Indians not just largest diaspora, but also most successful

The count of the Indian disapora has increased to 17.5 million, making it the largest in the world, according to the UN’s International Migrant Stock 2019, released by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) a few days ago. It now comprises 6.4% of the total global migrant population.

In 1990, India was behind Russia and Afghanistan as a source of international migrants at 6.6 million with Russia sending 12.7 million abroad and Afghanistan 6.8 million. In 2019, Russia fell to the fourth position behind Indian, Mexico and China with 10.5 million migrants.

In economic terms, Indians abroad sent back $80 billion, making the country the leading recipient of funds from overseas.

"When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the United States, he is among compatriots – 4.4 million of them. India has the largest diaspora in the world, and the US is their top destination: in 2017, people of Indian descent made up 1.3% of the American population, and they are the most successful immigrants in the country," Katharine Rooney, Senior Writer said during the World Economic Forum held in September.

Indians have always been labelled a model immigrant community, both in Europe, especially the UK, and the US. Economics Professor Nirvikar Singh, co-author of The Other One Percent: Indians in America breaks down the fascinating story of how a population from a developing country became the most educated, highest-income group in the world's most advanced nation—in a single generation. Singh has written: “Indian American entrepreneurship has been quite prominent. It's a very important engine of economic growth.”

A trend that began in 1965, due to relaxation of immigration policies led to a surge in migration, which has not waned to this day. Most of the people moved to the US for educational and employment opportunities. Every Indian family, in urban areas, has a relative abroad, who has studied or is working there and who eventually aspires for citizenship.
A UC Santa Cruz magazine article chronicles the various points of success:
• 68 percent of India-born immigrants living in the U.S. have college degrees;
• Indian immigrants are concentrated in industries like information technology;
• Their average incomes are generally higher than the average incomes associated with their level of educational attainment;
• Rates of self-employment and entrepreneurship are higher at both the high and low ends of the income scale, reflecting engagement in both hospitality and retail, as well as medicine and the high-tech industry;
• Though Indians make up 1 percent of the population, they comprise 8 percent of the founders of high-tech companies—and one-third of technology startups in Silicon Valley. Indians form 8 per cent of the number of doctors in the US.

In an article in Time Magazine in May this year titled: We do not come Empty Handed: The Economic Case for Immigrants, Suketu Mehta author of This Land is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto, writes “America has succeeded, and achieved its present position of global dominance, because it has always been good at importing the talent it needs.”

Economically, immigrant workers are younger, they will work longer and pay more into the system. According to a 2013 projection, immigrants, both legal and illegal, will contribute half a trillion dollars into the Social Security trust fund over the following 25 years, says Mehta. Over the following 75 years, they will contribute at an even faster rate, for an estimated total of $4 trillion.

List of countries and number of Indians. Source: MEA NRIs-and-PIOs_1

Economic factors have also lured large numbers of Indians to the Persian Gulf, particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is home to 3.1 million Indians. The number of Indians living in the UAE and other countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Oman has increased fourfold in the space of a decade, from 2 million in 2005 to more than 8 million in 2015, writes Rooney.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, a minister, has said Indians in the UAE had distinguished themselves in education, finance, banking, health care, communications, engineering and businesses.

“India must be proud of that,” he said. “They have represented their country in the finest possible fashion. Indians who crossed the Arabian Sea to live and work in the UAE have strengthened the flourishing relationship between our two countries, friendship, trust and cooperation that Indian and Emiratis enjoy here. We rejoice in being India’s largest trading partner.”

Spirituality binds the world as a family: Sri Sri Ravishankar

“Technology has shrunk the world into a global village and it is spirituality that will bind us as a family. Though information is now available on fingertips, a human touch is indispensable for education,” spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar said at a recent FICCI meet on education. Sri Sri Ravishankar is 20th in our list of Bangalore's Global Icons.

Living close to the Art of Living Ashram on Kanakapura Road in Bangalore, I have frequently got to meet Sri Sri Ravishankar or Gurudev as he is known to his followers. Always smiling, he is ready with a wave and good word, no matter how many people are surrounding him. Being outside the Sri Sri fold, it has been wonderful to observe how one man has created a presence abroad by promoting India’s message of peace through Yoga, Ayurveda and his signature programme Sudarshana Kriya which teaches a stylised form of meditation based on ancient Indian meditation techniques.

Many of us who have heard him know that it is not as much about what he says as his very evident charisma and the work that he does which draws people to him. Bharat Iyer, a schoolmate, gave up a plush job at IBM a few years ago to work on AOL’s corporate outreach programme. He says that Sri Sri’s mediation abroad has got him as much acclaim as his role in the recent Ayodhya verdict.

Apart from the political role that he has played, AOL is responsible for planting 10,000,000 trees around the world, 5,688,000 people have been benefited through free stress-relief workshops, through the prisoner rehabilitation programme 200,000 inmates have been transformed, 40,000 villages reached with the health program, 6,000 farmers trained in in organic farming, and 2,582,500 people benefited through hygiene and medical camps.

Bharat took us on a tour of the AOL campus recently. Things that are not very well known struck us, like the number of free schools started across India. Over 53,361 students receive free education in 422 schools across 20 states of India.
The Ved Vignan Maha Vidhya Peeth (VVMVP) was the first rural school started by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 1981. One of the students was a young girl called Priyanka. She studied from 8th to 10th standard, topped the school 10th standard exams, went on to do a diploma course in Electrical & Electronics and then got a job in Bengaluru Metro Rail Cooperation Ltd. She piloted the 1st Bangalore Metro as its train operator.

Bharat then takes us to the Ayurveda ‘laboratory’ just outside the Ashram. Apart from all the products produced at AOL, the doctors practicing there have the greatest reverence for the ancient science of Ayurveda.
Elizabeth Herman has had a long time interest in Yoga and Ayurveda, and has recently completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training with the Sri Sri School of Yoga. She has shared a podcast on the AOL website of an interview with world renowned master Ayurvedic physician, Vaidya R K Mishra, who was born into a 5000-year-old family tradition of Ayurvedic doctors dating back to the time of Lord Krishna. “His in-depth theoretical knowledge of this ancient science was accompanied by unparalleled compassionate and practical healing skills,” says Herman.

Sri Sri Ayurveda centers are spread across the globe. The main headquarters are located across Bangalore, India; Montreal, Canada; and Bad Antogast/Oppenau, Germany. Centers are also established in London, Hamburg and Taraska, Poland.

Life and teachings:

Born in 1956 in Southern India, Ravishankar was a gifted child. By the age of four, he was able to recite the Bhagavad Gita, and was often seen lost in thought and meditating. His first teacher was Sudhakar Chaturvedi, a scholar, who had a long-standing association with Mahatma Gandhi.

Ravishankar entered a ten-day period of silence in Shimoga in Karnataka as a teen and it is believed the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing technique, was born, out of this silence. With time, the Sudarshan Kriya became the center-piece of the Art of Living programs.

He started The Art of Living foundation as an international, non-profit, educational, humanitarian organization. Its educational and self-development programs offer powerful tools to eliminate stress and foster a sense of well-being.
In 1997, he also founded the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) to coordinate sustainable development projects, nurture human values and coordinate conflict resolution in association with The Art of Living. In India, Africa and South America, the two sister organizations' volunteers are spearheading sustainable growth in rural communities, and have already reached out to 40,212 villages.

A noted humanitarian leader, Ravishankar’s programs have provided assistance to people from a wide range of backgrounds – victims of natural disasters, survivors of terror attacks and war, children from marginalized populations and communities in conflict, among others. The strength of his message has inspired a wave of service based on spirituality through a huge body of volunteers, who are driving these projects forward in critical areas around the globe.
In 34 years, his programs and initiatives have touched the lives of over 370 million people in 154 countries.

In a recent interview with me and Sridhar K Chari, Ravishankar answered a few questions on the role of the Guru:

Who is a Guru?

A Guru walks the talk. Guru is leading by one’s own life and example. And Guru understands where the student is and understands what is needed when and where he should tighten him and where he should uplift him. The guru understands the student more than the student can understand himself or herself. And a student should not try to make the Guru know about themselves. When you try to make the Guru understand who you are then you don’t believe that he knows about you. He knows about you, you don’t need to make him understand.

Who is a shishya?

A shishya should not rely on his or her feelings. Feelings change and are ephemeral. They are impermanent. The Guru connects you with things that are deeper and far more permanent. Your feelings may go up and down. You should bundle them and keep them aside and just go with commitment. The disciple should sail through those moment of frustration. That is when the shaping is really happening. When you get over that hump you will find that growth is there. Then you definitely end up being happy.

How can one balance material life with spiritual aspirations?

They don't oppose but complement each other. Spirituality helps you achieve goals in material life. If you find success, it keeps you centered. If not, it gives you strength to move on.

MTR and Maiyas – Keeping alive traditional ‘tiffin’ and snacks

With earphones on and his i-pod playing his favourites, Sadanand Maiya, owner of Maiya’s restaurant was killing time at the airport once, as he so often did on his numerous domestic and international travels, when he saw a young Taiwanese passenger munching on a ‘noodle’ bar.
He thought of making a snack bar based on an Indian dish. That was how he came up with the idea of India’s first bhel bar! Tangy and traditional, and crispy to the last bite, the bhel bar was launched a few years ago. “It’s about reviving good old things in a new fashion,” he says.
Had he not reinvented the kodubole (a fried savoury snack famous in Karnataka), it would have gone into oblivion, he declares.
“People don’t make snacks at home anymore, so the traditional snacks are dying. You have Haldirams for North Indian snacks but nothing in South India.”

As some may prefer kodubole and others favour murukku, he says people should be offered a choice. “We enjoy these differences.”
He is a scion of the original founders of Mavalli Tiffin Room or the famous MTR. The inauguration of the first MTR in January 1960, near Lalbagh Main Gate, was marked by a seven hour concert by R K Srinivasamurthy at the venue.
The MTR website describes its story. MTR was set up near Lalbagh Fort in Bangalore by two brothers, Yajnanarayana Maiya and Ganappayya Maiya who came down from a place called Parampalli, near Udupi. In 1936 Ganappayya Maiya decided to go back to Parampalli. Yajnanarayana Maiya now assumed full charge of the restaurant. It was originally called ‘Brahmin’s Coffee House’, but the name was changed when it was shifted to a bigger premises in 1960.

MTR is our Bangalore Global Icon number 19. In 1950, Yajnarayana Maiya undertook a European tour to see for himself how restaurants in other parts of the world functioned. The cleanliness and hygiene there opened his eyes. He resolved that MTR would adhere to the same standard of cleanliness. He distributed small booklets on health, proper eating habits and recipes. He introduced the system of sterilization of kitchen items. He also introduced the system of opening up the kitchen to the scrutiny of any customer who was interested. In fact, for a long time customers entered the restaurant through the kitchen so that by default they saw with their own eyes the hygienic methods of food preparation.

In 1968 Yajnanarayana Maiya passed away and the reins of the restaurant was taken over by his nephew, Harishchandra Maiya. Yajnanarayana Maiya’s son, Sadananda Maiya also joined in a few years later.

In 1976, when the Emergency was declared, the government called five of the most well known restaurants in the city – including MTR – and told them that they had to reduce the prices of the food at their restaurants according to government approved rates, to bring it within the reach of the common man.

The prices of the items were to be the same in all the restaurants. Some restaurants paid up, others started compromising on the quality. MTR did neither. MTR kept the quality of the food as high as ever and put up a board stating the losses for the day outside the restaurant. MTR continued in this way for 16 days. On the 16th day it closed down. During this time, MTR opened a small departmental store next to the hotel and started making and selling mixes for rava idli and other items. The restaurant opened again once the Emergency was lifted.
In 1994 the company split into two divisions. The packaged food business was taken over by Sadanand Maiya and the restaurant was continued by Harishchandra Maiya. MTR Foods, the packaged food division, was sold to Orkla of Norway in 2007.

Today the MTR restaurant still stands in the same place it did more than 50 years ago. Harishchandra Maiya passed away in 1999. The business is now run by his three children – Hemamalini Maiya, Vikram Maiya and Arvind Maiya. From a standalone restaurant, MTR expanded into a restaurant chain, as the second branch in Rajaji Nagar was inaugurated in 2004. MTR opened its first international restaurant in 2013 in Singapore.
There are nearly 2,500 walk-ins each day during the weekends, apart from around 1,500 others who drop by just for coffee. Public holidays and Sundays see MTR serving nearly 1,000 masala dosas, 800 plates of rava idli, 800 plates of poori, with about 300 litres of milk used. Nearly 200 litres of onion sambar, and vegetable sambar are prepared each weekend, reports the Hindu.

Sadanand Maiya has clung to his purist tastes. “I can explain this with my own example. I am a ‘food’ man, I should not go into real estate. In food so many new things are happening, but as a group we have stuck to tradition.”

Asked if he has ever thought of coming up with an innovative name for a traditional snack, based on a Karnatic raga, Maiya’s eyes light up. Maybe we will soon chew on a Karaharapriya or a Shuddha Dhanyasi….

Saraswati embodies Science and Music in Bali

By Radhika Srinivasan

While the West may still grapple with the problem of reconciling religion with science, here’s a community that has carved a singularly unique concept in Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of Science and Art. Sara is essence and swa means the self and hence Dewi Saraswati is the embodiment and essence of the Self represented by the goddess’s vehicle, the swan, says one interpretation. Another says, Saras is the flow of the river of knowledge and wati is the one who rules and guides that flow. Yet another interpretation refers to this queen of wisdom as Swarawati, she being the fountain source of all Balinese music.

Whichever way one looks at this Hindu inspired Balinese goddess, she evokes awe and inspiration like none else. Being Brahma’s manifested shakti, Saraswati naturally is endowed with all the attributes that the Hindu in India associates her with. But, in Bali, she is more specifically the goddess of Science, being endowed with the discriminating wisdom, Viveka and Vijnāna. Yet, she is beyond both, epitomizing Prajnāna, reminding us of the Upanishadic Mahāvākya, Prajnānam Brhma.

The two front arms indicate her activity in the physical world and the two back arms signify her presence in the spiritual world. The four hands represent the four elements of inner personality. The mind manas, is represented by the front right hand, the intellect buddhi by the front left hand, the conditioned consciousness chitta by the rear left hand, and the ego ahankara by the rear right hand. The left side of the body symbolizes the qualities of the heart and the right side symbolizes activities of the mind and intellect.

Saraswati is not just a goddess of learning, as reflected in the lontar leaf she holds; she is herself the body of sacred music in Bali, having all the seven notes as strings tightened around her slender, nubile form. Captured in a charmingly stylized Tribhanga or deflexed dance-like pose, this shariri veena Devi emerges out of a white lotus not like a frozen icon but an enchanting personification of music and dance. Each string on her torso represents a chakra, fine-tuned to activate the universe. Through sound and movement, she springs to life, blessing the artists and scientists alike with her aesthetics and wisdom.

A festival in her honor is known as Saraswati Day, which roughly corresponds to our Saraswati puja but is based on the Pawukon or the Balinese calendar system, which celebrates her once every 210 days roughly, always falling on a Saturday, Sanischara. Pangredanan is the day before Saraswati Day. All the books and lontar (palm leaf manuscripts) are collected together, cleaned and dusted. The next day, the women get up early in the morning, clean up and decorate their home and ancestral altar called, Sangga Kemulan, and pray to Saraswati for knowledge. Children are given rest from reading or writing and in the evening, people read from their sacred classics called Malam Sastra.

The day after Saraswati Day is Banyu Pinaruh. Banyu means water and Pinaruh mean wisdom. In other words, they pray for the even flow of wisdom by taking a bath in the sea, lake or river and drink traditional herbal medicine for enhancement of the intellect. Banyu Pinaruh turns the goddess of wisdom into an art of life to the Balinese.

Saraswati is not just a goddess of learning, as reflected in the lontar leaf she holds; she is herself the body of sacred music in Bali, having all the seven notes as strings tightened around her slender, nubile form.

A temple dedicated to Saraswati is Pura Saraswati on top of the Monkey Forest, near the royal palace in Ubud, Bali. Built by the sculptor- architect Gusti Nyoman Lempad, this temple is so serene and tranquil that one is transported to Brhamloka even as one enters! The temple has a spectacular entrance gate and open stage, where dance performances are regularly scheduled in the evening. During the day, there are often ceremonial processions arriving at the temple to either celebrate the beginning of mask carving or to joyfully bring Barongs or masks back to home temples. These processions are remarkable for beautiful color and music and the entire village turns out in ceremonial Balinese dress. The youths in particular, pray for knowledge and parents pray that their children should do well in music and dance, apart from studies.

Walking down the lotus ponds on either side of the courtyard, one comes to a brilliantly carved lotus throne meant for Sanggyang Widhi Wasa, the Supreme deity. The reliefs on the walls are delicately delineated and on festive occasions, the deity Saraswati is decked and placed on the altar with very neatly arranged fruits and flowers as offerings. She is known as the Mother of the Vedas and the repository of Brahma's creative intelligence, and as the one who blends science and art into a harmonious whole.
There are restaurants and hotels named after Saraswati; villas and retreats are dedicated to her name; musical Gamelans are performed to sing her glory; artists and craftsmen fill their shops with slender rosewood and ebony wood figurines of Saraswati, integrating art and religion with every aspect of their daily life.

Saraswati defines the whole Balinese philosophy of how the world is interrelated and interconnected, there being only one God in the world, Sanggyang Widhi Wasa. The Balinese version of Saraswati may not be very different from our own, but the manner in which she is celebrated is a humbling essay in beauty, serenity and piety.

(Article credit: Heritage Trust, Bangalore)

Wildlife persists amidst Indians due to an “inherent” tolerance

It took a herculean effort by conservationists to prevent the tiger going the way of the Dodo. They have had to tackle the running battle between wildlife and the communities living on the edges of sanctuaries, with the two fighting for space and food. This clash for existence needs to be addressed if majestic animals are to have some place they can call their own. Dr Krithi K Karanth is # 18th in our list of Bangalore’s Global Icons for her research in ensuring that India’s jungles are not Kingless.

Dr. Krithi literally grew up in the wild, in the company of her illustrious father Ullhas Karanth, one of India’s most well-known tiger biologists. She spent long hours watching animals, and saw her father collar the tigress Sundari, twice at Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka. Her childhood is reminiscent of the boy brought up in the jungle by wolves, and the roar of the tiger in a dark forest.

India is home to 40 per cent of the world’s tigers, has all of the Asian elephants, the last remaining 500 lion tailed macaque are found only in the Western Ghats, and Dr Krithi’s research shows existing species which haven’t been seen in several decades and also discovering new species not seen anywhere in the world. However, with only 4 per cent of land dedicated to wild life there have been cases of man-animal conflict when animals have stepped out of the wild.

Dr Krithi has conducted extensive research on conservation issues in India since 2001 focusing on mammal extinctions, effects of anthropogenic pressures, voluntary resettlement of people, tourism trends, human-wildlife conflicts, resource and land use change around Indian parks. She has published scientific articles in several international journals and co-edited a special issue on conservation issues in India for Biological Conservation. She currently works with the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), National Centre for Biological Sciences and Columbia University.

Under the leadership of Dr K Ullas Karanth, Dr Krithi’s father, CWS has conducted path-breaking research on the ecology and population dynamics of tigers, leopards, elephants and other Indian large mammals. CWS’s tiger project which originated in Nagarahole (and grew to several parks across India) is the world’s longest running big cat project in the world- with over 800 individual tigers identified, says the CWS website. CWS has been a leader in the fields of radio-telemetry, advanced field survey methods, animal population modelling and estimation. Its contributions to wildlife science includes methodology for safe capture and immobilisation of wild tigers and leopards, occupancy sampling, development of innovative models and protocols for matching stripe/spot patterns, and genetic identification of individual tigers and bio-geographic taxonomy of tigers – many of which have been adopted as standard practice by scientists across the world.

Supported by the Science for Nature and People Partnership, Dr’s Krithi Karanth, Ruth Defries and Ullas Karanth lead a project that will help decision-makers plan for infrastructure development while maintaining connectivity of the landscape, says the CWS website. The projects lens extends specifically to landscapes critical for conservation in India: central India and the Western Ghats. Both of these landscapes are facing severe development pressures from road, rail, dams, energy infrastructure, human settlements and mining projects. An advisory group comprised of high-level, key national and state-level decision makers from the relevant sectors, including highway, mining, and energy sectors, and conservation scientists are collaborating with a working group to carry out analyses of options for maintaining connectivity based on experiences in India and internationally, including costs and effectiveness of different strategies.

CSP speaks to Dr Krithi Karanth on her passion for conservation, her research and her love for science.

How has your childhood influenced the work that you do?

My father, Dr. Ullas Karanth – a wildlife biologist, and conservationist – took me to several national parks when I was about two years old. I used to spend hours watching animals! As I was growing up, I was inspired by observing the scientific process first hand- from the way he relentlessly sought knowledge, always strived to ask important scientific questions, gathered and analysed large scale data and creating one of the largest citizen science programs in India. Gradually, I started learning about the challenges in conservation. So, despite gaining exposure and insight about wildlife, I remained rather apprehensive about joining this field. It is extremely demanding, and can also be volatile. One’s work has the potential to impact thousands of lives (and not just humans). In my younger years, I dreamt of becoming an architect or a lawyer. But my enduring love for science brought me back to the wild.

How can India become a wildlife tourism destination like Africa? What needs to be done in terms of promotion and sustainable living for locals?

 Currently, much of India’s tourism is focused wholly on the 5% of wildlife areas fully controlled and managed by the government. We need to implement and widen this to include community reserves and privately owned reserves similar to what has been done in Africa. Only then will benefits from tourism truly reach people who live close to wildlife.

 Would you say that India's reverence for nature is expressed in her people's approach to conservation?

 Yes, in many ways. My research over the last 21 years has established that people are generally tolerant of losses such as crop damage, livestock predation which they incur frequently from wildlife and wildlife persists amidst people in many parts of India due to this “inherent” tolerance people have.

 Are man-nature conflicts on the increase or decline? Have we found methods to reduce instances?

Our research evaluated multiple mitigation options used by people across the country and found that most were not working. (see the scientific paper by Karanth and Kudalkar 2017 at:  

Preventing loss of crops, threats to livestock, damage to property, and human injury and death attributed to wildlife are conservation challenges. We surveyed over 5,000 households around 11 reserves in India to examine these issues and mitigation efforts. Crops were lost by 71% of households, livestock by 17%, and human injury and death were reported by 3% of households (losses attributed to 32 species). Households deployed 12 mitigation measures with night time watching, scare devices, and fencing which was used the most. The effectiveness of compensation payments in mitigating and resolving human-wildlife conflict is debated not only in India but globally.

We evaluated procedures, and payments made for wildlife related incidents reported in India between 2010 and 2015 (Karanth et al. 2018 paper: http://: ). Among India's 29 states, 22 (76%) compensated for cross loss 18 (62%) for property damage, 26 (90%) for livestock depredation, and 28 (97%) for human injury or death.   

In 2012–2013, a total of 78,656 conflict incidents were reported from 18 states with complete data. Of these incidents, 73.4% were crop loss and property damage, 20% livestock predation, 6.2% human injury, and 0.4% human death. In 2012–2013, payments totaled $5,332,762 (ranging from $0 for no reported incidents in Tripura to $1,956,115 for 36,091 incidents in Karnataka). The average expenditures per incident were $47 for crop and property damage, $74 for livestock, $103 for human injury and $3224 for human death. These numbers underestimate the total extent of conflict because of low reporting rates and unavailability of complete records from all states.

 We find that the average expenditures per incident underestimates the “true” cost of conflict. This is because of low reporting rates and unavailability of complete records from all states. There are a lack of policies in some states, while others have low payment amounts but high transaction costs. Despite an important Indian government mandate supporting compensation payments in our country, there are inconsistencies in eligibility, application, assessment, implementation, and payment procedures across states. Ensuring that compensation reaches all affected people requires standardising these processes in a transparent, efficient way, while also monitoring its perceived benefits to wildlife conservation.

Our Wild Seve programme was hence developed to build tolerance towards wildlife by providing quick and simple access to government mandated compensation schemes. A toll-free helpline, advertised throughout the landscape, allows farmers to contact the project. Trained field staff are dispatched to the site of the incident, and document the case. People then file a compensation claim with the state forest department on behalf of the farmer. This project addresses the issues of illiteracy, lack of awareness of compensation programs, inability to navigate the government process, and inherent transactional costs faced by the villagers, and provides free and transparent access to compensation for losses incurred due to human-wildlife conflict incidents.

 What is the role of non-governmental agencies in wildlife conservation?

 NGOs are critical to wildlife conservation and research both in India and globally- they are the cornerstone of innovation. At Centre for Wildlife Studies, we have a rich history of doing cutting edge science-conservation-education and policy with many wonderful partners including universities, NGOs and other institutions from India and abroad.

 We work on many research projects that look at human dimensions of conservation- assessing patterns of species distributions and extinctions, impacts of wildlife tourism, consequences of voluntary resettlement, land use change and understanding human-wildlife interactions.

 India’s wildlife persists in protected areas that cover 5% of land and in tracts of land outside these areas. Of particular interest are human-modified agricultural landscapes and agroforestry areas (coffee, rubber, areca etc.) which harbour a diversity of birds, mammals, amphibians and other ecologically sensitive species, especially in the tropics. In collaboration with Dr. Paul Robbins and Dr. Ashwini Chhatre I have implemented an extensive research project on coffee-rubber-areca farms across 30,000 sq. km in the Western Ghats. This interdisciplinary research project established that shade-grown coffee supports 204 bird species, including 79 forest-dependent species with not many differences between arabica and robusta! This landscape-level study found that sustainable farming practices (restricting pesticides and minimising artificial fertilisers while retaining tree cover) could offer substantial benefits to birds. Similar benefits were found for amphibians, butterflies, mammals and trees.



“Ayurveda is about ‘the knowledge of life’ it does not attach its main focus to ‘disease’ – Dr John Porter

Dr John Porter is a Western trained allopathic practitioner who works and studies in international public health and for many years has been drawn towards the ancient health traditions in India and China. He asks, “Why is it that the West is unable to see the importance and depth of these extraordinary traditions with their ancient teachings and healings?”

Dr Porter was in Poonthottam Ayurvedasram in Pallakad in Kerala, recently. In a conversation with the Center for Soft Power, Dr Porter describes his journey in understanding and following Ayurvedic principles of health and well-being.

Dr Porter: “The art and science of medicine has always been important to me. How the practitioner links these parts of himself to his work and how he uses his skills to provide the most appropriate treatments for his patients, is both an art and a skill and ultimately rests in the integrity of the healer. For many years I have been working with a Chinese practitioner who has kept me well and more recently with Ayurveda practitioners who are providing me with new insights into health and well-being. Because Ayurveda is about ‘the knowledge of life’ it does not attach its main focus to ‘disease’, unlike allopathic medicine. Allopaths are constantly looking for problems and looking for things in individuals that might harbour illness. The Ayurveda practitioner and the Traditional Chinese practitioner in contrast is looking for the best in people and encouraging them to be balanced and therefore to be healthy.

Swasthya – ‘being rooted within’ is a wonderful Sanskrit word that describes health and one which I use frequently with students to try and encourage them to look inside themselves for an understanding of ‘health’. For the past two years I have been working with Indian colleagues on the concept of the 4th tier of the Health Service which is about ‘Population Self Reliance’ in health. The problem that the work force in India and other parts of the world now faces with the corporatisation of health and the increasing power of the pharmaceutical industry is that individuals have lost/forgotten the ancient traditions around food, exercise, community, relationship and nature that provide us with our support and nourishment. We no longer understand anything about our bodies and how they stay balanced if we give them the opportunity. The ‘old wives’ tales of old, have always provided people with the background knowledge for how to remain well. Most of this requires nutritious food, reasonable activity of the body, family and relationship. It rarely requires medications for any imbalances. Now, medications are the first port of call for people. Fear drives individuals towards unnecessary medications that increasingly control our lives.
Marketing of pharmaceuticals encourages people to follow the new developments in drugs, like sleeping tablets, and encourages each of us to take the ‘newest and the best tablet’ with no understanding of how potentially toxic these medications are and how we ourselves are able to balance our problems with some help from freely available knowledge and also from practitioners that are more interested in ‘healing’ than in ‘drugs’. Don’t use these drugs unless it is absolutely necessary.”

You mentioned that India is the soul of the world. In what way?

From the first time I came to India in 1994, I knew that this extraordinary country held the soul of the world. She holds it in her essence. She is ancient and contains so many different traditions, so many local traditions and so much knowledge of life and health. Her traditions remain, although they are under threat, but I believe that in the earth of the continent and in the fire, the water, the air and the ether that manifests here, there is the knowledge to transform and to re-balance the current world which is under severe strain and needs some direction and leadership particularly in the area of ecology and human balance with nature. I read Thomas Berry, the American Catholic monk of the Passionist order for encouragement on this issue, and he talks about the need to find ‘a new story of the universe’ one which helps each individual to understand why they are here in this world, in its staggering beauty and how we can give meaning to our lives through maintaining this and to help it to grow and to flourish. This is about the communication between humans and nature. What is that conversation about, what is our relationship going to be and how is it going to manifest? The soul of India holds a key in this process but it needs to start to look after its forests and its trees, its wildlife and its rivers and streams. It needs to show that all these parts of nature are parts of us human beings.

What is the quality in a doctor that you value the most? Do you find it in Ayurvedic doctors?

Integrity is the value that is most important to me in a physician. I want to know that he or she is struggling with inside themselves and with their conscience to find the most appropriate way forward for me, their patient. This is to do with balancing the art and science of medicine and it is a skill (and a value) that has been lost in the allopathic medical system and is sadly also now disappearing in the Ayurveda system as well.

What has brought you to Ayurveda? How is it different from tropical medicine which you practice?

Ayurveda is not about disease and that is one of the reasons that for me it is very important. It is about ‘life’ and the ‘knowledge of life’. The ancient system has so much to teach current allopathic physicians like me about ‘health’ and ‘wellbeing’. This information and knowledge has been available for thousands of years but we are currently too arrogant to listen and to remember. I believe that we have little humility and ability to listen deeply to these ancient texts and ancient wisdom. Ayurveda has already discovered so much through scientific process but our current arrogant mono-perspective in ‘science’ and the ‘scientific paradigm’ has left us at a loss. Sometimes I wonder if it is simply because I or we (ie the medical profession) are too frightened of this ancient knowledge and that we are concerned that it may have some truth within it! In which case, what are we doing with our scientific paradigm. What are we missing and what are we not giving to our patients?

One of the most important areas where allopathic practice is lacking is in knowledge of the body. We have some idea of the body ‘as a machine’ but we have little idea and no knowledge of the subtleties of how the body is overseen and directed by soul and spirit and these remarkable energies that are well known in the Yoga tradition and in Ayurveda as well as in local health traditions. These traditions have an understanding of the integrity of the body and the balance between body, heart, mind, soul and spirit. A perspective this is distinctly lacking in allopathic medicine.

Ayurveda pays a lot of attention to diet. Other medical systems don't deal with diet and nutrition. In your view should Ayurveda supplement other systems?

I believe that all allopathic practitioners should learn the basic principles of Ayurveda before they begin to understand and be trained in the biomedical approach to disease. This would help students studying allopathy to understand that there is already ancient wisdom in Ayurveda that informs individuals about life and the way to lead a healthy existence. Diet is an essential part of this process and the traditions, particularly in the Middle and Far East make this apparent through their recipes, their nutrition and their understanding of balancing the body systems and understanding how the body systems need to balance with the environmental systems. When the seasons change for example, there is a general understanding that diet and the food contained within it, will also change. It needs to change in order to help the individual balance their life through the winter or through the summer. Nature provides us with insights all the time about what it is appropriate to eat at a particular time of the year. After all, the food that grows at that time of the year is obviously the food that needs to be eaten to balance life, the immune system and to keep the individual healthy. Our current technological age has transformed this process by giving us strawberries in winter and sprouts in the summer, leading to a loss of understanding and knowledge in the population about the best way to balance their life and their health. Time is no longer seen as a phenomenon that happens ‘inside ourselves’ it is seen as something that is produced and controlled from ‘outside ourselves’ leading to a technological manipulation of the perspectives on the balances of the earth and its rhythms. The stresses that this causes the body lead to disease and a lack of body integrity. Ayurveda has much to teach us about this phenomenon and how we can learn to balance ourselves and to lead a healthy life through a strong relationship and understanding of nature.

How many years have you been coming to India? What are your impressions of India?

I have been coming to India for more than 25 years. I was born in Trinidad and was brought up alongside many different ethnic groups, including Asian, Black and Chinese, so Indian traditions have always been part of my life and my soul. When I first came to India in 1994 and arrived in Mumbai, the smells, the heat and its essence reminded me of my homeland. But something that was different was the peace that prevailed in me when I arrived in Kerala. I would walk along to road near my hotel wondering why I felt so peaceful and tranquil when I did not know where I was! This feeling, this essence used to be an important part of my visits here, but this essence has gradually disappeared. I can find it again sometimes, particularly in rural indigenous communities or in communities that are deeply connected to nature, the forest and to plants. So it is still here for me, but the towns and cities have become more like those in the West, which for me does not have the same essence of soul and spirit.

Which Indian herbs do you like?

I am interested in all the herbs and am trying to find out more about them. In the Ayurveda perspective, I tend towards a pitta vata imbalance. I am a strongly pitta person with lots of fire but I lack the fluidity and grounding of water so look to the herbs to help me with this. As a pitta person I need to eat sweet, bitter and astringent food and the herbs that encourage that process. For example, I now take turmeric and ginger in the mornings at breakfast. I also work with coriander and cumin and am slowly learning more about other herbs like parsley, mint and fenugreek,

What about the entire Ayurveda system of oil massages? How does that work for you?

Ayurveda has taught me so much about the body and about my body. I only have one body and I need to look after it. It is very precious, something that is very precious that has given to me for this lifetime. ‘The body does not lie’ so says Gabrielle Roth one of my teachers and over time I have realised that this statement is true, that the body does hold everything and does teach me everything if I am prepared to listen, to practice and to enjoy. Ayurveda massage has been an important way for me to access my body and to learn from it. It tells me when it is balanced and when it is not. It tells me when it is feeling alright and when it is not and it tells me that it is always there for me when I need it. It is with me when I go to sleep and it there with me when I wake up. Isn’t that amazing!

The Abhyanga massage with oils provided a wonderful mode of healing. The nutrition in the oils and the skill of the therapist provide me with a healing opportunity if I am prepared to take it and to work with it. It is not always easy, in fact it is usually not easy. All is change, when there is pain, when there is confusion, I can come back to my body for information and for knowledge as to ‘how to take the next step’ and ‘how to look for the true move that will bring me back to balance and to wholeness’.

Vrindavani Vastra- Travel Across Time, Space and Cultures

By Aparna Misra

Aesthetic sensibility, as Abhinavgupta says, is nothing but a capacity of wonder more elevated than the ordinary one. An opaque heart does not wonder: non obstupescit - Raniero Gnoli, paraphrasing Abhinavgupta

Vrindavani Vastra which was on display at the British Museum a while ago will move the opaquest of the hearts to ecstasy. You stand before it eyes wide open, gaping, mouth drooling (metaphorically), trying to identify the motifs stretched before your eyes…. is that a Bakasura, and over there is that a Kalia daman scene? Scenes look familiar and yet strange because you have never seen anything like this in your life….Ever! The tapestry before you is unsurpassed in beauty, unmatched in vibrancy and vigor in weaving the dramatic exploits of Krishna in warp and weft in a style called Lampa – the mother of all weaving styles!

You wrack your brains and wonder whether it can be called a craft or is it art most sublime only because you have read that weaving is classified as craft! But how can this chronicler of Krishna’s stay in Vrindavan woven in a style now extinct, in which every motif seems to jump out of its skein, be classified as craft?

For you the wonders never cease. You try to extrapolate about the traditions of the place, those weavers and their culture from where such a heavenly weave emerged. The label says Vrindavani Vastra but is it from Vrindavan? No! It is from Assam.

You are intrigued by its peripatetic history and wonder how did it find a permanent house in British Museum? It was once in a life time chance to witness this glorious weave in a Special Exhibit organized by the British Museum. The title of the special exhibit was – ‘Krishna in the Garden of Assam: The Cultural Context of an Indian Textile. Is it another tale of colonial appropriation? How did this gigantic woven celestial saga move across time space and cultures?

What tales does it hold? What is ‘Vrindavani Vastra’?

The beauty of the weave hypnotizes one. It is woven in the finest muga silk - in colours that still look radiant. It tells the story of Krishna’s stay in Vrindawan. Krishna spent the best part of his life in Vrindawan, hence the finest silk in brightest of colours were spun to weave the story of Madhava and his exploits.

Story behind the Vrindavani Vastra

India has a rich tradition of weaving. Each region has its own unique style. The grand weaves were meant either for the royalty or for the divinity. Most of the weaving towns grew around temples. But the piece displayed at the British Museum is no ordinary piece.

The story behind this divine weave needs to be told. It is unlikely that many in our part of the world would know about it. The British Museum displays not only a great textile but also a whole textile tradition, in fact — that came from Assam some 400 years or more ago. This ancient Assamese textile is over 9 meters long (length 937 centimeters and width 231 centimeters) and is the largest surviving example of this type of textile anywhere in the world
It is a piece the like of which you do not see now. It hangs in few museums around the globe. Those weavers and those times are gone. You try to speculate about those times, those weavers and the underlying faith that inspired men to weave an art so sublime that it transcends human limitations and makes it appear effortless and blessed!
Three things, if it can be simplified, were responsible for the creation of this heavenly weave; leadership of Srimanta Sankardeva, the socio-cultural factors of 16th century Assam and patronage by a transformed king.

Creative Forces behind the Vrindawani Vastra

The Vrindawani Vastra owes its exitence to one man – Srimanta Sanakardeva, born into the Shiromani (chief) Baro –Bhuyans family at Alipukhuri near Bordowa in 1499 in Assam. The Vastra had a key role to play played a key role in his scheme of his Eksaharana movement. If you try to contextualize Sanakardeva in the times in which he was born then you can understand the inevitability of this divine tapestry. He was born in fifteenth century. It was a time of conflict and churning. It was also a time of resurgence, revival of simple faith, simple literature and a direct connect with masses through bhakti. This was the time when saints like Nanak, Mirabai, Kabir, Ramananda, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu were showing the path of bhakti.

Sankardeva was a child of these times. He craved for a simple faith, a simple religion that could heal the Assamese society torn apart by orthodoxy, sectarianism and fanaticism. In the course of his travels he witnessed the Bhakti movement sweeping across the country.
His own inclination towards surrender to a personal God through sadhna and bhakti found resonance with the Neo- Vaishnavite movement. It is said that Jaganath Mishra’s narration of Bhagavatam at Puri opened his eyes to single minded devotion to Krishna. Sankardeva disapproved of idol worship. In the nomghars the focus of worship was Bhagvata Purana. Srimanta harnessed art for cause of spreading the message of Eksharana. A devotional song (borgeet) a spectacle of high melodrama (ankiya nat ) actors traversing the stage in masks, a homely verse for community chanting, a dance portraying the life of the Lord (sattriya ) would all become vehicles for propagation of his faith. Krishna was the sole worshipful, single minded refuge in him would lead to salvation and bliss. Ek sharana was Sanakardev’s dharma.

In the Nomgharas, the Vaishnavite silks were used to cover the manuscript and were draped over the altar on which the Bhagwata Purana was placed. This was the significance of Vaishnavite silk in Eksharna.

But the stunning display of Vaishnawite silk at the British Museum tells you in bold letters that this was not an ordinary altar peace.

Story of Royal Patronage

Any great piece of art is a product of unique factors of its time. It is also a reflection of those times. Vrindavani Vastra is a stellar example of leadership of Sankardeva and the society of his times and to what glories ordinary mortals are capable of when inspired! It immortalizes the king, the saint, the weavers of Tantikuchi and the spirit of bhakti that made this creation a possibility.

Katha Guru Charita, a chronicle of events during the saint's lifetime, gives the genesis of Vrindavan Vasta: It was woven at the behest of the King Narnarayan and his brother, Chairali. During his visits to the Koch Behar royal court, Sankaradeva often regaled Chilarai with descriptions of the fun-filled childhood days of the young Krishna in Vrindavan. The prince was enthralled, and wished he could partake of the experience. Sankaradeva replied that, for the prince's enjoyment, he would have the narrative inscribed on cloth in a graphic form if only the king could assure him of required quantity of silk yarns of different colour! The king used his royal prerogative, assured him of the supply and appointed Sankardeva as the Bar- Bhuyan (Chief Administer) of Tantikuchi.

Royal Scroll Commences
Sankardeva kept his promise Sankardeva himself supervised the weaving of the scroll. He conceived the design, worked out the pattern in different combinations and chose the weavers of Tantikuchi to translate the ambitious project in Lampa style of weaving.
Lampa is a very intricate style of weaving in which the base cloth is woven with one set of warp and weft threads, and a design is woven with another set of warp and weft.
Imagine a tapestry woven in finest silk – Muga; in brightest colours red, black, white, yellow and green, apart from the primary colours the colours were mixed; misravarna like kacha-nila, Gaura-syama to breathe life into Krihna’s lila at Vrindawan.

Sankaradeva used his knowledge of the Bhāgavata Purāna to weave the sequence of events of Krishna-lilā. His personal expertise as a painter, artist and dramatist made this Vastra an intensely personal communication.
The weaving of the Puranic tales on a gigantic tapestry 60 yards by 30 yards took almost a year to complete!
Sankardeva himself delivered the divine vastra to the court. When unveiled the royalty was astounded to see the true-to-life depictions of Krishna’s activities in Vrindavana the exuberant colours, in woven captions, and exclaimed that the cloth had come from the heavens and the weavers were not human!!

The scrolls delivered by Sankardeava at Barpeta were separated and what is on display are four major design sequences amongst the twelve separate strips of woven silk that were stitched together. There are four different design sequences amongst the twelve separate strips of woven silk that are now stitched together. 1) the Krishna scenes – from the 10th century text of Bhagavata Purana, 2) incarnations of Lord Vishnu and 3) text – in early Assamese alphabets and is a verse from the drama ‘Kali-damana’ by Srimanta Sankardeva tells the story of the defeat of the serpent-demon Kaliya by Krishna.

Garuda- Sankardeva had the verses also woven in the fabric

The scroll at the British Museum is not the whole piece. It was lost from Barpeta and was stored in the museum as ‘Tibetan Style silks!” It is made up of 12 strips, each one different from the other and sewn together in Tibet. Now how did this Vrindavani Vastra acquire a Tibetan makeover?
Migration from the palace to the Monastery- Lamas and Lampa

The famous textile lost its royal moorings and had a second history in Tibet. The weave travelled via the route of trade or loot you do not know. How and why did this huge and heavy textile travel so far can be an excellent theme for a whodunit.

The 12 strips were taken to Tibet. They were stitched together and then re-used as a hanging in a Tibetan monastery. It was now patched with a broad border made from Chinese-style silk material and on the top part of this textile, metal rings were attached to it to suspend the textile from the ceiling or the wall. It incarnated itself as a Buddhist Thangka.It was revered because it came from the land of Buddha!
How and when did it become a part of the British Museum collection? The journey to British Museum is the final chapter in this peripatetic tale of Vrindavani Vastra….Barpeta to Tibet to London!

Journey to London
The Vrindivani Vastra was acquired by Perceval Landon, a Times newspaper reporter covering the British military expedition to Tibet in 1903-4. Landan presented the textile to the British Museum in 1905.

The exile of the Royal Textile
The celestial tapestry was lost to the world, for the next 85 years! It was stored, filed and cataloged under the category as ‘Tibetan Silk Lampas’ – as Tibet was their last known place of origin! Finally by a quirk of fate and persistent efforts of Rosemary Crill, Curator of the Indian Department of London’s Victoria & Albert (V & A) Museum, the Tibetan identify the ‘Tibetan Silk Lampas’ as Vrindavani Vastra from Assam in 1992.
The exhibition opened in May 2016 titled- Krishna in the Garden of Vrindavan.

Standing in front of this piece you ponder over its journey. Feeble attempts have been made by the Indian government to get the Vastra back but you know that it is not coming back. You give a long lingering final look at the exuberant divine saga and step out in the London rain! You know for sure that it is going to enthrall you, haunt you and it will appear before that inward of your eyes as Wordsworth had so knowingly said! You will see the demon Bakasura being slayed by Krishna, you will hear the tapping of the Sattriya dancers, the humming of Borgeet will surround you and there will be no escaping from Sankardeva and his divine Vrindavani Vastra. After all it is Krishna and who can run away from him, more pertinently does anyone want to?

(This story first appeared in Virasat-e-Hind. The author is an avid travel and culture writer who loves to trace the history of Indian weaves and temples)

Ghatam Vikku Vinayakram in conversation with CSP

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