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.

Interaction with International Students of KYM

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

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

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

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

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

Roundtable on “India-Russia Soft Power Relations”

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

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

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

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

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

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

DISCUSSION ON CONVERGENCE OF SOFT POWER AND VALUE BASED DEMOCRACY

The discussion on the convergence of Value based Democracy and Soft power was held at the Center for Soft Power on the 5th of March 2019. The discussants were Dr. Johannes Heinrich, Philosopher and Author from Germany and Mrs. Shobana Sharma, Research Scholar, University of Madras.

Dr. Johannes Heinrichs speech was thought provoking and espoused an idea which had its genesis in the ancient texts of India. He gave a simple and lucid explanation from his point of argument. He described why democracy is in dire need of structural reform, and outlined a system that could help achieve this. When speaking of this system with regards to the Indian context, he said the following:

Because of the great variety of religions and strong religious life, in India it is more easily understood, at least theoretically(!), that state-law and religions must be separated, and that secularization means not at all vanishing of religion, as secularization often is often misinterpreted in the West, by confusing these two totally different meanings of the word. This misinterpretation is nearly impossible in India because of the vitality of religious thinking, even among intellectuals he said.

During the discussion, the research scholar from Madras University Ms Shobana Sharma clarified the source of all profound Knowledge in the Indian context can be taken from the ancient texts. As it has the ability and tenacity to be amended and postulated to suit and adapt to the cultural environment prevailing at anytime.

This interaction was one of the many that the center will be holding in the coming months.

ROUNDTABLE ON YOGA

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

  1. How were you first introduced to Yoga?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, Greeces 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 Foundations 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 dont get to see in Athens.

I am honoured to learn from the Dhananjayans, and to witness their teaching. Its 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 dont use chilies at all back in Athens, so its 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 dont 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 Alzheimers, 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