Tag Archives: tradition

Dharmic Environmentalism

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

The environment is a universal concern.

Universal environmentalism, however, is myopic, monopolistic, and hegemonic. It overlooks native and Indigenous solutions and, as such, is a recipe for disaster. 

We all relate to our surroundings differently. Present-day environmentalism, however, is based on the Western anthropocentric approach. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, anthropocentrism as a religious and philosophical doctrine holds that “human life has intrinsic value while other entities (including animals, plants, mineral resources, and so on) are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind.”

The destruction of ancient paganism was a turning point in environmentalism. Before the advent of Christianity, both as a religion and as a political power, there was no distinction between nature and the divine in the widespread pagan societies. Pagans believed in God’s transcendence in the elements of nature. The notion of the ‘sacred grove,’ however, is an alien concept in the West. Moreover, Marxism, Liberalism, neoliberalism, etc., too are an extension of the same anthropocentric ideology. They regard humankind as central and the most important in the world. 

What is considered modern and scientific in our day-to-day lives today, is based primarily on Christian theology. Implicit faith in perpetual progress dominates our lifestyle, our habits of action, and our planning for the future. Man’s destiny, within this paradigm, is to be hopeful of a future affected by science, technology, a promise of more progress, and doomsday prophecies. 

Modern technology too ends up being a means to an end. As the attitude and the will to exert dominion over nature becomes all the more urgent, the more technology threatens to slip from human control. We end up empowering our political class as they promise to make things better with newer progressive technologies as well as with catchy phrases and slogans.

Such thinking was unknown either to the pagan Greco-Roman antiquity or to the indigenous civilizations of what came to be known as the Orient. Indigenous care for nature goes much beyond the shrill of environmentalism. Such care is deeply rooted in culture, “religion,” and spiritualism. Native cultures, such as Hinduism, have a long history of living in harmony with their surroundings. They are mindful of ecological limits, constraints, and boundaries of nature and do not take from nature more than what is needed. There is an element of reverence towards the earth and other elements of nature that guides them. Native cultures have developed a complex system of using and preserving the ecology. Native American communities’ use of low-intensity controlled burns, regenerative harvesting, etc are examples of native environmentalism. 

Bishnoi Woman (Image from Permaculture News)

As for Hindus, much before any modern-day environmental protocol was ever signed, it is the Bhoomisuktam (hymn of the Mother Earth) of the Atharva Veda that provides a framework for environmentalism. Composed more than 3,000 years ago, Bhoomisuktam is considered the oldest environmental protocol. The Sukta is composed of 63 verses. These verses provide a framework of understanding as well as respecting Mother Earth and her environment. The Sukta recognizes the Earth for all her gifts such as plants and herbs; rivers and cultivable land for food; and animals for milk, honey, etc. But going a step further, the invoker of the verses declares that despite availing all those boons, he does not intend to hurt Mother Earth in any manner whatsoever. The Sukta gives to Mother Earth an assurance of rational utilization of her resources. 

Much of our interaction with the elements of nature, according to Hinduism, is guided by Dharma: the rules of ethical behavior. Such behaviors are guided not by rights, but by obligations. Pankaj Jain in his book Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities describes three communities in India that have actively and consciously worked to preserve and protect the environment as part of their cultural and religious ideology. Those communities include the Swadhyayis, Bishnois, and Bhils.

The Swadhyayis disavow environmentalism. Their mission is “to generate and spread reverence for humans, animals, trees, earth, nature, and the entire universe in general.”

Similarly, the Bishnoi community was founded by a 15th century Guru Jambheshwara who spread the teachings of conservation and living in harmony with nature. Bhils, on the other hand, have protected their sacred groves for generations. 

According to Indic environmentalist and the author of the book Good News India, DV Sridharan, “one doesn’t restore nature, one just keeps a vigil against interruption of Nature’s relentless act of creating the fair and rightful balance.” Hindus believe that when the imbalance reaches a critical point and equilibrium is broken beyond redemption, an avatār ‘unburdens’ the Earth.

Unless the ecological concerns do not empower individuals and communities worldwide to find their indigenous solutions at a more local level, the answer to such concerns will always evade us.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

The Cowboy and the Yogi: Ever-changing Traditions

“India, like America, feeds and nourishes creative individuality. Just as Americans have been inspired by the archetype of the Cowboy, who wanders the open spaces in search of a dream, so Indians are inspired by the Yogi, who wanders inner spaces in search of realization,” claims The Cowboy and The Yogi, by Teed Rockwell. For those of you who don’t know, Rockwell wrote the India Current music column for decades and I carried on for a few years after him. Thus, it was an absolute honor and delight when we had a delightful conversation about his journey into India and Indianness.  

The Cowboy and The Yogi is a glimpse into the Indian music scene over a span of roughly two decades, largely in the US, as documented by Rockwell. It is an intelligently curated collection of his own research, study, writings for his India Currents music columns, and blogs. Thus, it is a passionate, loving, intimate, insider view into Indian music combined with a sense of adventure. Sprinkled with anecdotal tidbits such as “first article commissioned by India Currents,” the book traces a path between classical music and its many representations, note-worthy performances, as well as its practitioners. Thus, the book, as Rockwell himself describes, talks about Indians and non-Indians performing Indian music, along with Indians performing non-Indian music. Chapter 9, “Indians Doing Cool Stuff” is about Roc Zonte, Gautam Tejas Ganeshan, Nitin Sawhney, Vijay Iyer, and Tony Kanal, who was one of the first people of Indian ancestry to become a Western rock star and to let the world know it.” 

Rockwell is a musician himself (enjoy his fascinating introduction to his jugalbandi-friendly “Touchstyle Veena” here) and therefore it is all the more believable when he claims that “In the area of rhythm, Indian music is totally without peer.” The Cowboy and The Yogi acts as a guide to how to listen and appreciate Indian music, deliberately, through chapters such as “Listening to Indian music,” and also through his own discoveries. Such as “In Memoriam” where he rues the fact that he got to know much about the Masters and their genius when he was asked to write their obituaries. “Yogis all, but with more than a little cowboy in each of them,” he states, of Vilayat Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, and Bismillah Khan. 

The book is also a portrait of the gurukul that existed within the campus of the AACM (Ali Akbar College of Music). Rockwell writes, “Classes included people from Germany, Argentina, …as well as Bengalis, Punjabis,…I remember a blond two-year-old who regularly came to class with her mother, and whose baby talk combined so many different languages…There was an atmosphere very like an Ashram…spiritually devoted to profound and enigmatic music.” 

Rockwell, a Buddhist now, then does a CowBoy-Yogi-combined on you, as he dons his scholar lens and delves into Islam. This is poignant since many of the Masters of Indian music are of the Muslim faith. “I read the entire Koran in different translations, studied histories of both Muhammad’s life and the Islamic political empires, and read commentaries on the Koran and Hadith [the sayings attributed to Mohammed]. As a result of these studies, I have concluded that although many horrible things have been done in the name of Islam, a careful reading of Islamic sacred texts reveals that these behaviors are contrary to the teachings of Muhammad and to the most intelligent people who follow his spiritual path.” 

The book is a must-read for those who seek soul-food, an intellectual-nudge, a musical historical journey, and an emotion-drenched read.  

Here is an excerpt from our interview, the video can be found below:

IC: Tell us about how you got started with India and Indian music. 

TR: In the West, there is a lot of interest in Orientalism. I grew up as a hippie in the sixties interested in an alternative to Christianity, western culture in general. But what I began to find out is that any generalization that includes both Punjabis and Koreans isn’t going to be worth much…There are tremendous differences between South Asians and East Asians, for example, and I spent a lot more time with South Asians…The thing that really got me interested in Indian Music, rather than feeling that it was some sort of meditation tool, was the band, Shakti – (John McLaughlin (guitar), L. Shankar (violin), percussionists Zakir Hussain (tabla) and T. H. “Vikku” Vinayakram (Ghatam) – live at Kennedy Center Washington D.C. I went out and bought my first set of tablas. Then I got the feeling, I got to study this! 

IC: America is “free”, but you’ve said that Indians are also free to follow their own intuition… 

TR: When I wrote my articles, people always said, oh you know the traditions never change, and people would say that’s the problem with India, that they need to be able to change their traditions. But every time I actually studied somebody who supposedly was preserving the tradition, they were always changing it! There was nobody who was just doing it the same way. You do go through this kind of training but then you always have to go through a period of throwing it off. I interviewed and did research on dozens maybe hundreds of artists when I was with India Currents; there was never anybody who wasn’t changing the tradition. They would preserve it but they would change it at the same time! Trying to operate without rules, I think it’s a real problem but having rules, recognizing that sometimes rules can be broken is a really important characteristic. Letting your intuition be more important than rules – I see that in Indians time and time again.  


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.

Six Yards of Draped Emotions

Until recently, traveling to India meant carrying a half-empty suitcase, so it could be packed with saris to be brought back to the US. But as the Indian immigrant population began to grow, the second suitcase was no longer necessary. We have gone global and so have our methods of expression. I can find any type of sari at a local shop near me, as I would in the sari shops lining the streets of Abids in Hyderabad.

The quintessential Indian drape, 6 yards of sheer fabric or the Sari, has been a trusted sakhi for all women of all ages and personalities. The word Sakhi comes from Sanskrit, meaning girlfriend – a friend with whom you shared your innermost secrets, a friend for life. South Asian women feel connected to their roots, in a foreign land, whenever we drape ourselves in a sari, our fond sakhi. We feel her embrace and forget our inhibitions. 

“Sari stores thrive in many Indian enclaves in America. Among the largest is India Sari Palace in New York, with a vast inventory from India, as well as Japan. Many in the Indian community wear mostly saris, and so there is a constant demand even in America. Just looking at the stores in ‘Little Indias’ across America indicates the sari market is thriving. In the 60s, many women were reluctant to wear saris in the US, afraid they would stand out. But in multicultural America…there seems to be a new pride in one’s roots.”, writes Lavina Melwani, “And why not? After all, there is quite as graceful as a sari.” 

The sari drape got revolutionized by Garden Vareli, a brand that used women who were modern, bold, and draped the sari in novel ways.

Garden Vareli’s marketing expert, Santosh Sood, emphasized, “We had a sari ad that celebrated the sexuality of women unabashedly, but without being vulgar. A woman does not always have to be somebody’s mother, daughter, wife or sister. She is she and that is her identity.” 

Thus began the sari revolution. It no longer was the attire of the homemaker or of the average middle class. It was a bold fashion statement. Navroze Dhondy of Garden Vareli, commented, “For the first time, it was a shift from the sari being perceived as boring, everyday wear without any sensuality to a smart, bold and sexy attire meant for the modern woman.”  

Princess Niloufer

But long before Garden Vareli, Princess Niloufer of Hyderabad and the daughters of Vijaylakshmi Pandit were refashioning the sari and making its presence known, globally. The sisters, Nayantara Sahgal and Rita Dar, after their graduation in the summer of 1947 from Wellesley College, went to Mexico on a visit and met the legendary painter and fashion icon, Frida Kahlo, and dressed her up in the traditional Indian attire.

Princess Niloufer, a Turkish princess, learnt to drape a sari when she got married to Prince Moazzam Jah, son of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1931, and was always seen in a sari even when overseas. 

The sari today has become an expression of who the person is and of their style. Women are not draping them in just the traditional way but are experimenting with their drapes. Blouses are being replaced by Crop tops and fashionable blouses, t-shirts, and jackets. Belts are being worn to hold the pleats better and some saris also have a pocket for your cell phone. The sari, itself, is being draped over pants and skirts and isn’t necessarily worn with a matching blouse. 

The function of the sari has expanded beyond the function of the home. Women are not only walking and exercising in a sari but also running marathons.

But more importantly, there are Sari Sakhis all over the world – friends who share their love of saris and its utility. The sari connects, empowers, and gives voice to South Asian women, regardless of how far apart they may be.

Saree Speaks: A Revolution

Saree Speak Members: Yogita Pradip Hudekar (right), Sunayana Mundra (middle), Namita Arora (left)

Vini Tandon Keni, sari influencer and founder of the group, Saree Speak, has managed to start a sari revolution! Founded in April 2016, the group has 144,722 women of South Asian diaspora including many celebrities and movie stars like Kalpana Iyer, Anita Kanwal, Himani Shivpuri, Indira Krishnan, and the famous designer Anita Dongre. I spoke with Vini Tandon Keni to get more insight into the sari revolution:

AM: Other than your love for saris, what inspired you to start this group? 

VT: To encourage and make draping saris more acceptable and friendly to the younger sari wearer.

AM:  Being a member of this group, I know that you not only decide the theme of each month but also encourage members to share their personal stories and stories associated with each sari. Is this why the name Saree Speak was chosen or is there another reason as well? 

VT: Speak is the common name for all my groups. Another word for ‘voice’, another word for ‘share’. When you share you add to your joy or reduce your fear.

AM:  How do you inspire your members?

VT: We try to promote the unconventional styles that have come up, to add interest to the sari. Give it a variety, make it the fashion-forward.

Sari Stands

The sari has withstood the test of time, the pressures and struggles. It has fought to keep its place against the salwar kameez, trousers, jeans, capri, churidar, tights, and the palazzos, and became its own entity. And as Tandon says – every sari has a story. Just as we wear our scars, we women wear our saris, close to our hearts with pride and with joy. 

So we drape ourselves in six yards of fabric, layered with our emotions, identities, and voices. We remain wrapped in the warm embrace of our sakhi, our friend, our modern armor – our sari.

Anita R Mohan is a poet and writer based in Fairfax, Virginia.

Shen Yun 2020 World Tour to San Francisco Bay Area – A Gift From Heaven

Back in ancient China, people once held that their magnificent culture was a gift from the heavens. Art was a way to explore this connection between humankind and higher realms. Today, Shen Yun is reviving this tradition. Through the universal language of dance and music, Shen Yun weaves a wondrous tapestry of celestial paradises, ancient legends, and modern heroic tales, taking you on a journey through 5,000 years of authentic Chinese culture. 

Shen Yun combines ancient legends with technological innovations, historically authentic costumes with breathtaking animated backdrops and classical Chinese dance with expressive storytelling, to share with you beautifully diverse ethnic and folk traditions. Filled with an enchanting orchestral sound, this is a mesmerizing experience you won’t find anywhere else. 

Shen Yun cannot be seen in China today, where traditional culture has been devastated under decades of communist rule. Yet Shen Yun, a nonprofit based in New York, is now bringing the wonders of this ancient civilization to millions of people across the globe. The stunning beauty and tremendous energy of the performance are leaving audiences uplifted and deeply inspired. 

See for yourself why Shen Yun is leaving millions around the world in awe, and why they return again and again. 

“An extraordinary experience. Exquisitely beautiful.” – Cate Blanchett, Academy Award-winning actress 

“I’ve reviewed over 3,000 shows. None can compare to what I saw tonight. Five stars, mind blowing!” – Richard Connema, renowned Broadway critic 

“My heart was open and I started to cry. The spirit of hope, beauty, and blessing…It’s a fabulous gift to us.” – Sine McKenna, award-winning Celtic singer 

“This is the finest thing, the finest event I’ve ever been to in my life! I was in tears, because of the human spirit, the dignity, the power, the love, coming out of those people was astounding!” Jim Crill, producer 

Buy tickets HERE or check ShenYun.com/CA for more information. 

Towards Richness of Life: A New Silicon Valley Institution

By: Kailash Joshi Ph.D., President- Hindu Community Institute

Rich Hindu wisdom, traditions, and extended family support are a great blessing when it comes to celebrations, the passage of life and matters relating to the quality of life. 

I was a beneficiary of this heritage when I was left in deep distress at the sudden passing of my late wife Hem Lata following a serious illness. My family and friends helped with the last rites, new living arrangements, and the disposition of untold household possessions. I will be ever grateful to those who maintained a regular program of bhajans and potluck dinners for over a year. That helped me greatly with my bereavement and restoration of hope.

Psychology of Counseling by HCI Dean Dr. Naras Bhat (L) and Dr Kusum Bhat (visiting)

In May 2018, after years of deliberations, a group of professionals and executives in Silicon Valley founded the Hindu Community Institute, HCI, and launched its inaugural course. On August 18th 2019, twenty Counselors of Hindu Tradition (CHT’s) will receive their certificates and begin serving families and institutions. This Fall the second course will begin with Sunday-classes at Milpitas, CA and online for students from other major cities.

Panel on Facets of Elder Care (L-to-R Dr. Rita Ghatak, Dr. Neelu Mehra,: Dr. Anjali Sagdeo, Dr. Jerina Kapoor, Dr Jyoti Lulla)

The mission of  HCI (www.hinduci.org) is to provide world-class quality of life education to professionals who want to “give back” and “learn to serve”. The curriculum includes counseling skills, the teachings of Bhagavad Gita and best practices from all traditions.

The 300,000 Hindus living in the greater Bay Area now have a network of CHT’s to guide in their celebrations, grieving and life situations. The services are equally available to non-Hindus.

Invitation to Serve and be Served

By: Gaurav Rastogi, Academic Dean- Hindu Community Institute

Karma Yoga for Modern Professionals, by HCI Dean Gaurav Rastogi

If you are ready to contribute, we invite you to volunteer, make donations and join the CHT course.  If you need to receive guidance on some matters, please call our dedicated line listed on the website (http://www.hinduci.org). 

Doing things for others gives great satisfaction. A mother’s joy at feeding her child, devotees making garlands at the temple, or simply opening the door for strangers. But to learn to serve as a lifelong capability, we created the CHT course for professionals from all walks of life.

HCI’s CHTs Engaged in Class Discussion

Since launching HCI, we learned that teaching is a powerful service. More than 30 doctors, academics and experts accepted our request to teach and delightfully, no one declined. ( HCI faculty https://www.hinduci.org/about)

We learned that learning to serve is a lifelong gift to yourself, your community, clients, and to your family. (Join CHT 2020 course https://www.hinduci.org/counselor-course)

We learned that there is a latent yearning to serve. For every US dollar donation, we receive 9-dollars equivalent in volunteer services contribution. We call these “Om Dollars”, and these simplify our fundraising by directly getting us the needed services, and volunteers are happy to build their Om dollar accounts. (Volunteer positions https://www.hinduci.org/join)

In addition to Om dollars, HCI requires US dollar contributions for technical support and to create vital long-term infrastructure. (Donate Uncle Sam money  https://www.hinduci.org/donate)

In summary, as the Hindu diaspora becomes mainstream, it needs institutions like HCI to support the rich traditions and serve the wider society. Join us on this exciting journey! 

Qawwali Singers Extraordinaire!

The strains of Sufi Qawwali music hold a special fascination for me – there is something about the soaring notes, the seeker’s voice and the universal need to reach the ultimate – all captured into one marvelous tide of music. Fanna-fi-Allah – the group comprised of Tahir Hussain Faridi Qawwal, Aminah Chishti Qawwal, Laali Qalandar, Salim Chishty, Ali Shan, Jahangir Baba, Abrar Hussai and Aziz Abbatiello are a phenomenal amalgam of musical talent, adherence to a centuries-old tradition and virtuoso teamwork on stage that left me spellbound last year. They have traveled to India and Paksitan over the past twenty years to learn and imbibe the pure tradition of Qawwal from legendary masters. This intense dedication to the tradition shows in every syllable that is uttered on stage and every melody that soars to the rafters.

In conversation with Tahir Hussain Faridi Qawwal, the lead singer I heard a fascinating story of cultural assimilation. Speaking Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi today fluently started with listening to classic rock as a teenager. He says, “I listened to classic rock – Beatles and the Incredibles these bands included Indian classical instrumentation and collaborated with those musicians. I heard the tanpura, sitar and sarangi – and I was instantly drawn to those sounds. I followed that  and soon started listening to records of Ali Akbar Khan, Bismillah Khan and Ravi Shankar. I was drawn to the music and I was also drawn to Eastern mysticism. My first guru in Nova Scotia was a Sikh guru who taught me classical Indian music. Then, from the library I listened to an album by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan  and was blown away. There started my journey.”

When asked about his favorite qawwalis, he says, “I love the classic qawwali like man kunto allah – I listen in the car and cry sometimes from the pure beauty expressed in it. I love Bulleh Shah’s poetry and also enjoy the Persian poetry of Khusro and Rumi. We have out own connections to Islam. There is a flavor in each of these themes beyond the life story of an iconic figure – we are singing in praise to this quality – that is truly beyond us.”

Tahir confesses that the sacred principles that he holds dear while upholding this tradition is the feeling of community best expressed in the Sufi gatherings called sama – there is a sentimental, emotional expression that we are devoted to inspiring when we perform.It is very different from the self-centered ambition in the West. Talking of their upcoming concerts this weekend, Tahir says, “We do not know what to expect – we aspire to create something that is always fresh and always new. You can’t make Indian food and put it in the fridge and serve it. It’s got to be fresh – just like that we don’t know the music that will come forth.  But it’s always ecstatic, trying to move you to a higher plane. The audiences are always mixed – there is a cultural bridge that happens at our concerts – there is the hippie yoga community that gets into it and the South asian community that comes together too. The whirling dervish artist also adds the element of expressive movement.”

Authentic qawwali, mystical poetry, clapping and enthusiastic dancing – the music of Fannafi Allah will move you in more ways than you can imagine!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents magazine.