces one to look inward and in doing so people will be able to better understand themselves. However this does not often translate into students exploring the philosophical and spiritual elements of Yoga.

Language and Literature: The Sleeping Giant Of Indian Soft Power

The 8th schedule of the Indian constitution has outlined 2 official languages and 22 scheduled languages that have been given official recognition by the government of India, making India the country with the highest number of recognised administrative languages. And going beyond the merely official, the country has a total of around 454 languages, making it the fourth most multilingual country in the world (Hallett, 2016). This multiplicity of languages is undoubtedly one of the countrys most distinctive features; one which separates from nearly all other countries in the world. Indian languages have ranged across the entirety of human history, starting with the truly ancient languages of Sanskrit (Woodard, 2008) and Tamil (Lehmann, 1998), to the much newer languages like modern day Hindi (West, 2009). This linguistic diversity is not only a unique cultural factor, but can also serve to be one of the foremost pillars of Indias future soft power strategy, if properly leveraged.

This paper will therefore examine the general role that language plays in terms of soft power, and the specific role of Indian language in two aspects – as a gateway to classical literature and wider Indian culture, as well as being a means of preventing the appropriation of Indian culture.

It will do so by first examining the relationship between Language and Soft Power. It will then analyse this relationship in the context of India, by using the example of Sanskrit. Finally, it will outline the challenges facing Indian language on the global stage and how they can be overcome.


A language is a part of a culture and a culture is a part of a language; the two are intricately interwoven so that one cannot separate the two without losing the significance of either language or culture. (Brown, 1994)

When Joseph Nye first defined the notion of soft power (Nye, 1991) he spoke of the ability of a country to influence the decisions of other countries, not through coercion but through attraction.

It is important to note that when discussing the effect of language on soft power, it is not done in the strict sense mentioned by Nye. That is to say, we are not attempting to draw a direct link between Indias language and literature, and its ability to influence the decision making of other countries. Instead what we refer to is the creation of a ready and receptive pool of individuals that are more knowledgeable about, and more sympathetic to India and its broad policy objectives as a result of having studied an Indian language, or some Indian literature (Hill, 2016). The aim is, therefore, to examine if such a group exists, and if it does, how can its size be increased and how can it be leveraged for Indias gain?

One of, if not the, most important factors in the formation of such a group of people is the ability to create an affinity and aspiration on the international stage for that countrys culture (Nye, 1991). While language is undoubtedly one aspect of that culture, its true power comes in so far as it acts as a conduit for the rest of that countrys culture. The language of a country is the single largest hurdle to the spread of its culture and one need only look at the dominance of American pop culture to see how the language of its propagation, i.e. English, has exponentially increased its audience.


With respect to India specifically, language can play two roles in the spreading of Indias culture.

The first role is the standard one of Indian language being a means to experience Indian culture at a deeper level. For example, should someone with an interest in Indian culture learn an Indian Language, then they will be able to better immerse themselves into the literature of that language – thereby furthering the connection between India and them.

The second role that Indian Language has to play, is to create a means by which Indian culture when taken to foreign shores, forever remains distinctly Indian. Currently, Indias greatest cultural problem has been the creation of a direct link between its cultural exports and itself (For example, it was only very recently that there was a concentrated effort to reclaim yoga as being distinctly Indian).

It is therefore possible to draw two channels wherein efforts to promote Indian language should be undertaken – as a means to access literature, and as a means of preventing cultural appropriation. The following sections will examine these channels, taking the example of Sanskrit.

Sanskrit as a gateway to Literature and wider Culture

With over three millennia of documented literature (Banerji, 1989), Sanskrit can serve as the perfect gateway for people from all over the world to immerse themselves fully into the depths of Indias culture.

From yoga to classical arts, there is no element that stands in isolation – with all the elements of Indias culture being interlinked. Given the interconnected nature of Indias cultural aspects, Sanskrit and its literature can serve as the perfect framework for understanding these connections.

Sanskrit has affected every aspect of Indias culture in some form or another, and so provides individuals with a perspective that would be unavailable through any other language. Sanskrit is an intrinsic part of yoga, ayurveda, spirituality and philosophy, and any study of these subjects requires that the student have an understanding of Sanskrit. Furthermore, Sanskrit is the only language that is able to accurately articulate certain ideas that have developed in India over many millennia. One need only look to a concept like Dharma, which has had an overarching impact over all of Indias culture, to see that there is no clear translation for such a concept in any other language. In such situations, Sanskrit is the only ways wherein one can truly understand the complexities of such concepts, and therefore it is only through Sanskrit that one can understand the true impact of such concepts on Indias culture.

Sanskrits role in preventing cultural appropriation

Indian culture has, over the past decades, faced a problem of appropriation. That is to say, when Indias culture has been exported over the world, it has been adopted by other societies without recognising India as the originator of that culture. This in turn has affected Indias ability to create tangible links between foreign individuals and India. One need only look at the history of Yoga internationally to see this. Prior to recent initiatives, such as the International day of Yoga, India has been unable to create clearly recognisable linkages between itself and yoga practitioners around the world. And a major reason for this has been the translation of yoga and its asanas from Sanskrit to other languages. By changing the name of yoga asanas, ayurvedic medicine, and even aspects of Indian spirituality and religion, people around the world fail to associate these aspects of Indian culture with coming from India, and in this way Indian culture looses its essence when sent abroad. It is therefore imperative that going forward, India must ensure that such translations do not happen.


While Indian languages form a significant portion of the dominant languages on the global stage (Simons and Fennig, 2018), this is largely a result of the domestic Indian population. When examined in terms of the number of countries wherein these languages are spoken, Indian languages often range between 1 as the least and 7 as the most (Simons and Fennig, 2018). Therefore, the first challenge facing India is that of increasing the total number of speakers of its languages.

In this field, India must look at the blueprint laid out by China and its Confucius Institute. The Confucius institute is a state supported organisation that aims at developing Chinese language and culture teaching resources and making [Ministry of Education] services available worldwide, meeting the demands of overseas Chinese learners to the utmost degree, and contributing to global cultural diversity and harmony.(Ministry of Education, 2012). The institute is headquartered in Beijing and has, since its inception, opened numerous centres in countries all around the world.

While other countries have similar institutes, such as Frances Alliance Franais, what makes the Confucius institute a tempting model is the administrative structure that it employs with respect to its centres. There are three forms of centres – those that are controlled by the main headquarters, those that are licensed to the host country, and those that are controlled through a joint partnership of the main headquarters, a Chinese university and a university in the host country (Gil, 2009). By creating a joint partnership between the centres and local universities, the institutes are able to acquire a much larger audience than simply those who have a special interest in China.

Given how wide Indias cultural impact can be, it is important that that India adopts a similar strategy of ensuring local integration, so as to maximise its soft power potential. This must be done either through a systematic reform of the ICCR cultural centres or through the creation of an entirely new organisation. This reformed/ new organisation can also take advantage of facilities such as the internet and local advertising to begin to target individuals in specific regions so as to further integrate themselves into the local community.

The second challenge is ensuring the eventual conversion of Indias linguistic potential into true influence. As mentioned earlier, this paper looks at the relationship between soft power and language in terms of creating receptive groups of people. However, once such a group is created, India must find a way to convert it into tangible influence at the state level.  India must look at countries like Japan as cautionary examples. In the case of Japan, while there is an overwhelming favourability for Japanese culture, this favourability has not transformed itself into any real power for the Country at the International policy Level (Otmazgin, 2008).


This paper has attempted to analyse and examine the question of how India can leverage its numerous languages to increase its soft power influence across the globe. Firstly, the country must recognise the strength of its languages, such as Sanskrit, in not only providing a point of entry into a deeper level of culture but also in terms of preventing the loss of its already exported culture. Secondly, it must find innovative ways of dealing with the challenges of increasing the number of people speaking Indian languages, and then converting that number into tangible influence.

One thing certain – as India continues to assert itself on the International stage, it will require a coherent and well structured soft power strategy that includes its numerous languages.

Aman Nair is a Junior Research Fellow at the Center for Soft Power, India Foundation


  1. Hallett, Rachel. 2016. These Are the Worlds Most Multilingual Countries. World Economic Forum.
  1. Woodard, Roger. D. 2008. The Ancient Languages of Asia and the Americas. Cambridge University Press.
  1. Lehmann, Thomas. 1998. Old Tamil. in Steever, Sanford, The Dravidian Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 7599
  1. West, Barbara A. 2009. Encyclopaedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing.
  1. Brown, H.D. 1994. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching (3rd Edn). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.
  1. Nye, Joseph S. 1991. Bound To Lead: The Changing Nature Of American Power. New Ed edition. New York: Basic Books.
  1. Hill, David T. 2016. Language as Soft Power in Bilateral Relations: The Case of Indonesian Language in Australia. Asia Pacific Journal of Education 36 (3): 36478.
  1. Banerji, Sures Chandra. 1989. A Companion to Sanskrit Literature: Spanning a Period of Over Three Thousand Years, Containing Brief Accounts of Authors, Works, Characters, Technical Terms, Geographical Names, Myths, Legends and Several Appendices. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.
  1. Simons, Gary F, and Charles D Fennig. 2018. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twenty-First Edition. 2018.
  1. Ministry of Education. 2012. Guojia Duiwai Hanyu Jiaoxue Lingdao Xiaozu Jianjie (The Leadership Committee of Chinese Language Council International). 2012.
  1. Gil, J. 2009. Chinas Confucius Institute Project: Language and Soft Power in World Politics. Global Studies Journal Vol 2 (No 1): 5972.
  1. Otmazgin, N.K. 2008. Contesting Soft Power: Japanese Popular Culture in East and South East Asia. International Relations of the Asia Pacific, Vol8 (No1): 73-101.

How Indian Cuisine Has The Potential To Define India’s Image Globally

Food has, since time immemorial, served as the cornerstone for not only the survival of individuals, but also the survival of states. Politics has historically always been forced to pay attention to the issue of food, and this is unlikely to stop in the future – with a countrys food policy, its guarantee of food security, its food sovereignty and its overall food culture all contributing the stability and strength of a nation (Brown, 2011).

This influence of food also has an effect on the soft power of state. The power of food in framing the perception of a country, or people, cannot be denied (Long, 2004). Cuisine serves as one of the facets through which members of ethnic communities can communicate authentic experiences, and also acts as one of the pillars through which a group of people or country can acquire cultural capital (Long, 2004; Molz, 2004; Mkono, 2012).

In terms of Indian cuisine, there is little doubt that Indian cuisine is one of the most recognized cuisines at the global level, with Indian restaurants being mainstays in all major cities around the world. Given the apparent popularity of Indian food therefore, it is imperative that we examine its role in Indias wider soft power strategy.


When one considers the size of the Indian population in the United States, it would be a logical assumption that Indian food is one of the dominant ethnic foods in the country. However, when compared to Chinese and Mexican restaurants across the US, there are about only 1/8th of the number of Indian restaurants (Ferdman, 2015).

Despite the historically low market share of food sales however, Indian food is enjoying a boom in the US market at the moment thanks to one thing its properties in the field of wellness.

As Americans have become more health conscious they have increasingly begun to look at Indian food and its links to Ayurveda as a means of staying healthy. A simple scan of health and wellness websites and blogs in the US will show that there is a growing affinity for products like coconut oil, ghee, turmeric, ashwagandha and khichdi (Shah, 2018). This represents a sizeable shift given Indian foods historical perception in the west of being an overly spicy, cream filled takeout food.

And when examining the phenomenon, it is easy to see why Indian food is becoming popular in this way. The rise of Indian cuisine and Ayurveda in the United states is closely linked the the rise of yoga in the previous decade. The same philosophy that gave us yoga also talked about mindfulness, meditation, and Ayurvedic eating, I think the interest in it is a natural evolution says Basu Ratnam, owner of Inday, a fast casual mini chain in New York City. Meanwhile Sana Javeri Kadri, the founder of DiasporaCo, a spice company, says I think people who have access to seeing Indian food through the lens of Ayurveda are people who are into yoga, or some form of appropriated Indian culture, (Shah, 2018).

And while Ayurveda is a complex system with multiple guidelines on how to stay healthy, some of the tenants are easy to carry out and require not much effort. For example, things such as avoiding mixing certain combinations of food, or not eating at certain times of the night are simple to follow for any person.

This along with the fact that much of Indian cuisine seems to be in line with trends that have become popular in the United States recently. As the number of vegetarians and vegans grow, they are constantly looking for new food that meets their dietary restrictions. And as the cuisine with the largest variety of vegetarian food, Indian cuisine fits the description perfectly. And as distrust in manufactured everyday western medicine grows, the use of natural remedies such as turmeric to cure illness have become exponentially more popular.

But as with any rise in popularity of a countrys culture, it is important that we ensure such a rise does not result in appropriation and ultimately a loss of soft power potential. As Nik Sharma, author of the cookbook Seasons says Its important that Indian food and culture doesnt get pigeonholed into wellness There is so much more to it, but learning about Indian food from wellness is such a niche perspective.

As mentioned earlier, a browse of wellness sites in the States will throw up a list of ones dedicated to Indian food and Ayurveda, but very often it is not Indian people running these sites or even the companies that supply the product. And so it is important that we temper any conversation of Indian foods growing popularity with a cautious attempt to prevent cultural appropriation. When dishes like khichdi are being touted as a wonder food without acknowledging its Indian roots, or by distorting the recipe so it barely resembles a traditional Indian one, one has to question whether this is in fact soft power.

Those dangers however should not distract us from the fact that Indian cuisine, and indeed Indian culture, is penetrating itself further into the heart of American society. More people are beginning to embrace India, its culture and its food. And if we are able to effectively use that, then it will undoubtedly be one of our strongest soft power assets.

Aman Nair is a Junior Research Fellow at the Center for Soft Power, India Foundation


  1. Brown, L. (2011). “THE NEW GEOPOLITICS OF FOOD.” Foreign Policy (186): 54. Chelliah, J., Brian, DNetto (2008). “Japanese Whaling Strategies.” The Management Case Study Journal Vol 8(2): 65-82.
  1. Long, L. (2004). Culinary tourism: A folkloristic perspective on eating and otherness. In L. Long (Ed.), Culinary tourism (pp. 21 50). Lexington: University of Kentucky.
  1. Molz, J. (2004). Tasting an imagined Thailand: Authenticity and culinary tourism in Thai restaurants. In L. Long (Ed.), Culinary tourism (pp. 53 75). Lexington: University of Kentucky.
  1. Mkono, M. (2012). Using net-based ethnography (Netnography) to understand the staging and marketing of Authentic African dining experiences to tourists at Victoria Falls. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research, 31(2), 387 394.
  1. Ferdman, Roberto A. Why Delicious Indian Food Is Surprisingly Unpopular in the U.S. The Washington Post, 4 Mar. 2015,
  1. Meszaros, Eva. Research Spotlight: Ethnic Foods: Flying High. Specialty Food Magazine, July 2012,

Shah, Khushbu. How Wellness Influencers Made Indian Food a Trend. Bon Appetit – Healthyish, Nov. 2018,

Newton wins at BRICS Film Festival. How cinema can bring India and Brazil closer

This article first appeared in DailO on 3rd August 2018.

In Brazil, Indian filmmakers could find a market unlike any other.

The influence in India of films is greater than newspapers and books combined, said Jawaharlal Nehru.

The 2018 BRICS summit concluded in July, with various themes of economic and political cooperation discussed. Unknown to many, however, a much smaller event was also held as a part of the summit the 3rd BRICS film festival.

The festival saw numerous film submissions, in a multitude of genres, from all the five nations. And in the midst of all these, the winner of the best film award was a movie about a polling station in a Naxal stronghold of India. Newton, the film in question, represents the best of Indian cinema of 2017, and its win at the festival shows the immense potential that Indian films have with respect to BRICS nations, especially Brazil.

Its a common saying that every country has stories to tell, about their past, their culture now, and views of what the future will look like through their eyes. As Indias cultural reach grows with every passing day, it is still Indian cinema that is its primary driving force, and acts as a catalyst for Indian soft power that is, Indias ability to influence the actions of other states using non-coercive elements such as culture.

Cinema represents, in many ways, one of the most tangible forms of soft power, as it allows for people of various backgrounds to be exposes to experiences and stories that are truly representative of India, its culture and its people. And with this exposure comes a clearer understanding, and then an appreciation, of what India is.

This appreciation is seen distinctly in Brazil. In May 2014, the country came out with a unique way of paying tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema, by releasing two postage stamps designed by two Indian graphic designers. The stamps were released to mark a nationwide film festival dedicated to contemporary Indian cinema.

However, to merely stop at appreciation is to limit the power of Indian film and TV. It is imperative that with this appreciation, there comes an aspiration among the people to be like the India that they see on the big screen.

And that aspiration is also seen clearly in Brazil, in the case of Caminho das ndias, or India: A Love Story, a Brazilian TV show in 2009 that followed the story of Maya and Bahuan, a call center employee in Rajasthan belonging to a Vaishya family and a student in America who hailed from a Dalit family, as they tried to navigate their love through the societal pressures of caste.

During its airing, Caminho was the most watched TV show in Brazil, reaching around 40 per centof all Brazilian households, consisting of around 40 million people  outdoing most other Brazilian prime-time telenovellas. The show served to be Brazils introduction into Indian culture on a large scale, with the film creators having both studied Indian cinema and TV, and shot the show in India.

And its success clearly shows the impact that Indian culture and society can have in a foreign land.

Despite being in Portuguese, the show incorporates numerous Hindi words, such as theek haiachha, and bhagwan, which have now found themselves added to the roster of everyday slang used in Brazil. Furthermore, the show featured all the aspects of a typical desi saas bahu serial lots of family drama, an unmistakably Indian setting, characters in kurtas and saris, and numerous item songs, from Kajra Re to Nagada, all of which have now become clearly recognisable by Brazilians throughout the country.

Caminho in fact did not limit itself to Brazil, but was picked up by Telefutura, a Spanish American network. The network boasts a broadcast range of over 60 million, representing a sizeable new audience for the show. And with an average viewership of around 900,000 people per episode, the show outperformed other competing Spanish TV shows.

This demonstrates that the show’s resonance in Brazil is not a one-off thing, but rather indicative of the immense power that Indian Cinema, and indeed Indian culture, can have in capturing the imagination of a global audience.

This familiarity with Indian culture has manifested itself in other avenues, even permeating into Brazil’s most iconic of celebrations, La Carnival, through street performances and parades such as Bloco Bollywood.

Despite the positive impact of a show like Camhino, it is important to note that there still remains a sense of distance between the two nations. The two BRICS countries often find themselves extolling the shared values of democracy and increasing growth as creating a unique bond between the two nations, but this has done little to bridge their gap.

Trade between the two regions did pick up in 2017, having increased by34.71 per cent. However, this only translated to a total of US $ 7.6 billion, with India still only Brazil’s 10th largest trade partner. And while tourism between the two countries is slowly picking up, they still do not feature in each others top 10.

The creation of such a unique bond requires sustained action between the two nations, and one area where such action could take place is cinema.

India has often been a destination for various Brazilian actors looking to enter into the mainstream. One need only look at Giselli Monteiro and other such actors, who, on returning to Brazil as stars, create a sense of familiarity among the local people with India.

More importantly, in Brazil, Indian filmmakers could find a market for films unlike any other. Brazilian cinema, much like its Indian counterpart, has historically distinguished itself from both American and European film styles. And like many emerging Indian films, Brazilian cinema takes a much darker, gritty stance  with movies often exploring native themes of gang violence, extreme poverty and crime in an incredibly violent manner.

Here, independent Indian filmmakers, who wish to create films that deal with these subjects as opposed to a masala film, will find an additional market wherein their movies can be shown. A market that is both familiar with the Indian society, and one that is inclined to and appreciative of the rawness that such independent films would have. The seeds of this have already been sown by directors such as Anurag Kashyap, who partnered with Brazilian filmmaker Beatriz Seigner on a new film titled Los Silencios (The silence).

As such, shows such as Camhinos and other Indian movies would be complimented well by independent films, and in this manner, India could create a set of films that depict all aspects of Indian culture in a way that is accessible to the entirety of Brazil’s population. And it is through this accessibility that India would ensure that through cimena, the words of our founding fathers do indeed ring true.

Sudarshan Ramabadran is a Senior Research Fellow and Administrative in-charge of India Foundation’s Centre for Soft Power Studies. Aman Nair is a Junior Research Fellow at India Foundation’s Centre for Soft Power Studies.