“No national awakening is really vital and enduring which confines itself to a single field. It is when the soul awakens that a nation is really alive, and the life will then manifest itself in all the manifold forms of activity in which man seeks to express the strength and the delight of the expansive spirit within. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol 8, p. 61)
In an essay titled “The Awakening Soul of India,” this is how Sri Aurobindo described the wide and all-encompassing nature of a national awakening, an awakening which is the need of the hour – for India’s future and for the future of humanity as a whole.
This is a report from a recently concluded five-day educational event designed to express this spirit of a multi-faceted national awakening. Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture (SAFIC) was one of the organising partners for the “Abhyudaya Conclave - Inspiring Leadership through the Vedic Vision.” This was a unique multi-disciplinary programme organised by Vision India Foundation and supported by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), Ministry of Culture.
I was a delegate at the Conclave (held from March 13 to March 17, 2019), which was essentially a 5-day immersive know-and-act program designed for people interested in deepening their understanding of Indian civilization and evolve actionable insights for contemporary challenges.
The key idea or ideal guiding the entire 5-day programme was set during the inaugural key-note address delivered by the esteemed Dr. Bharat Gupt (Member- IGNCA, retired Professor of English from Delhi University, an Indian classicist, theatre theorist, sitar and surbahar player, musicologist, cultural analyst, and newspaper columnist), who with his inimitable intellectual rigour challenged the popular but culturally hollow ‘Idea of India’ and proposed a deeper, culturally rooted and spiritually grounded framework for creating a New Idea of India which is in essence as ancient and eternal as India herself.
Other speakers at the inaugural ceremony included Dr. Sachchidanand Joshi (Member Secretary, IGNCA), Shri Pratapanand Jha (Director, Cultural Informatics, Vedic Heritage Portal, IGNCA), and Shobhit Mathur (Executive Director, Vision India Foundation), all of whom emphasised the point that a true Indian civilisational revival must be rooted in the spiritually unifying and pluralistically diverse cultural traditions of India.
The 5-day programme included talks, interactive sessions and discussions covering topics that ranged from the Vedic tradition, indigenous knowledge systems, Indian arts and aesthetics, Indian approaches to research methodology, to the current socio-economic-political needs of the society.
The speakers represented a wide range of backgrounds – from those steeped in the Vedic chanting tradition (Mohit Bhardwaj of Vaidika Bharata) to experts in Cultural Studies and Vedic Poetics (Dr. Nagaraj Paturi), from veteran researcher-activists (Madhu Purnima Kishwar of Manushi fame) to lawyers advocating Indic jurisprudence (J. Sai Deepak), from accomplished Hindustani classical musicians (Dr. Sarita Yajurvedi) to writers and thinkers on contemporary social-cultural-political topics and challenges (including Nithin Sridhar, Ashish Dhar, Shantanu Gupta, Rahul Dewan), from experts in Gurukula system of education (Dattaraj Deshpande) to those pioneering the field of Computational Music (Prof. Vinod Vidwans), from visionary teachers and sadhaks (Adinarayan ji of Anaadi Foundation) to young researchers in Indian civilisational studies (Shyam Krishnakumar), and a few others.
All the sessions in their own way emphasised the need for experiencing India as a living tradition and culture, growing, evolving, dynamic and yet rooted in her eternal view of reality and existence. The speakers highlighted that this is what helps inculcate within us the much-needed conceptual frameworks and intellectual clarity to effectively navigate the global challenges from a rooted Indian perspective.
The conclave was successful in providing a holistic picture of the Indic worldview by synthesising the intellectual and the aesthetic dimensions. It also provided the delegates an opportunity to connect the ancient to their modern lives and then take it beyond the personal to creating societal impact.
The delegates attending the programme not only represented a wide range of age, academic, professional and life experience, but also came from diverse fields of study and work backgrounds such as governance, development studies, political science, law, heritage tourism, information technology, Ayurveda, yogic research, political advocacy, psychological counselling, education, creative writing, programme development, Sanskrit studies, Indological studies and several others.
What united this highly diverse group was an aspiration to contribute in their own way to the emerging Indian civilisational renaissance by deepening their understanding of the current challenges faced by India and by growing as a culturally grounded thought-leader shaping a new Indian narrative. Informal interactions with different delegates during tea-breaks and meal times were also highly inspiring and engaging.
As a delegate from SAFIC to this well-conceived and well-organised Conclave, following are some key insights which made the programme highly inspiring and educative for me:
1. There are growing sections of Indian youth as well as the young-at-heart who are seeking a deeper knowledge and understanding of Indian civilisation and culture.
2. This seeking is, however, not limited to learning about the varied Indian knowledge traditions in different spheres of human activity ranging from science and technology, literature, arts, politics, governance, medicine, architecture, mathematics, law, culinary arts, psychology, cultural studies, research methods to everything, but is rather keen to figure out the continued relevance of this glorious heritage in present times.
3. How will an awareness and understanding of Indian knowledge systems, rooted in India's innate spiritual power and potential, help Indians to address the various modern challenges of our times – social, cultural, environmental, economic, public health, or at the level of personal well-being – in the light of a life-affirming spirituality? This is what the youth of India must seek, if they are to truly contribute to an Indian renaissance, because as Sri Aurobindo reminds us, India's rise is "not to serve her own material interest only, to achieve expansion, greatness, power and prosperity, – though these too she must not neglect –, and certainly not like others to acquire domination of other peoples, but to live also for God and the world as a helper and a leader of the whole human race." (CWSA, Vol. 36, p. 475)
4. There is also a keen desire among a growing section of youth in India to deepen their awareness of Indian spiritual traditions and to explore how Indian spirituality is intricately connected with Indian knowledge traditions.
5. Sincere efforts are ongoing in many parts of India to provide this section of Indians opportunities to learn, grow and nurture this inner quest. Various institutions are engaged in creating appropriate spaces for facilitating the nurturing and networking of such young seekers and aspirants.
6. As an organisation dedicated to the mission of working towards facilitating a love for Mother India and for developing a deeper understanding of Indian culture, it is imperative that SAFIC explores ways to create more innovative programmes especially directed toward the youth of India – programmes that can help situate the various ongoing efforts toward civilisational revival in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s all-encompassing and much deeper vision for Indian renaissance that is required for a new world and humanity. This work will also include exploring opportunities to engage more closely with organisations such as Vision India Foundation and others who are working in their own ways on shaping an Indian renaissance.
There is no better way to conclude this report on Abhyudaya Conclave than by seeking inspiration in an important message given by Sri Aurobindo, and by rededicating our work to the ideal of India’s rebirth set before us by the Master:
“The future belongs to the young. It is a young and new world which is now under process of development and it is the young who must create it. But it is also a world of truth, courage, justice, lofty aspiration and straightforward fulfilment which we seek to create. For the coward, for the self-seeker, for the talker who goes forward at the beginning and afterwards leaves his fellows in the lurch there is no place in the future of this movement. A brave, frank, clean-hearted, courageous and aspiring youth is the only foundation on which the future nation can be built.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol 8, p. 168)
All images, courtesy of Vision India Foundation.