Nouf Almarwaai’s visit to CSP

India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power (CSP) is a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation which is working dedicatedly to pursue the merits of soft power through the various domains of cultural sphere between countries across the world to build strong pro-societal relationships. This is achieved through the conduct of numerous interactions across the society through events, seminars, discussion based forums and organizing conferences.

To cultivate a healthy society, CSP actively works to promote Yoga, which is a key element of soft power in connecting nations. As a part of this theme, it had played a proactive role to engage with Nouf Marwaai, an eminent personality from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Founder of Arab Yoga Foundation and a Padma Shri awardee from the Government of India.

@KYM

Center for Soft Power facilitated Nouf to engage with several yogic platforms in Chennai. On August 17, 2019, the first interaction was at Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) on, a landmark institute and a frontrunner in teaching traditional and contemporary techniques of Yoga to the city’s diverse population. The event was headed by Shri. Sridharan, Trustee and senior mentor of KYM.

Many participants from foreign countries attended the forum with great interest. Nouf spoke on her personal experience and the benefits of practicing Yoga. She stressed on the importance of Yoga and explained how it is a gift of India and that the people of Saudi Arabia have started accepting the practice.

She said that it was inspiration from the teachings of Aurobindo and Krishnamacharya that had a deep impact on her life which helped her to pursue Yoga in true spirit. She also explained how her Arab Yoga foundation is pioneering the efforts to promote Traditional Yoga in Saudi Arabia through her team of 700 professional experts and 10,000 students in the city of Jeddah alone.

CSP facilitated the second important engagement at the Meenakshi Academy of Higher Education and Research in Chennai on August 18. The conference was organised by the Faculty of Yoga Sciences and Therapy. Nouf Marwaai was invited as the Guest of Honour. The event was a productive session with Nouf sharing her personal challenges of life before Yoga and how life had dramatically altered positively after implementing the learned Yogic practices. Many research scholars presented their papers on important findings in Yoga science.

On the same day, the final yet most valuable event was a public talk organised by CSP for Nouf in collaboration with Chettinad Harishree Vidyalayam on ‘Prospects of India – Saudi Arabia Soft Power Relations: From Yoga to Diaspora.’ The session was dynamic with the topic deliberated on being soft power and its capable outreach which binds communities far and wide through shared interaction and mutual friendship. Nouf also underscored the historical relationship between India and Saudi Arabia that has evolved over the years. Saying that about 25% of Saudi’s expatriate population are Indians, she outlined the similarities of the cultural and family values of both India and Saudi Arabia. She sounded optimistic and expressed hope that the existing Indo-Saudi Arabian bond of friendship can be taken forward to greater levels through renewed values of soft power and culture.

Discussion on “Towards Redefining Women Travel in India”

CSP hosted the Founder and Co-Founder of F5 Escapes, Ms. Malini Gowrishankar and Ms. Akanksha Bumb, for an interaction on “Towards Redefining Women Travel in India” in Chennai on 01.08.2019.

F5 Escapes is a unique startup travel company enabling solo and group women travel in India.

Excerpts from their session:

“We aspire to make women travel the length and breadth of India. If women start travelling, families will start travelling.”

“Our key features: 
1. Safety
2. Responsible Travel
3. Cultural immersion
4. Focus on local businesses”

“Our aim is to make the local economy in India work while having a razor sharp focus in redefining the way women travel in India.”

“One of our success stories has been to work with organisations like YUWA in Jharkhand, where we undertook safety workshops for women football coaches and subsequently took them on a tour to Sikkim.”

“India’s Northeast remains a great traction for foreign inbound tourists.”

The event ended with Q&A session.

Cultural Contacts between India and Cambodia: Architecture, Sculptures and Inscriptions

India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power hosted a collaborative discussion on the theme “Cultural Contacts between India and Cambodia: Architecture, Sculptures and Inscriptions” on 16.07.2019. The main speaker of the event was Dr. Chithra Madhavan. The round table was attended by numerous esteemed guests.

“India’s imprints have travelled to Southeast Asia primarily through trade and culture in what is described today as soft power. Cambodia is one of the rare countries which has a temple on its flag”, said Dr. Madhavan. She also said “Mount Kulen in Cambodia is made of sandstone. It is considered sacred for both Hindus and Buddhists. It truly symbolises India’s shared heritage with Cambodia.”

Dr. Madhavan said “A lot of Indian thought is discernible in the architecture of temples in Cambodia. Inscriptions in Sanskrit can be found too. In Banteay Srei temple, close to 11 inscriptions have been found in Sanskrit.” “There is ample proof for links between South Indian temples and Cambodian temples”, Dr. Chithra Madhavan said.

Dr. Madhavan alsop said “The tradition of depicting Karaikal Ammaiyar along with Nataraja is ingrained in Chola-period architecture. Ammaiyar belonged to the list of 63 Nayanmar saints. And this tradition has been duly transported across the sea to Cambodia.” “The names of the Khmer kings like Jayavarman, Suryavarman, Yashovarman and their cities Shambupura, Ratnagiri, Mahendraparvata have roots in Sanskrit.”

“Panels on some important scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Samudra Manthan can be seen at the famous Angkor Wat temple”, she explained. Dr. Madhavan said that Ta Prohm is one of the finest Buddhist temples in Cambodia. It was used as a location for the film, Tomb Raider. The interaction ended with CSP felicitating Dr. Madhavan for the interactive session.

Envisioning Museums as Global Soft Power Ambassadors

India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power hosted a collaborative discussion on the theme “Envisioning Museums as Global Soft Power Ambassadors” on 27.06.2019. The main speaker of the event was Dr. Deborah Thiagarajan, Founder Director, Dakshinachitra Heritage Museums. The round table was attended by numerous esteemed guests.

“Museums have always been agents of Soft Power” says Dr. Deborah Thiagarajan, while presenting on the topic ‘Envisioning Museums as Global Soft Power Ambassadors’. “Think tanks should work in cohesion with the Govt. to enable Museums are indeed our Global Soft Power Ambassadors.”, said Dr. Deborah Thiagarajan.

“Technology can also be a great enabler for museums to reach a far wider audience.”, said Dr. Deborah. “China has mastered the art of promoting its museums. India needs to catch up.”, said Dr. Deborah.

“Private- Public partnerships can help in mushrooming of quality museums.” said Dr. Deborah. The discussion ended with a Q&A session.

From Soft Power influence to Economic & Political Gains: India’s engagement with Brazil and the South American region

India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power hosted a collaborative discussion on the theme “From Soft Power influence to Economic & Political gains: India’s engagement with Brazil and the South American region”. The main speakers of the event were Mr. Shobhan Saxena, President of Indian Association of Brazil & Co-Founder, Bloco Bollywood and Ms. Florencia Costa, Journalist & Cultural Curator, Co-Founder, Bloco Bollywood. The round table was attended by numerous esteemed guests.

Speaking on the topic Mr. Saxena said “Bloco Bollywood is the most important Indian street carnival. It is a great hit among the locals. It uplifts India’s image in Brazil.” He also said “Through the carnival many sterotyped Information and Knowledge about India is removed.”

Ms. Costa explained how Yoga, Meditation, Indian Cuisine and Ayurveda as India’s great Soft Power Ambassadors in Brazil. She explained about the Mahatma Gandhi Carnival in the city of Salvador and how the peace principles of Mahatma influence the people of Brazil.

Both Mr. Saxena and Ms. Costa said “Culture Connects Countries.” The event ended with a discussion among the speakers and the guests.

Discussion on “India and France – A connect through Art Diplomacy”

India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power hosted a discussion on the topic of “India and France – A connect through art diplomacy” in collaboration with Alliance Française of Madras. The event looked at the connection that India and France have through their rich artistic traditions, and how the confluence of these traditions can further strengthen the bonds between the two countries.

The discussion featured a number of speakers covering numerous fields including:

  1. H.E. Ms. Catherine Surad, Consul General of France in Pondicherry and Chennai
  2. Mr. Jonathan McClory, General Manager, Asia, Portland Communications and Author, Soft Power 30 Report
  3. Padma Shri. Smt. Chitra Viswesaran, World renowned Bharatanatyam artiste and Padma Shri awardee, who has received honorary citizenship to the city of Bourges in France, for her performances
  4. Mr. Bruno Plasse, Director of Alliance Française of Madras
  5. Mr. Romain Timmers, Founder of Compagnie Distil, a modern circus and vertical dance company.
The Panel constituted speakers from numerous fields of Art and Diplomacy

The Discussion began with a video address from Jonathan McClory, wherein he spoke about the status of Indian and French Soft Power globally today. He noted France’s position as being 2nd in the latest Soft Power 30 report, and pointed to its engagement with the rest of the International community as one of the reasons for ranking so highly. When speaking on Indian Soft Power, he noted that while India didn’t make it into the top 30 countries, it still excelled in specific fields such as Digital and Cuisine.

“France and India are not the most obvious of partners, and that makes any collaboration between the two countries hugely powerful” – Mr. Jonathan McClory

H.E. Ms. Catherine Surad, spoke to the audience about cultural diplomacy from the French perspective. She spoke about the various elements of France’s cultural diplomacy strategy, and broke down how and why they undertook such a strategy. She also noted that this strategy is not one that is superficial but that has had a deep and natural impact in numerous countries across the world.

“The question of Soft Power is, in our view, the question of the cultural diplomacy that we have been practicing since very long ago.” – H.E. Ms. Catherine Surad

Padma Shri Awardee, Chitra Visweswaran spoke about her experience travelling across France and bringing her performances to some of the lesser known cities and venues in the country. She spoke about the deep affinity she has for France and how she was able to experience the French way of life, while also imparting some elements of Indian art and the Indian way of life to the people of France.

“It would not be wrong to say that Bharath is my favourite country. But of the remaining, my favourite is France” – Padma Shri. Smt. Chitra Visweswaran

Mr. Bruno Plasse, spoke about the role that Alliance Française plays in ensuring that Indian and French cultural exchanges take place, not just on paper, but at the ground level. He spoke about the efforts to bring authentic French artists to India and of the deep interest that Indian people have shown to France and French culture.

“Though English is widely spread in India.. The love for the French language is still there in India and in Chennai” – Mr. Bruno Plasse

Mr. Romain Timmers, spoke about his journey to India. He noticed that the sound made by the balls in his circus perfectly mirrored the sounds made by the Tabala and Ghatam, and this is what attracted him to India. He started coming to India frequently and now even resides here. He spoke about the differences between his modern circus and traditional circus.

“The sound coming from a left tabla and a Ghatam is similar to that coming from a bouncing ball, which brought me to India” – Mr. Romain Timmers

Soft Power: Indic Knowledge Systems, Technology and Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion on “Expanse of Kalaripayattu in the Globe Today”

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

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

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

Shri. Lakshman Gurukkal on the importance of Kalaripayattu

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

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

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

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

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

Laurence Morlon on finding a sense of belonging through Kalaripayattu

The discussion ended with a brief demonstration by the students.

Roundtable on “Education and Soft Power”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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