Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture (SAFIC)

ANTARYATRA (Exploring the Inner Spirit of India) (A Program co-organized by Chetak Travels and SAFIC for the students of Centre College, Danville, Kentucky, USA)

Start Date:  15 January, 2020
End Date:   25 January, 2020
Location:  Sri Aurobindo Society

From 15th to 25th of January 2020, a unique program for a group of 14 students and two of their Professors from Center College, Danville, Kentucky, USA was organized by SAFIC in collaboration with Chetak Travels Pondicherry. 

The objective of the program was

  1. To introduce the participants to various aspects of Indian Culture through experiential learning.

  2. To help them gain an inner view of the historical march of Indian culture and civilization from the Vedic times till present.

  3. To create greater awareness and appreciation of the greatness of Indian heritage and contributions to the world of knowledge.

  4. To create an awareness about the current state of Indian culture, education and the politics behind it.

The group arrived on the 14th morning and visited the French consulate. In the afternoon a heritage tour was organized by the Chetak Travels with a professional guide,  Pondicherry. It was the time when the whole of Pondicherry was vibrant with the annual Pongal celebration. On 15th the group was taken to Mohanam in Auroville to participate in the celebration of Pongal in its traditional way. They were all welcomed in the Mohanam premises in the most traditional manner and were explained about the importance of the Pongal festival. All students were in traditional Indian attires. They experienced the bullock cart ride, played the traditional games like breaking the pot and stone lifting and enjoyed watching the performance of the village children, participated in making Kolam or sacred mandalas (drawn in front of their entrances and Gods) for ritual practices. It was most exciting for them to participate in cooking traditional food with village women and have lunch in the traditional South Indian way.

Here is the link to the video made by BBC News Tamil for broadcasting.

On 16th the group made a visit to Alliance France and Ecole France and learnt about the activities happening there with regard to the research on Indian culture and history.

On 17th morning Dr. Sampadananda Mishra, Director, SAFIC facilitated a session on Introduction to Indian Culture in which he explained to them the essential spirit of Indian culture and civilization. In the light of Indian perspective he presented a deeper view of what a culture is and how the culture in itself is a resource for overall development of a nation and its people.

On 18th morning the group made a visit to the Satya Special School which is uniquely dedicated for the systematic learning of the children with special needs. It was an amazing hands-on-experience for the group to interact with the teachers and the children of the school. In the afternoon Dr. Sampadananda Mishra conducted a session on Sanskrit to help the participants to develop a greater appreciation of Sanskrit language, possibly the most ancient language of humanity which is also considered as the source of many Indian languages. Dr. Mishra presented some key aspects of Sanskrit, particularly the scientific nature of its alphabet. One part of the session dealt with the overall system of seed-sounds or the root-sounds and word-formation. which is one of the most fascinating aspects of this language. With the help of interesting examples, the participants learnt how each and every word in Sanskrit was conscious of its origin and always referred back to the root from which it was derived.

On 19th the group made a tour to Gingee Fort (60 kms from Pondicherry), a place of great historic interest and importance. It was popularized by the Europeans as the ‘Troy of the East’. Visit to this place was much fun and educative for the group.

Gingee is one of the finest forts in South India the origin of which dates back to the 9th century A.D. when it was a stronghold of the Cholas. But the fort as it looks today is the handiwork of the Vijaynagara kings who made it an impregnable citadel. The fortified city is built on the seven hills, the most prominent of which are Krishnagiri, Chandragiri and Rajagiri. Surrounded by high walls, it was so strategically planned as to make enemies think twice before they attacked. Strongly guarded by triple gates lay equally guarded courts. The summit of the Rajagiri could not have been easily attained by the enemies. An authentic brief information about the history of this can be found here:

On the morning of 20th January the group was taken to Kalarigram, a traditional Kalaripayattu training center in Auroville founded by Shri Ramesh Lakshmanan Gurukkal. Here the group was explained about the Kalaripayattu, the traditional Indian Martial Arts which is a complete technique that encompasses the physical, mental, spiritual and medical aspects of a human being. Also all members in the group learnt the technique of Kalaripayttu from the master there.

In the afternoon the group was taken for a visit to some of the units in Auroville, one of which was Svaram, a community enterprise founded 10 years ago in rural Tamil Nadu, in association with the international UNESCO endorsed project of Auroville. SVARAM manufactures musical instruments and offers various other activities and services that contribute to the individual and social harmonization and wellbeing.  The participants had an amazing experience taking lunch at the Solar Kitchen in Auroville.

The group members from Kentucky got a brief introduction to the various educational and healing musical instruments manufactured at SVARAM. Along with the visit to the manufacturing workshop and the showroom of the musical instruments the group members also were offered an experience of sound-bath by the team at SVARAM.

On 21st morning one more Kalaripayattu session was conducted for the members of the group at the Sri Aurobindo Society premises by a teacher from Kalarigram.

In the afternoon a special session on understanding Indian Classical Dance was conducted by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, Director of the Centre for Yoga Therapy Education and Research (CYTER), and Professor of Yoga Therapy at the Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth University, Pondicherry.  This interactive session was focused on history and characteristics of Indian classical dance. Dr. Bhavanani also explained how all forms of Indian art potentiates inner experiences of the individual to find their highest expression. He also explained in detail the role of performing arts in overall human development and provided hands-on experience of the body stances, movements, rhythmic  patterns and hand gestures used in classical dance. The relationship of Yoga and dance was also elaborated by Yogacharya Dr Ananda and Smt.Devasena Bhavanani who are experts in the field of Yoga and Indian dance as well as Music.

On 22nd morning the group visited the Matrimandir in Auroville, but could not get the slots for meditation in the innerchamber. In the afternoon a session on Sciences and Traditional Knowledge was conducted by Dr. Sharanya Reddy, a freelance, a consulting scientist for global corporations.  Beginning with an introduction to the past of India, her stupendous vitality, her inexhaustible power and joy of life, her prolific creativeness, she touched upon India’s mighty intellectual and creative prowess and many-sided accomplishments. She explained the participants about the abundant contributions of the ancient Indians in the fields of philosophy, astronomy, natural sciences, mathematics, technology, medicine, literature, architecture, engineering and all kinds of visual and performing arts, much of which remains unparalleled in the history of world civilizations.

On 23rd the group visited Lycée Français and had a thorough interaction with the teachers and students there.

On 24th morning a session on Introduction to Indian Classical Arts (Architecture, Sculpture and Painting) was conducted by Dr. Shruti Bidwaikar, deputy Director, SACAR, Pondicherry. In this session, through the lens of architecture and sculpture, she explained the essential yearning of Indian classical art, its aim and approach. Why is it the physical anatomy and musculature bypassed in classic depictions of the human body? What makes an ordinary stone or metal sculpture into a deity? What makes a simple geometric diagram a doorway into altered states of consciousness? What are the gods and goddesses of Indian iconography? How do we enter into an appreciative contemplation of Indian art? These were some of the important points in her discussion.

On 25th morning the group members went for surfing at Kallialay Surf School, Pondicherry. Founded in 2009 by two Spanish brothers- Juan and Samai Reboul, Kallialay School is one of the first surf schools on the eastern coast of India. It offers all kinds of courses from beginner sessions to intensive ‘surf camps’. The group members had immense fun surfing and learned much about surfing from the master trainers at the School there.

In the afternoon the second part of the introduction to the Indian classical dance was conducted by Yogacharya Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani and Smt Devasena Bhavanani. In this session the participants learnt more about the practical aspects of the classical dance.

The program ended with a brief concluding remark by Dr. Sampadananda Mishra followed by an offering of gratitude in silence.

Mr. Vikram Dolia and Mrs Tarika Dolia, Directors, Chetak Travels, Pondicherry worked tirelessly in organizing and supervising every aspect of the program and participated personally in all events.

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