Annual Report of Center for Soft Power 2020-21

Center for Soft Power (CSP) is a platform for Indic art, cultural traditions and knowledge systems and seeks to appeal to conscious citizens around the world through - Vedanta, Yoga, Ayurveda, Cuisine, Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Textiles, Handicrafts, Languages, Literature and Indic Knowledge Systems, as they offer solutions to many of the global challenges we face today.

The Center is lead by Smt Vijayalakshmi Vijayakumar, Director. Aparna Sridhar, Varsha Venkatraman and Arunima Gupta form an all women team in various capacities. 

 The Annual Report for year 20-21 is given below

CSPs activities can be broadly classified into three areas – Events, Magazine and Research.

Events

Namaste 2020: Global Utsava of Indian Soft Power

Namaste 2020 was an attempt to move beyond the study of Indian Soft Power merely in terms of what India offers to the world, to a trans disciplinary exposition entailing a fusion of academic and nonacademic study of Indian Knowledge Systems, different cultural theories and practices, and how this vast wealth of knowledge operates in the globe today through different disciplines and professions.

This month long festival held between August 15 and September 6, included seminars, workshops and labs on India’s diverse traditions from mathematics to sciences, from the Vedas to Shastras, music and meditation to dance and dramaturgy, history to living art forms, cinema to culinary heritage, and technology to textiles.

The potency of Indian soft power in terms of diplomacy and value was highlighted by eminent Indian diplomats, heads of institutions and international speakers and Indologists.

The festival featured over 30 sessions, 147 speakers (35 non-Indians) and 11 diplomats,

Arunima Gupta’s article, “Celebrating Indian Soft Power,” published in USC Public Diplomacy captures the essence of the discussions at the event. Session wise reports on Namaste 2020 can be read here.

Srishti Sambhrama: Celebrating the Earth Mother

Each day, we hear of the brunt Bhumi Devi has to bear for our actions, and the repercussions we as a society face in the long run. In the first week of October, we organised Shrishti Sambhrama to discover, understand and celebrate our wildlife. The conversations spanned across people's identities, culture, community, the earth and the other living beings that inhabit it. Artists, conservationists, grassroots workers, photographers all came together to show how Indians are committed to mother nature. The one realization that Srishti Sambhrama left us with is that our natural heritage is as vulnerable and as worthy of International attention as is our cultural one, and they are connected by imagery, narratives and Indic philosophy.

We also learnt about the similarities between Vedic and Mayan Customs, impact of wildlife filmmaking in creating awareness and making individuals more connected with nature through wildlife art. Developing upon the latter, we organized three virtual exhibitions on wildlife art, wildlife photography and the reverence of the wild in Indian civilization.

Report on Srishti Sambhrama can be read here.

Ayushman 2020: The Global Significance of Ayurveda

The need to integrate Ayurvedic practices in our everyday lives, during these challenging times that has shown up the inadequacy of modern health care prompted us to dive deep into Ayurveda with Ayushman 2020.

We began the event on Dhanvantari Jayanthi and for the first time, the entire Indic Academy family collaborated towards an event. This was also the first time that all the platforms of Vaidyagrama had come together to pay homage to Dhanavantri. The festival ran for 6 weekends with 11 sessions which saw the participation of Ayurvedic practitioners, scholars and beneficiaries from around the world. Discussions spanned from the history of Ayurveda, its global presence and contemporary relevance to literature, philosophy and its adaptation by the younger generations. We had over 60 speakers from 15 countries across the globe who shared their valuable insights on these topics.

We also co-curated three virtual exhibitions along with B.E.S.T Innovation University, Ekavidya, Dravya and Indica Yoga. Dhenuh Pradarshna, dedicated to the sacred bovine animal – cow, was curated in partnership with the. Dravya Pradarshna displayed the integrated approach of Ayurveda from home remedies to medical treatment. Swasthya: Inner Balance focused on finding the inner balance, in harmony with seasons and daily practices.

To add to this enriching experience, Rukmini Vijayakumar brilliantly conveyed the essence of balancing the doshas and its bearings on one's state of mind through her dance film. Shot amidst fire and underwater, Nadi: The Balance of Elements is a work of creative excellence.

Read more on the sessions held at Ayushman 2020 - Anubhava, Pramana, Vartamana, Parivartana, Shreyasiand Nadi: Balancing the Elements.

Magazine

During the year our magazine featured over 100 interviews, four research based impact stories and 50 commentary pieces. We have reached out to a diverse set of people, some of whom may not share our value systems but who we believe should be engaged with.

Some Highlights

A country’s soft power is known when it has global reach and appreciation. This has been true for Bharat, ever since its civilizational existence. We also believe the idea of Indian Soft Power is more of Sukshma Shakti rather than a forceful 'conversion' of people to our point of view. The spread of Indian culture, ideas and values happened in several ways. The strongest evidence of this till date remains in Southeast Asia, where Ramayana has created a legacy,temples have adorned natural landscapes and civilizational values are still kept alive through symbols, traditions and festivals.

We saw a renewed interest in the studying and understanding of Bhagavad Gita, across the world.  Jeffery Armstrong’s The Bhagwat Gita Comes Alive is an endeavour to entrench Sanskrit words in the English lexicon to avoid the loss of meaning in translation and decolonize the understanding of Bhartiya Sabhyata. Another work is thecolour-coded translation of the Gita by Rutger Kortonhorst, which highlights the Sanskrit roots of many English words. Undoubtedly, Bhagwat Gita is a repository of eternal wisdom with immense offerings for individuals and communities across the world.

We learnt of Claire Diab’s efforts to introduce Yoga to the US armed forces; and the passion of H.E Walter Lindner, German Ambassador to India, in bringing together Indian and German musicians for strengthening India-German diplomatic relations. Turning towards our East, we spoke to Tokio Hasegawa about his decades-long work of protecting Madhubani art and housing over 3000 Indian artworks in Mithila Museum in Japan.

Aparna Sridhar, also writes regularly for University of Southern California. Her study on the dominance and influence of India’s incense industry is awaiting publication. Her previous publications can be read here.

Varsha Venkataraman in this year-end report, writes about the increasing awareness around Ayurveda as a field of science as well as its integration in everyday life.

Arunima Gupta writes about the several forms of crafts native to India and the potential of making India acreative and craft hub of the world.

Research:

In light of the pandemic we chose not to announce any short term research fellowships involving any field work. However we continued our emphasis on research backed pieces through our Impact section in our magazine and have published 4 reports.

Alliances & Outreach

We strongly believe in alliances and collaborations for carrying on our work. Some highlights of our outreach programme is given below

Namaste 2020 was organised in partnership with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and S-VYASA University.

For Srishti Sambhrama, we partnered with the Heritage Trust, B.N.M Institute of Technology, Artists for Wildlife and Nature (AWN), British Deputy High Commission in Bengaluru, International Center for Cultural Studies and the Wildlife Trust of India.

Our collaborators for  Ayushman 2020 were AVP Baltics, AVP Research Foundation, Vaidyagrama, Punarnava, Ekavaidya, Dravya and B.E.S.T University.

We produced Nadi: The Balance of Elements, in collaboration with Indica Pictures and Radha Kalpa Dance Company. It was co-sponsored by Shri Ravi Mantha, Shri Anshul Saigal, B.E.S.T University, Darshan, International, Madhavi Greens & EGA Wellness, and, supported by Summer Islands Maldives.

Apart from overseeing the activities of CSP, Smt Vijayalakshmi Vijayakumar, has also been involved in several outreach efforts involving our heritage:

  • She has been a facilitator in two major shrines of India, one in the South and one in North India, in creating partnerships for incense production units. These projects are at a nascent stage and a detailed announcement will be made soon.
  • She took part in Women’s Day seminars held by several agencies in India including Uttar Pradesh Youth Thinkers Forum titled Shakti Tales that Inspire India, and the Federation of Motor Sport Clubs of India where she spoke on Regulation Rallies and World Forum of Education’s event - Rural Empowerment through Education Training and Empowerment.
  • She is actively working on establishing an archery school and promoting Ayurvedic farming in collaboration with other Universities.

We are thankful to all our colleagues at other Centers and Platforms and special mention must be made of  V.Srinivas and Koti Ramprasad for their untiring back end support in organising all our events.

Team Center for Soft Power

Smt Vijayalaskhmi Vijaya Kumar, Aparna, Varsha and Arunima