Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ministry of Yoga: A Step in the Right Direction

Ministry of Yoga: A Step in the Right Direction

Government of India took a step in the right direction by creating the ministry of Yoga. This is the first step to reclaiming and possessing India's true cultural heritage. Prime Minister Modi is upholding his promise to serve India, through this quest for true knowledge and heritage of Yoga, one of the greatest contributions of India. Yoga is an esoteric mind-body spiritual technique perfected in India as early as the early first evidence of Indian culture are traceable. Indus valley, as well as Vedic texts provide the first basic evidence, while the first text is Yogasutras composed by Patanjali, dated to about 600 B.C.E. Early lime stone statue of a man from Mohenjodaro in meditative stance (John Marshal identified him as philosopher-king) supports that meditative practices (known as yoga) were known during this period. Vedas also contains several reference to yoga, which will be discussed below. Traditional yoga includes practices that have come to be classed as Hathayoga, Pranayama, and Rajayoga, while earlier yoga included all of these three elements as part of the essential practice of yoga. However, modern yoga and its revival is to be credited to the West, which rekindled the interest of millions of individuals in the fascinating practice of yoga.

Origins of Yoga in India
A thousand years of colonial and alien rule has forced India to distance itself from its past, and especially its spiritual and religious heritage. Yoga has suffered most due to this neglect. Its origins are lost, and only cryptic references from the Vedas remain. Rigveda, the most ancient scripture in the world (Rigveda's  most ancient hymns date to 4600 B.C.E while the its latest sections date to 2300 B.C.E. although some place the latest portions between 2000-1800 B.C.E.) contains the earliest references to yoga. Vedic references note yoga, as a vehicle (conveyance), to visualize or to go beyond what can be seen or understood by the naked eye (the physical vision). Hence Yoga is also used in the sense of yukta (join or jointed) with the inner self-conscious (Atma-Brahma) to open the mind's (mana) eye. Opening this inner eye or the eye of the mind by ascending the vehicle of yoga is at the core of yoga practice referred in this early stage. This central goal continues to dominate the later quest of yoga known from Hindu tradition (also known from other Indian traditions such as Buddhist and Jain traditions, as well as other yoga practitioners such as Anatha Kesakambalin, etc.).  Life stories of both the Buddha (560-480 B.C.E) and the Jaina Mahavira (599-527 B.C.E.) mention their meeting with established yoga teachers, and their practice of yoga, as a path to enlightenment. Therefore it is clear that between 2000 B.C.E-600 B.C.E., yoga was practiced by sages, and those seeking true knowledge (atma jnana), although it is not clear if it was practiced by common people during this period. Yoga practice by common people only comes to us through the discussion of yoga in Bhagavadgita and Mahabharata (300 B.C.E). Yoga texts may have also existed during this early stage between 2000 B.C.E-600 B.C.E, however, only Patanjali's Yogasutras, and Samkhyakarika of Isvarakrishna are the only surviving texts known to us. While the Yogasutras, and Samkhyakarika provide the textual basis for the philosophical practice of mindful meditation. while physical discipline and postures are important to achieve perfection in this philosophical practice of mindful meditation texts avoid describing the postures, and leave it to personal practice under an accomplished teacher, lest it may lead to wrongful postures and become harmful rather than beneficial to the soul. This might have been the reason Mahabharata and Bhagavadgita confine to discussion of meditative and philosophical aspects of Yoga, but not physical postures.     

Modern Yoga

Modern society found reliable and quantifiable value in practicing yoga, for mental and physical well being of an individual, which is at the core its revival in the West as well as India.  However, India should be conscious of Yoga in its true practice and evolution, and support a holistic understanding of Yoga as a spiritual and physical practice, but not entirely driven by utilitarian goals of health, and beauty.
The following book may be useful in understanding the research and publications available on yoga: Callahan D. Yoga : An Annotated Bibliography Of Works In English, 1981-2005 / Daren Callahan (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co. Inc., Publishers, c2007). This book includes 2,400 scholarly and popular works on Yoga, which only goes to show the popularity of yoga as a subject of popular study and practice in modern world. Physical ailments from multiple sclerosis to arthritis, blood pressure, heart attack and numerous other issues. Yoga is especially found to be helpful to individuals suffering from depression and PTSD. It is this utilitarian perspective that brought yoga to fame recently in the last fifty years. Yoga is found to be helpful in a number of health issues at the same time it is also noted for boosting self confidence and body image of practitioners. The positive benefits of yoga made it a favorite activity  for a number of practitioners in the United States, and the Western hemisphere in general. Therefore yoga has transformed in the modern practice as a therapy, and a physical exercise, although it is also practiced for spiritual benefits occasionally. Recent book Yoga : the art of transformation by Debra Diamond et al., published the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on the occasion of the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation, October 19, 2013-January 26, 2014, broadly discusses the background and practice of yoga with illustrations (Organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Path Forward
Yoga community hopes for help and support from the ministry of Yoga in its development and practice. The Ministry of Yoga, would be served well to invite proposal from various community members of Yoga practice, as well as scholarly and research groups for the development of Yoga, and its practice. As a new ministry, it will be challenge to develop an all encompassing program at the outset, but seeking cooperation and advise from various practitioners might help it evolve a right action plan. One aspect that needs to be considered carefully is preserving the integrity of Yoga in age of commercialization. Aspects of commercialization should be curbed, and a clear path of understanding and synthesis between the traditional path of Yoga and modern practice of Yoga should be established. A priority of the ministry of Yoga should be finding and digitalizing all available texts and resources of Yoga and making them freely available to Yoga practitioners.

Monday, September 29, 2014

An International Day of Yoga! What About India!!

There have been a number of talks on the subject of creating an international day for Yoga, ever since Prime Minister of India, Mr. Modi has called for it during his address to the United Nations General Assembly. We have 365 days in a year, and have a number of days marked for a variety of issues ranging from something as simple as Coffee to issues as serious as  HIV/AIDs. Whats with naming one more day for something? It could be easily done. But the bigger question is what is it going to do for Yoga? Yoga flourished and survived without any support or recognition from governmental agencies in India or any other country for that matter until now, and I am sure it will continue to do so in the future. 

If India is so concerned about Yoga's recognition, and practice internationally, he must be equally concerned about its recognition and practice in India. Millions of children in India have grown up in India without knowing what is yoga, and how or why it is practiced. It is still common to grow up in India and be ignorant of yoga. National education, and museums do not recognize Yoga as a subject. Part of the blame rests with national and state governments and public education system.   

Public education system has no place for physical education or yoga for that matter. Public buildings do not have play areas or yoga rooms. Bus stations, railway stations, or airports, and parks or recreational centers do not have any facilities such as yoga rooms. Yoga, and the practice of yoga has received better attention and facilities in the Western countries than India through voluntary support.

If India is interested then the government must take immediate measures to include Yoga in the mainstream Indian educational curriculum, and facilitate the construction of Yoga rooms in the public buildings, and support Yoga gurus who dedicate their lives to the practice and teaching of Yoga. 
Why not have a national Yoga day in India? May be one day could be marked as a national holiday for yoga. May be it will be conducive to include Yoga in the physical education curriculums, and holds regional and national competitions to support development of Yoga programs in India. Developing educational materials, and including yoga exhibits in museums would also be helpful. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

India's Oceanic Nostalgia

India Rediscovers its Ocean World

At one time in history India had close to a hundred and fifty port cities. Port cities are in fact the greatest cultural centers with stimulating environment that inspired poets, artists, dancers, and musicians alike. India's wide open shores were its treasure houses of arts and literature for over two millennia. In fact, India's ocean shores graced the titles of more than one emperor of Ancient India. the Satavahana emperor, Gautamiputra Satakarni proudly proclaimed himself the 'Trisamudradhipati,' meaning 'lord of the three oceans,' proudly claiming control over the complete ocean shore of India. Dvaraka might have been submerged in the ocean, Puhar might have been consumed by fire, but their memories endure. Is it this memory that is propelling India to propose project 'Mausam'?

Project Mausam is initiated by Union Ministry of Cultiure, with supporting work from Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts (IGNCA). Mausam is especially and appropriate name, as a natural phenomenon that connects India to its oceanic neighbors. Proposal is submitted to the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO at the Doha conference on 20th June, 2014. Hopefully UNESCO sees the connections in the Indian Ocean region and recognizes it with official seal of approval. 

India should not just stop at rediscovering its past in the oceanic world, but start recreating contacts and construct communication and transport networks to sustain and develop renewed relations with Indian ocean region. India should construct a tunnel bridge to Andaman Islands, and from there onwards to Bali, Thailand, and Cambodia on the East Coast, and renew ocean liners to Africa on the West Coast.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

India Must Develop Indian Ocean-Red Sea-Mediterranean Ocean Route to Europe

India Must Rediscover Its Ancient Trade Routes

India's greatest geological advantage is its largest Indian Ocean Coastline. In fact India has the largest coastline in Asia. India must rediscover its premodern trade routes in Indian Ocean and must redevelop them to its trade advantage. It should even consider under sea pipelines from the Middle East for oil and natural gas transportation.

Firstly, developing safe ocean trade is easier, and cheaper than road and rail network in a rough terrain. That is the reason Rome-India trade flourished between 300B.C.E-300 C.E. The trade was greatly advantageous to India, because of the monsoon winds which made the ocean travel safe and fast. India even traded with it middle eastern and African neighbors through its ocean route. Red Sea voyages, passing on to Mediterranean Ocean was recounted in number of historical accounts.

Secondly, with the modern technology it is easier and cheaper to build and maintain undersea pipe lines. India should abandon it plans of land based pipeline network through Pakistan. These lines are being laid in a highly volatile region, for two reason. Firstly, geographically this is located in a seismically active zone, and secondly, the region of Pakistan is politically volatile.

India should abandon all plans of taking part in the Silk Road- or the like connections being developed between China, and Pakistan, leading up to Europe. India does not have to depend on a road network outside its borders to increase its trade. India already has an open coastal trade, only waiting to be reconnected. There are several reasons Silk Road could be disastrous to trade, and development of India, but a couple of the important reasons can be considered here.

Firstly that China is overly zealous when it comes to protecting its trade interests, and investments. So expecting a co-operation from China is futile. Even though trades contact are allowed it could almost be expected to be unilateral, and biased in favor of China. Secondly that India could not be in positing to guarantee safety, due to the volatility in Pakistan's political condition and hence may have to pay a large human capital for marginal gains.

Finally it is advantageous for India to develop its own trade routes which have contributed to its success in the past. Modi government should plan its expansion on the Oceans, not on the land!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Oprah is Quick to Denigrate, but Fast to Commercialize India!

Oprah Chai Tea @ Starbucks This Mother's Day!

I was still trying to wake myself, and vaguely awake when I heard this commercial today in Opra's own voice urging everyone to drink Chai tea to rebuild America! It may have been playing for some time on TV and other media, may be. I don't know. I am not an avid TV watcher so I only heard it for the first time today, and of course it completely took me by surprise. I did not expect Oprah to attach her name to anything Indian after that denigrating TV episode she did on India for OWN a couple of years ago. She was not even impressed by the dinner hosted by the Bacchans! What surprised me most is her introduction of Indian tea (in America it is Chai tea, after India's word for tea, Chai) as a must have beverage for America, after she denounced everything Indian so badly! Apparently that could not come in the way of commercial interests.

Here is what I thought about her episode at that time:;postID=4892123716207523141;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=19;src=postname

I don't know what the old-time  Chaiwala, Modi thinks about this! A new more business savvy tea seller on the block!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yoga is As Old as Indian Civilization

Is Yoga the Next Red Herring of Indian History?

Scholars, practitioners and laymen are suddenly looking for textual sources of Yoga. But is this a good way to find evidence for a tradition that may have roots in India thousands of years ago. No language or written texts exist beyond 3000 years, while Hinduism and many of its practices are known to exist prior to that and exist in India only in oral traditions. Therefore, efforts find evidence and date yoga based on textual sources seems to be futile, if not vain, which may not lead to a fruitful conclusion.

It is no surprise for anyone following Indian history to notice that a new red herring is brought to the table of Indian Historians at the turn of every century. Aryan invasion now modified to Aryan migration is the first of such juicy subjects, which have preoccupied scholars for over a century. As scholars of India became wary of the controversy and were finally getting ready to forsake that topic of Aryan migration, the question of 'Is Hinduism a religion,' 'imagination,' or anything else, is brought forward which still continues to baffle a number of novice scholars of Hinduism, and Indian History. Both of these subjects may seem different at first look, but closely connected. First it is the foundation of Hinduism (Vedas are the basis or basic texts of Hinduism)  that was in question. Vedas were probably gifted to India by some alien migrants. Indian's don't know who gave them their beloved Vedic texts, and the aliens forgot to mention it or say where they come from. How gracious of them. There are very few takers for this theory now. That is a major issue for some scholars, which leads to the next major controversy, which is partly manufactured to fill this void. The next big controversy 'could Hinduism be classed as a religion?' No Aryans leads to no Hinduism! India is successfully pronounced a country without religion. Who does that benefit? One can only imagine.

Now that the controversies surrounding these two theories have subsided, a new wave of theories began floating around about the origins and dating of Yoga. It seems there is tremendous work being poured into understanding Yoga and its beginnings. I would not be surprised to see similar theories and controversies making their appearance once again under the new guise.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ancient Trade Routes to West from Andhra Pradesh, India

Hadramaut Excavations Reveal New Evidence of Indo-Roman Trade Links from Arikamedu, India.

Alessandra Avanzini(Ed) A Port in Arabia between Rome and the Indian Ocean (3rd C.BC-5C. AD): Khor Rori Report 2. Arabia Antica 5, <L’Erma> di Bretschneider: Roma, 2008. P.742+6. ISBN 978-88-8265-469-6
This report contains detailed reports of the excavations in Khor Rori (Dhofar in the Sultanate of Oman) from 2000 to the first campaign in 2004, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since, 1996. Sumhuram is a systematically excavated archaeological port in the region, and contemporaneous to that of Berenike, in Egypt, and Arikamedu, in India. Excavations and examinations in this report push the date of foundation of the secondary trade city, Sumhuram, back to 300 B. C.E., before the arrival of Romans, as opposed to the earlier notions of being established during the 1st century C.E. This changes historical understandings of the maritime trade between Indian Ocean, and Ancient South Arabia (ASA) prior to 100 C.E. As the editor has clarified it succinctly this contradicts the commonly held view that Romans opened new sea routes in the Indian Ocean region, but establishes that they exploited the areas of traffic that previously existed in the years before the Common Era. This report also establishes that Sumhuram is not a subsidiary port functioning in conjunction with Qana, to export Frankincence to the Mediterranean, but an independent port with trade links connecting to Indian Ocean trading posts. The primary relations of Sumhuram are with Arabia and India, as opposed to Qana or the Mediterranean. Several identifiable objects of Rome in fact were thought to have been brought to Sumhuram from India rather than Rome through Qana or Mediterranean trade. This supports the long held view of scholars of Indian history that direct trade link existed between Berenike (Mediterranean port) and Arikamedu (port on the East coast of India on Indian Ocean), and another direct sea link existed between India, and Ancient South Arabian ports (on the Persian Gulf), and that South Arabia did not directly trade with Rome on the sea, but India.    
This book contains 20 articles not numbered in serial order, and is also divided in four sections all of which are also not numbered in serial order. Vittoria Buffa and Alexander V. Sedov’s article, “The Residential Quarter: Area A,” examines Area A thoroughly and summarizes the architectural layout and structures and also notes the changes to these, during the five noted constructional phases. Notable are water wells, not fresh water as the authors note, but may have been used as for drainage. This article also examines the cultural material such as bones, coins etc. found in Area A. A notable find is the use of six large whale vertebrae to form the ceiling of a dwelling. Bronze tools, coins, sea shell lamps also help one understand the material life of people living in Sumhuram. Every object is meticulously collected and systematically catalogued with placement maps and charts. Figures of reconstructed models of residential area help understand the exact appearance of the houses and residential areas under discussion. The authors also note that loam used in construction changes with each constructional phase, although the basic model and plan of houses does not change, significantly.  This article is followed by Alexander Sedov’s article on, “Pottery,” found in Area A. All the descriptions are followed by pictures of residential area as well as the pottery (page 15-123). The descriptions and pictures present the excavated area A, as clearly as though one is visiting the site.
      Next article by Alexander V. Sedov, “Excavations at the Trench A 13 (pages 125- 181),” provides detailed description of excavated layers and accumulated cultural material. Although each phase shows a defense wall, the third constructional phase shows the destruction of defense tower from earlier and a small defense tower is built. In the 5th phase the northern wall begins to collapse and a new passage is added from the north-west. The author does not offer any explanations as to what the changes in the constructions may indicate, however, it can only be guessed that smaller walls, smaller defense tower and collapsing structures may indicate, the lessening fortunes of the city Sumhuram. This article is also accompanied by excellent photographs of excavated structures and cultural material.  
The next article, “The Cultural Quarter: Area F,” also written by Alexander Sedov discusses the excavated structures in Area F, with its 4 phases and accompanied cultural material. Important structural discoveries in this part of the town are workshops (bronze, pottery, shell) and a temple. The discussion of temple structures and material is complete, accompanied by excellent photographs and descriptions of minute details. The figure 10 on page 201, illustrated each object location with catalogue numbers and very helpful to understand the historical context. This article is also accompanied by analysis and illustration of pottery from Area F. The article, “Religious Architecture in Sumhuram: The Extra Muros Temple,” by Alexia Pavan, Alexander V. Sedov includes complete description of the temple, located on the east bank of Wadi Darbat, accompanied by clear photographs of the temple. The temple does not conform to the standard typology of the temples in this area, it differs in several aspects from typical Hadrami temples and the author categorizes it in the typology of “Hypostyle Temples,” the buildings with the roof supported by columns. The majority of Hadrami temples are categorized under this type although particular differences can be noted, as mentioned by the authors. Reasons for its abandonment are not clear, although the authors hold the view that frequent floods were the cause. Unless the cultural life of the residents has changed it is difficult understand the abandonment of the temple. Floods may have prompted relocation rather than abandonment. Existence of two temples in the same city, one extra muros, and one within the city walls is also puzzling and needs to be further examined.
Another article by Alexander V. Sedov, “The Coins from Sumhuram: The 2001A-2004A Seasons,” discusses the details of 244 coins found in the excavations, accompanied by excellent photographs and tables of exact stratigraphic locations of each coin. This is a thorough and excellent report on the coins. Early coins (4-2 C.B.C.E), 36 of them, show Hadramawt imitation of Athenian tetradrachms (head/owl series). The coinage of Yashhuril Yuharish, son of Abiyas, Mukarrib of Haramawt is most commonly found. The coins were not struck, but cast in a mould and show head with legend on the obverse, and the reverse with eagle. Some of the coins types excavated here in Sumhuram (Khor Rori) are also found in Shabwa, and eastern Arabia. The author proposes that these coins may have been minted in a local mint most probably located at Qana. Eastern Arabian coins were also excavated here which led the author to conclude the trade contacts may have existed between eastern and southern Arabia in pre-Islamic Arabia. Alessandra Lombardi, Vittoria Buffa, Alexia Pavan, in the articles, “Small finds,” describe, catalogue and discuss each object that cannot be categorized with other cultural objects of the excavation. The finds include, incense burners of various sizes and shapes, weights, beads, pendants, rings and other ornaments, vessels, bowls, tools, cosmetic objects, glass pieces, accompanied by excellent photographs and catalogue descriptions.
The next article, “Terrestrial Fauna and Marine Produce in Sumhuram,” by Cabriele Carenti, Barabara Wilkens identifies several types of animal species in Sumhuram. Notable are bovine bones (Bos Taurus). Of all the faunal remains 35% are collected from temple and 38% from dwellings. Pig is normally kept in the area of Dhofar, but bones are found in Sumhuram, which can be explained only through link between these regions. On the whole marine animal remains predominate and indicate a sea food diet of this city. Marta Mariotti Lippi, Roberto Becattini, Tiziana Gonnelli, analyze the floral remains in the article, “Archaeopalynology at Sumhuram,” This study shows that Sumhuram has significantly more greenery and steady water supply with earth cover, which may have deteriorated due to the dry spell after 3rd Century C.E. This study is thorough with pollen analysis and diagrammatical representation of data. Mauro Cremaschi, Alesandro Pegego, “Patterns of Land Use and Settlements in the Surroundings of Sumhuram: An intensive geo-archaeological survey at Khor Rori: report of field season February, 2006,” brings together the archaeological, faunal and floral data together to understand the settlement patterns of Khor Rori (Sumhuram) between 2 c B.C.E-3 c C.E. Megalithic dolmens, historical phase cairns and medieval era stone circles were commonly noticed in this area. Although palaeolithic and Neolithic occupations are absent, this area is continuously occupied from protohistoric times onwards. This article is accompanied by detailed topographic chart of all structures of Sumhuram.

     Alessandra Avanzini’s article, “Notes for a History of Sumhuram and a New Inscription of Yashuril,” is the last of the articles summarizing the archaeology of occupational levels before the Islamic occupation. One wishes this was the first article of the book for the excellent work it achieves in drawing together research from various archaeological data to propose ground breaking conclusions of the proto historic and early historic Sumhuram up to 5th century C.E. As the author has summarized in this article, study of Sumhuram offers new insights into understanding the trade relations between Ancient South Arabia (ASA) with India on the Indian Ocean. This study is remarkable since it establishes with considerable evidence that the city of Sumhuram is a port of trade connected to Indian Ocean, although attesting to be part of Hadramawt kingdom, it functioned quite independently. It was not a subsidiary port to Qana for exporting Frankinsence. It directly traded with the port of Arikamedu, any Roman objects found here were actually exported from India, and its shipping is also modeled after Indian ships as is evidenced by the graffiti of a double - masted ship, a characteristic Indian Ocean ship, noted on the coinage of Satavahanas, rulers of South India, when the port of Arikamedu flourished (p. 615-616). Therefore the links of Arikamedu and Indian Ocean predominate in ASA, and proves the predominant trade between these regions before 5th century C.E.    Other articles following this examine Medieval Islamic occupation and role of Khor Rori, and scientific investigations of the area, and its neighborhood, Dhofar.
     Although the text uses the Common Era for dating, it is surprising that the title still keeps the older notation of dating as BC and AD.   This book is essential for researchers and students of Indian Ocean region as well as Rome and the Mediterranean, and significant for the Persian Gulf scholars as well. The greatest contribution of this book is the wealth of information presented in detail, recorded with minute details and pictures, which brings into light new sea faring routes of Indian Ocean and Mediterranean through the Persian Gulf.
Lavanya Vemsani
Shawnee State University