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The ‘Acharya envoys’ who propagate Indian culture

Author: Varghese K. George
Publication: The Hindu
Date: March 11, 2018
URL:      http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/the-acharya-envoys-who-propagate-indian-culture/article23042016.ece?

In a new initiative by the Narendra Modi government, a band of Indian officials posted to three missions in the U.S. now promote ‘Indian culture’ as part of diplomacy.

Designated as ‘Yoga and Indian Culture Acharya’, the three officials in Washington DC, New York and Chicago are experts in Sanskrit, yoga and Hindu scriptures. They were selected by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations through a special recruitment process and have diplomatic passports and offices in Indian missions. Their appointment is initially for two years, extendable by two more. And all three have the mandate to travel around the country and organise events that promote ‘Indian culture’.

The vision

Giving a glimpse into the initiative, Mokshraj, one of the three ‘Acharyas’ who joined on January 12, says: “Jaisi drishti, vaisi srishti — you act according to your vision.”

A PhD in Vedas from the Rajasthan Sanskrit University, Mr. Mokshraj goes on to explain: “This is the vision of the current government, but previous governments did not have this. It is not that this knowledge did not exist earlier... There is a yoga revolution happening around the world. And then Modiji showed what he could do in the last three years.”

 “Twenty four Indian missions and cultural centres abroad now have this position,” he says.

Dayashankar Vidyalankar, an ‘Acharya’ at the Indian Consulate in New York, tells that the entire world was “guided by the wisdom of Vedas at one time but we lost that due to various factors. After Independence, this is the first time that India has a government that thinks that Indian culture should be propagated. That is how I am here.”

Prerna Arya, who serves at the Indian consulate in Chicago, became part of the initiative on December 7, 2016. Ms. Arya, who completed her PhD from the Gurukul Kangri University in Haridwar and whose thesis was on ‘Naturopathy in Vedic Literature’, says that she plans to popularise traditional forms of treatments. “For example, the yagna chikitsa. If a patient experiences the environment of yagna, it could be therapeutic in many cases,” she says.

“The government has selected us to spread the wisdom of our rishis [sages], to spread our Bharatiya [Indian] culture... I have been conducting pravachan [discourses], yoga classes etc. through our consulate since I came here,” she says.

Mr. Dayashankar was born in Gorakhpur. Mahant Avaidyanath, guru of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, sent him to Haridwar, where he served lepers until he joined Baba Ramdev. He then headed to Gujarat, where he learned Sanskrit. “I taught yoga in Parliament House for nearly 15 years and serve on several advisory boards of government departments,” he tells The Hindu. “I worked with Yogiji in all elections that he fought. He is my guru.”

He says it would be appropriate to call these band of officials India’s “cultural ambassadors”.

Spreading yoga

These ‘Acharyas’ feel that yoga is being commercialised and, in the process, its spiritual dimension gets lost. They say the Indian government, through this initiative, seeks to to teach yoga in its entirety. “Yoga is about using all that you have — body is only part of it — for union with the God. Asanas, the exercise part of it spread fast... but yogvidya is about the person’s physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, psychological, and economic progress... We have to spread these values. That is our sacred mission,” says Ms. Arya.

She adds: “The basis of Indian culture is the Vedas... Ved hamara samvidhan hain [Vedas form the basis of our conduct and our rules and regulations]... following them helps in the fulfilment of our lives. This is basis of Bharatiya culture... No aspect of human life is beyond this knowledge. Personal, family, social, economic.”

Mr. Mokshraj explains it similarly. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam [The world is one family] and Jiyo aur Jeene Do [Live and let others live] — these are two spiritual mottos that guide this initiative. How will this happen? When we think good of others... through the route of yoga and meditation... Our responsibility is to… take yoga to each individual, without cost, so that they could reduce their medical bills and lead peaceful lives.”

Mr. Mokshraj has been making rounds of temples and gurdwaras around the DC area, “wherever our Bharatiya community lives, with the message that if they organise a camp, this free service from the embassy is now available”. He has also started a regular yoga class for the embassy staff. He says the embassy is planning to organise week-long camps.

“Yoga is rooted in Vedas, and Sanskrit. So everything is combined. The more knowledge they have, the deeper their practice of yoga will become. Camps will have yoga sessions in the evening and morning, and through the day, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Sanskrit will be taught,” he says.

He believes that though the ICCR was founded in 1950, the promotion of Indian culture did not get enough attention until Mr. Modi became Prime Minister.

Mr. Dayashankar has plans to explain havan and yagna to American audiences. “Havan and yagna can benefit the world. [They have] a role in resolving the problems that the world faces today... when people think beyond themselves and think of the whole universe, that will lead to end of conflict.”
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