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Friday, July 4, 2008

Many Indian and non-Indian Aurovilians assert that Auroville’s social environment is “Western”

Auroville About the culture and the lack of it in Auroville: what it is supposed to be and what it is now. Auroville life through the mirror of Shanti Pillai’s outrageous dissertations July 3, 2008
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Shanti Pillai’s dissertation is full of outragous revelations and startling discoveries that bring out the practices that she would never be allowed to publish in the politically correct AV Today.
Here, we will focus on the place of the Indian culture in Auroville. We will start with the quotes from Shanti’s dissertation and then will analyze and comment on these statements.
Shanti Pillai (spillai@slc.edu) impressions were that
“The feeling of disillusionment over the gap between Auroville’s ideals and its reality is not uncommon in Auroville, although like other ambivalences its is not something that people tend to express opently”
She quotes Rajika:
Westerners are barbarians. They still are in terms of an inner culture. They have no inner culture. Even now any skin curls with this barbarism, this economic barbarism that the Indians are now infected with totally. Indians are becoming barbaric too. In spirit we are not. In spirit we are a highly developed culture. We have lost it”
Shanti:
For example, once when I explained to an informant that I was interested in the ways in which Aurovilians were seeking to formulate a new kind of culture, the person expressed doubt about the validity of my question, exclaiming, “Well, this is not the place to look at in that way, because the idea of culture belongs to the old world and we are trying to go beyond it.
While they (Auroville’s youth) may be growing up in India, many do not feel much connection to the surrounding culture, nor do they necessarily feel at home when visiting parents’ native countries. Recreations for westernized young people are relatively few in the region, although typical diversions such as drugs and alcohol are readily available.
Unlike the Ashram, where its inmates are expected to do the Integral Yoga, the Mother stated that there is no such a requirement of Auroville’s residents: they were only expected to achieve some harmonious co-existence. Why such minimalist expectations? The Mother stated that most of Aurovilians represented inferior humanity and were incapable of doing any yoga at all.
One of the salient features of life in Auroville is the meeting and/or collision of elements of local and national Indian culture with Euro-American traditions and practices. Many Indian and non-Indian Aurovilians assert that Auroville’s social environment is “Western”, in spite of its geographic locations and the fact that the largest percentage of its population is from India.
There are both Indian and Western Aurovilians who complain that the atmosphere in the community has become too “Westernized”, offering as evidence that many Aurovilians know little about Indian customs, traditions or languages.
Shanti describes her Bharatanatyam experiences (comments below):
I made frequent trips to Chennai, where I lived and studied with my bharatanatyam guru (Nandini Ramani. Shanti learnt under Priyamvada Sankar and had an arangetram in 2005 in NY)… Moving between the elite cultural scene of the big city and impoverished, rural Tamil Nadu felt like moving between two different worlds, even as both of these worlds together constitute “Tamil culture”
When we called Nandini Ramani for comments, she had a hard time remembering who Shanti Pillai is. She said, “There are many foreigners, always beginners, who come to learn a few simple bits and pieces of Bharatanatyam, and then open their own schools and present themselves as my students”.
“Other dancers took it upon themselves to perform publicly as part of their yoga, meaning performing was something to be done with consciousness. Some people expressed wanting to be mindful that the true spectator for the event was the Mother. Interestingly, this view of the dance converged with the ideas about dance in India, which grew out of the devadasis tradition in which a special class of women performed songs, simple dances and ritual gestures in front of temple deities.”
The “simple dances” refers to is the dances Shanti was taught by Nandini Ramani. Balasaraswathi could not perform any of the complex 108 dance movements, karanas, that are depicted in the Chidambaram temple, and were performed by the temple dancers, devadasis.
As you see from the video, the dance is indeed very primitive: the American attention span is too short to remember anything more complex. Shanti can win the prize as the Most Clumsy and Uncouth Bharatanatyam Dancer. There is a proof that Shanti’s presence in this so-called “elite cultural scene” did not add any wisdom to the impoverished American brain, who was wondering how to introduce herself, as an Indian or as an American. A cursory glance at her Bharatanatyam arangetram videos reveals a complete lack of aesthesis inherent in most South Indian women (Natya Shastra mentions that the graceful style, kaisiki, was only found in South Indian women): the American culture is not famous for its beauty and for its graceful women.
Shanti does not seem to be aware of the fact that, in Orissa as well as in Andhra Pradesh, for centuries the Odissi and kuchipudi dancers were exclusively… men. Is this something that Nandini Ramani forgot to tell the young American professor of Asian studies at Sarah Lawrence College, the author of “Imperial Conversations Indo-Britons and the Architecture of South India” selling for £39.99? Hmmmm… The abysmal levels of the USA academics is obvious!
On http://www.auroville.org/journals&media/avtoday/avt_aug01_1.htm we read,
Relatively few Aurovilians express much interest in cultural practices of the region, including for the wealth of “high cultural” arts such as music and dance to be found in abundance in nearby Chennai. With the exception of some occasional programs of childrens’ dance, events showcasting local and visiting artists of either classical or folk traditions are few. Although some of the community’s own Tamil residents have for years discussed the aspiration for a Tamil heritage center, to date no substantive efforts either to construct a facility or to organize regular cultural programs or workshops have materialized.
Some Tamil Aurovilians express feeling a sense of loss of cultural identity. Interacting with an environment that is ostensibly Western, some Tamil people have a tendency to forget the value of traditional practices…

So far, there is little interest in Tamil culture in Auroville. Sporadically, Tamil cultural events are organized, such as Tamil New Year and Deepavali, with dinner and fireworks. While such activities are well attended by Tamils and Westerners, a majority of Tamil Aurovilians may not participate. As for classical or folk arts, apart from some bharatanatyam dance performances, surprisingly few events are organised that express the incredible richness of Tamil culture. Most Tamil Aurovilians interviewed acknowledge that they have only little knowledge about their own literature and art and therefore do not or only marginally contribute to the organization of cultural events. Many Westerners, on the other hand, do not seem overtly interested to learn about Tamil tradition or language. In this context it is not surprising that plans for a Tamil Heritage Centre remain unfulfilled.
In asking Tamil Aurovilians to describe the difficulties they experience in Auroville, the terms ‘racism’ and ‘discrimination’ are often used as an emotionally charged way of describing the treatment they sometimes encounter. Few people reported of incidents of physical violence, but many gave examples of subtle forms of perceived discrimination.

Savitri was performed on a proscenium stage with dancers with varying levels of training and performance experience. The movement vocabulary reflected a heavy influence of Jose Limon whose technique Paulo had trained in. In short, in modern dance formal terms, there was nothing new going on. But what was different than most modern dance presentations was the attitude with which the dance was performed. When I spoke to some of the participants after the show, they related that they had struggled throughout with skepticisms about whether they wanted to perform at all, as they were concerned that to display the work before an audience would be an indulgence of the “ego”.
And the indulgence of the ego it was: the dancers made a laughing stock out of themselves!
While several Tamilians are active members of the community and circulate amongst many of its circles, outside of work many do socialize primarily with other Tamil Aurovilians or else non-Aurovilian family members. This is hardly surprising, given that most other Aurovilians do not speak Tamil and relatively few express interest in local culture.
As for favorite pastimes, weekend parties, complete with drinking and techno and hip-hop music, are a common occurrence.
Shanti presents herself as a successful business analyst: http://o3.indiatimes.com/kolkatabase/archive/2008/01/03/4855550.aspx :
Worldly Moves: The Changing Political Economy of a South Indian Classical Dance

I will explore the implications that the international production and performance of the South Indian classical dance, bharatanatyam, have for local producers in Chennai, India, the dance’s traditional home. My focus will be on the changing political economy of bharatanatyam with an eye to how artistic merit and opportunities to perform in India are increasingly dependent upon a dancer’s access to overseas markets and international cultural brokers. I will secondarily consider how local performers, producers and critics feel about these changes and their often gloomy outlook on the future quality of the dance form. This case study demonstrates that the globalization of local traditions does not necessarily translate into a newly invigorated life for those practices and can exacerbate the social, economic, and political inequalities amongst practitioners. Moreover, worldwide performance does not necessarily imply mutual understanding between traditional practitioners and those who make use of their teachings in other places.
Kinesthetics relate to naturalized cultural and cosmological orientations. More often than not, those who are culturally disposed to move in certain ways from any early age are not fully conscious of these connections
In other words, Shanti confesses that she is successful is selling her clumsy “bharatanatyam’ in New York and elsewhere.
Francois Gautier’s quote:
Many Aurovilians had a “blockage” against spirituality: “There is a Western fear of the outer forms of spirituality”
Shanti reveals:
Indians themselves needed to be educated about the value of Indian culture. Andre stated: “Even here in India there are many people who don’t know so much what is India, even the Indian people”.
“she made the observation that people (in Auroville) often treated spaces as if they belonged to them alone”
“some collective areas are “privatized””
I propose that a concept of “performance” provides a useful model for thinking about the relationship between Auroville’s official ideals and its daily life. Focussing on actual practices, rather than individual or group discourses about them, reveals a series of contradictions which are key to understanding how the Auroville community functions. Moverover, reading and interpreting the teachings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and putting their words into practice – that is performing their philosophy – are central to the project of formulating a sense of community and identity. Auroville - a special Bharatanatyam presentation in SAWCHU July 1, 2008 AUROVILLE UNDER SCANNER

Shanti Pillai
Courses: Global Theatre: China, Japan, and India, Performance Practices of Global Youth Cultures
B.A., Stanford University. M.A., University of California-Berkeley. Ph.D., New York University. Special interests include the performance practices of Asia and Latin America, globalization and culture, Western perceptions of India and practice of Indian “spirituality,” and performance theory; visiting professor at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Ecuador, 1997-99; director of the South India Term Abroad (SITA) Program, 2003; recipient of American Institute of Indian Studies fellowship for dissertation research; Bhara-tanatyam performer and teacher; resident director of SLC in Cuba, 2006. SLC, 2003-

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