Your Hindu gods and heroes are coming to the big screen

You may not know the name Sanjay Patel, but chances are you’ve seen some of his handiwork.

Patel is a Pixar artist who also is the man behind the great Ramayana graphic novel. Coming soon from him is an animated Pixar short called Sanjay’s Super Team, which will be released with the potentially huge hit The Good Dinosaur. You know the deal, how Pixar drops a short along with the feature.

Here’s how Variety describes it:

A directorial debut from Sanjay Patel, the short centers around a little Hindu boy who prefers Saturday morning cartoons of superheroes while his father wants him to join in morning prayers, until he sees Vishnu, Hanuman and Durga as the Avengers who save him. Patel, who grew up in San Bernardino, Calif., where his parents ran the Lido Motel, says the short is partly biographical.

The day the CalArts grad was to make his pitch for the short to John Lasseter, his son, Arjun, was born and the meeting had to be postponed a couple of weeks. “In hindsight, my family said it was my son’s karma,” said Patel.

Pixar has released a short clip, pretty much the opening of that scene:

As it you needed a reason to see the dinosaur movie.

Posted by Steve

Modi goes high tech here in California

Quick little side note. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in California this weekend — Silicon Valley, to be precise. It is the first time in decades an Indian PM has been to the state, so we’ll make some note of it. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

“People are now saying that the 21st century is India’s,” said the prime minister to an estimated crowd of 18,000. “The world is now believing this.”

Modi, who is bullish on Twitter and adamant about boosting the nation’s tech economy through a campaign he’s called Digital India, generated adoration and near giddiness Sunday, at the tail end of a diplomatic mission that included meetings with Gov. Jerry Brown, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, and Apple CEO Tim Cook, among others.

[snip]

But not every Indian in Silicon Valley is enamored of the prime minister.

Karthik Ramanathan, a software engineer who also grew up in India but immigrated to San Jose 13 years ago, arrived at the SAP Center parking lot with a poster denouncing Modi as the country’s “Prime Murderer.”

Ramanathan was among scores of protesters — including the activist group Sikhs for Justice — who gathered outside the building to accuse the prime minister of human rights violations, including a religious campaign to turn India into a Hindu nation.

“We can’t talk about tech without talking about its impact on humanity,” said Ramanathan, who worries that India’s political leadership could use new technology to crack down on protesters.

Additional coverage is here. He made some pretty strong promises involving tech advances for India.

Posted by Steve

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi

Today — Thursday, Sept. 17 — is the beginning of Ganesha Chaturthi.

Ganesha is waiting.
Ganesha is waiting.

Here’s a look at how the celebration is happening in Mumbai:

Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated across Indian homes but it is frenetic Mumbai that infuses it with the greatest community fervour. This is all thanks to the ceaseless efforts of Lokmanya Tilak who rightly believed that it would help to bring Indians together, during the freedom struggle. For ten days, the city is sprinkled with majestic Ganpati pandals. Perhaps the biggest is Mumbai’s favourite Lalbaugcha Raja, who presides nonchalantly over an ocean of nearly a million visitors. The 12-foot tall Raja raises crores of rupees each year, and (like most of the other pandals) much of it is filtered back into the community through initiatives such as health camps, scholarships and hospitals. Similarly, almost every locality has its own pandal, ringing with the tintinnabulation of bells and bhajansthrough the day.

As the world keeps turning, Ganesha idols keep evolving. This year, you will spot a selfie-taking Ganesha, a Bahubali – inspired Ganesha with bulging biceps and plenty of environmentally-friendly Ganeshas (for example, Thane’s Viviana mall has a papier-mâché one and fish-friendly ones are being made by an NGO called Sprouts). Navi Mumbai even has a Ganpati swathed in the colours of the Brazilian football team.

Wait, did that say selfie-taking? Yes it did.

You also can find a bunch of edible idols here. Or just Google Ganesh Chaturthi and find your own best story.

Posted by Steve

New book offers a new approach to Sanskrit

Here’s a quick break from coverage of Tim Miller’s Third Series Teacher Training and — I know this will break your hearts — my recapping my surfing. (Low tide on Wednesday after pranayama, so walled and closed out, but it did not deter me. If Ashtanga has helped me in no other way, it’s enabled me to delight in the moment of surfing.)

Over at Namarupa, they have an interview with Zoë Slatoff-Ponté, who has written a textbook — that seems to be the agreed upon description — on Sanskirt. It’s titled Yogavataranam: The Translation of Yoga. Quick description:

The traditional Indian method of learning Sanskrit is through oral transmission, by first memorizing texts and then learning their meaning. The Western academic approach methodically teaches the alphabet, declensions, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary building. Zoë Slatoff-Ponté’s Yogavataranam integrates the traditional and academic approaches for a full and practical experience of Sanskrit study.

Some of you may recognize her name. She runs Ashtanga Yoga Upper Westside. From Namarupa’s interview:

Namarupa There are obvious differences in how yoga and meditation are taught in India and in the West. Did you find that same thing with Sanskrit, notable differences between how it was taught at Columbia, and how it was taught by your teachers in India? 

From my teachers in India, I learned the importance of chanting. I learned to listen for meaning in the sounds and the importance of the rhythm in translation. At Columbia, I learned to pay attention to detail and the nuance of the grammar. I learned to read commentaries and understand the role that debate played in interpretation of primary texts.

Namarupa Is there a daily Sanskrit studying practice, sort of like we have a daily yoga practice?

Yes, I think Sanskrit is best studied daily, as with yoga practice. I think it is easiest first thing in the morning, when your mind is clear or as much as possible at a consistent quiet time. Even 20 minutes a day will help to keep it in your system and develop a sense of familiarity and fluency.

You can find more at this link to the Namarupa site, including links to purchase the book.

Also, because I’m keeping Bobbie away from the computer, and delaying her teacher training reports a bit, I’ll pass on another resource for those of you wondering what it is like: Todd McLaughlin, from Native Yoga Center in Florida, is staying on track. Find his blog here.

Blame the U.S. for reinventing ‘namaste’

It feels like there is a little mini focus on yoga as cultural appropriation going on lately. The latest sign is a piece from Sunday from NPR:

If you take a yoga class in the U.S., the teacher will most likely say “namaste” at the end of the practice. It’s a Sanskrit phrase that means “I bow to you.” You place hands together at the heart, close your eyes and bow.

That’s not the namaste I know.

[snip]

In the past few years, namaste has reinvented itself. And the U.S. gets a lot of the credit (or blame). After moving to the United States, I went to a yoga class and heard the teacher say namaste. She had her hands joined in front of her, elbows sticking out. Her namaste sounded different than the one I knew. I say, “num-us-teh” vs. the Americanized “nahm-ahs-tay.”

After the class, I started paying attention to what Americans mean by namaste. I got the feeling that they didn’t think of it just as a greeting, but it had a spiritual connotation — a Hindu mantra, a divine chant, a yoga salutation. Using namaste in India never made me feel spiritual in any way. Even in the yoga classes I took in India, the teachers never uttered a namaste.

I suppose someone might argue that the American “nahm-ahs-tay” has a deeper, richer meaning, if you agree with the assessment of the writer, Deepak Singh. Or it is another example of the West squeezing something into its own definition and for its own purpose.

Maybe that’s good, maybe it isn’t.

It’s an aspect of yoga practice that I struggle the most with — well, second to asana. OK, third to asana and quieting my mind. I’m uncomfortable with taking on the trappings of something that isn’t really “mine,” even if someone wants to argue that yoga’s for everyone. And I’ve taken those trappings on, including in some of India’s most holy places. Perhaps it is an uncomfortable fit. At best, I suppose, it is a pull of opposites for me, which I’m more or less OK balancing, as I do much or most of my yoga practice and mostly failed attempts to better myself this go around.

My experience has been there’s a lack of understanding among Western yoga practitioners (serious or less so) of how these trappings came to be part of yoga in the West — and I think that’s the basic point of Singh’s piece.

Posted by Steve

Before International Day of Yoga there were yoga stamps

If you haven’t gotten the various messages, let’s repeat them:

  • Sunday is the first International Day of Yoga, pushed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  • Lots of people are seeing it as a way for India to tighten its claim on yoga
  • Lots of other people are seeing it as an effort to turn India into more of a Hindu country and not a secular democracy
  • It’s also just a nice excuse for lots of media to do stories on yoga

To that last point, here’s a nice quirky addition. Turns out, this yoga day isn’t the first time the Indian government tried to emphasize yoga. The last time — and this will date the effort — involved postage stamps:

The set of four multi-coloured stamps in the denominations of Rs 2, 5, 6.5 and 10 were issued on December 30, 1991, depicting yoga postures – Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana, Ushtrasana and Utthita Trikonasana – respectively.

“That was a time when yoga was not popular among the masses and Swami Ramdev had not emerged on the horizon. The India Security Press at Nasik printed 10 lakh pieces each of these four stamps showing perfect postures. They were meant to take yoga to people through letters and there was no brouhaha over it anywhere in the country,” said N K Agrawal, philately expert and life member of Philatelic Congress of India.

Talking to PTI, Agrawal rues that the stamps now stand forgotten and are now known just to a few stamp collectors and dealers.

“The stamps were circulated and then disappeared. Yoga was not replicated on stamps in India after that. This particular set of four stamps now fetch around Rs 500 in the market,” Agrawal said.

Click the link to see a photo of all four stamps. The yogis don’t look too ancient.

Posted by Steve

Let’s round up International Yoga Day news, shall we?

Heading into Sunday’s first International Yoga Day, there’s more and more news focused on this Narendra Modi-inspired event. A quick roundup (and, yes, pure Ashtanga news seems a little quiet; I’m nudging Bobbie to write about something, though) is below.

Here’s NPR covering the religious issues that have come up in India: “What does yoga have to do with religion? It’s one of the debates kicked up as India’s prime minister prepares to kick off International Yoga Day next Sunday.”

The BBC has a big picture package.

The Daily Mail dives into some details of the religious issues that NPR covered:

Known for his venomous statements, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togadia has said that use of the word Allah during yoga would not be acceptable to Hindus.

However, Togadia’s statement has come when no prominent Muslim organisation or leader has propagated  the theory of using the word Allah while performing yoga. using the word Allah while performing yoga.

And, finally, the New York Times:

Of the major initiatives that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced since taking office, few have generated as much static as Yoga Day, which will feature a vast, 35-minute public demonstration of poses by more than 35,000 government employees, students and other citizens. Though the Western world regards yoga primarily as physical exercise, Indians are more apt to see its postures and Sanskrit chants as freighted with ideological or religious meaning.

Preparations for the event set off a chorus of criticism, mostly from a handful of Muslim activist groups that say they should not be compelled to chant “Om,” a sound sacred in Hinduism, or perform the sun salutation, which they say violates the monotheistic nature of Islam. Mr. Modi’s officials have hurried to address those complaints, assuring the public that participation in Yoga Day is optional and that it focuses exclusively on health, not religion. “Om” is not part of the Yoga Day protocol, nor is the sun salutation. This decision so incensed one right-wing member of Parliament that he suggested that those displeased by the sun salutation“drown in the sea.”

Behind the headlines, there is little doubt that the yoga campaign amounts to a cultural challenge, in a capital city powerfully shaped by its British and Mughal past. New Delhi’s elites are mostly Anglophiles, fond of their whisky and butter chicken; its clerks spend their days in dim warrens of paper files, tensed against the next supervisory tongue-lashing. Many rank-and-file civil servants have bellies like first-floor balconies.

Can’t expect Anglophiles to scrunch their way into down dog, I suppose.

Posted by Steve

International Day of Yoga isn’t without its controversy — in India

As we get closer to June 21, the first International Day of Yoga, it seems like a chorus of concern is growing in India. I’ve seen bits and pieces here and there, but this two-fer Wall St. Journal combo brings it all into focus, with some familiar themes:

India unveiled ambitious plans to celebrate the world’s first day dedicated to yoga amid growing concerns that the government’s enthusiasm about the ancient discipline signals an attempt to shift the country away from its secular roots.

In one of his first diplomatic moves last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested that the United Nations declare a day for yoga. He got his way and June 21 became the International Day of Yoga.

“This is our heritage,” said  Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj at a news conference Tuesday to outline India’s big plans for the day. “This is for the benefit of all mankind; for the betterment of the entire world.”

Many Indians, however, are suspicious of the Modi government’s intentions. Yoga is closely associated with Hinduism. Mr. Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has Hindu-nationalist roots.

[snip]

Since the BJP took power last year, some Muslims, Christians and other minority groups say Hindu-nationalist politicians and leaders have become emboldened to make comments and take actions against non-Hindus.

Just Monday a member of Parliament from Mr. Modi’s party and a Hindu priest, Yogi Adityanath, said anyone opposed to yoga should leave the country.

“They should drown in the sea. They should spend their lives in darkness, shut in a dark room,” he said in a televised speech. “They should leave India.”

As some states have started requiring yoga lessons in schools since the BJP took over, Muslim leaders have complained that the way yoga is practiced can be against Islamic beliefs.

Here’s a familiar idea for you:

Leaders say the practice of “surya namaskar” or sun salutation–a series of poses–goes against Shariah or Islamic law, which doesn’t allow Muslims to bend before anyone other than Allah, or God.

“We don’t believe in praying to the sun,” said Mohammad Abdul Rahim Quraishi, spokesman for Lucknow-based All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Yet, Mr. Quraishi said that schools in the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have made yoga sessions compulsory, and the lessons include “surya namaskar”. He said that the sessions also require chanting of the word “Om” or other Sanksrit verses or shlokas, which he believes are connected to Hindu religion.

“They are trying to impose Hindu religion. On that, we have objection,” Mr. Quraishi said.

It isn’t all just a simple day of yoga.

Posted by Steve

Yoga news: TV show to ‘demystify’ practice, folks worry about yogafication of meditation

A trio of stories to start your week in the know.

First up, the Discovery Channel, tied to the International Day of Yoga, is going to air a program that seeks to demystify yoga and its spread across the world. From the Economic Times:

The hour-long-special programme titled ‘The story of Yoga’ aims to celebrate the first International Day of Yoga and takes viewers through a journey to rediscover the age old practice. The show would be telecast in five languages including Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu and Bangla and explores the evolution, mysticism, spiritualism and cultural ethos of yoga.

“‘The Story of Yoga’ is one of the most comprehensive narratives that provide an in-depth view on the evolution of yoga from an ancient practice to a lifestyle choice that’s making tremendous impact on people lives around the world,” says Rahul Johri, EVP and GM – South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific.

No mention of Ashtanga and Pattabhi Jois, but there is mention of Iyengar and Sivananda. Watch for it.

Secondly, still tied to June 21 (International Yoga Day) is news of how it’ll affect the railroads in India:

Indian Railways has issued orders to its over 13 lakh employees across the country to turn up at office at 9 a.m. on the International Yoga Day on June 21 and perform Yoga as all railway offices will remain open on forenoon on the day despite being a Sunday.

In a letter to all 16 zonal heads, PSUs and others, R R Prasad, executive director (Training & Manpower Planning) Railway Board has said that since it would be the first occasion for the celebration, it has been decided that lndian Railways may celebrate June 21, 2014 as the lnternational Yoga in a big way befitting the occasion and to spread awareness.

To observe the day, the railway has ordered that all offices will open on June 21 in the forenoon and officials may be directed to report at 9 a.m. and even there will be prize distribution to best practitioners of yoga.

And finally, folks are worried that as meditation spreads (in part, I suspect, under the whole mindfulness trend), it will lose its religious roots — like yoga has (according to them, at least). From the Washington Post:

Yet in gyms, businesses and public schools in every direction from the museum — which sits on busy Georgia Avenue — meditation is often presented as something akin to mental weight-lifting: a secular practice that keeps your brain and emotions in shape. Gyms list it alongside Zumba classes, and public schools say it can help students chill out before tests by calming the mind and training it to look upon disruptive thoughts from a non-judgmental distance.

This rough juxtaposition between the religious and secular versions of meditation epitomizes a key debate about the ancient practice as it explodes in the United States: What is the purpose of meditation? And who decides?

To Mahraj and her community, called the Brahma Kumaris, promoting the religious component is part of the purpose of the Silver Spring center, which is more about spiritual advocacy than a museum in the classic sense.

It does sound familiar.

Posted by Steve

An International Day of Yoga highlight: World-record sized class

The Ashtanga world seems a little slow today (maybe the full moon hangover) so we’ll point you to another highlight of the upcoming International Day of Yoga, to be held for the first time on June 21. (That’s three Sundays off, for those having trouble keeping track, and Father’s Day.)

From the Economic Times:

[A] 35-minute mass demonstration of 15 yoga asanas by 45,000 school children, government officials, diplomats, army personnel and NCC cadets, led by PM Narendra Modi himself, at Rajpath will possibly lead to a record of sorts.

The event has already been registered as an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records, under “largest yoga demonstration/class at single venue” and if government sources are to be believed, every inch preparation to make the event a grand spectacle is directed at that. “The PM is insistent that the event makes an impact internationally,” a government official said. An AYUSH official part of the inter-ministerial group organising the function said they were “trying very hard to get the record set but the rules of the world record are tough.”

Part of the diffuculty? Getting 35,000 or so folks to the spot by 6:30 a.m. Oh, problematic but most beneficial yoga time!

Here’s a loose outline of the class:

The event on June 21 will start at 6.45 a.m. A 35 minute exercise session is said to include fifteen yogic postures. “We have stretching and loosening exercises, a two- minute rig veda invocation in the beginning. The programme will end with a hindi prayer,” an official said. The session that includes basic yogic asanas such as shalabasana, pawanmuktasana, makrasana among others will be followed by breathing exercises Kaapalabhaati and Pranayana for fifteen minutes and meditation for six minutes.

Leaders of this effort are hoping people in 176 countries will participate. Give or take, there are 195 or 196 countries, by the way. (Apparently Taiwan isn’t considered a country by everyone.)

Posted by Steve