A sangoshthi at Jeevika Ashram (Part 2)

On the second day, I liked Sant Sameer’s presentation on bhāshā. It was informative and useful to my rudimentary interest in languages. Sant Sameer’s claim that Indic scripts (he was referring to devanāgri in particular, but I guess it would apply to all Indic scripts) represent the ‘a priori reality’, what he called ādhāra and nothing is written without it. In devanāgri the horizontal like represents this. I thought this is a serious proposition and we must take it further. It was however quite sad, when this proposition was challenged by some non-Hindi speakers, since Dravidian scripts have no horizontal (or vertical) line. I thought it would be useful for them to accept Sant Sameer’s proposition on ādhāra with an open mind and explore into similar affirmation for Dravidian scripts; is there a conception of ādhāra in these languages, and if yes, how is it represented?

In afternoon, Gopi Krishna presented his experience with Pastoralist communities in India. Gopi’s experience with these communities is very rich. His 10 min presentation was quite profound. Amongst other things, his assertion that these ghumantu communities weave together civil with wild as they move with their animals is extremely important. For example, a wandering sheep cannot be categorized as either a wild animal or domesticated. And as the shepherd walks with his flock, he weaves a symbiotic relationship between forests/grasslands and agricultural fields. Perhaps, one trait of modernity is the strict divorce between the civil and wild. In the same session, Vaibhav Kale spoke about how modern construction has limited “material palette” to only RCC and steel primarily; mud, wood, bamboo, straws, stone etc. have nearly vanished from our contemporary construction activities. In the same session, I attempted at presenting a non-utilitarian view of technology by narrating the story of Art and Society and situating technology in that.

The evening session was on the perspective of Kalā. This session took the entire 3 day meet to another level. Susruti spoke beautifully on the relation between ‘Art and Spirituality’ and Sachin shared his experiences with different materials and craftsmen from different parts of the country. I hope these presentations were recorded well and would be available soon for viewing and sharing. I am refraining from writing about them here, as I wish to only share the recordings.

Post lunch, there was a beautiful Kathaka dance performance by a troupe of young dancers. I am really impressed by Ashish’s ability to form connections with local people in Jabalpur. I think, these connections will go a long way in growth and acceptability of Jeevika Ashram in times to come.

Overall, the three days went by very quickly with some great company and very powerful presentations.

A sangoshthi at Jeevika Ashram (Part 1)

(A 3-day sangoshthi was held at Jeevika Ashram (Indrana) near Jabalpur, 24th-26th December 2021, on “Bhārtiyatā and the perspective of Ravindra Sharma “Guruji”, with contributions of around 50 participants from different parts of the country. The event was organized with the support of IGNCA, Delhi)

According to Nirukta, Bhārat is that – “prajā bharaṇa rupa” (Vāyu Puraṇa 10.45.76)

About 40km north of river Narmada in Jabalpur, about 12 km short of the 11th century Vishnu-Varaha sculpture, lies the unassuming Jeevika Ashram (near village Indrana) where Ashish and Ragini live with their daughters. As Ashish bhai succinctly puts it, Jeevika Ashram’s efforts are towards riṇapoorti of Guruji Ravindra Sharma. Almost all of us gathered for this 3-day meet have been nudged by Guruji in some way or the other. This gathering does not carry any hesitation towards the potential that is called Bhārat or Indic tradition. The sentiment towards the promise of tradition was shared by all, and hence one would naturally expect a conversation here to have seriousness.

The question however, as Pawanji emphatically said on the opening day, is not of understanding Bhārtiyatā alone, but equally important is to develop a critical understanding of western modernity which has had a debilitating impact on local cultures across the world. All of the first day was spent on this concern- how modernity has debilitated us, the people of Bhārat.

I think, as important as it is for us to have faith in Bhārat, equally important is for us to understand how western modernity works. I see no reason for us to be shy about this, to be hesitant about this. However, this is not easy. We live in times, where we conflate modern ideas with Indic ideas, often innocently. Listening to some of the speakers on the first day (and even on later days), I got this impression. Listening to many of the questions asked by the audience, I got a similar impression.

I thought it was important to spend one whole day on this question. It is certainly a difficult question to handle in public, as inevitably one is accused of hypocrisy, of over-simplification and of one-upmanship. These criticisms are valid and in fact even necessary for they prevent us from falling into an echo chamber and mutual back scratching. However, we also need not get disheartened from them, nor get defensive about our own shortcomings. In Pawanji’s words- “we are both victims and perpetrators of modernity”, acknowledging it does not mean embracing our fall or justifying it.

(Next week we will talk more about what was discussed during the 3 day sangoshthi)

A Baithak at SIDH

(Photos from the 5 day meeting at SIDH campus at Kempty. 6th to 10th December 2021. With around 30 participants)

I’ve been thinking on this word ‘baithak’. Pawan ji has used it often in conversations. The gathering in SIDH, although began as a retreat but probably evolved into a baithak of ‘samaan-dharmi’ people from different parts of India.

I have begun to realize the importance of gathering samaan dharmi-s on one platform. As an individual, for me a gathering of like-minded strangers feels reassuring. Moreover, it feels that the conversations can rise to a certain seriousness. Otherwise, talking amidst a crowd often feels like going round in circles over unbaked issues and sentiments. This gathering did achieve a certain depth, and as a result there were signs of a baithak emerging.

It dawned upon me that almost no one asked questions with the intent of breaking the conversation. I thought it was amazing that all questions asked further lead to probing in greater depths. The baithak feels like one sentence completed over 5 days; collectively constructed by a group of 30 people from different parts of the country (many of whom were strangers to one another). Now that the sentence has been formed and we have returned home, hopefully we will re-look at the sentence in our individual environment.

What is worth doing in these times? I think, creating a space for conversations on Indic tradition is one important thing to do. A space of affinity, of confidence and of hope towards tradition is needed. We must remove the sense of shame and guilt we carry collectively. We must realize our self-worth as Indians. And then actualize it. We must talk to each other for the purpose.

I think, the two important tools we have at our disposal are recalling and reflecting. I see immense potential in recalling our collective past, a past which is anādi (beginning-less). And then to reflect upon it, sometimes collectively but most of the times individually. I see them as important tools for me to build a ‘sense of past’ (itihāsa). Probably, this is one way to find our roots. The inverted asvattha tree (given in Bhagwat Gita) with its roots coming from sky and branches/fruits available on earth symbolizes man. As men, we derive our self-worth from the sky- the realm of memories, judgements and ideation (par-loka).

Image of asvattha tree- roots are emerging from the sky and fruits are available on the ground.