” The first duty of man is to understand his own nature and the basic elements of his being,
which he must fulfill to the best of his ability “
- » New Year Greetings from the Honorary President of the Alain Daniélou Foundation, Jacques Cloarec
- » From “Newsletter Indialogues” to “Cahiers de la Fondation”
- » The World of Sadhus according to Alain Daniélou
- » Dilli Haat
- » Dossier: The Art of Priya Ravish Mehra
- » Sharing Light for a Better World: SOS Street-Heroes of India
- » Impro Sharana has come to Blossom
- » Alain Daniélou Foundation Upcoming Events
Not long ago I found this beautiful aphorism by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “the purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things”. In some ways, the renewal of each year bears witness to this truth, because the idea of “renewal” (beginning with the cycles of nature) points to something enriching on the level of experience.
The year that has just ended – 2014 – has been a difficult one for the Alain Daniélou Foundation in terms of our financial situation. We have had to deal with dwindling resources and the need to postpone future projects. Although this situation will not change overnight with the coming of the New Year, many other things – especially within the Alain Daniélou Foundation’s team-work– are beginning to flourish and will bear fruit little by little. I am sure this will contribute to restoring a balance between different ideas, constellations and functions, ultimately providing a new dynamic for the whole. In so doing, we have to maximize our exploitation of financial resources and try to enhance the quality of the Alain Daniélou Foundation’s activities in spite of limitations.
There is an on-going process whose inner purpose we have to trust. Furthermore, the repetition of a cycle is mostly an opportunity to experience the new phase from another (and maybe even better) perspective. The Alain Daniélou Foundation (and I do hope also the friends who always accompany and support us) must live up to this frequency of renewal and make it permanent, so that each setback is transformed into yet another step forward in this amazing adventure called Life.
With my very best wishes for the New Year,
Dear Readers and Friends of the Alain Daniélou Foundation,
At this beginning of 2015 we wish to let you know of our decision to change the name of what up to now we have called “Newsletter” to indicate an important development in our activities. It is not just a new label, but rather its contents, the level of reflection and the kind of analytic impulse implied in it.
So we pass from “Newsletter” to “Cahiers de la Fondation”.
Without losing the informative part of it, which is central to our communication with readers and friends of the Foundation, the name also implies the intellectual dimension that will permeate the Alain Daniélou Foundation’s activities from now on.
The choice of a French title for an English publication does not go without saying, but it embraces the Foundation’s history, its very roots (taking the case of Alain Daniélou and Raymond Burnier) and a dimension that needs to be emphasised: to speak of “cahiers” refers – among other things – to the art of writing, the value transmitted through this type of exercise, which we want you to share.
Wishing you good reading and all the best for 2015,
Alain Daniélou Foundation President of the Advisory Committee
Adrián Navigante – Alain Daniélou Foundation Intellectual Dialogue
The five-faced Shiva (the fifth face invisible at the back) from the Mandi court of Punjab, 1727. Source: Debra Diamond (ed.) Yoga: The Art of Transformation, Smithsonian Books, 2013, p. 111
It may escape some people’s notice that Alain Daniélou was not only a very talented musician and painter, but also a writer. His literary production could be qualified in general terms as “prose of content”, bearing traits similar to the fiction of Mircea Eliade, especially as a result of being in radical opposition to exacerbated experiments of form (not at all devoid of merit) like those of James Joyce or Virginia Woolf. Both Eliade and Daniélou poured their own life-experiences into their fictional prose and enriched the contents with complementary reflections on different aspects surpassing the mere autobiographical register. This is not only the case of Eliade’s major literary achievement, The Forbidden Forest (1955), where subjects like the fracture of time, the conflictive relationship between eroticism and marriage and the question of destiny as a puzzle for the individual are of central importance, but also of Daniélou’s literary publications: The Cattle of the Gods and other Gangetic Tales (1983) and The Tales of the Labyrinth (1990) (1). Each one of these works represents a significant moment in the development of Daniélou’s thought and practical philosophy of life: the first is related to his discovery of the Hindu tradition through his immersion in Indian society; the second has to do with the European period after his return from India, a time in which he decided to explore the most ancient strata of pre-Christian religions in Europe in order to draw possible parallels with the main aspects of what he defined as Dravidian Shivaism. What’s more, the reader can find in each of these collections of short-stories a kind of fictional counterpart to what Daniélou wrote theoretically and more systematically in his non-fictional works. Perhaps the main parallel that can be traced would be to take the Gangetic Tales as a Shivaitic book and the Labyrinth Tales as its Dionysian counterpart (2) in order to draw the similarities between these two poles. Indeed, Daniélou expressed an articulated figure of the main parallels between Easter and Western chthonic religiosity in essay form when he wrote Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysos.
Since each single work is a universe with its own complex diversity, we would like to focus on the Shivaitic book The Cattle of the Gods and other Gangetic Tales, but not without applying a second type of reduction consisting of a search for a specific topic that could articulate the whole fictional dimension: the sadhus of India. Indeed, The Cattle of the Gods and other Gangetic Tales could be read as a richly articulated extension of the motif of sadhus presented in the preface of the book, and the preface in turn as the theoretical caption of both the frame and the core of the tales. One more thing to notice is that Daniélou began his incursion into Hinduism taking Guénon’s traditionalism as his initial theoretical support (3), but he didn’t fully abandon Guénon after this first period. He corresponded with him between 1947 and 1950, translated one chapter of The Crisis of the Modern World for the Indian review “Kalyan Kalpataru” and also touched upon some Guénonian subjects in his later writings. The preface to The Cattle of the Gods and other Gangetic Tales dates back to 1974. At that point Daniélou was living in Berlin. He had intellectually digested his Indian experience in a number of writings articulating different aspects of what he had learned directly from Indian pandits and sannyasins. However, this didn’t prevent him from resorting to some ideas of Guénon’s book The King of the World – the French version of which had been published in 1958 –, especially the question of a secret transmission of traditional knowledge during the Kali-Yuga and the organization of initiatic chains in order to preserve the connection of (at least some) human beings with a spiritual center of the whole world (4). In The King of the World Guénon analyzes the motif of an initiatic center designated by the name of Agarttha and portrayed indirectly in three literary works: Saint-Yves d’Alveydre’s Mission de l’Inde, Louis Jacoliot’s Les fils de Dieu and M. Ferdinand Ossendowski’s Bêtes, hommes et dieux. This fictional production dating from the period between 1910 and 1924 served Guénon as an indirect source in order to expound his own considerations on the archetypal significance of the “king of the world” – a figure identified with Manu and ultimately related to the cosmic intelligence and the structuring principle called dharma – and the problem of transmitting and preserving perennial wisdom in the context of the Kali-Yuga (5). In The Cattle of the Gods and other Gangetic Tales, Daniélou inverts the modus operandi: he recovers non-fictional motifs (developed by Guénon) and inserts them into his own narrative treatment of a much more general problem concerning hidden knowledge and social survival in the dark age. The figure of the sadhu appears in place of Guénon’s Brahmin and points to a somewhat different reality like that of sacerdotal power organized around an oriental structure similar to that of the Catholic Church (6). Daniélou’s emphasis on the integration of spiritual life and sexuality, which constitutes one of the main topics in the The Cattle of the Gods and other Gangetic Tales, should also be seen as one of the main differences between his approach to Hinduism and that of Guénon. However, the figure of the sadhu presented by Daniélou also differs from the scholarly way of dealing with the topic of world-renunciation and the question of oral transmission of knowledge in India. His approach to the phenomenon of world-renunciation and spiritual subtraction from the social structure of the Hindus is in this sense quite singular.
How does Daniélou present the sadhus in the preface to his short-story? First of all as “errant monks” who inhabit a “parallel world” (7). If we take into account the ethnographic data on ascetic itinerancy and the sectarian factors determining the organization of this group of people, Daniélou’s definition seems to be right and his descriptions appear to correspond to the accepted view on the organization of religious centers to which sadhus make pilgrimages. However, it cannot be denied that the frame provided by him for his description of these holy men is a very special one, first of all because he amalgamates the figure of the sadhu with that of the Brahmin and even of the rishi; secondly because he reconstructs the context of the sadhu’s education and initiation by means of his own metaphysical reflections on sanātana dharma, and lastly because he tries to introduce a radical distinction between two terms that are perceived as a unit: “sadhu” and “ascetic”.
Concerning the first and the last aspects, Daniélou ascribes to the sadhus not only very special power surpassing human talents and dispositions, but also prodigious knowledge, transmitted according to the level of understanding of the recipient: “a great part of this knowledge remains secret. However, sadhus have the obligation to teach wherever they are – even in the humblest village – the precepts that are necessary to keep the religious and moral traditions” (8). This definition implies a conscious delimitation of a type of sadhu from the manifold groups that constitute the ascetic population in India. The diversity of sadhu-sects can be established empirically through fieldwork in the Indian territory, but it is also founded “mythologically” on a later Vedic text, the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 1, 23. In this text the God Prajāpati performs austerities [tapas]and from his flesh arise three different types of ascetic: Aruṇas, Ketus and Vatāraśanas (9), each with specific characteristics. Of these three groups, the Vatāraśanas would theoretically fit Daniélou’s description, since these sadhus are also called ūrdhvameḍhras (“one whose penis is erect”) and their connection to Shiva in the form of Lakulīśa is undeniable. In fact, Lakulīśa, being the tutelary deity of the early Pāśupata sect, led to iconographical representations of the liṇga as an erect sexual organ, something also confirmed in the Māhabhārata 13.7.46, where Shiva is referred to as ūrdhvaliṇga (“the one with an erect organ”) (10). The first delimitation would therefore be that of Shivaitic sadhus among whom asceticism and eroticism are not fully distinguished from each other. This aspect is very important with its consequences going beyond a very well-known debate in Hindu tradition: the conflict between saṃnyāsa (renunciation of everything) and svadharma (individual duty to social obligations). If we take a look at the mythology, Shiva appears as a combination of ascetic discipline and erotic force. The interrelation between asceticism and eroticism seems thus to exist already on the level of the divine power permeating the whole of creation and at the same time transcending it. If we bear in mind the etymology of the word “sadhu”, we are confronted with the Sanskrit root sādh-, the meaning of which is “to accomplish”. A sadhu would thus be someone who follows a certain sādhana and accomplishes a degree of perfection similar to that of the mythical sages called ṛṣis. The perfections [siddhis]of a sadhu are not in all traditional sources primarily identified with abstention from sexuality, but rather with a highly ritualized life (manifested in different concepts like śanta bhava = “peaceful attitude”, śaraṇagati = “complete self-surrender”, and pavitra loka = “sacred world”) and a very special kind of knowledge – related to that of the ṛṣis – going beyond “mundane blurredness” [tamasyaḥ pāram]. According to Daniélou, the qualification of the sadhu has nothing to do with abstention from sexuality, but rather with the transmutation of energy: “According to the Tantric doctrine, mental power and sexual energy stem from the same nature” (11). Along this path of transmutation, experience of the erotic side of self-realization is necessary in order to fulfill all stages of ascension without falling back as a result of psychological symptoms of repression. This is one of the reasons why Daniélou resorts to the Tantric path (12) in order to make his point clear: “Abstinence is one of the causes of mental unbalance […]. It is part of the Yoga techniques and does not have any value if the vital energy is not really employed, together with complex physical and mental exercises, with the purpose of developing the intellectual and spiritual powers of human beings” (13).
The second aspect is the one in which Daniélou most clearly seems to approach Guénon, especially because of his emphasis on a hierarchical organization of sadhus culminating in “this impersonal and mysterious being sometimes called ‘the king of the world’, who is impossible to identify or locate” (14). The reference to Guénon’s The King of the World is quite explicit here, since the latter associates the figure of the king of the world with Manu, “the primordial and universal legislator”, which can ultimately be traced back to the “cosmic intelligence reflecting the pure spiritual light and imparting the law [dharma]” (15). If we translate this perennial discourse into ethnological vocabulary, we could say that Daniélou privileges initiated sadhus who are members of a sectarian community [sampradāya]and identifies them with the guardians of sanātana dharma. It is true that Guénon would at this point speak of Brahmins and not of sadhus, but even these two rather contrastive figures can be at least partially amalgamated through the use of sacred Hindu literature, for example the hymn to the long-haired ascetic [keśīn]in the Rig Veda 10.136.17. In this hymn the keśīn is identified with the munīs, who are presented as a variant of the ṛṣis and at the same time associated with the Vedic counterpart of Shiva: Rudra. Of course, not all sadhus are members of a sampradāya and therefore only some of them are initiated into a structure like the one described by Daniélou and Guénon. According to ethnological data, initiated sadhus with sectarian affiliation should be distinguished from siddhas, that is, advanced yogis who have not been initiated [dīkṣā]into a sect but nevertheless possess respectable powers. They are usually called “independent [svantantra]sadhus” and receive initiation from a guru, for which reason they remain outside any formal sampradāya (16).
Daniélou’s selectivity in his treatment of the world of sadhus may have personal reasons. Toward the end of the preface he seems to give a portrait of himself and his guru, Swāmī Karpātrī. The self-reference appears when he explains that “sadhus employ lay agents who receive an initiation and acquire limited knowledge. Their task is to expand – when it is regarded as useful – certain concepts to ameliorate the conditions of the present world and offer solutions to the problems of humanity” (17). This statement coincides with the way Daniélou considered his own life after returning to Europe: he had something to transmit, but he always refused to be taken as a guru. On the other hand he emphasized the negative aspects of the new tendencies in India after independence in 1947, since these tendencies did not aim at recapturing the traditional teachings of sanātana dharma handed down from generation to generation over millennia, but rather at implanting European institutions on the Asian subcontinent in the conviction that this transformation was part of an evolutionary process. It is precisely at this point that Daniélou mentions the appearance of certain “emissaries of the world of sadhus who organize cultural, religious and even political movements” (18). This description does justice to the following epithet applied to Swāmī Karpātrī: sanātanadharmoddhārakāḥ, “the reorganizer of the eternal religion” (19), since it emphasizes the multifaceted nature of this man who was not only a sannyasin, but also a learned sage – among other things culturally engaged in a very polemical restoration process taking place in modern India. Needless to say, it is a great challenge for anyone who wants to venture into the heritage of such a character to find an unprejudiced way of dealing with a very complex background and a still more complex history of effects surrounding a topic that cannot be treated only by means of a textual reduction or a biased political position from the very beginning, since such attitudes very often contribute to obscure the subject rather than shed precious light upon it.
When it comes to evaluating Daniélou’s treatment of the sadhus, one should not forget his analysis of the monastic communities and orders in India contained in the fifth part of his book While the Gods Play. There he provides his own interpretation of the Rigvedic keśīn as a Shivaitic vrātya [excluded from society]and traces a continuity between this figure and some Sadhu sects that appeared at a later period, for example the Pāśupatas, the Kāpālikas and the Kālāmukhas. At the same time he connects the world of the Shivaitic sadhus with some practices that became very controversial (and sometimes even distorted beyond the point of recognition) in the Western reception of Hinduism: Tantric ceremonies, bhāṅg consumption, Siddha yoga and ritualized sex as a way of approaching the divine. The treatment of sadhus in While the Gods Play is also peculiar inasmuch as Daniélou also deals with issues like human sacrifices within the frame of a general economy of creation (20) (something that may shock the modern Western mentality) and the relationship between love and death from the perspective of a theory of passages (especially among the Kāpālikas). It demands not only an unprejudiced attitude on the part of the reader, but also the ability to go beyond the fixed patterns of feeling and understanding that constitute the dominant mentality in the Western world of today.
(1) For the sake of clarity and in order to simplify our exposition, we take the novella The Cattle of the Gods, the first to be published in book form (Le Bétail des Dieux, Buchet/Castel 1962), and the collection of short stories The insane of the Gods [Les Fous des Dieux, Buchet/Castel, 1975]as a thematic unity, something that Daniélou himself did when he decided to publish both of them later on under the title The Cattle of the Gods and other Gangetic Tales [Le bétail de dieux et autres contes gangétiques, Buchet/Castel, 1983].
(2) Even if the book deals stricto sensu not only with Dionysian religion but also with Etruscan gods and Mithraic mysteries.
(3) As he declares himself in an interview reproduced in Le mystère du culte du linga.
(4) René Guénon. Le roi du monde, Paris, Gallimard, 2009, p. 68.
(5) ”If we quote M. Ossendowski and even Saint-Yves, it is only because what they said can turn out to be a starting point for considerations that have nothing to do with what the one or the other thought, but rather with something the range of which goes far beyond their individualities“ (René Guénon. Le roi du monde, p. 11).
(6) That was a point of divergence between Daniélou and Guénon, since the former provides a clearly pagan background to his treatment of the sadhus – something that enabled him to delve later on into the religious heritage of pre-Christian Europe and draw some interesting parallels –, whereas the latter insisted that initiation [dīkṣā]requires a living religious institution as the only valid support for the effectiveness of that ritual – something that led him to privilege an institution like the Roman Catholic Church over all kinds of pagan alternatives.
(7) Alain Daniélou. Le Bétail des Dieux et autres contes gangétiques, Monaco, Éditions du Rocher, 1994, p. 7.
(8) Alain Daniélou. Le Bétail des Dieux et autres contes gangétiques, Monaco, Éditions du Rocher, 1994, p. 7.
(9) […]tasya yanmaṁsamāsīt / tato’ruṇāḥ ketavo vātaraśanā ṛṣaya udatiṣṭhan.
(10) For detailed information about this topic cf. Robert Lewis Gross. The Sadhus of India: A Study of Hindu Asceticism, Jaipur: New Delhi, Rawat Publications, 1992, pp. 21-22, and further D. R. Bhandarkar. Vaisnavism, Saivism and Minor Religious Systems, Varanasi, Indological Book House, 1965, pp. 43-45 and G. S. Ghurye. Indian Sadhus, Bombay, Popular Prakshan, 1953, p. 13.
(11) Alain Daniélou. Le Bétail des Dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 10.
(12) We mustn’t forget the meaning of the Sanskrit root tan-, “to expand”, from which the word Tantra derives. Daniélou compares the Tantric way of realization through the inclusion of forbidden elements to the restricted Vedic and Brahmanic religiosity. This opposition dates back from Kullūka Bhaṭṭa’s dichotomy of revelatory forms: vaidika – tāntrika, as expounded in his commentary on the Mānavadharmaśāstra 2. 1.
(13) Alain Daniélou. Le Bétail des Dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 10.
(14) Alain Daniélou. Le Bétail des Dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 8.
(15) René Guénon, Le Roi du Monde, p. 13.
(16) Cf. Robert Lewis Gross, The Sadhus of India, p. 113.
(17) Alain Daniélou. Le Bétail des Dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 9.
(18) Alain Daniélou. Le Bétail des Dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 9.
(19) Gianni Pellegrini (ed.). L’uomo e il sacro in India. Svāmī Karapātrī, Venezia, VAIS, 2009, p. 11.
(20) Human sacrifices are nowadays still ascribed to some members of the Aghori sect in India. One should not forget Daniélou’s treatment of this issue in his book Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysos (especially pp. 168-169).
Rizio Yohannan Raj
Executive Director of LILA: Foundation for Translocal Initiatives (www.lilafoundation.in)
Dilli Haat: a truth lab?
Two millennia have passed by, their summers, with the length of those long winters, since a Roman Governor asked a man about to be executed, ‘What is Truth?’ Generations of poets, players, storytellers, philosophers, management gurus and scientists have produced innumerable reflections on the theme of truth, but no universally accepted solution to this puzzle has ever been attained by any interrogator. Often, one human’s truth becomes another’s fiction, and it simply gets more complicated when it comes to social bodies, say, corporations or governments. It seems that the condition of being human is embedded in the investigation of truth, experimenting with truth, and not in truth itself.
We normally seek to discover the truth of an individual’s or an establishment’s ‘activities’, for ‘action’ is the sole phenomenon that potentially manifests the elusive ontic category called ‘truth’ within the bounds of specific space-time. However, the momentum of cumulative action and the multidimensionality of the space of action obstruct our individual apprehension of truth in action, made possible through our limited human faculties. Yet, as we continue our quest for meaning, personal as well as corporate, we unwittingly turn our consciousness as well as our social hubs into veritable truth labs.
Poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer, Wendell Berry says in The Art of the Common Place: The Agrarian Essays, “In a society in which nearly everybody is dominated by somebody else’s mind or by a disembodied mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn the truth about the activities of governments and corporations, about the quality or value of products, or about the health of one’s own place and economy”. There is a significant question concerning truth to which Berry’s observation draws our attention: In these discursive times, how do we determine the true value of a particular material, product, person or place?
The market seems an appropriate place to dwell on this question of truth concerning humans, for as a ‘happening laboratory’ it brings together various personal as well as societal interest combinations into play. From the happy palpable local space for sharing as it was at the beginning of human civilisation, the market has turned into a disembodied global phenomenon, and has come to be regarded by its critics as a ‘black hole’ that swallows all humanising trajectories of culture. Conversely, efforts are made to establish supposedly win-win market models that claim to showcase marginalised talents and products catering to an urban clientele, albeit their critics deem their intervention a drastic fetishizing of cultures. Overwhelmed by one or more such discourses, how does one’s mind derive the truth value of one’s own market experience in these times?
It might be a good exercise to visit a culture-market constructed by apparently benign governmental machinery in order to explore this question. Dilli Haat, located in the commercial heart of South Delhi, is an open-air food and craft market featuring products from a variety of India’s cultural traditions. An ambitious project, set up in 1994 as a joint venture by Delhi Tourism and New Delhi Municipal Council, the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) & Development Commissioner (Handlooms), the Indian Government Ministry of Textiles and Ministry of Tourism, Dilli Haat aims at encouraging traditional artists from all over the country in order to support and preserve the country’s heritage.
The term ‘haat’ refers to the flexible weekly market in Indian villages but, curiously enough, Dilli Haat is a permanent 6-acre site, salvaged as part of a reclamation project, on which a cultural shopping complex has been established. The marketplace has a few permanent crafts shops and food stalls run by the tourism departments of various states. However, about 62 stalls are allotted on rotation to vendors for a 15-day period. To secure a space, a vendor, registered with the Handicrafts Development Commissioner has to go through an application process. Vendor selection allows all Indian states to be represented by rotation, and stalls are allocated at a nominal daily rent in order to ensure that visitors can buy wares at prices not inflated by high maintenance costs.
Craftsmen sell wood carvings, sophisticated fabric and drapery, animal hide footwear, gems, beads, brass and silver ware, metal crafts, silk, wool, cotton… They also have the chance to demonstrate their artistic skills to hundreds of visitors every day. While a number of shows promoting handicrafts and handlooms are held at the exhibition hall in the complex, the small thatched roof cottages and kiosks in the marketplace are meant to create an eco-friendly village atmosphere. The design of the complex draws on North Indian architectural styles, with brickwork lattice and stone roofs. The shops are set up on platforms, to evoke traditional bazaar design. The courtyards between the shops are paved in stone and interspaced with grass. The landscaping of the area incorporates shrubs and trees to evoke eco-friendliness.
A visitor can savour foods from various regions of India: momos from Sikkim, bamboo shoot pickle from Nagaland, kahwa and kebabs from Jammu & Kashmir, sabudana vada and vada paav from Maharastra, dhokla from Gujarat, Malabar porotta from Kerala… Dilli Haat thus claims to provide the ambience of a rural haat, but catering for more contemporary and urban needs through a synthesis of crafts, food and cultural activity. It is described as a bazaar in the heart of the city displaying the richness of Indian culture on a permanent basis, a forum where rural life and folk art are brought closer to an urban clientele.
Now, let us return to our puzzle: How does one appreciate the true value of a space like Dilli Haat and the heritage that it ‘displays’ and ‘sells’? Maybe, one could begin this quest for value by contrasting this urban market of rurality and its constituent elements with its original namesake, the village haat and its organic features.
A significant marker of the village haat is the camaraderie shared by craftsmen and their patrons. They are all villagers—they know the context and evolution of one another’s needs and work. For the same reason, it does not matter exactly where they sit to sell their wares—the market with its free and open communication facilitates the discovery and rediscovery of people, roles, seasons and products. The material culture a village haat embodies is thus manifest in a translocal act of spontaneous conservation, of continuous familiarity with and sharing of lives, and not in the planned preservation of fixed locales where wares are showcased and sold on specific terms.
Dilli Haat is indeed a feast for the urban visitor’s eyes. People and wares keep changing, offering customers a varied entertainment, as well as a display opportunity to as many vendors as possible. The permanent stalls are filled at all times, and the availability and range of products are not generally affected by the seasons. The vendors themselves become showpieces of sorts along with their wares, as visitors look for artefacts and not for particular artists or their unique talents or products, as they would at a village haat.
Now, what is the truth of a space like Dilli Haat? What makes urban clients feel gratified by this fleeting rural experience, constructed by the display of a set of all-weather products? What tempts the craftsmen to let go of the social, environmental, cultural, and economic layers of meaning connecting them and their crafts with their customers? Here we derive another seminal question from Berry’s comment cited earlier: How are our minds dominated by other minds or by a disembodied mind?
Such questions lead us to a central market term: Influence. Robert B. Cialdini’s influential 1984 book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion has sold over 2 million copies worldwide. Influence, which Harvard Business Review has mentioned as a ‘Breakthrough Idea for Today’s Business Agenda’, lists six factors that contribute to our minds being dominated by other minds: Reciprocity, Commitment, Social Proof, Authority, Liking and Scarcity. Through these lenses, Cialdini shows us how free samples help generate sales, how people tend to honour a product that is congruent with their self-image, how sales are boosted through customers’ imitative tendencies, how ambassadorial exercises affect sales, and how good-looking sales people as well as limited period offers influence buyers.
If we observe the Dilli Haat phenomenon through Cialdini’s lenses, we may reach a path of truth concerning the market today. His first lens of reciprocity informs us that an offer of space is reciprocated by an offer of time at various stages of the construction of Dilli Haat as a permanent urban-rural landmark in the heart of Delhi. A culture stall for 15 days is the space-time mantra of reciprocity that Dilli Haat displays and sells. It seems to embody a commitment to ‘preserve’ culture and heritage, and thus contributes to building the benign image of a customer as a patron of marginalised artisans. It acquires social validity, as this self-image is a sellable idea in the market of corporate and individual social responsibility, especially when it is authenticated by the governmental bodies that run the place. It is a likeable place, too—the architecture, the traditional-looking vendors and the indigenous wares conjure up the image of some long-lost past, the evocation of which is intensified by the perceived scarcity of this experience, its limited-period offer.
Now, isn’t it better that in these fragmented times we at least have a caring space that welcomes and encourages traditional arts and crafts, while across the world, the giant of homogenous contemporaneity is threatening to swallow all diversities? Indeed, it is. Then, what is the significance of this attempt to probe the layers of influence that make up this curious space-time?
It seems the sole purpose and advantage in seeking the truth, as the man who turned away from the Roman Governor’s question seemed to know, is not in finding any definitive answer to the question of truth. It serves every individual by motivating him or her to defy the limits of his or her own time and space, and reach the dawn of civilisation, to experience the fire of innovation, to learn to know the land and its materiality as the primary inspiration of human cultural and social continuity.
This question might arise in every urban customer visiting this rural market: Can I connect with the land of a culture that I encounter here, not as a casual visitor or artefact collector, but as a knowledge seeker?
On his or her road to truth, a heritage vendor might wonder: Can I live and sustain myself on the same terms that have sustained my native milieu for ages, and yet reach out to the contemporary world around me?
The authorities might also pose a seminal question concerning governance: Is there a continuous and organic way to weave the country’s traditional socio-cultural structures into the urban fabric, and vice versa?
The truth laboratory of Dilli Haat offers us all these reflections, and more.
Artist of Dilli Haat at work. Photo by Premjish Achari.
Alain Daniélou Foundation wishes to thank Rizio Yohannan Raj for the material provided for publication, Smriti Vohra for kindly helping with details on Priya’s life and work, Samuel Buchoul for his invaluable help in selecting and preparing the images of this dossier and – last but not least – Priya Ravish Mehra herself, who accepted to answer further questions and was always ready to contribute to the overall improvement of the article.
Portrait of Priya Ravish Mehra
Priya Ravish Mehra is a Delhi-based textile artist and weaver, researcher and designer. She graduated in Fine Arts (with a specialization in textiles) from Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, and later studied tapestry weaving at West Dean College, Sussex and an advanced tapestry course at the Royal College of Arts, London under the aegis of a Commonwealth Fellowship and Charles Wallace Trust (India) Scholarship. She also received an Asian Cultural Council Grant to study the maintenance and preservation of Indian textiles, especially Kashmir shawls, in US public and private collections.
As a research consultant in the area of Indian handlooms and handicrafts, Priya travelled extensively through Bihar and Gujarat from 1987-92, documenting their textile traditions for ‘The Saris of India’, a major national research project sponsored by the Development Commissioner (Handlooms), Ministry of Textiles. She continues to do freelance work with textile organizations, design studios and artisan communities. Committed to socially engaged art, she has initiated creative weaving programmes in educational institutions, and her work with NGOs includes a rehabilitation programme for the inmates of Tihar Prison, Delhi.
Priya’s textile work has been featured as solo exhibitions: British Council, Delhi (1993), Commonwealth Institute, London (1994), Harley Gallery, Nottingham (1994), Eicher Gallery, Delhi (1997) and Jahangir Art Gallery, Mumbai (1997), as well as in group shows: ‘Weavers of the Pacific Rim, Taumata Art Gallery, Auckland (1993), ‘Palash’, Rabindra Bhavan, Delhi (1997), ‘Dedicated to Mother Earth’, British Council (1999), 10th International Triennial of Tapestries, Lodz (2001), and ‘Resonance’, Rabindra Bhavan, Delhi (2005), ‘Threads’, Alliance Française, Delhi (2014). She frequently participates in national and international artist residencies, including ‘Inspired Thinking’, Cove Park and ‘Town Is the Venue’, Deveron Arts, Huntley (Scotland, 2011), and ‘Common Goods’, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Melbourne (Australia), a project in which she collaborated with rafoogars to restore and recreate the Eureka Flag for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Priya has extensively researched the textile tradition in India. She co-authored Saris of India: Bihar and West Bengal (National Institute of Fashion Technology and Amr Vastra Kosh, 1995), and was research author for Saris: Tradition and Beyond (Roli Books, 2010). She has presented her rafoogari research papers at diverse venues: “Rafoogari of Najibabad” at the 9th Biennial Textile Society of America Symposium, Oakland (2004); “Rafoogari: An Invisible Craft” at the North American Textiles Conservation Conference, Mexico City (2005); “A Darning Tradition”, India International Centre, Delhi (2006); at Sanskriti Kendra, Delhi (2009); “Sutra: Conference on Conservation and Restoration of Textiles”, Kolkata (2010); “A Darning Trend”, Slow Fiber Tour, Tokyo / Arimatsu / Kiryu, 2010; “Invisible Darning”, Future Australia, INTER:ACTing: Participatory Design, Venice (2011); and “91SS”, Hangzhou (2014). She organized and conducted the workshop ‘Rafoogars and Their Rafoogari’ in collaboration with INTACH at Sanskriti Kendra, Delhi (March 2009), and held a Rafoogari Baithak at the Sutra conference in Kolkata (February 2010) and at the Murshidabad Festival (December 2011).
Priya Ravish Mehra in conversation with Smriti Vohra
Textile: from Latin textilis, ‘a web’, ‘canvas’, ‘woven fabric’, ‘cloth’, ‘something woven’; noun use of textilis, ‘woven’, ‘wrought’, from texere, ‘to weave’, from Proto-Indo-European root *teks-, ‘to weave’, ‘to fabricate’, ‘to make’.
Texture: ‘network’, ‘structure’, from Middle French texture and directly from Latin textura, ‘web’, ‘structure’, from stem of texere, ‘to weave’, from Proto-Indo-European root *teks-, ‘to weave’, ‘to fabricate’, ‘to make’. Cognates: Sanskrit taksati, ‘he fashions, constructs’, taksan, ‘carpenter’; Avestan thwaxš-, ‘be busy’; Old Persian taxš-, ‘be active’; Greek tekton, ‘carpenter’, tekhne, ‘art’; Hittite taksh-, ‘to join, ‘unite, ‘build’; Lithuanian tasau, ‘to carve’; Old High German dahs, ‘builder’.
Text: wording of anything written, from Old French texte, Old North French tixte, ‘book’, ‘Gospels’, from Medieval Latin textus, ‘the Scriptures’, ‘treatise’, in Late Latin ‘written account, content, characters used in a document’, from Latin textus, ‘style or texture of a work’, lit. ‘thing woven’, from past participle stem of texere, ‘to weave’, ‘to join’, ‘fit together’, ‘braid’, ‘interweave’, ‘construct’, ‘fabricate’, ‘build’, from Proto-Indo-European root *teks-, ‘to weave’, ‘to fabricate’, ‘to make’.
Context: from Latin contextus, ‘a joining together’, originally past participle of contexere, ‘to weave together’, from con-, ‘together’+ texere, ‘to weave’.
Two examples of Priya Ravish Mehra’s early work, “Woven Jouney” and “Full Moon”.
SV: The mixed-media pieces (1) exhibited at the Alliance Française of New Delhi (2) are a re-framing of earlier works you made as a weaver/textile artist. When were these created, and what caused you to select and rework them for this aesthetic dialogue with other artists on the theme of ‘thread’?
PRM: For a very long time I had wanted to combine my weavings with paper pulp. Fortunately, the invitation to be a part of this exhibition gave me the opportunity to look carefully once again at my old discarded / rejected weavings and re-conceptualize them, bringing the past into my present context through a mode of abstraction. Through this fresh engagement with my previous works I relived an earlier phase, and have tried to symbolically present my life-journey as a stitched collage of various components in existence. It signifies the healing of existential wear and tear, the restoration of damaged areas. These current mixed-media works seek to render a wider understanding of the intricate order of things – the acknowledging of perfection in apparent imperfection, and the identifying of presence in seeming absence.
A recent work of Priya Ravish Mehra.
SV: The ‘fabric’ of these mixed-media works is a unique interweaving of fibre from two independent sources – paper and cloth.
What inspired you to create this intriguing textural anomaly?
Did the blending of two materials require an experimental technique?
PRM: I see both mediums as essentially one, as they arise from the same source – the paper pulp comes from natural fibres, as do the discarded cloth scraps that I am recycling from my earlier rejected weavings.
So the materials are different, yet the same.
For these mixed-media works I had the generous collaboration of Anupam Chakraborty of Nirupama Academy of Handmade Paper in Kolkata.
It was a great pleasure to try out freely various techniques till I was able to create the desired combinations of different natural fibres and paper pulp.
I consider these works experimental, and as an artist I am exploring various material and imagistic processes and possibilities that may result in unexpected outcomes.
I have started working after a long break, so I am enjoying this activity, re-entering and reconsidering my works differently.
The intriguing textual anomaly in Priya Ravish Mehra’s work.
SV: Your abstract early works, re-made into these mixed-media works, have a raw and granular quality, and seem to follow a principle of disclosure even while they remain ambiguous – their internal structure is exteriorized, your processes are deliberately left exposed; the seams are shown, as it were. This contrasts with other early woven works which are strongly poetic, smooth and lyrical. What brought about this clear shift in your aesthetic?
PRM: Yes, on the one hand these mixed-media works do indeed camouflage and conceal, but on the other hand they are simultaneously a hospitable and open inscription, an expansion, an acceptance of certain material defects and limitations that I did not previously accommodate. My earlier imagistic works emerged from a slow and systematic process of weaving, and I focused on selecting and using colours and textures from nature. The present works are more impulsive and are executed in a much more direct way, using whatever material is at hand.
Two recent works of Priya Ravish Mehra showing the development of abstract form.
SV: You reconstitute both the material and meaning of ‘fibre’ in these works through the elision of two different natural substances. Simultaneously, you displace and complicate their boundaries to create an equivocal, dissonant, jagged effect. As an artist accustomed to visualizing orderly and harmonious finished pieces, was it difficult to create work that defers conclusion?
PRM: Not really. These works have come into being through a current thought-process arising from my more recent life-experience. I no longer believe in the prescriptive, homogenous concepts of beauty, order and perfection that I earlier held to and tried to embody in my art. So it was not a psychological challenge to confront my earlier subjectivity through this mixed-media project. What I am producing at the moment is aligned and resonant with an altered, starker sense of self – more assertive and daring, more autonomous, more dispassionate.
SV: You have always been interested in mathematics, and had in fact completed one year of post-graduate study in this field before going to Shantiniketan to learn weaving and other textile arts. Do the exact patterns and reliable symmetries of mathematical logic influence your aesthetic – i.e., do you intuitively ‘calculate’ outcomes while composing your conventional symbolic works or innovative mixed-media works? Do you feel that certain aspects of your creativity are free of both deliberate and reflexive computation?
PRM: The earlier works were certainly preconceived, ‘computed’, but were executed in a spontaneous manner. The present works have a different stamp of immediacy. They invoke notions of salvaging, repairing and restoring that arise from an act of contemplation – the seeing of intrinsic worth in what is normatively understood and negated as residue, as less-than, as a remainder. This perception is then taken forward into the act of eliciting that subjugated worth through transmuting and revivifying the damaged material, thus affirming and honouring it.
SV: For some years you have been under treatment for cancer, an illness caused by DNA mutation –in metaphorical terms that you understand intimately, an ongoing profound and pervasive realignment of cellular warp and weft… Has this experience compelled a revision of your earlier aesthetic, as well as a shift in your themes and perspectives?
PRM: True. Earlier, ‘life’ and ‘work’ were running parallel, but now they seem to have become one. My intensive long-term research into rafoogari, the traditional art of specialized ‘invisible’ darning, and the rafoogar community, custodians of this neglected indigenous knowledge still being passed down from one generation to the next, was instrumental in bringing fresh personal insight and meaning to my life after my cancer diagnosis. I have been drawing upon and applying those deeper understandings simultaneously in the domain of my work as well as my daily existence.
Rafoogari = “art of darning”
SV: Your abstract mixed-media ‘texts’ might be read as a visualization of cancer morphology, the radical disordering, re-differentiation and redistribution of cellular architecture at the deepest somatic level. In purely symbolic terms, the dialogue of the two kinds of fibre might also represent the relationship of illness with wellness, trauma with healing, etc… Are these works invested with a personalized, singular ‘meaning’ for you, even while they lend themselves to multiple interpretations?
PRM: It is for other people to interpret the works, invest them with ‘meaning’. It will be different for everyone. I leave it to each viewer to decide for himself/herself.
SV: The act of expertly ‘joining’ two kinds of fibres in these mixed-media works immediately brings to mind your sustained artistic and research interest in rafoogari and the rafoogar community. Did the meticulous repairing, reconstructing and recycling of fabric acquire a special imagistic resonance for you through your involvement with this craft?
PRM: Yes. My research documented the skills and sociology of the rafoogars, but also provided a chance to personally assimilate various aspects of darning as a powerful metaphor – to understand ‘repair’ as a vital modality of self-knowledge, and to experience the place, significance and act of visible and invisible ‘darning’ in the fabric of life, as well as in the life of a fabric.
One more example of Rafoogari
SV: Your booklet on the rafoogars of your home town of Najibabad, published last year for an art/research project, opens with a beautiful lyric by the Sufi saint Baba Bulleh Shah:
One thread, one thread only!
Warp and woof, quill and shuttle,
countless cloths and colours,
a thousand hanks and skeins –
with ten thousand names,
ten thousand places.
But there is one thread only. (3)
Did you intend to suggest that a similar unitive trajectory emerges when these mixed-media works are viewed as a series?
PRM: No. In these works my conceptual and symbolic focus is on impermanence, transience, rupture, attrition, and the internal relationships of these processes. The focus is equally on the fact that anything injured, harmed, disfigured and abraded has the potential of being restored and maintained, given fresh value and energy, new meaning and use.
SV: Your re-conceptualization of ‘fibre’ reminds us that the Sanskrit word sutra (‘thread’) in its classical meaning invokes continuity, self-regulated and infinite expansion, but in a discursive context also invokes the opposite: strict compression/contraction, i.e., a format of terse, epigrammatic and aphoristic sequential rules (4). These function as the ‘thread’ of logic through a text, thus ensuring continuity and fidelity of meaning when commentaries and redactions are undertaken. For instance, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, etc., each rule in these texts is in dialogue with the one that precedes it as well as the one that succeeds it. In terms of your own art, is there a core conceptual or aesthetic ‘thread’ linking your past and present works?
PRM: I do not have a precise answer to that… For an appropriate response, one would have to scrutinize and search the deeper levels of self.
SV: Your re-conceptualization of ‘fibre’ also reminds us that the symbolism of weaving and cloth is deeply embedded in classical Indian philosophy, cosmology and scripture, and underpins our cultural imagination. A prominent example, in dialogue format, is found in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad. Chapter III – 6 uses an extended weaving metaphor (ota-prota, ‘woof and warp’, i.e., transverse and longitudinal threads) to frame an ontological inquiry about what constitutes, infuses, animates, supports and sustains the world-ground. Chapter III – 7 describes the sutratman (lit. ‘thread-self’): the “immortal” subtle principle that binds together all created phenomena, from the highest to the lowest. Chapter III – 8 asserts: “That which is above the heaven, that which is beneath the earth, that which is between these two, heaven and earth, which the people call the past, the present and the future, across space is that woven, warp and woof…” The question “Across what is space woven, warp and woof?” elicits this answer: “…the Imperishable”. Not a substance, not a possessor of attributes, unqualified, unconditioned, all-pervasive, inviolable, eternal, alone, pure, this absolute is
neither gross nor fine, neither short nor long, neither glowing red (like fire) nor adhesive (like water)… neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor space, unattached, without taste, without smell, without eyes, without ears, without voice, without mind, without radiance, without breath, without a mouth, without measure, having no within and no without…
that Imperishable… is unseen but is the seer, is unheard but is the hearer, unthought but is the thinker, unknown but is the knower. There is no other seer but this, there is no other hearer but this, there is no other thinker but this, there is no other knower but this. By this Imperishable… is space woven like warp and woof. (5)
Do you find ‘cosmic’ reference points such as these relevant to your thinking and art practice?
PRM: Human life is an intimate reflection of the cycles of nature, universal, perennial and all-pervasive. Of greatest significance to us are the sun and moon in their fixed paths across the sky, linked to the arrival, change and departure of the seasons – all existence on earth depends upon this eternal, unstoppable and regular movement that is a manifestation of the cosmic order. It is all one process, one energy. Opposites contain each other – expansion and contraction, dispersion and concentration, augmentation and reduction, occlusion and manifestation, emanation and dissolution. Darkness veils light; light infiltrates darkness; through increasingly refined gradations of luminosity the gross becomes subtle, opacity becomes transparency; transformations revert to original states and re-manifest, and the reiterations continue…
My current works are based on an ongoing stage of my personal path, marked by visible and invisible uncertainties, disruptions and fluctuations that I experience in the once-reliable ordering of the ‘warp and woof’ of my own existence. The edges of gashes and fissures in its vulnerable fabric have to be continuously aligned by the darner, firmly yet delicately pinioned, and then sealed stitch by careful stitch to prevent further ripping and other damage and to render the resilient cloth intact and whole.
SV: It seems appropriate to end our own dialogue here through invoking the timeless metaphorical wisdom of the saint-poet Kabir, himself a weaver:
You haven’t puzzled out
any of the Weaver’s secrets:
it took Him
a mere moment
to stretch out the whole universe
on His loom…
He fashioned His loom
out of earth and sky:
He plied the sun and moon
as His twin shuttles…
… only the Weaver
can mesh thread
with thread. (6)
What does your practice mean to you? Has your immersion in textile art helped you to ‘puzzle out’ some of life’s ‘secrets’, enabled you to ‘mesh’ some of life’s ‘threads’…?
PRM: I experience life’s ‘secrets’ as a constant dialogue, a ‘meshing’ of the tangible and the intangible, the known and the unknown. I can say, using a weaving metaphor, that for me life is about ‘open warps’ – sets of threads that are stretched on the loom but are still to be woven with or without heddles. Open warps have yet to inhabit fixed places within the weaver’s design. Such threads might find their eventual configuration and stabilization within one’s reality, or within one’s dreams, I am not sure…
(1) According to Priya Ravish Mehra, the Mixed Media works are about combining Fabric/Thread with Paper pulp, as she told the editors of the Cahiers de la Fondation in a recent exchange.
(2) An exhibition curated by Julia Libertad that took place from October 5th to 13th, 2014, which blends the practice of Nidhi Khurana at the Alliance Française of New Delhi. This exhibition blends the practice of Nidhi Khurana, Matthias Spiess and Priya Ravish Mehra, three artists whose exploration of thread as a medium has brought them together. According to Cas Holmes, a well known textile artist, ‘reusing found materials is a form of alchemy’. The artists use this alchemy to express their artistic research and to connect with one another, finding a line that unites their work to their practices and learning from backgrounds, geographies, mediums and preoccupations, bringing them forth in their formal dialogue with one another.
(3) Translated by Ivan M. Granger. www.poetry-chaikhana.com
(4) From Sanskrit sutram, ‘thread’, from the root siv, ‘to sew’, from Proto-Indo-European base *syu-, ‘to bind’, ‘sew’. Also connotes yarn, string, line, cord, wire, a measuring line; sacred thread worn by brahmins, girdle, twine, fibre; line / stroke, sketch / plan, “that which like a thread runs through or holds everything together”, rule / direction / instruction, short sentence or aphoristic rule and any work or manual consisting of ‘strings’ of such rules connected together like threads, in domains of ritual, philosophy, grammar, etc. See M. Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English dictionary, etymologically and philologically arranged with special reference to cognate Indo-European languages. Oxford, Clarenden Press, 1899 (reprint Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi), pp. 1241-1242.
(5) S. Radhakrishnan (ed.), The Principal Upanisads. London, George Allen & Unwin, 1953, pp. 222-34. Ota derives from otu, “the woof or cross-threads of a web”. Prota translates as “sewed, especially with threads lengthwise, and opposed to ota”; it connotes strung on, fixed on or in, put on or sticking in, set, inlaid, contained in, pervaded by, fixed, pierced, impaled; woven cloth or clothes; stretched out widely, full blown. See M. Monier-Williams, Ibidem, pp. 235, 713.
(6) “The Master Weaver”, in: Kabir: The Weaver’s Songs, translated by Vinay Dharwadker. New Delhi, Penguin, 2003, pp. 110, 111.
Directive Committee of SOS Street-Heroes of India (www.street-heroes.org)
A countless number of children in India live in the streets and seek for shelter in orphanages and assistance centers. They come from different scenarios: abandoned, orphaned, sexually abused, exploited in many ways, drug addicts, beggars, deprived of affection. The number of children and mental disorders increases every day, showing a real need for professional assistance at both individual and community level. SOI, Street-Heroes Of India, is conscious of the great need for an integration of psychosocial support for them, and at the same time it provides answers to the constant increase of mental disorders.
We are implementing substantial changes focused especially on prevention and early intervention through education in mental health and psychological support.
SOS, Street-Heroes Of India, is a network of psychologists, therapists, counselors, coaches, social workers and social educators providing training on necessary psychosocial tools for the care staff in charge of such children. Since 2010 it has been coordinating and performing different trainings and workshops responding to the demand of care centers based in Kerala and Karnataka.
We have been spreading the voice of our project, finding support from private funding and the COPC, the Official Association of Psychologist of Catalonia.
Riccardo Biadene – Alain Daniélou Foundation Artistic Dialogue
Impro Sharana: the artists
As a renaissance patron of the arts would help the beaux arts blossom, one of Alain Daniélou Foundation’s purposes is to permit and encourage Indian and Western artists and intellectuals to develop their artistic projects in line with the central aims of the Foundation.
In doing this, Alain Daniélou Foundation fosters Residential programmes which involve a period of stay during which the residents bring to life or continue their projects.
Hence, the “blossom” can take the shape of a talk, an exhibition or a performance.
The latter is what Shantala Shivalingappa and Ferran Savall’s residency brought forth.
In mid-November the two artists – along with the excellent musicians Nedyalko Nedyalkov (kaval/flute), Driss El Maloumi (oud) Jordi Gaspar (double-bass) and David Mayoral (percussion) – were welcomed to Colle Labirinto and spent nearly 10 days there in order to work on the project and find inspiration in the warm atmosphere of Daniélou’s rooms, books and memories.
The Tagore hall, Alain Daniélou Foundation’s auditorium, became a theatre whose main spectator was the enchanting wisteria that gracefully frames the whole space from outside. And there, just in front of a flowerless wisteria, Impro Sharana began to blossom.
In her latest interview with the Alain Daniélou Foundation, Shantala highlights the importance of the setting in the process of artistic creation : “I think it is always such a great chance to be able to work in beautiful surroundings, with the presence of nature around you […], you are not in a urban setting, you do not go back in the evening to your life and to your world, yet you are in a sort of cocoon, a very beautiful one. Normally, when you are working in a studio and you are intensively involved in dance and music, the rest of the world disappears, you could be anywhere. But the moment you have a break, if you look outside and see beautiful trees and a lovely light, it shapes your inner images ” (1).
Indeed, quoting Daniélou’s words: “Rome is one of the world’s great religious centers, but only in the areas surrounding the ancient city does one find those magical places where the forces of heaven and earth seem to meet and one feels the presence of gods […]The Labyrinth is one of those places where the spirit seems to breathe and peace prevails. The mysterious hand of the gods had led me to a friendly, favorable place where I felt that I could live and work” (2).
Shantala and Ferran’s first collaboration was in 2005.
In 2007, Pina Bausch chose a song recorded live in concert by Ferran for the Solo that she created for Shantala, as part of the spectacle Namasya which toured around the world. Then in 2008, Ferran was invited by Shantala to accompany her on stage for a special private program for the French fashion house Hermès. In 2010, the two artists met again for the Festival Divinamente Roma where they premiered Bhavana (3).
In the case of Impro Sharana, it was Francesc Casadesùs of Mercat de les Flors who encouraged the two artists to come together to create a new project, and he himself suggested that the Alain Daniélou Foundation could actively support the project and make it possible by welcoming them to the Labyrinth. The two-word title refers both to improvisation, which is Ferran’s unique approach to music and song, and the Sanskrit word sharana, which according to Shantala Shivalingappa should be conceived in its nuance meaning “to surrender”. Hence, the title would like to celebrate the genuine beauty of improvisation, which is not letting yourself go freely, yet more like surrendering to the vibration of sound and movement that triggers creation and at last forms the universe. In this sense, Impro Sharana also wants to honor the Hindu God Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance. The title and the project also prove that discipline and freedom are not opposites. A musician or dancer comes to a certain time when that very codified form they have poured themselves into suddenly begins to evolve, set itself free. According to Shantala, that very transformation keeps traditions alive (4). The title Impro Sharana also echoes Alain Daniélou’s initiation name, “shielded by Shiva”, since “shelter/protection” is the literal meaning of sharana. Impro Sharana had its première at the theatre Temporada Alta of Girona in Spain on the 7th of December 2014, and then moved to Mercat de les Flors of Barcelona. The spectacle was enthusiastically appreciated by the audience and the critics: “Beautiful, unique and intimate, Impro Sharana, the outstanding spectacle by the Catalan musician Ferran Savall and the Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa, invites the viewer to embark himself on an intense musical and dance journey […]As Savall himself explains at the beginning of the show, Shivalingappa and Savall meet on the stage with other friends, the superb musicians Jordi Gaspar (double-bass), David Mayoral (percussions), Nedyalko Nedyalkov (kaval/flute) and Driss El Maloumi (oud) for a cup of tea while they are playing different music compositions and Shivalingappa dances, by performing both contemporary and kuchipudi dance movements. Her mother Savitry Nair, a Bharatanaytam master, choreographed for this spectacle the piece Smarana in which Shantala unfolds her seductive power through the expressive movement of her arms and her hypnotic gaze, while musicians play traditional music from Northern India. […]The magic, spiritual harmony that springs from Impro Sharana fascinates the spectators in a way that they find themselves in empathy with the artists. Ferran Savall’s voice ranges from jazz, soul, bossa nova to traditional Indian and Armenian music, creating a subtle music setting in which the dance of Shantala flows freely. Music and dance in perfect symbiosis make Impro Sharana an unforgettable experience.” (5)
Impro Sharana is co-produced: [H]ikari – Compagnie Shantala Shivalingappa, Mercat de les Flors, Temporada Alta Festival, Alain Daniélou Foundation.
(1) Shantala Shivalingappa was interviewed at the Alain Daniélou Foundation Foundation during her residency. To see the whole video interview, visit our website www.fondationalaindanielou.org.
(2) op. cit. pp. 231-232, The Way to the Labyrinth, Memories of East and West, Alain Daniélou, New Direction Paperbook, 1987, New York.
(3) cf. http://shantalashivalingappa.com.
(4) cf. Shantala Shivalingappa on the Freedom of Discipline, Interview by Looking For Drama, 10 December 2014, Spain. Also see: http://lookingfordrama.com.
(5) cf. El Pais, Cataluna, 13 December 2014
Exhibition Kriti Gallery (Varanasi)
February – March 2015 – Alain Daniélou Foundation will organise together with the Kriti Gallery (Varanasi) a photo exhibition of 35 prints portraying Varanasi (’35-’55), from the Alain Daniélou/Raymond Burnier archive.
Goa Photo 2015
Alain Daniélou Foundation is one of the principal sponsors of GOA PHOTO 2015, the first edition of an annual international photography festival to be held across the city of Panaji between the 25th of February and the 7th of March 2015. Over a period of ten days, the festival will transform the city into a platform for showcasing contemporary photography.
25 February – 07 March 2015 // Panaji, India
“Journée Alain Daniélou” in Brussels
L’INDE ET LE LABYRINTHE DE L’UNIVERS
January 20th, 2015, 7 p.m.
Venue: Fondation Boghossian – Centre d’art et de dialogue entre les cultures d’Orient et d’Occident
The Boghossian Foundation proposes to (re-)discover Alain Daniélou in the course of an evening dedicated to four speakers and a subsequent discussion open to the audience.
7 p.m.: Welcome to the speakers and public by Diane Hennebert, Director General of the Boghossian Fondation.
7.30 p.m.: Jacques Cloarec. Sagesse et Passion ; 32 années passées auprès d’Alain Daniélou.
8 p.m.: Roger-Philippe Della Noce-Bertozzi. “Shiva et Dionysos” ou la Philosophia Perennis d’Alain Daniélou.
8.30 p.m.: Adrián Navigante. Alain Daniélou : une approche singulière de l’Hindouisme.
9 p.m.: Christopher Gérard. Alain Daniélou ou le paradoxe incarné ; quelques aspects méconnus de l’homme et de l’œuvre.
9.30 p.m.: Discussion open to the audience.
10 p.m.: Refreshments
This evening Conference is the fruit of collaboration between the Boghossian Foundation and the Alain Daniélou Foundation.
Please make your reservations before January 15th, 2015.
By e-mail: email@example.com
By telephone : +32 (0)2 648 09 43
Entrance fee: €10 / €5 (members of the “Circle of Friend of the Villa Empain” and students).
Villa Empain, Centre d’art et de dialogue entre les cultures d’Orient et d’Occident
Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 67 – 1050 Bruxelles
Summer Mela 2015
The programme will be published soon.
Further information: www.fondationalaindanielou.org
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