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

Talk about balance: Being a Hindu priest and a surfer

The story of Mega Semadhi is featured in the latest issue of The Surfer’s Journal. Semadhi not only has won on the pro surfing tour, but he’s also a Hindu priest in Indonesia. More from TSJ:

Mega is a member of the Pecatu community, one of the largest and oldest on the Bukit. His grandparents owned a ranch atop the massive cliff that overlooks Bingin. At a young age, it was determined by his elders at the Uluwatu temple that Mega would take up the role of high priest as an adult. Between the sense of duty to his community, his own world-traveling ambitions, and the many points of conflict that a local on Bali faces, Mega has a lot to balance with his surf life.

There’s a video that’s worth watching, too.

Some old coverage of his contest win is here. And there’s an older YouTube video:

Those spots are a lot more exciting than Venice Beach.

Posted by Steve

Ready to add to your yoga library?

Some extremely exciting news from Harvard: There’s a new, vast and extremely broad collection of translations of Indian classic literature coming next week. As covered by the New York Times:

Now, Harvard University Press, the publisher of the Loebs, wants to do the same for the far more vast and dizzyingly diverse classical literature of India, in what some are calling one of the most complex scholarly publishing projects ever undertaken.

The Murty Classical Library of India, whose first five dual-language volumes will be released next week, will include not only Sanskrit texts but also works in Bangla, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Persian, Prakrit, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and other languages. Projected to reach some 500 books over the next century, the series is to encompass poetry and prose, history and philosophy, Buddhist and Muslim texts as well as Hindu ones, and familiar works alongside those that have been all but unavailable to nonspecialists.

The Murty will offer “something the world had never seen before, and something that India had never seen before: a series of reliable, accessible, accurate and beautiful books that really open up India’s precolonial past,” said Sheldon Pollock, a professor of South Asian studies at Columbia University and the library’s general editor.

The Times story points out that one of the big challenges is the sheer size of Indian classic literature, which dwarfs the Greek or Roman canons.

You may be wondering, or remembering, a similar project we highlighted before: The Clay Sanskrit Library. Sadly, it has ended:

The Murty Library fills a scholarly void. The last comparable project, theClay Sanskrit Library, a series inaugurated by New York University Press in 2005, closed up shop prematurely after four years and 56 volumes when its benefactor, the financier John Clay, ended his support. (Mr. Clay died in 2013.)

After the Clay Library’s demise, Mr. Pollock, who had taken over as its general editor, reconceived the project to extend far beyond Sanskrit. He shopped around in India for a new benefactor, to no avail. He then brought the idea to Sharmila Sen, executive editor at large at Harvard University Press, who connected him with Rohan Murty, the son of the Indian technology billionaire N. R. Narayana Murthy. (The two men spell their surnames differently.)

The initial volumes will include literature from Muslim and Buddhist traditions, as well.

Posted by Steve

How a non-New York Times paper reports on the health benefits of yoga

The following article got sent to us with this as the email subject line: “Compare The Hindu vs NY Times on Yoga.”

So, we will. Remember the last NY Times piece.

Now this from the Hindu about practicing the Anjali mudra:

This simple gesture conveys welcome, reverence and an attitude of serenity. The act of placing your palms together brings to your own attention the meeting of the two distinct halves of your being; the right side of the body with the left, the physical body with the energy body, the masculine aspect of you with the feminine aspect and the right brain with the left brain.

From a physiological point of view, the gentle and steady pressure on the palms activates both sides of the brain, making the body and mind more alert and present.

The true meanings of the practice of Anjali mudra may be lost to time and used merely because it is traditional, but its impact on your being is significant enough for it to serve as an effective recharge button. Sitting quietly with the mudra with your eyes closed as you breathe deeply is a pause that lets your mind take a break from its frantic workload.

It goes on to give some simple steps, so check it out if you could use a little quiet at work.

On a separate subject, we haven’t seen any new news about BKS Iyengar, who was admitted to a hospital earlier this week with heart and kindey problems. We’re keeping our eyes on it as best we can.

Posted by Steve

Is yoga religious? Not in Iran, although maybe in the U.S. and India

The BBC has what may be the best look at the “is yoga religious” question. Our friend, and Namarupa founder and yatra leader, Robert Moses, sent this on to me, so hat tip his way. (Also, if you haven’t, check out the video at the “Reunion” blog post from a few days back.)

Two forms of prayer? Via the BBC

What I think really sets this report apart is its focus on Iran, where yoga is popular. I’ll be the first to say it: Who knew? Here’s the link and some choice parts:

One answer to the question of whether yoga really is a religious activity will soon be given by the Supreme Court in the country of its birth, India.

Last month, a pro-yoga group petitioned the court to make it a compulsory part of the school syllabus on health grounds – but state schools in India are avowedly secular. The court said it was uncomfortable with the idea, and will gather the views of minority groups in the coming weeks.

[snip]

But other classes may make no overt reference to spirituality at all.

That’s the way things are in Iran, where yoga is very popular. It has managed to flourish in a country with Sharia law and an Islamist political system, by divesting itself of anything that could be construed as blasphemy. Yoga teachers are careful to always refer to “the sport of yoga” and are accredited by the Yoga Federation, which operates in the same way as a tennis or football organisation.

Classes tend to be slower than in the West with much discussion about the physical benefits of each position. As with other sports, yoga competitions are held, judged by specially invited international yoga teachers.

The piece then focuses on our favorite yoga controversy: the Encinitas yoga-in-schools program, funded by the Sonima Foundation. The Broyles in the following is the NCLP’s Dean Broyles, lead lawyer on the suit against the Encinitas program:
The reason many people in the West think yoga is non-religious, Broyles says, is that it falls into a theological blind-spot. “Whereas Protestant Christianity focuses on words and beliefs, ashtanga yoga’s focus is practice and experience,” he says. Religious intentions may not be there to begin with but practising yoga might lead them to develop.
To an extent, this point of view is endorsed by Hindus themselves. The Hindu American Foundation recently ran a campaign called “Take Back Yoga”. Sheetal Shah, from the organisation, says someone raised in an “exclusivist” tradition like Islam or Christianity who becomes very interested in yoga may eventually experience some conflict with their religious beliefs.So, for American Christians who don’t like the idea of yoga, there are alternatives, including PraiseMoves.This exercise regime combines Christian worship with stretching exercises. As the class adopts a posture, they recite a verse from the Bible. In this way, bhujangasana or the cobra pose becomes the vine posture, with a corresponding verse from John 15:5. “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

The piece also checks in with Jewish practitioners and has a great graphic of a few yoga poses — and their various names in a yoga, Encinitas school and Christian setting.

Posted by Steve

Encinitas yoga trial: Asana as religious expression

As the trial over the Encinitas Union School District yoga program continues today — it should wrap up Wednesday or Thursday — here’s more highlights from a range of coverage. First, the various stories:

Then, some specific highlights:

  • The trial judge, the one who admitted he’s been doing Bikram Yoga, is the decider in this case. There’s no jury, as agreed to by both parties.
  • There was a lot of emphasis on the developing nature of the school yoga program. It seems like at the beginning, there may have been more “Hindu” elements, but parents objected and the district redesigned things. As noted yesterday, the superintendent claims what is being taught ought to be called EUSD yoga — he makes it sound like it is stretching with some focused breath exercises. (That’s what we witnessed at the Confluence in March.)
  • The main witness for the program’s opponents, religion professor Candy Brown, testified and suggested that religion can be expressed by actions as well as words. I don’t see any coverage connecting the dots, but I assume that was said in the context of asana being action — Hindu action.
  • The proselytizing nature of Jois Yoga — Ashtanga for the masses, if you will — appears in different forms in the trial coverage. Opponents suggested Ashtanga is a particularly religious form of yoga. (I’d think that could be used to suggest that there are yogas that aren’t religious, and that perhaps the yoga as developed now in the schools falls into the category. Paddleboard yoga, etc. has been mentioned.)

The trial is supposed to be continuing today.

I’ve also seen that there’s a website for those supporting the program: Yes! Yoga for Encinitas Students. (It appears to be set up by the law firm that is doing pro bono work on the proponents’ side.) It has links to the pro-program trial brief (essentially a counter to Brown’s lengthy one) as well as three of their own expert testimonies: Here, here and here. Included is Mark Singleton and a Loyola Marymount University professor. There are other documents at the above link.

Posted by Steve

Blog highlight: Imaginative geography and the subtle body

Note: While we are in India, we intend to post new items if we have the Internet access. In the meantime, to keep our mojo going, we’re running some of our most popular posts.

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As part of Robert Moses’ reading list for our upcoming yatra, I’ve just started Diana L. Eck’s book, India: A Sacred Geography. I’m not very deep yet, but Eck makes a few excellent points at the beginning I thought I’d pass along.

Eck begins with an argument to shake the reader out of Western notions of geography. She describes a distinction between a geography that is “historical” versus one that is defined by the routes pilgrims have taken on tīrthas, a geography that exists outside of linear space and time.

It is indisputable that an Indian imaginative landscape has been constructed in Hindu mythic and ritual contexts, most significantly in the practice of pilgrimage. The vast body of Hindu mythic and epic literature is not simply literature of devotional interest to the Hindu. […] Hindu mythology is profusely linked to India’s geography […]. It “takes place,” so to speak, in thousands of shrines and in the culturally created mental “map” of Bhārata.

There are a number of mind-blowing things about the idea of an “imaginative geography” here. Eck immediately points out that one of the first things the British East India Company did when they arrived was to send a boatload of cartographers. Leveling all the sacred places in India down to one, linear plane was an act of imperialism.

But the thing that’s resonating most with me is the idea of India having an “imaginative body.” There is a creation story in the Rg Veda in which all of existence is formed from the body of Purusha—literally: legs, arms, mouth, eyes, all become both physical landmarks (his mind became the moon) and abstract social ideas. It’s a myth familiar to me from both William Blake and Celtic mythology (the island of Ireland, you know, is actually the body of sleeping Finn).

And yes, there’s the connection or parallel to the spiritual body of the practice. I just happened to be flipping through David Swenson’s (essential) Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual this morning, and I came across this:

By bending and twisting the spinal column we are encouraging and maintaining suppleness on a physical level as well as opening energy channels to allow prana to flow freely on the subtle plane.

The subtle plane. The imaginative body. At this level, our connection to our practice takes on an ethical connection to the land itself. Another reason to roll out the mat and do your practice.

Posted by Bobbie