“Learning and teaching Samskritam has made my life complete!”- author Medha Michika

Michika Inuzuka transformed herself from being a student of  Environmental Science at California State University into a life long student of Vedanta. She is a former software engineer at Bandai America and Panasonic USA. 

Michika left everything in pursuit of the study of Vedanta scriptures such as Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Brahma Sutras under Pujya Shri. Swami Dayananda Saraswatiji, a world renowned and revered traditional teacher of Advaita Vedanta. She started studying under Pujya Swamiji from 2007. 

Now Medha Michika is a Sanskrit teacher and author of books on Sanskrit Alpabhets, Sanskrit Grammar, book of verbal roots based on dhaatupaaTha of paaNini and many more! Her books  are available at www.arshaavinash.in under “Books on Sanskrit Grammar”for free download. Printed version of her books are available at amazon.com and createspace.com. All profit from the sales of her books go towards  charitable works, mainly for printing books in India to be donated to Arsha Vidya Gurukulams in Anaikatti, Rishikesh, and Saylorsburg, or as direct donation to these ashrams.

Here is CSP’s  interview with Medha Michika:

According to you , what is the significance of Samskritam ?

Samskritam is a language of the Veda.The Vedas teach Dharma ( righteous deeds) and Moksha (ultimate freedom), the goals only human beings can achieve due to their faculty of thinking and ability to make choices. Samskritam is a unique language which helps you understand the language of the Veda, that fulfills you and makes you a complete human being. 

How did you get adept in speaking the English language?

Besides reading and talking with college students in USA, our family used to host people that really helped me in speaking good English.

When did you begin teaching Samskritam, what methodology have you developed in writing your books?

When  I was in Rishikesh studying under Pujya Swamiji, I started helping other students of Vedanta in learning Samskritam, from Devanagari script to Panini sutras.

I just follow the methodology of traditional learning and teaching method of Panini-sutras while writing. In my books,I have presented this traditional method in visual forms so that students with modern educational background can easily learn and grasp.

Let me explain a few terms. To understand these terms, one should have studied Panini to some extent. This discussion is meant only for those :-

As a prakriya , the methodology of leaning Panini-sutras, Kaumudi  is the best. Not many people know that this book is for studying Ashtaadhyaayii.When you study a sutra in Kaumudi, you must look up Ashtaadhyaayii sutra-paatha and pick up anuvrttis, then bring necessary words by referring to appropriate Paribhaashaas,and finally make a complete vrttiby rearranging the entire words. One can also refer to commentaries of Kaumudi and Kashika.

How has teaching Samskritam changed your life?

It has made me more patient, relaxed and accepting of myself and others.Of course Samskritam is essential for studying theShaastra! Teaching has given me the depth of understanding the language and  has got me  involved  in the parampara of teaching too!

How is Hindu tradition different form Japanese tradition, what are their similarities?

Differences :

Most of the things are diagonally opposite in the two traditions. For example, in Hindu tradition, people have trust in Bhagavan, the cosmic order, while Japanese people trust in the orders made by human beings  and follow them rigidly.

In India, Vedic values such as study of Shaastra, being a Sanyaasi, giving, selfless service, knowledge of Samskritam, etc. are highly regarded, while in Japan, these principles are not even known.

Similarities:

While listening to the teacher, interrupting the flow of teacher’s words by asking question is not considered to be proper in both traditions in India and Japan.Though we don’t have the idea of the Lord, the creator, the omniscient and omnipotent, we are in general quite open to see divinity in everything and in worship.Another similarity is we also keep quiet while listening to the teaching !

What motivated you to study scriptures/Vedanta? How did you join Arsha Vidya Gurukulam?

When I was a little child around 5/6 years old, my mother told me  that my existence cannot be defined by “girl” or “Japanese”.That really gave me a solid trust in myself, and easily paved the way for the study of Vedanta.

Years later, during my stay in Rishikesh,I was learning Hindustani music and fond of witnessing Hindu rituals, chanting and reciting prayers.The interest to know the meaning of the prayers made me study Samskritam by myself, which of course did not work!

Some people suggested  I go to Shri.Dayananda Ashram. I went to the Ashram in Rishikesh to learn Samskritam, not knowing what exactly to expect.There were no Samskritam classes when I visited the Ashram. Instead, there was a class on Mundaka Upanishad. I heard the class, and immediately  understood that everything that happened in my life was meant to pursue the study of Vedanta. From that day onwards, there has been no turning back in my life. Now, my whole life is centered on the study of Vedanta.

What does your name mean then and now ? 

Michika means “auspicious and gorgeous”. The name Medha is given by Pujya Swamiji which means “intellect “. This is a great blessing to me!

What do you find about India that you don’t find anywhere else?

I am inspired by the value systems in India in keeping with higher human goals like – Dharma, Moksha, study of Shaastra, life style and attitude of a Sanyaasi, values of giving, selfless service, and knowledge of Samaskritam.P

Is there any other way to find peace besides studying Shaastras?

Shaastra is meant for finding ultimate peace, which cannot be found in any life  experience or philosophy!

What has been you most gratifying experience so far?

That I was lucky enough to study under Pujya Swamiji.

How do you wish to carry on the legacy of your revered Guru?

By continuing the study and teaching the Shaastra, as guided by Pujya Swamiji.

What keeps your life busy?

Studying and teaching, and moving around the world for that purpose.

Where do you teach Samskritam?

I teach at Rishikesh Ashram,Anaikatti Gurukulam,Japan,Bali and Singapore on a regular basis. In Japan many Yoga students also attend my classes. 

If you wish to change something in your life, what would it be?

Nothing. Meeting Pujya Swamiji and studying the Shaastras has made my life complete and perfect!

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Hiten Mistry : Steering holistic living and wellness in the​ UK through Bharatanatyam.

Hiten Mistry is a young, dynamic,dedicated Bharatanatyam performer/teacher and dancer-therapist who lives in Leicester situated in the East Midlands region of UK. He has a BSc Honours in Mass Communications and Sociology. Presently he is studying Masters degree in performance practices from the De Montfort University Leicester. 

What is most special about this highly motivated and talented artist is that he works as a Movement Facilitator in Health settings, and at National Health service (NHS) Leicester, using Bharatanatyam exclusively as the medium for improving the health of patients with mental health and cardiovascular disorders. 

Hiten Mistry  runs a dance company called Bharatanatyam Leicester, and teaches many students both at Leicester and Birmingham.

Here is CSP’s ineterview with Hiten Mistry :

How little were you when you began lessons in  Bharatanatyam? 

I was 8 years old when I began learning Bharatanatyam, I had watched my very first teacher perform Alarippu at my Gujarati school’s Diwali Program and I was instantly attracted to the form, the music, aharya (costume)and energy and felt so drawn to it that I really wanted to start learning. You can say it was a twin flame connection. 

Who are your Natya Acharyas,what traits do you admire in them?

Smita Vadnerkar (Nupur Arts Dance Academy, Leicester U.K) – Extremely hardworking, a diligent teacher who gave a solid foundation in Bharatanatyam. She taught me that nothing is impossible if you apply yourself with total dedication and hard work.She really instills this courage, conviction, and passion for dance in me for which I am so very grateful.

Pushkala Gopal (Samskriti,UK) – Everything about her work on Bharatanatyam has inspired me. I admire  her musicality, her Abhinaya and openminded approach to teaching facial expressions, her choreography is has such amazing ideas, and her mathematical rhythmic calculations are incredible! 

The Dhananjayans ( Bharata Kalanjali, Chennai, India) – I absolutely adore the internationally renowned couple’s style for their clarity, strong nritta (footwork), emotive Bhava and their unique creative presentation-right from costuming to stage. Master and Shanta Akka are my Bharatanatyam Parents. I can watch them for hours and hours. I am fortunate  to be a small part of their magnificent international legacy!

What makes a good performer and good teacher? Can both go hand in hand?

In my opinion, a good performer is one who has a solid grounding in all the elements of Bharatanatyam. A fine proficiency in both Nritta ( pure dance) and Abhinaya(facial expressions), one not overpowering the other but complementing each ability makes a good one on stage. It is a tight rope walk to maintain both. A good performer is one who is able to forget the ego of themselves and transcend the body into molding themselves in the characters, emotions, and narratives being portrayed in the dance they present. 

Being a good teacher requires so many other qualities beyond the skills of being a good performer. For me it is down to the personality of the Artist, are they able to be a good host to their students? Keep them motivated? Inspired? On their Toes? Keep them challenged whilst bringing in lightness to the intensity that can often be associated with the training. BesidesCommunication and PATIENCE are so important!

I would say only few performers are able to be good teachers.

Which part of the UK have you performed and where else ?

I have performed all over the UK Nationally as a student and professional dancer, in community settings, and on the mainstream theatre venues. 

My first experience of performing was exhilarating!It was a huge production based on planets and solar systems called Vyom by CICD,UK in Leicester at the Phoenix Theatre. I loved the ambience of theatre, the excitement of the rehearsals, meeting dance friends, giggling, laughing and enjoying being on stage for the first time in front of public, wearing glittery make up and a new costume, all added to the excitement for me.

I have also performed in France, Italy, Egypt, India.

When did Bharatanatyam spread in UK?

As many Indian Bharatanatyam artists migrated to Britain along came with them  their dance form. In the early days it was the famous dancer Ram Gopal who brought Bharatanatyam and other Indian Dance forms to the major theatre stages around the UK and globally. He was for a long time the toast of Europe for the beauty and authenticity in brought in his dances, interweaving his skilled training in Kathakali, Bharatnatyam, and Manipuri forms. He introduced Britain to the marvelousness of Indian classical dance and performance. Ram Gopal was appointed OBE in 1999!

I was involved in a project called Incarnations – Choreographed by Shane Shambhu for the V&A Museum in London’s exhibition opening of Ram Gopal and his costumes, with the History of Indian Dance in the UK.

What Bharatanatyam topics interest the youngsters in UK ?

Bharatanatyam being such a comprehensive art form can really interest youngsters as an entire art but in particular, the dynamic Nritta (footwork) and Natya (dance drama )elements embodying a story and using  Mudras ( gestures) appeal to them. Rhythm and Music are concepts that can help in the study of Mathematics and would attract students.

How can Bharatanatyam be made more popular than Bollywood?

Bharatanatyam needs to be made more accessible, exploring different types of presentation style, the use of English voiceover or more orchestration in music rather be very sahityam (lyrics)heavy.Melodramatic Abhinaya ( facial expressions) can completely go over the heads of British audiences!

Bollywood is popular as it is catchy, fun and easy to do, people aspire to be like their favourite actors or actresses and want to dance like them. Maybe we need more Bharatanatyam superstars to raise the platform for our art, create innovative platforms to bring mass appeal; but there is a fear of diluting the essence of the form in doing so. 

My belief is that to experience essence, aesthetics and rigour, BN and it’s inherent spiritual, intellectual, emotional and transcendent qualities will always exist, people will seek to experience this and our art form will live on for centuries to come!

How has dance made you reach out to natives in UK ?

My work is predominantly in Bharatanatyam, whether I am dancing  in health settings (Hospitals, Day centres, Care homes) or teaching in my dance company or conducting a workshop, or performing in a stage , it is Bharatanatyam everywhere. 

British audiences love the storytelling and challenging nritta (footwork).  In my work with the National Health Service, people are beginning to see the Holistic and Therapeutic benefits of Indian Dance. I regularly engage with these patients in hospital wards, care homes and day centres.

One of my many dreams is to conduct in depth research into the area of using Bharatanatyam in a creative capacity as an holistic therapeutic approach to improving health and well being of people. 

How do they feel after your therapeutic sessions ?

Those who engage in this work really see the benefits of Bharatanatyam  beyond its visual magnificence as a performing art. I make them try footwork, and hand gesture movements. This definitely helps to increase levels of their activities, motor movements. They feel infused with a new sense of hope that helps them heal and I feel so blessed to care for their well being.

What are your challenges and rewards?

I would say my biggest challenge are the gatekeepers in the fraternity, financial support for my work, access to opportunites that are few and far in between, and people in your own sector who sabotage you . All these threaten and jeopardise the development of the dance. 

My biggest reward is seeing the joy, relief and the positive effects my work has on the people, my students who I teach on a regular weekly basis, and the dance therapy I do at the NHS. I have had people in bounteous joys and moved to tears in my performances. These moments reinforces my resolve to work, create and reach out more. 

Where do you like to perform in India ?

I would like to perform all over India but as a Bharatanatyam dancer getting approval of your artistry is paramount in Chennai! I would very much wish the support of Govt of India for the various art projects I have in mind.

What are your artistic goals?

In a nutshell, my goals are to serve my art form to the best I can in my capacity, create a home for my dance work and to able to make British people and the society see how dance movements can make a great positive difference in their lives. I wish to tour throughout the country and abroad with my productions, along with my community of dancers. I desire to raise the global profile of Bharatanatyam. 

How long would you like to be dancing?

I Dance therefore I AM. It is more than my identity, something I cannot describe. Bharatanatyam is my happy place, my companion. It is the truth of my existence. I am definitely one of Lord Nataraja’s chosen ones to serve this great art. I am humbled and blessed. 

“The best thing about India is I became the person I wanted to be “

Katya Tosheva is a gifted multi-style dancer from Bulgaria, an artist who has found inspiration in three main classical dance forms of India, a country with which she has a deep emotional connection. Trusting her heart, Katya quit her job as an engineer and began an endless journey into the depths of Indian classical dance. She currently learns three Indian classical forms of dance – Odissi, Kathak,and Bharatanatyam under highly respected and internationally recognized teachers – Sharmila Mukerji (Bangalore), Ravi Shankar Mishra (Varanasi) and Nivedita Badve (Pune).

Her training includes dozens of individual classes and group lessons with famous teachers and performers such as Swati Tivari, Saraswathi Rajathesh, Kalayamamani Kutalam M. Selvam, Vidha and Abhimanyu Lal (India), Karan Pangali (UK), Christina Zanni (Greece) and Stefan Hristov (Bulgaria). Visiting different parts of India, Katya explores not only the classical but also the rich folk dance tradition.

Following her dreams, she has founded an Indian Dance School “Kaya”, where she shares her knowledge and interests with joy and enthusiasm. She conducts regular classes in Sofia and Plovdiv and teaches at Indira Gandhi School – the only school in Bulgaria related to India’s culture. In 2018, Katya received an invitation from the Embassy of India to perform for the Independence Day celebration and for the President of India during his visit to Bulgaria. Katya has also participated in numerous events dedicated to the traditions of India, in Bulgaria and abroad.

For three years, she was invited to teach in Serbia, and during her trip to India in September 2018, she won the first prize at the prestigious dancing festival in Pune.

Katya’s performances have been greatly appreciated in Greece, Cyprus, Spain, France, Serbia and India, where she engages the interest of the media. Her interviews are published in some of the most widely read newspapers, as well as on the national television channels Lok Sabha and Doordarshan.

Here is CSP interview with Katya Tosheva, the multi-talented dancer from Bulgaria :

What made you choose Indian dance?

I wouldn’t say I have chosen Indian dance – the dance chose me ! It came in my life so naturally … I didn’t even realise how the dance filled my days. I don’t know when and how it happened but I remember how it took me months to have the courage to search for teachers. I was thinking I will not be able to move so gracefully and so fast, to have the strength, the stamina… I still think the same way. But now I am brave enough and I keep trying! 

Who were your teachers and how long was your training ?

 I am still learning! This is a process which will never end. Presently, I am studying Odissi with Guru Sharmila Mukerjee in her Sanjali centre for Odissi dance, Bangalore; Kathak with Guru Ravi Shankar Mishra, Varanasi and Bharatanatyam with Nivedita Badve, Pune. I started 7-8 years ago and I through the years had the honour to take lessons from other respected artists in India – Swati Tiwari, Delhi and Saraswathi  Rajadesh, Bangalore.

What are the dance forms in Bulgaria, how different is it from Indian dance ?

There are a  lot of similarities between the folk dances in Bulgaria and India. We also have very rich dance tradition. The name of the dance is “Horo”. It is a group dance performed in a circle during festivals and all kinds of celebrations. There are other different styles from every region in Bulgaria. Each has it’s own typical costumes, ornaments and decorations. There is a special fire ritual dance performed barefoot on smouldering ember, called Nestinarstvo.

How has Indian dancing changed you and your life style?

Dancing and Yoga has changed almost everything – my way of thinking, of understanding,  my vision about what is important in life, my emotions, everything around me – people who I meet, things which I do every day. Surely I can say  I live healthier and I am more active. After I quit my office job my schedule changed completely and I am happy to spend more time dancing than sitting in front of the computer!

We see you learn 3 classical styles simultaneously -Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi. That’s’ amazing ! What makes it easy and difficult when transferring from one dance form to another? 

I have much more to learn about each of these styles. The good thing is that the stories,the mudras, and the expressions in dance are the same.The hard thing is to maintain the specific posture of each dance, to keep clean its essence. The difference in the position of the feet between Aramandi and Chowk is only a few centimeters:)  

Any preference of styles?

I really can’t say I have favorite style. Each has its amazing beauty and it challenges me in a different way. I love Kathak because of its fast foot movements, the graceful wrists and the spins! Bharatanatyam with its sharp and geometrical movements, jumps and the expressive mudras are so beautiful!Odissi is impressive with its fluidity, torso movements and tribhangis.

How did you find the teaching methods of your Dance Gurus here? 

Every one of them has its own energy and approach. But the demands of a good discipline, hard work and everyday practice is common. I am thankful for their patience, as I need more explanations in regards the meaning of the lyrics, all the stories and characters. 

What are your practice routines? How did you manage your time from one class to another?

I try to have time for yoga practice every day, two days in the week for practicing every style. Also I have lessons with my students almost every day, which keeps me moving all the time. Of course when I have an upcoming performance I focus on the style which I will be performing. But many times I need to perform two different styles in the same program and this poses a challenge.

Did the Classical art form of India bind you and Rosen in your happy marriage ? 

Actually Rosen taught my first yoga lesson and I this was very important moment in my life. I remember  when we were dating and I gifted him a batik with the image of the meditating Lord Shiva. Now this  batik is in our home in my studio. Many times Rosen helps me to understand the rhythm when we practice together. He plays the tabla for me on the stage,this is like a dream came true!

Do you work/perform together ?

Yes, we were happy to be students of  the talented Bulgarian tabla player, jazz drummer and percussionist Stefan Hristov.Last year Rosen was with me in Varanasi and took lessons under my Guru Ravi Shankar Mishra. Since that time we had many opportunities to perform together at different festivals and events. We had the opportunity to perform for the Honourable President of India Shri.Ram Nath Govind .

 Where have you been to showcase your arts ?

We have performed together at various festivals in Bulgaria for Asian Festival, organised by the embassies of the Asian countries, in TV shows, concerts, and many cultural programs. Rosen is drummer in a rock band and percussionist in different musical projects. I have had the chance to perform in other countries too – Spain, France, Serbia, Greece, Cyprus and of course India!

 How do you manage the music for your dance?

For most of the performances I use recorded music, especially for Bharatanatyam and Odissi as in Bulgaria there are no musicians and vocalists who can perform Indian classical music. I am blessed to have live music for my Kathak performances, with Rosen and Marije Hristova – a very close friend and a talented violin player as my accompanists on stage. Recently we organised a classical concert with north Indian music and dance in Plovidv – the European capital of culture for this year. It was really an exciting experience for us – it happened for the first time in Bulgaria with non – Indian artists! 

 When did you establish your dance school ? How do your young students respond to Indian culture ?

I started teaching 4 years ago. I really wanted to have a group to share the happiness with. So in the beginning I had only adults students. I was renting different studio for my classes and often my students weren’t enough in count to cover even the rent. So sometimes we were dancing outside. One day we were in the yard of a school and while we were practicing a few kids came and asked whether they can join us. On the next day I went to the director of the school and introduced my self. To work with kids is amazing.We talk a lot, we build together our  team, support each other. Of course our favorite moment is when we are preparing for performance.I am proud of the discipline of my students, the bigger ones help me with the smaller ones, everyone has a responsibility to take care of. 

 Do schools/ Universities in Bulgaria have knowledge about Indian dance ?

There is only one primary school connected with Indian culture in Bulgaria and it is the Indira Gandhi School where I teach. Sofia University has an Indological department where they teach Indian languages, history, literature, and culture. May be in the future they will include dances in the program too.

Please share with us your difficulties in the journey of a dancer. What suggestions do you have to solve them ?

The main difficulty for me is earning money. Many times I am invited to perform at festivals and all kind of events for free. It is really annoying  when an artist needs to explain that there should be a payment. I hope in the future people will have better understanding and will care more about art. Of course there are all sort of challenges in the studio, but its part of the process. The pain in the muscles brings a lot of satisfaction and pleasure when the audience is appreciative.

Has the Govt. of India supported any of your programs?

I had the honor to dance for the Independence day celebration organised by the Embassy of India in Bulgaria and also before the President of India during his visit to Bulgaria in 2018. I was also invited to perform along with the famous Saraswathi Rajadesh in Paris, France on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. I have been invited to perform in cultural programs and festivals , organized by different Indian or Bulgarian organizations. 

What is your goal as an artist? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years with the richness of the dances you are so passionate about ?

My hope is to be able to continue with my studying.To be able to travel again and again to India and to be with my teachers! To go deeper and deeper in this magical world of Indian art and to be able to share it with more people all over the world! I am sure I will continue with the three dance forms which I am learning now and, who knows, may be I will start exploring another one!

How do you find your Indian dance mates?

I just love my classmates!!! Especially those in Sanjali center for Odissi dance. Whenever I am in Bangalore I stay in a school and have the amazing opportunity to attend every class with the kids or with the senior students. I observe their dedication and passion, and it inspires me a lot! The best moments are when I am practicing with the others! They always give me useful tips about steps, telling me about the rituals and everything which I need to know. 

What was the best and the worst thing about India during your stay?

The best thing about India is the diversity, the people, Yoga and the best of the best – I became the girl I wanted to be! The worst thing during my stay – if I don’t count the few times when someone tried to steal my things and lie to me, I can’t say I had bad experiences in India, everybody are really nice with me and I am happy to have friends all over India! 

Katya’s interview for BBC News was translated into Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English and reached more than million views in two weeks!

The Bulgarian with a passion for Indian classical dance

Katya Tosheva became so "addicted" to Indian culture that she ended up learning not one but three different classical dance forms – Bharathanatyam, Kathak and Odissi.(Via BBC News தமிழ்)

Posted by BBC News India on Thursday, June 6, 2019

I was the ART ACHARYA at the ART-IN-ACTION festival at Oxford,UK for 17 years!

Shri. Ganesh L.Bhat is a seasoned sculptor with many special awards and unique collection! Carving stones, chiseling minds and creating the next generation of sculptors has been his dedicated journey. 

Shri. Ganesh L.Bhat, the legendary sculptor and Karnataka state awardee.

“Shilpa Kala is a visual art.You see what is carved and chiseled in silence to understand its significance . If they are carved in a sequence, evidences of the whole story and their meaning  reflects right in front of you. I was invited for 17 years to the Art-in-Action festival at Oxford,UK. They went beyond my limited English grammar into the limitless world of learning the sculptural work of art.”, said Shri. Ganesh L. Bhat, the legendary sculptor and Karnataka state awardee in a telephonic interview with CSP.

 When were the first sculptures discovered in India, what fascinated you to sculpt and take it up as your profession?

The first sculptures in India date back to the Indus Valley civilisation, where stone and bronze carvings were discovered. This is one of the earliest instances of sculpture.Later, as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism developed further, India produced some of the most beautiful bronze statues in the world as well as unrivalled temple carvings. Some huge shrines, such as the one at Ellora were not actually constructed using blocks, but instead carved out of rock, making them perhaps the largest and most intricate sculptures on  earth.

My father was a professional priest in one of the oldest Maha Ganesha temple in a village called Idagunji , located on the West Coast of India in Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka state, India. As a child I used to assist him in cleaning the premises, and doing alankara (decorating ) the deity . That’s how my fascination began and continues till date, am happy that it turned into my profession also.

 What are the different styles of sculpting? Is there any style you have specialized in ?

Karnataka has the maximum number of Indian traditional styles. Some of the ancient styles are : Hoysala, Chalukya, Chola, Ganga, Rashtrakuta, and Vijayanagara. In other Southern states of India like Tamizh Nadu, Pallava and Chola styles are widely known, Chera and Pandiya are common styles in the state of Kerala, and Kalkatiya style is established in the state of Andhra Pradesh. I studied Sandalwood carvings from Shri. K.G Shantappa, Indian stone carvings from Shri. Devalakunda Vadiraj, and Iconography from Shri. S.K Ramachandra Rao. These Gurus were master sculptors and I am ever grateful to them.Especially under Shri.Devalakunda Vadiraj, I studied for 10 years as an apprentice in the Gurukula System of education( where the student lives and learns from the teacher). Most of my sculptors are in Hoysala style.

What are the ancient classics for the study of Shilpa shastra ( शिल्प शास्त्र /Science of art and craft)?

Kashyapa Shilpa shastra, Rupadhyana Ratnavali Shilpa shastra,Tantra Saara Sangarha Shilpa shastra, Saraswatiya Shipa shastra are some of the ancient classics of Shilpa Shasta ( शिल्प शास्त्र ). All these describe the process, techniques, rules, standard, proportions, measurements, compositions, the meaning  and the design of the art and craft of making statues, stone murals, icons, painting, textiles, carpentry, pottery, jewellery, etc.

Its great to know that you have  delivered  lectures to more than 30, 000 foreigners in ART-IN – ACTION festival at Oxford, UK. What was it about, how was the response?

My Acharya Shri. Devalakunda used to take my sculptures and exhibit them in my name.So my name was known to the committee members of the festival even before they saw me! In 1997,I was invited to demonstrate for the foreigners and explain about Indian tradition, sculptures, drawings and Iconography. I literally became an “Art-Ambassador” of India for the ART-IN-ACTION festival. They did not mind the errors in my English grammar but were so keen and earnest to learn from me the art of making sculptures at the Shoot Farm Studio at Somerset, England. On a western stone I carved with Indian tools. More than 200 artists have participated every year. I was their Art Acharya for 17 years!

What makes  Indian sculptures attractive internationally? Whose works inspire you?

Indian sculptures are grand and have a  profound character to them. They are enhanced with carvings that describe their heroism.For example Krishna as a Supreme being is portrayed along with carvings of cows, Gopikas, saints , the Govardhana mountain,the flute etc. Foreigners are amazed by Indian perspectives of sculptures. They find it divine. They are in awe and wonder of our temple architecture too.

Temples in India are world class Universities for sculptors. The architectural principles of Hindu temples in India are described in Shilpa Shastras.

Its a great study of  aesthetics, culture, science, civilization etc that help in understanding the designs, geometries,mathematical principles and intricacies in creative construction of sculptures.

Ajanta and Ellora caves, adorned with beautiful sculptures, paintings and frescoes, are considered to be one of the finest examples of ancient rock-cut architecture. Located near Aurangabad in the state of Maharashtra,India, they are declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites attracting several international tourists.

I greatly admire the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the icons in the history of Western art and craft.Michelangelo’s  fresco painted on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel is stunning & Mona Lisa, the famous of Leonardo’s works seems to be most valuable paintings in the world! How much these prolific sculptors & painters must have toiled year after year to have made such a monumental influence during the Renaissance!

Which other countries have you been invited, to showcase and teach your craft?

I have been invited to Ireland, France, Paris, and Germany. I have also conducted workshops at the British Museum,Victorian &Albert Museum in London. Some of them have even bought my sculptures.

What is the  difference between Indian and Western style of sculptures?

In my knowledge, the most important difference is that in Western styles modelers – person or material like clay are used, that aids them in making the sculptures. In the Indian way, creativity first happens in their mind, and then they set out to carve and chisel based on their inner visualization.

Western sculpting happens mostly on white marbles as it seems closest to the color of the human body. In Indian sculpting, various types of stones such as sandstone, shell stone, slate stone, granite are used even though marbles are also used in some places.

Saraswati on Veena
Lime stone sculpture of Mother & Child installed at Chalice Well, Somerset, England.

Aroma, colors, and even music/dance is considered therapeutic . How is sculpting a therapy for you?

Sculpting is medium to mould your expressions, your inner thoughts and feelings. Your understanding and imagination of particular subject takes on an external visible form. This creative process itself is therapeutic.You stare fixedly for a few minutes at a sculpture of an angry bull, you can vent out all your frustrations!Looking at a beautiful flower sculpture melts your heart and makes you appreciate beauty. Therefore every sculpture can influence your mind and heal your soul.

What has been your most beautiful sculpture, any thing specially made for people abroad?

I have carved many Ganeshas. In theVII century, Ganesha was popular in Indonesia, Java, Bali, Japan, Nepal , Burma, Srilanka, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan. There where”Gaanapatya Pantha”,a strong group of followers who made the murtis of Ganesha widesspread. India was a larger country then.

Later India became geographically smaller and when different religious groups occupied the country we lost these Ganeshas. They became “abroad Ganeshas”. Even today, Kangiten is worshipped as a deva ( god) in Japan .

It is represented as an elephant-headed male and female couple, venerated as giver of joy and prosperity and remover of obstacles. Saraswati, Krishna Radha, Dancing Shiva, Hanuman are some of the other dieties I have completed my work on.

Kamadenu Sacred Cow on Bath stone, assisted by Paul Fry, Installed at Shoot Farm Studio, Summerset,UK.

I have carved a 9 feet long 5 feet high bull out of a single limestone as a tribute to the thousands of cows that were lost in the Foot-and-Mouth disease in UK.It became a historical memorial underlying the sacredness of cows! My sculptor on Mother and Child on a limestone has also been installed at Chalice well, Glastonbury, UK.

When people see your sculptures, what do you hope they understand and appreciate ?

I sculpt keeping the purpose of the art form in mind. I don’t wish to confuse or give them difficult guesses. I want them to enjoy the beauty, the intricacies, the contours, the geometry and what the image stands for.My sculptures should not be a question paper, but an answer sheet!

How many sculptors have you made till now. Do you have your own school here where you impart training ?

I am blessed  to have made more than a 1000 sculptures! I used to train many students at KPG Prabhu Artisan Training Center at Bidadi, Bangalore sponsored by Canara Bank for 18 years. More than 700 students have learnt at the Center. Nearly 50 foreign students have received training from me abroad.Now I have my own studio in“Deva Sculpture” in Sakalavara, Bangalore. My  journey in teaching continues. I was a member of the advisory committee for National Gallery of modern art. I also serve as a Director for the Art Institute for Children.

A brief video of Shri. Ganesh’s carving style

How do you see your art as science ?

In recent times the raw materials  used for sculpting are plaster of Paris, wax, plasticine, reisen, concrete/cement etc. These materials are non organic and have certain chemicals that can be toxic and hazardous.

Whereas teracotta, wood, metals such as gold, bronze copper, silver these are organic. But the ultimate media is stone!Throughout history, stone has been the principal material of sculpture.Stone has the longest life,exceeding any other life forms. Hence working on the stone gives a sense of comfort and strength just as a child feels happy and healthy in the presence of the mother.

From your rich experience what do yon think the future generations need to carry on this great art form?

The new generation must be taught the techniques of sculpting in a Sampradaya (community) way, with a curriculum that has a standard structure.

Study on how temples were built, the encouragement it received from great kings and patrons is a must in the academic syllabus of an education system. Funding for tuition from private and Government organisations can transform the talents of earnest learners into very sustainable employment opportunities in future

Link to Shri Ganesh’s website:
https://glbhat.weebly.com

Interview with Rakesh Raghunathan

Shri.Rakesh Raghunathan is a full time food traveller & show host, Dakshin Diaries. He has travelled to Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, and London to showcase the link between history, mythology, food and music. His travel enables him to discover that every place has people who are custodians of great recipes! “We have to document our grandmother’s recipes because we have always taken them for granted. We can never recreate their intricate recipes but can atleast try to bring their flavor of taste!”.

As a distinguished panelist for AHARA, Center for Soft Power had an interesting  interview with him.

1. WHAT DO YOU LOVE TO COOK ?

Whenever I am in town I love cooking a full course traditional South Indian food that can be served on a banana leaf! I grind and mix aromatic spices on Ammikal ( a roller stone) and not in an electric food blender.

2. YOU HAVE BEEN MAKING EFFORTS IN BREAKING THE STEREOTYPE THINKING THAT SOUTH INDIAN FOOD MEANS IDLI, VADAI, DOSAI, SAMBHAR, &FILTER COFFEE. WHEN DID THIS IDEA COME TO YOU?

Yes , South Indian food definitely is categorized thus, if you ask a person who knows a little more,he will also include Chettinad food. Actually there is so much more! When I  document food for my shows I realize that in Tamil Nadu itself every district has its own unique indigenous food ingredient because of the seasonal produce that are grown. These are incorporated in their cooking.For example, if you go to the place Virudunagar you will find lot of peanuts, which  you will not find anywhere else. When you move toward the hilly areas like the Nilgiris you will see usage  of millets.

Not only with respect to food, but also with respect to Temple prasadams (offerings), handicrafts, culture,there are amazing diversities. Our grandmothers had even special vessels (lead pots ) to make Rasam, I doubt whether people know how to use those  special vessels now. I am afraid they would melt away the vessel!

Across India when people conceived the menu in the good old times, there was a science behind it . For example if  there was Vathakuzhambu ( made out of tamarind extract) there was Parupusli ( soaked , ground and steamed pulses added to vegetables) to supplement the protein.

A Milagukuzhambu ( made out of pepper and herbs)  had Parupu thogaiyal (like  humus chutney) to go with it !

3. AHARA IS ABOUT HEALTH AND WELLNESS THROUGH FOOD. DO YOU THINK EVENTS SUCH AS THESE CAN CREATE AWARENESS AND LEAD TO BETTER FOOD AND LIFESTYLE CHOICES?

Absolutely! If you look at the trends today, restaurants are opening up with traditional and seasonal recipes. The younger generation wants to go back to the roots and enjoy food in the  most conventional way. AHARA in one such event which will bring awareness to the people about the benefits of food and its many facets.

“Across India when people conceived the menu in the good old times, there was a science behind it . For example if  there was Vattriyakozhambu ( made out of tamarind extract) there was Parupusli ( soaked , ground and steamed pulses added to vegetables) to supplement the protein.”

4. HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY MONITOR YOUR OWN DIET AND EXERCISE REGIMEN IN THE MIDST OF YOUR HECTIC TRAVEL SCHEDULE?

To be honest, it is tough. Every time I go out to document and research on food, there is a lot of physical work involved like walking, climbing mountains, talking to tribals,that takes care of a part of my exercise. Having said that, when I get time, I do Surya Namaskar and other work outs. Sometimes I loose a few kilos, sometimes gain a few especially when people offer me tasty sweets out of affection.Lot of travel and long strenuous shoots helps me maintain a balance.

5. INDIA HAS THE LARGEST OF VEGETERIANS IN THE WORLD. HOW DOES A SHOW LIKE PULIOGARE TRAVELS HELP A DESIRE TO GO VEGETARIAN. HAVE PEOPLE SPOKEN TO YOU ABOUT IT?

Puliogare travels basically started of as a blog, more to document food, nostalgia, memories, recipes, culinary traditions, practices etc. It is a venture which traces and explores traditional Indian foods made in kitchens and temples across South India.Except for one or two posts that had references to meat it is largely vegetarian. I have nothing against meat, I like a holistic portrayal of food. It’s more about my personal choice that Puliogare Travels has been vegetarian and people have been inspired by this for sure!

6. WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT INDIAN CUISINE IT IS USUALLY ABOUT SOME STANDARD DISHES. WHY IS THERE NOT A GREATER DIFFERENTIATION OF THE LARGE DIVERSITY THAT INDIA HAS TO OFFER?

We are getting there.Even when you go to a restaurant abroad, they typecast South Indian food as Idli,Vadai,Dosai, and North Indian food as  Saag paneer, Butter Chicken,Dhal fry etc. Now there are chefs who are pushing boundaries, working with farmers on the seasonal produce to recreate dishes that meant so much to them in their childhood. Every chef has experienced good food when growing up either from their parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles or any close relatives. This would have influenced their taste and aspired them to recreate the nostalgia through the dish they make. Indian food is being presented today to a more aware and learned audience abroad, and we are expanding our cuisine to showcase more varieties beyond Saag paneer, Idli and Dosai.

7. IN A MODERN CONTEXT, WHERE INDIAN DIETICIANS THEMSELVES ARE PROMOTING OLIVE OIL AND OTHER WESTERN INGREDIENTS HOW DOES ONE GO BACK TO LOCAL PRODUCE AND FOODS?

Well,the direction is slowly shifting. We are going back to using coconut oil, groundnut oil, sesame oil, and ghee, for genuine, lingering taste! In my workshops, sometimes people ask me whether they can cook and sauté in olive oil. I question them “ Did your grandmother use olive oil for traditional recipes, then why would you want to introduce something new into your body which it is not used to ?”. There are enough health benefits in these oils.Its unfortunate that we require endorsement for coconut oil from abroad, to believe its advantages !

It was actually such an integral part of our ancestors lifestyle.

If its a Italian or French food, salad dressing, then olive oil is definitely suitable.

8.COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE VARIOUS SHOWS THAT YOU DO ABROAD AND THE RESPONSE  RECEIVED?

I have travelled to Malaysia,Dubai, London, Singapore for my shows which are generally based on certain themes.Using caricatures,music, photography, we draw parallels and perspectives on food, the history and culture. My presentations on “Sacred offerings” has become extremely popular where I try to appeal to all the five senses through music, food, and mythological stories. So the audience can hear, see, smell, taste and touch!

“Now there are chefs who are pushing boundaries, working with farmers on the seasonal produce to recreate dishes that meant so much to them in their childhood.”

9. IT WAS BIG NEWS WHEN UBIQUITOUS UPMA WON THE FIRST PRIZE IN A NEW YORK COMPETITION. WHAT ARE THE POPULAR DISHES WITH FOREIGNERS?

Great to know that the Mumbai-born Floyd Cardoz had whipped up an Upma and won $100, 000 in the Top Chef Contest in LA, 2011. Aarthi Sampath also won the popular American reality show,Chopped, by making the most innovative bread Upma you’ve ever heard of in 2017. Its so remarkable that such a humble breakfast staple of South India has made international culinary headlines!

Popular dishes among foreigners are :-

IDIAPAMS

DOSAIS /STUFFED CREPES

SAMBHAR

CHAT
MANGO KHULFI

MANGO CHUTNEY/LASSI
SAMOSAS

PANNEER

10. CAN YOU NAME TOP FIVE NUTRITIOUS FOOD FROM SOUTH INDIAN CUISINE THAT EVERYONE MUST KNOW ABOUT.

South Indian diet is very healthy indeed . I would choose the following :-

  1. ADAI
  2. PESARATTU
  3. KANCHIPURAM IDLI
  4. KUZH in any form
  5. PIDI KOZHAKKATTAI MADE WITH MILLETS

11. FINALLY , HOW CAN YOU DESCRIBE DAKSHIN DAIRIES AS A SOFT POWER ?

Food is an icebreaker. It connects people and communities.When people cook and eat together  irrespective of languages, customs, culture and places, it brings them closer and melts boundaries. Its a unique team building exercise too.

Isn’t is rightly said that ‘The way to a person’s heart is through the stomach!”

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.

[i]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-edit-page/russia-and-india-70-years-together/

[ii]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India–Russia_relations#Cooperation_in_the_cultural_sphere

[iii] Ibid

[iv]http://www.thediskcoordinator.com/mayuri.htm Also see, https://www.facebook.com/dancemayuri/

[v]https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/director-general-unesco-declares-varanasi-jaipur-under-creative-cities-network/articleshow/50143983.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

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.

A Journey from Greece to India

This article first appeared in Swarajya Magazine on 3rd March 2019.

Dimitrios Mavrokefalos is a visual designer from Greece, and the co-founder of the HangOut Naxos music festival that takes place in the Island of Naxos in Greece. He was first introduced to Bharaketanatyam three years ago, through Lida Shantala, Greece?s first officially recognised Bharatanatyam teacher, and has since immersed himself in the art form. Mavrokefalos is a student of dancing couple and Padma Bhushan winners V P Dhananjayan and Shantha Dhananjayan.

India Foundation?s Center for Soft Power was delighted to host Mavrokefalos at its office in Kotturpuram, Chennai, on 21 February 2019. V P Dhananjayan also joined in the interaction. The interactive discussion was on Mavrokefalos journey from Greece to India. The presentation expressed the inspiration he has derived from Indian culture and his travels to the country to study yoga, Bharatanatyam, mridangam and chanting.

Here are some excerpts of the interview with Pavitra Srinivasan, research fellow at the Center for Soft Power, India Foundation:

What attracted you towards Bharatanatyam, and how do you perceive it beyond physical movements and techniques?

It was my teacher, Lida Shantala ? whom I first met in Athens ? who encouraged me to start the practice of this dance form. Back then I did not know much about it. The more I followed her teachings, her movements and her expressions, the more I slowly but surely fell in love with it. The Puranic stories she narrated at various moments in her teachings felt magical and touched my heart. Following the roots of tradition of my teacher, I sought to follow her own teachers, the Dhananjayans. This is how my journey from Greece to India began.

What has inspired you about the teaching system of your gurus, the Dhananjayans?

The system is traditional; I spend more time with my fellow students, watch practice sessions and official performances. I have the opportunity to observe many details that I don?t get to see in Athens.

I am honoured to learn from the Dhananjayans, and to witness their teaching. It?s a sacred moment when Shantha akka is directing the movement of the students only with her eyes.

When I see some senior teachers, I appreciate deeply their approach to natya by the moves and the practice they give to the students. I find it hard to perform, but a treat to watch. I appreciate the complexity of the moves and the hard work through sheer repetition of the same element time and again, in order to perfect it.

How long has your training been, both in Greece and in Chennai?

Two years in Greece and four weeks in Chennai.

In Athens, I practise once a week for an hour, while here I practise daily for more than two-three hours. Apart from dance, I practise chanting, music and yoga, and the approach is more holistic towards the subject. They all complement each other in my training here in Bharata Kalanjali, while in Athens I pursue some of the above faculties in different schools.

What differences and similarities do you find between your city Athens and Chennai?

We both have grocery markets and good food! We don?t use chilies at all back in Athens, so it?s hard for me to appreciate chili in the food here. I love the different fruits, fresh guava and coconut from the trees, which I cannot find in my city. Driving here is the craziest experience I ever had; in Athens driving is more structured, and less chaotic. I am curious to know how it would be for a local if there were no horns to sound while driving! (laughs) Here I like to observe all these tiny stores where people work, whereas in my place the stores are bigger. While coal is still used for ironing here, electricity is mainly used there.

Food is less expensive here than in Greece and available almost everywhere! I like idli, masala dosa, samosa and chaat, as well as a good number of colourful sweets, which I normally don?t eat back in my country but indulge in here! (smiles)

Tell us about your trips to Delphi, the spiritual centre in Greece, and Auroville, a spiritual centre near Pondicherry (Puducherry).

This past summer I had the experience of documenting the ?Dances For The Divine Mother? workshop organised by Miriam Peretz, that took place in Delphi, Greece. Whenever I am there, the energy I feel is immense. You can see that in nature, in the many bees that fly around one flower and in the power of water that flows out of the rocks. In Auroville, I had the chance to witness beautiful architecture, a nice concept and an egg shaped rock that resembled Omphalos, a sacred ancient rock found in Delphi, believed to be the navel of the earth. In Auroville, I heard that on this egg-shaped rock, many representatives from different parts of the world had laid some mud for the inauguration ceremony. It was funny to observe this similarity that impressed upon my attention the moment I laid my eyes on it.

You seem to enjoy chanting, what does chanting evoke in you?

It evokes a feeling of lightness, when the mind slows down and stops thinking for a while. In the physical aspect, I feel areas of my body being activated depending on where the sound is being directed. After a good chanting session with other people, there is this change in the field that is felt by all and a kind of joy and ease of connection that comes along with it. I also have a sruti box at home, which is a very good companion and helps to guide my voice.

You are a co-organiser of the festival Hona that happens in the island of Naxos in Greece. How long is the festival and what do people get to see in that?

Hona is a four-day music festival that takes place in Naxos Island. It is the first of its kind in my country and I feel it is a blessing to be a part of it. It is a gathering of musicians from all over the world who share the same passion for expression through a musical instrument called Handpan. In this festival, we have a wide number of workshops taking place that explore the connection between sound and movement through art forms like music, instrument playing, dancing, yoga, tai chi and instrument creation.

As a visual artist, how does India inspire you?

Everything my eyes look at here ignites my spirits. From the look of the mother with a baby on her lap sitting inside a small temple shrine on the street, to the mad crazy drivers here moving in all directions swiftly, to the sounds of the crows and dogs, to the colourful hues of the morning sun and the fruits in the street carts, to the shouts and the gazing of pedestrians. All things here seem to be composed in a divine symphony.

What would you like to take back to Greece from Chennai and India?

Silence! In addition, good moments shared in Bharata Kalanjali with my fellow dance students and teachers. Impressions from beautiful Bharatanatyam performances I have watched and other observations from practice.

Who is your mridangam teacher, and how do you find it different from the drums you play?

Ramesh Babu sir is my mridangam teacher. I had a chance to hear him play while practising for a performance at Bharata Kalanjali. This instrument has a great subtlety in its tone system and one can hear very fine details while practising a whole range of different ?fingering techniques? on it. So it goes without saying that the moment I listened to it and identified the potential it offers, I wanted to explore it avidly. I would like to take some techniques from mridangam and introduce them to Handpan so that my playing will be more diverse.

Are there any music or dance styles that are codified in Greece like how Natya Shastra is codified here?

To my limited knowledge, there are some parts that are being practised there like polyphonic chanting or ancient drama theatre. But all these are separately practised. There is no unifying art form that brings all together as one unit like Bharatanatyam and Natya Shastra do. There are some schools of theatrical and dance art forms there, which I am not aware about.

What I can say for sure is that there is no such form as Bharatanatyam that I have witnessed coming out of the tradition of my country.

I feel there is a great depth of ancient Greek tradition that has only now started coming out intuitively from the present day generations. For this to develop, it needs a good study of ancient traditional texts and regional practices both of my country and other ancient cultures like that of India, to emerge and make an impact once again on the whole world. It is my belief that art is universal and what once existed in a place was also available elsewhere.

Carnatic music also seems to interest you so much. What draws you to it?

It has been five years since I started playing and practising music ? percussive and flute.

But it was only in the last two years that I started experimenting with Indian music.

Having practised percussion for more than five years, I find Carnatic style of playing rather complex and interesting to explore. This whole system of thalamsand jathis that exist in both Bharatanatyam and mridangam enriches my understanding of rhythm and music to a great degree. So my hope is to continue to practise both these art forms and hopefully to expand my understanding of this ancient system of knowledge.

Some years of economic crisis must have been tough on Greece. How were the people able to overcome it?

At the beginning of 2008, it was a bit tough because there was a lot of bad news. So people were getting disappointed easily, but after a period of time, news started becoming obsolete and people started getting back in tune with their real nature, which is joy and laughter! Now if you walk the streets of Greece you might find it hard to identify any crisis in people there. The ancient Chinese saying goes ?when there is crisis it is time for new opportunities and for something new to emerge?. So we try to stay open and see what comes.

Would you forget us when you return to Greece?

My experience here has been really strong in multiple layers! Only if I get Alzheimer?s, will there be a chance that I could forget it (laughs). What happens in your heart stays there forever. Therefore, I will never forget you all.

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

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.

AYURVEDAS CONTRIBUTION TO ECONOMIC GAIN
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).

ISSUES
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).

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

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Frost & Sullivan, et al. Vision 2022 Roadmap for Indian Ayurveda Industry. 2017, http://www.gesindia.in/uploaded_files/pdf_files_download/VISION-2022:-ROADMAP-FOR-INDIAN-AYURVEDA-INDUSTRY07_40_23.pdf.
  1. Sachitanand, Rahul. Why Companies like HUL, Patanjali, Dabur Are Taking a Crack at the Market for Ayurvedic and Herbal Products. The Economic Times, 15 Oct. 2017, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/fmcg/why-companies-like-hul-patanjali-dabur-are-taking-a-crack-at-the-market-for-ayurvedic-and-herbal-products/articleshow/61084207.cms.
  1. Press Trust of India. Ayurveda Soft Power of India: RSS Chief. Business Standard India, 21 Oct. 2018. Business Standard, https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/ayurveda-soft-power-of-india-rss-chief-118102100690_1.html.
  1. Doshi, Vidhi. How Ghee, Turmeric and Aloe Vera Became Indias New Instruments of Soft Power. The Washington Post, 29 Jan. 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/how-ghee-turmeric-and-aloe-vera-became-indias-newinstruments-of-soft-power/2018/01/28/5eb8d836-f4ce-11e7-9af7-a50bc3300042_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.477e961d714d.
  1. Chaudhary, Anand, and Neetu Singh. Contribution of World Health Organization in the Global Acceptance of Ayurveda. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, vol. 2, no. 4, 2011, pp. 17986. PubMed Central, doi:4103/0975-9476.90769.
  1. Benke, Vandana R. Impact of Ayurveda Tourism. New Man International Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, Dec. 2016, http://www.newmanpublication.com/admin/issue/Articale/3-%20SECTION%20-%20A.pdf.
  1. Times of India. Kerala Looks at Ayurveda Tourism to Attract Foreigners. Times of India, 24 Feb. 2016, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/Kerala-looks-at-Ayurveda-tourism-to-attract-foreigners/articleshow/51114297.cms.
  1. Kerala Tourism Board. KERALA TOURISM STATISTICS – 2017 HIGHLIGHTS. 2017, https://www.keralatourism.org/tourismstatistics/tourist_statistics_201720180314122614.pdf