Indian-ness in 21st Century: Seminar organised with Pondicherry University

Date: August 21, 2023

Venue: Sri Aurobindo Society

Click HERE for Seminar Photo Gallery

The Renaissance journal team, on behalf of Sri Aurobindo Society, planned and organised an insightful and thought-provoking seminar on “INDIAN-NESS IN 21st CENTURY” in collaboration with Chair of Sri Aurobindo, Pondicherry University. The seminar held on 21st August 2023 at Sri Aurobindo Society celebrated 150 years of Sri Aurobindo where several attendees gathered to delve into the multifaceted concept of “Indianness” and its evolving significance in the 21st century. The seminar brought together scholars, cultural experts and over hundred enthusiastic students from Pondicherry University, to examine the various dimensions of Indian identity in today’s globalized world. The main aim was to uncover and understand the importance of perception, expression or feeling of being an Indian socially, culturally and spiritually.

The day’s programme was anchored by Dr. Beloo Mehra and Ms. Gayatri Majumdar. After the opening Invocation to the Divine Mother,  Shri Pradeep Narang, Chairman, SAS, delivered the welcome address. He briefly touched upon the significance of the topic in today’s context and encouraged the young students to meaningfully engage with the perspectives that the speakers would share throughout the seminar.

This was followed by the keynote address on ‘What is Indianness?” delivered by Shri Matriprasad of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Emphasising the idea of cultural unity of India which has given to a unique sense of Indian identity, he recounted multiple legends and stories ranging from Nachiketa’s quest from Kathopanishad, Kaildas’s invocation of India in his epic ‘Kumarsambhavam,’ to the historical significance of Kanyakumari and post-independence struggles to unite modern nation of India. These citations enriched the understanding of the concept of Indianness. He drew attention to the remarkable diversity within India’s borders and the inherent unity that binds its people together. Through several historical and mythological narratives, he revealed how Vindhyachal mountain range serves merely as a line of demarcation rather than a terrain of division between northern and southern parts of India. Several interesting questions and comments from the students enriched this session for all.

Dr. Beloo Mehra, Editor, Renaissance and Senior Academic Mentor, Sri Aurobindo Society was the next speaker who shared some thoughts on the topic “Indian Identity and Nation’s Unity.”  Referring to the five dreams of Sri Aurobindo which were broadcast as part of his ‘Fifteenth of August, 1947’ message at All India Radio, she highlighted the first dream of ‘Free and United India’. She remarked that India attained her political freedom 77 years ago but unity is still wanting. She highlighted that Sri Aurobindo emphasised that the partition of India must not be considered a settled fact forever and a deeper unity must come about. Sri Aurobindo wanted Unity of India for the sake of Humanity. She also shed light on the idea that a deeper Indian-ness can be inculcated through a culturally grounded model of identity and personality development we find in Indian spiritual traditions. For example, we have Tantra’s description of Pashu – the animal Consciousness, Veera- the warrior Consciousness and Deva – The divine Consciousness which is the stage of self-actualization. Another way to look at deeper identity development could be from the Bhagavad Gita’s description of Daiva and Asura prakriti. She highlighted some of the qualities of divine nature that we must cultivate in order to develop a true Indian-ness. Finally, she highlighted the Vedic description of Aryan character to bring out the essential Indian-ness.

After a short snack break, the seminar resumed with a short talk by Ms. Gayatri Majumdar, poet, editor and Renaissance author, on the topic “Tagore – A bridge between India and the West”. She began with the mention of “Namoskar” poem written by Rabindranath Tagore dedicated to Sri Aurobindo. She highlighted Tagore’s concept of Universalism and his vision of human unity, using examples of some of his writings and travels across the world. He believed that world peace could be achieved when east and west meet together.  She alluded upon ‘Phule Phule Dole Dole’ song by Tagore which had Scottish influence, to bring about the idea of creativity that happens when cultures come together. Referring to Tagore’s last essay “Sabhyatar Sankat (Crisis in Civilization)” in which he chastised the British for denying Indians access to modern machines and technology that would make them self-sufficient, she remarked that the kind of patriotism Tagore felt and advocated was not hyper-nationalistic in a narrow sense but went deeper to the essential Indian-ness. She concluded by reading Tagore’s famous poem from Gitanjali, titled – Where the Mind is Without Fear.

Dr. Richa Tiwari, Chair of Sri Aurobindo, Pondicherry University then spoke about how each of the sessions on the concept of Indianness had uniquely contributed to the depth of our understanding of Sri Aurobindo. She highlighted that one way to understand Indianness from the perspective of Sri Aurobindo can be through four cardinal Indian powers of spirituality, intellectuality, vitality and skills. She also spoke about the memorandum of understanding (MoU) that will soon be signed between Pondicherry University and Sri Aurobindo Society. The MoU will be a partnership built on trust and responsibility. Through this MoU, internships, workshops, seminars, sports events will become avenues for transformation. Dr. Tiwari also spoke about beginning elective courses for all students of Pondicherry University. Specialised courses on Sri Aurobindo’s social and political thought and principles of integral education have been designed to give more than theoretical knowledge and opportunity to engage in real-world problems. The MoU consists of various other opportunities and scope for scholars and academicians from both parties in vision to uphold highest values of humanity.

The next session was a Panel Discussion on “Indian Identity in an Evolving World”. The panelists were two members of Auroville, Ms. Deepti Tewari, who is an enthusiast in Integral education and Mr. Jean Yves Lung, researcher in the field of History, Sociology and Sanskrit. The session was moderated by Dr. Nanda Kishore, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, Pondicherry University. Dr Nanda Kishore started the panel discussion by highlighting India as “Land of seekers not believers”. The discussion was taken ahead by the first panelist Ms. Deepti Tewari. She began her speech by quoting Sri Aurobindo – “India is the only place in the world which is still aware that something else than matter exists. The other countries have quite forgotten it: Europe, America and elsewhere….That is why she still has a message to preserve and deliver to the world. But at present she is splashing and floundering in the muddle.” She put forth the idea that India views a person as soul which is more than the matter. Alien control (colonisation) made the Indians realise who are they actually. She further illustrated the 3 master ideas given by India and Indians to the world — the idea of oneness, Yoga and the idea of Dharma (action based on self nature).

The second panelist, Mr. Jean Yves Lung from Auroville, has lived in India for 30 years. Though not born Indian but as one has immersed himself in Indian-ness, he brought an important perspective to the deliberations. Using an example of translating the Western term of Freedom into Sanskrit which has the word mukti he said that the whole idea of Indian concept of mukti is way beyond the social, political or outer freedom as brought forth through the French Revolution. With this example, and a few others he highlighted how the essence of Indian-ness lies in the inner freedom and an attempt to harmonise one’s freedom with others. He also spoke about the difference between Indian concept of dharma and the western concept of Law. And finally, he touched upon the significance of multiplicity leading to many pathways to find truth.

The session ended with insightful question and answers and remarkable comments from the audience that was followed by lunch.

Click HERE for Seminar Photo Gallery

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