What’s that? India takes step to thwart trademarking of yoga poses

We may not have to worry about U.S.-based yoga trademark battles (hi to all our Bikram readers!) much longer.

We may have to pay attention to what the Indian government is doing, though.

According to this story at the Economic Times, the Indian government has taken steps that would keep what it refers to as MNCs, which I’m taking to mean multinational corporations, from trademarking yoga poses. Some 1,500 of them. From the story:

The initiative will be a part of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a unit of Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of the Ministry of Science and Technology, which challenges claims made at several patent offices across the globe by individuals and MNCs.

“Our experts have identified over 1500 yoga techniques from the literature available from our ancient texts and what is available now. Nearly 250 asanas have been video graphed already. It should take five or six months to complete the process, after which it can be the part of the database.

“Once that happens, any attempt to claim patent on the Indian yoga techniques practised since ancient time can be thwarted,” said Archana Sharma, head of TKDL.

Apparently, it was the trademarking of neem and tumeric in the past that propelled this idea. But it has clear ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to have yoga recognized as a part of India’s tradition and history, laying a bit stronger claim to it than the country has up until now.

Here’s a bit more on the database:

Following this, it was decided to form TKDL. Today its database has over 2.93 lakh medicines, their properties indicating that those have been traditionally used for cure in Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha systems. The information is also present in Spanish, German, English, Japanese and French languages.

The database is shared with the European Patent Office (EPO), United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), German Patent Office (GPO), Intellectual Property Australia (IPA), Japanese Patent Office (JPO) and Chile Patent Office (CPO) under a “non-disclosure” pact.

The idea then is, if you seek a patent, it goes through all those hoops — and thus would halt any claim about an asana.

Posted by Steve

Namarupa number 20 is now available

Ready to dive into some Vedic and Indic topic matter?

Well, the latest issue of Namarupa — co-published by Robert Moses and Eddie Stern — is now available.

Here’s what’s in store:

Cover Surya Bhagavan by Satya Moses

Jason Birch THE YOGATĀRĀVALĪ And the Hidden History of Yoga

Dr. Robert E. Svoboda EXCERPT FROM AGHORA II: KUNDALINI KUNDALINI: Interview with Dr. Robert E. Svoboda Conducted by Rick Archer of Buddha at The Gas Pump

Roxanne Gupta Ph.D. BEHIND THE OCHRE ROBE The extraordinary life and death of AgehanandaBharati

Robert Schneider & Benjamin Phelan ENCOUNTER WITH THE INFINITE The story of the mathematical genius Srinivasan Ramanujan

Naomi Worth DREAMING IN EARLY ADVAITA VEDĀNTA A main component of Śańkaracarya’s view of Reality

Jaidev Dasgupta IN SEARCH OF IMMORTALITY An Introduction into Indic Worldviews

Robert Moses & Satya Moses DEVOTION AT LORD JAGANNATH RATH YATRA Photo essay of the annual Chariot Festival  of Lord Jagannath in Puri, Odisha, July 2104

Make sure you enjoy the back cover.

Posted by Steve

‘Americans treat yoga as a workout, while Indians seek something deeper’

CBS This Morning, yesterday morning, had a nearly five-minute piece on why Indians think Americans are doing yoga wrong.

Link, with video included, is here. From the piece:

Lastova loves American yoga and is far from alone. More than 20 million Americans practice yoga. It’s an exercise industry worth more than $10 billion annually. Lastova said Indian yoga simply would not translate in America.

“You pose and stop and pose and stop,” she said. “That’s probably the biggest difference — the freedom of expression in each pose.”

India’s yoga minister counters that Americans treat yoga as a workout, while Indians seek something deeper.

Naik said the technique is what brings the benefits, and with the wrong technique, there are no benefits.

If the Ashtanga police are resounding in your ears right now, I doubt you’re alone.

It’s worth watching the video for the requisite “Namaste” shout from one of the anchors. Sigh. That may make the piece’s point.

If I’m not mistaken, though, you may recognize some of the yogis from the live shot.

Update: If you can find Eddie Stern’s Facebook page, he put his thoughts about it there.

Posted by Steve

The harmonium king, of Queens

It isn’t every day you hear a harmonium on the radio. So check this out from Wednesday’s The World, from PRI:

Mindra Sahadeo shares an apartment in the Richmond Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York, with his mother, sister and a rotating cast of about a dozen harmoniums.

Several of the instruments packed inside thick aluminum cases and piled inside the front door. More are stacked up in the living room, which doubles as Sahadeo’s repair shop. The word is out about Sahadeo’s harmonium workshop, and there’s a steady stream of hobbyists, yoga instructors, and professional musicians dropping off instruments for him to fix.

Sonny Singh, a member of the band Red Baraat, was relieved to learn about Sahadeo’s services when Singh faced a crisis with his own harmonium. I’d actually never seen a harmonium up close, so Sahadeo opened up one that he designed with a friend in Calcutta. Its body is a deep brown teak, with floral carving around a silver nameplate.

Music, of course, fills the apartment. When I got there, Sahadeo’s sister Nanda was in her room practicing. After we talked for a while — and, full disclosure, their mom fed me some pretty amazing Indian food — she and Sahadeo play a bit.


“Harmoniums for us are like sacred,” Sahadeo says. “It’s part of us, our culture and tradition and everything. I saw some harmoniums that came here — terrible, terrible condition. I always tell them, ‘Please, I’m gonna fix it and everything, but please, can you just, a little bit of care.’”

You of course should be able to hear one tomorrow, as part of a Hanuman Chalisa for Hanuman Jayanti.

Posted by Steve

Jai Hanuman

We of course have to share Tim Miller’s retelling of Hanuman’s birth:

Anjana’s pregnancy went smoothly, and, at sunrise on the full moon day of Chaitra (April), Hanuman was born. Anjana’s form immediately began to change. Realizing that she had only a few precious moments with her son, Anjana took Hanuman in her arms and said, “Little Anjaneya, you are an avatar of Shiva and have come to this world as a saviour. It breaks my heart to say that I can never be a true mother to you, but your father, Vayu, will attend to all your needs.” Hanuman looked at his mother’s vanishing form with tears in his eyes and asked, “Who will show me the ways of the world, who will be my mother?”

Yeah, I picked the poignant part. Tim will be celebrating Hanuman Jayanti on Friday, from 7 to 9 p.m. When will you be celebrating?

Somewhere I have a nice picture of a rare image — Hanuman and Anjana, from a temple in Varanasi. I’ll try to find it for Friday.

Posted by Steve

Holi festival and India’s widows

A very moving — as well as colorful — story from NPR on India’s Holi festival is well, well worth your time. It focuses on the stories of widows celebrating it:

“I have no one. I’ve lost everything. My children are gone, my parents are gone. My husband’s family doesn’t ask about me. They don’t even look for me, they don’t even know if I eat,” says Manu Ghosh, 85.

That’s her above, seen before and after the Hindu festival of Holi at her ashram in northern India.

Manu was married at age 10 and found her way to the northern city of Vrindavan at 37. By that time, she was already widowed and had lost three children, who she says all died prematurely. Manu is one of many widows among the ashrams of Vrindavan whom I met covering this year’s Holi festival.


Here’s the climax of all their work: the widows reveling in the shower of powder that turned the courtyard a cloud of pink. Some are octogenarians, but these spry widows played pranks that could rival any teenager. They have dance moves to match. They ambush the unsuspecting with the eye-stinging powder. More than once, I missed them coming straight for me. Bam! Another pigment pie in the eye. I worried they’d get sick and that all their frolicking would end badly. But these women are made of sterner stuff, having weathered abuse, rejection, isolation and worse. A little powder was not about to stop them.

Do check it out.

Posted by Steve

Obama in India, namaste and tea

This New York Times collection of moments from President Obama’s current trip to India is about the best sum-up I’ve seen, and it starts with namaste:

President Barack Obama was so honored to be invited to India’s Republic Day celebration that he showed it.

After arriving at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the presidential palace, for an elaborate welcome ceremony, Obama clasped his hands in the traditional “namaste” greeting. During namaste, a person’s head is slightly bowed and the hands are pressed together, palms touching, fingers pointed skyward and thumbs touching the chest.

Namaste often is performed at the end of yoga practice.

Asked about being the chief guest at Monday’s celebration, Obama said: “It is a great honor. We are so grateful for the extraordinary hospitality.”

Obama’s wife, Michelle, accompanied him to India.

The big news thus far is the start of an agreement to allow India to develop nuclear power plants — to help slow its contribution to greenhouse gas.

Posted by Steve

‘I was a very confused child’

NPR’s Morning Edition today featured one of the world’s greatest tabla players: Zakir Hussain.

The link is right here. The feature is part of a week-long look at “beats,” aka drummers. There’s a “listen now” feature but, as best as I can tell, the written story is the same as what you hear.

The story also includes the below YouTube video of Hussain and his father:

A quick excerpt, with a storyline that sounds familiar to Ashtanga:

Hussain was 7 when his father first approached him and asked if he was ready to learn the tabla for real. The lessons were to begin in the middle of the night.

“I was woken up at 2:30 in the morning, and that’s when we sat and talked rhythm,” he says. “And he told me about the history of our tradition and the great masters of the past, and what it all is — just kind of developing inside me the whole idea of existing in this world.”

Hussain says that nocturnal ritual would be repeated every night for four years, his demanding school schedule notwithstanding.

“It didn’t matter to me; I was so happy. To be in his presence was great,” he says. “From about 2:30 on, he talked to me, and then at 6:30 I would go to the local Islamic school, the madrassa, and learn to recite the Quran. When that was over, I’d go across the street into my school, which was a Catholic school, and we’d sing the hymns and then go to class.” He adds, “Doing all of that in the space of, like, five-and-a-half or six hours, I was a very confused child.”

Following his father’s lead, Hussain would get involved in world music and play with artists including George Harrison and the Grateful Dead. There’s a funny exchange recounting that experience.

Posted by Steve

Comparing Harvard and Mysore

Fun little article in The Hindu about Westerners coming to Mysore to practice Ashtanga:

President of the Mysore Yoga Okkoota Ganesh Kumar said there were about 150 to 160 yoga centres in the city and 15 to 20 of them enjoy the patronage of foreigners. “At any given time, there are around 700 to 800 foreigners learning yoga at these institutes. Their number increases during the holiday season in December and January. Around 10,000 foreigners visit the city to learn yoga every year,” he said.

Many yoga students from foreign countries join more than one institute during their stay here. “If they join Pattabhi Jois institute for Ashtanga yoga, they join others for meditation or pranayama,” Dr. Kumar said. Pattabhi Jois’ grandson R. Sharath Jois, who now runs the institute, counts Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman, and William J. Dafoe among the well-known Hollywood personalities he has taught.

This influx of yoga enthusiasts has also translated into a boost for the local economy. “There is a lot of demand for accommodation, autorickshaws, and eateries,” he said. Awareness on yoga was slowly increasing in India, he added.

The Harvard reference is from a quotation in the story.

Posted by Steve

Yatra news: Study with Sharath in the Himalayas

Big news from Namarupa. Sharath will be involved with a section of next year’s Yatra — appropriately enough the Ashtanga Yoga Sadhana part.

All the details are at Namarupa’s site. You really need to check it out. This time, Robert Moses — co-founder of Namarupa with Eddie Stern and twice our Yatra leader — has arranged a variety of possible yatras to fit, I suppose, both time and budget.

Here’s a little description, but the real bounty is at the online brochure:

Yatra, Tirtha and Darshan The ancient Puranas of India are huge volumes containing stories of the makings of the universe as well as thrilling tales of innumerable gods and goddesses. The geography of the Puranas coincides with that of the entire Indian sub-continent. Countless places mentioned in these ancient texts are alive today and are important places of yatra (pilgrimage). Within their sanctums, worship of the resident gods and goddesses is performed daily in a tradition that reaches back to antiquity and beyond. These places where the sacred stories unfolded are sometimes called tirthas. A tirtha is a place of crossing over and most literally refers to fords of rivers. It also refers to a spiritual crossing place, where the divine is more easily intuited, recognized or experienced. Daily, vast numbers of yatris (pilgrims) visit the sacred places to have darshan of their favorite gods or goddesses. Darshan is both seeing and being seen by the deity. It is a source of spiritual renewal. Namarupa Yatras are centered around the experience of darshan.

As Robert would expect of me, I have to note that Radha-kunda Das will be among the leaders. He’s my favorite thing in and about India.

According to the brochure, Sharath will be teaching two Led Primary classes each day as well as leading discussions. This part of the Yatra — the full one runs Oct. 1 to 30 — runs from the 12th to 17th. But, as I noted, there are multiple — seven in all — variations you can consider.

Posted by Steve