Intrinsic Soft Power Manifest in the Art and Culture of India

Though art and culture may outwardly seem to be independent, they are intimately interlinked and always go hand in hand. Common elements like cuisine, ornaments, dress, language, behaviour, music, dance, literature etc underlie the customs of every culture, each having its own uniqueness.Culture is reflective of the ethos of a particular society and determines its character.

Art is a product of culture, a defined creative approach to interpreting ideas, drawing images on canvas or in space, and creating concepts. It is a creative expression of deep thoughts and situations that trigger transcendent experiences presented orally, visually or interactively.Art can re-enchant the way humanity sees the world, especially in times of challenges and struggles. For instance, it can rekindle a sense of patriotism, stir people into right action, uplift their spirit and aspirations.

This intrinsic power of art and culture has a universal value that infuses all relations and relationships both at national and international level. When districts in states, states in a country, and countries in the globe come together, art and culture provide a vital fabric of expression and cooperation. It provides a beautiful medium to educate and enlighten the significance of the cultural ethics and ethos of different regions.

Influence of Cultural Linkages

Cultural linkages develop mutual respect and honour in international relations and a certain peace and joy in human relations. Beyond theboundaries and differences, theypromote a common ground to unite. For instance, India and Russia recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic relations with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin blogging a special message in the Times of India on May 30, 2017 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Russia to mark the historic occasion.[i]

Influence of Indian culture on Russia predates economic and trade relations between India and the then USSR, to the 15th century, when AfanasiyNikitin, a merchant from the land of Tver in Russia, in his three-year stay (CE 1466 – CE 1472), documented every aspect of the Indian society in his book, A Journey Beyond the Three Seas.[ii] Since then, cultural exchanges between the two countries have followed a consistent trajectory. Nikitin’s book became a major motion picture in Russia in CE 1950, with the Russian actor Oleg Strizhenov playing Nikitin and co-featuring the Hindi actress, Nargis Dutt.[iii] In my international travels, I am yet to meet a Russian who has not hummed “Awara hoo” or “MerajoothahaiJapani…sar pe laal topirussi…” with such pride to display his love of Indian culture.

The setting up of the Mayuri Dance Company in the Russian Republic of Karelia stands as a testament to this influence. Vera Evgrafova, who has always had a love of Indian dance was deeply moved by the 1985 movie “Mayuri”, which featured the story of an Indian Bharatanatyam dancer named Sudha Chandran. With aspirations of being a Bharatanatyam dancer, Sudha Chandran begins her training in the dance as a young girl, but as a teenager, loses a leg in a car accident.  Sudha fights her struggles to regain her dignity and identity as a dancer.  Vera Evgrafova, was so inspired by this feature film, that she appropriated the name of the character (Mayuri) for her dance group that she formed with dancers who shared the love for Indian dances in 1987 Railway Workers Cultural Center in Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Republic of Karelia. Winning the “Narodiny” award in 1995 by the Karelian Ministry of Culture, Vera secured a spot at the state-wide level.[iv]

There are many such inspiring stories of countries coming together for peace and cooperation where culture has been a major factor promoting the respective national interest and contributing to a more peaceful world order.

International Recognition to Indian Cities for its Art and Culture

Three cities in India – Chennai,Varanasi and Jaipur – have joined the prestigious UNESCO Creative Cities Network for its rich music and cultural tradition. This world organization has identified culture and creativity as integral and strategic factors for development at the local level and strengthen mutual respect and cooperation at the international level.

During the December – January “Margazhi” month of the Tamil Calendar, Chennai celebrates its rich Carnatic music and classical dance,predominantly Bharatanatyam, attracting host of artistes and art lovers from all over the globe. It is a beautiful coincidence that it is held in the Tamil month of Margazhi – a month traditionally dedicated to religious activities and spiritual disciplines. People wake up early morning, sing hymns and devotional songs on the deities, participate in processions and cook delicious delicacies!“Among the 12 months, I am Margazhi,” says Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (verse 35, chapter 10).

For many in Chennai, “December season” as it has come to be known as, is like a pilgrimage. Around 3000 programs and performances take place in established and upcoming Sabhasor organisationsat over 300 venues in Chennai. Every Sabha reverberates with melody and rhythm in praise of the divine, through the composition of saints, sages and many great composers. In recent times, temples and ancient traditional houses also serve as venues for lectures, demonstrations and concerts.

I am a proud and happy Chennaite. Being a performer and a participant of this grand Dance-Music season, I have been enjoying this wondrous festival for decades now.The festival was launched  in 1927 as an adjunct to INC, and has now completed 92 glorious years!The schedule of at least the top 10 Sabhas, are published in The Hindu on December 1st supplement. There are apps now that track the schedule of sabhasandkutcheris(concerts) like MargazhiSangeetam, SaRiGaMa, Zeek and collection of favorite songs from Twang. Online websites like KutcheriBuzz are a great source of the season schedule too!

Performers save their best repertoire to showcase for the season, and the audience – their best ethnic attires! The ladies already plan a display of collection of their Kanchipuram silk sarees and jasmine flowers. The men join the show with their shawls,  Kurtas and veshtis!Margazhi is to Chennai as Ganges is to Varanasi. Perhaps no other city in the world has such a kind of festival.

“Varanasi was advocated as an ideal example of India’s intangible Cultural heritage as a combination of a temple city with its rich tradition in music. The Varanasi school of music or the Benaras gharana named after the city along with the semi classical genres like Hori, Chaiti, Tappa, Daadra are rich in musical heritage.The ghats, havelis and temples have housed the Benaras gharana and nurtured it backed with the Banaras Hindu University with its Music and Dance departments.The Government of Rajasthan nominated the Jaipur City under the Creative CitiesNetwork for its art & craft. 36 varieties of crafts were identified including the ones related to sculpture, pottery, textiles and jewellery making. Right from King Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur in 18th Century to his successors, the city has been nurtured as a centre of artistic excellence.”[v]As designated  members of UCCN (UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network), they reflect a hub for creativity and integrate culture into sustainable development plans.

Significance of Art and Culture in India

Indian culture is spiritual. It elevates and celebrates mankind, uplifts one to assimilate the four fundamental pursuits of mankind –(i) Dharma (righteous actions), (ii) Artha (securities like wealth, family, power and position), (iii) Kama (sensory, intellectual or emotional pleasures), and (iv) Moksha (enlightenment – gaining freedom from all limitations and sorrow). None of these pursuits are simple, because even though universal, the variety of human choices and the multiple layers of psychological complexities involved, give them a range of interpretations, perceptions and decisions.

The Vedic culture of India unfolds a universal vision that brings harmony in all these pursuits of mankind,with the environment. This harmony is easily attainable with the understanding that when the means or process of accomplishment of any pursuit is undertaken with commitment to right and ethical ways, harmony and fulfillment can be well orchestrated.

Art and Culture of India is Immortal

Do the expression of culture nurture and address all the needs of individuals? If they do not, that culture will not stand the test of time and would be outdated. The Puranas, Itihasaas, temple architecture, the folk lore, food, language, music, dance all seem to have an intrinsic strength to sustain, modify and adapt to the changing times without comprising on its integrity.Vedic culture seems to be relevant to all ages and at all times. Hence,in spite of many years of oppression, the culture today is still alive and celebrated!

For economic growth, technological, medical, industrial, and academic advancement is necessary but it cannot be used as a measure for inner growth or emotional maturity of a person.The struggling human heart always seeks fulfillment, wholeness, to be free from conflicts and pain. Vedic vision helps the individual resolve this fundamental struggle. Art and culture of India facilitates this resolution.



[iii] Ibid

[iv] Also see,


Hanuman, the real Superman

This article first appeared in The Hindu on 12th April, 2019.

Reading the verses of Sundarakandam, I began to wonder how I would be able to even select from among the 2,885 verses for my solo production on this most beautiful section of the Ramayana. Choreographing and getting music composed seemed highly formidable tasks. My spiritual Guru Swami Dayananda Saraswati had suggested that I work on ‘Sundarakandam.’ I realised that unless I undertook it as a Parayana (a dedicated daily recitation), I would not be able to give it a form in Natya. I spent days reading and contemplating on the verses and began to discover the timeless value of the journey of Hanuman to Lanka. When Mount Mainaka, the greatest among the mountains, rises from the ocean to request Hanuman to rest on its peak, Hanuman says that he will not rest until he reaches Lanka. This undivided focus gives him the strength to reach his destination.

“I have dedicated this performance to Shri Hanuman as I am inspired by his virtue and intelligence” says Pavithra seen here as Hanuman setting fire to Lanka

On gaining entry, Hanuman is awestruck by the city of Lanka, the opulence of Ravana’s palace, the retinue, and the magnificent Pushpaka Vimana. He enters the private chambers of the mansion but lust does not touch Hanuman’s heart, where Rama is enshrined.

Not to scare Mother Sita with his sudden appearance, He first sings the glory of Lord Rama and gradually earns her trust. The sense and sensibility with which he approaches Sita reassures her of reuniting with Lord Rama. Hanuman’s strategy is in full play in this Canto — he ascertains the strength of Ravana’s army, by engaging in a battle after destroying the spectacular Ashoka Vana, allows himself to be tied by Indrajit, invokes fear by burning Lanka with his tail set on fire and so on.

With the wise words “Drishta Sita” (Seen Sita), he brings joy and relief to a distraught Rama. None on earth, even in thought, can achieve this feat says Rama, who through an embrace conveys his gratitude and blessing for protecting the Dharma of the Raghu clan!

My first presentation of Sundarakandam was in the presence of Guruji in Arsha Vidya Gurukulam (2009) in Saylorsburg. He was so happy that he called me ‘Hanumani’ in front of the audience. With his blessings, I have presented Hanuman’s journey at several venues in Chennai and across the country and abroad.

‘Sundarakandam’ is a mine of spiritual knowledge, reading of which assures success in all endeavours along with the spiritual strength to face life’s difficulties. Sundara means not only beautiful but also regaining what is lost. It is said that to regain the Self is real Sundaram!

Ramayana is the Adikavya — the very first poem, Itihaasa (epic) in Sanskrit literature — of the ancient Indian civilization. The entire culture of India is embodied in this Itihaasa. It has a very deep influence on the ethos and ethics of people through the millennia. The power it has in moulding the minds cannot be described. Rama resides eternally in Hanuman’s heart. As a Naishtika Brahmachari, he is an embodiment of devotion and fearlessness. To me, he is the real hero, who adorns my Facebook page.

How Ayurveda Represents The Perfect Way For India To Establish Itself as a Global Center For Health

The notions of wellness, calm and mindfulness have become trendy pursuits over the past decade or so. Ayurveda as an ancient science of holistic living, has found itself at the center of this.  Due to its increasing popularity, Ayurveda has the power to become a prominent tool of soft power across the world, having made an incredible impact in its effective methods of enhancing good health and wellness.

Ayurveda has even penetrated the international level through institutions such as the United Nations. Amongst the mandates of United Nations, health of mankind is the thrust area of UN through World Health Organization (WHO). Planning and execution of policies for mainstreaming of traditional medicines (TRM) of respective countries along with conventional system of medicine (allopathy), first in the country of origin followed by the international arena, is the priority agenda of operations of WHO. Within Indian context, WHO accorded prime focus to Ayurveda in its activities related to TRM. (Chaudhary and Singh, 2011)

There is a demand to implement modern research methodologies to help gain better understanding of Ayurveda in the west and earn its equivalent place with modern medicine. Various methodologies are prevalent in medical treatment today. Earlier, people used to rely on direct experience. But now there is a system in place wherein documentation is done and research is conducted. There is a research methodology….a system of methodology has to be approved, which should be pursued by the practitioners of Ayurveda. A common medical practitioner keeps records of his observations and experience, and writes papers on them. These papers are then published in (science) journals, on the basis of which experiments are conducted. Good record keeping of Ayurveda is the need of the hour, stated RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (Press Trust of India, 2018).

To bring Ayurveda on par with the status of Chinese traditional medicine, the Modi government set up a separate ministry called AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) that would institutionalize this ancient heritage. In an effort to brand Ayurveda, AYUSH helps file dozens of international patents, develop programs and courses at colleges globally; and has appointed delegates to spread the awareness of this ancient heritage.  Agricultural efforts to help farmers survive non-conducive environmental conditions are now concomitant with revival of medicinal plants for ayurvedic preparations: with plants like aloe vera and Indian gooseberries grown in lands where crops have failed due to drought.

According to the VISION 2022 ROADMAP FOR INDIAN AYURVEDA INDUSTRY, a joint publication by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Frost & Sullivan (F&S), 2017, Ayurveda is a USD 3 Billion market with a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 15-16% and comprises of the organized and the unorganized sector.  The industry offers both products valued at USD 2.27 billion in 2016 (personal, cosmetic, OTC, etc.) and services (~ USD 0.75 billion) that included medical and tourism services (Frost & Sullivan et al., 2017).

Giants in former sector include well established corporations that manufacture and market ayurvedic products like Charak Pharma, Vicco, Baidyanath, Nagarjuna, Himalaya and Dabur.  With consumer confidence increasing in the adoption of natural products for their well being and in cosmetics, along with increasing environmental awareness, multinational consumer goods mammoths like Colgate-Palmolive, Hindustan Unilever, Emani, and Patanjali have also ventured into increasing their line of products, increasing their Naturals Portfolio to meet the consumer demand (Sachitanand, 2017). Many upstart companies are mushrooming, especially by practitioners who have been in the practice of ayurveda for generations.  One such enthusiast is Dr. Arjun Vaidya, from South Mumbai, a sixth generation ayurveda practitioner who would like to see ayurveda burgeon in the Western world like Yoga industry has (Sachitanand, 2017).

Medical tourism in India, predominantly for Ayurveda has increased the inflow of population from the West, who are seeking a low cost, enjoyable and comfortable alternative for treatment of their diseases and wellness.  Ripe with the tradition of Ayurveda, untainted and unbroken through generations, Kerala is perhaps the only state in India which still continues to practice this tradition with utmost dedication; and has the largest number of Ayurveda colleges and practitioners in the world (Benke, 2016). Ayurveda tourism contributes to 6.23% to the national GDP and 8.78% of total employment in India (Benke, 2016).  Foreign tourists to Kerala increased by 6.60% in just one year in 2015, to 7.75 lakhs, while domestic tourists increased by 7.40% to 76.71 lakhs in the same year (Times of India, 2016). Corroborating this trend, foreign exchange increased by 15.07% in 2014 compared to the previous year to Rs. 6398.93 crore (Times of India, 2016).

Nanda Kumar, the deputy director of Kerala tourism told Times of India in 2016 on a visit to Pune,”We have realized that many a times, foreign tourists are looking at relaxing more than sight-seeing. So we are planning to mix ayurvedic treatment along with sightseeing in such a way that the experience is truly a stress buster for them.” (Times of India, 2016)

“A memorandum of understanding between Saint Petersburg tourism board and Kerala is also on the cards. This will happen next week in Mumbai, and is first of its kind MoU of an Indian state with a foreign country,” claimed Nanda Kumar.

The VISION 2022 ROADMAP FOR INDIAN AYURVEDA INDUSTRY also lays out key strategies to increase the market value to USD 9 Billion by 2022 by focusing on some key strategies aimed towards branding Ayurveda as a system of treatment to precisely diagnose the root cause of diseases and eliminate them (Frost & Sullivan, et al., 2017).  Globalization of Ayurveda by enhancing industry and government collaboration, getting the word across on the benefits of the system of therapy, using Ayurveda to diminish the burden of hypertension, diabetes and arthritis and training personnel are some of the key ways the report envisions attainment of this goal (Frost & Sullivan, et al., 2017). A comprehensive Ayurveda Industry policy initiatives promoting increased awareness among the public, especially the younger generation are seen as vital strategic imperatives to achieve this growth (Frost & Sullivan, et al., 2017).

Prime Minister Modis socio-political strategies has been steadily drawing awareness of the Indian public towards the neglect that has been shown towards the ancient heritage, thereby allowing the West to appropriate ayurvedic traditions as cures, filing for patents without due credit to India, and enabling big pharma and modern medicine to minimize traditional alternative medicine. Our grandmothers remedies have become the intellectual property rights of other countries,….. said Prime Minister Modi at the inauguration of the second Ayurveda Day in New Delhi (Doshi, 2018).

In an interview with Vidhi Doshi for the Washington Post earlier this year, Rajiv Vasudevan, the chairman of the ayurveda core group at the Confederation of Indian Industry, said that Promoting Indian expertise could bring foreign cash and has soft-diplomacy benefits…We are a proud nation, we have rich history and we have something to share with the world, (Doshi, 2018).


Pavithra Srinivasan is a Research Fellow at the Center for Soft Power, India Foundation


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