Dr. Navina Jafa
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan has gone down in Indian History as the First Woman Rishi-Acharya on Indian Culture and Arts. Turning pages of History, one does not reference women as Rishis and Acharya and their body of work. There are references to Gargi and Maitri but not of any work they may have produced, and Meera and Andaal as poetesses.
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, once called the Czarina of Indian Culture, was a legendary scholar on Indian Culture. A Cultural administrator, educationist, institution builder, scholar, and Dancer all packed in one. She worked on:
Indian Culture and the World
Cultures of the World tool to be the driving force in Global and Asian Worlds.
My Association: Over the years, she has advised, and guided my work in the field of Writings on Arts and Culture, Sustainable Development, Heritage Studies of India and Asia,
My journey with her started at the age of 10 and a half years. She was our neighbor for over three decades. We often shared time over dinners, shopping, and walks. She was a second mother, my teacher, my friend. She became my affiliated guide for my Ph.D. along with Dr. Narayani Gupta at the Jamia Milia Islamia.
Excerpts from My Journal – Diary
Diary Entry 1: INSTITUTIONS:
Indira Gandhi Centre For The Arts – IGNCA: The Indian Smithsonian – Her Last Major Contribution Of Institution Building
The Concept– the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts visualized as the Indian Smithsonian. Spread on the Raj Path; the IGNCA institution’s conception was to house several Museums and Cultural Research Centers in the most holistic, inclusive, and most comprehensive frame. She visualized the IGNCA as the repository and the laboratory for India to take Culture as the tool for Global leadership.
Her zeal was to reclaim, preserve, and think about Indian Culture accepting its complexity of holistic sensibility.
IGNCA – CONCEIVED AS THE INDIAN VERSION OF THE SMITHSONIAN: Kapila didi once shared her drawings and thoughts that she kept when she conceptualized IGNCA. “India, with its rich, diverse cultural capital, can be the leader to drive hard politics. IGNCA is that Concept and that tool. There is a map to that Concept, she said, Comprehending India’s approach to create the holistic legacy of the past .
Some other landmark institutions she conceived and established include –
- CCRT for Arts education in Schools.
- Schools of Buddhist Studies
- She is closely associated with Indology, Sanskrit, Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Archeology, Anthropology, Religions, and literature. –
- Through cultural policies, administration, and cultural diplomacy, she drove her vision to chart the power of Culture in Indian Society and Economics.
Diary Entry – 2 – Cultural Explorations
We were taking a walk in the Rose Garden in Chanakyapuri, Delhi. The fragrance of the maroon rose called Christian Dior engaged us. Kapila didi stopped and responded:
“How can you go to the aroma of a flower? You need to understand the soil in which the seed is nurtured. Question, question all the time – is the soil, for example, loamy, alluvial, or sandy? You need to think of the structure of the seed and how it is nurtured. From there, you need to ponder on the journey of the plant, and then the flower.
But see… most times by most of us, our journey begins and ends with the fragrance. Kapila didi laughed, then said, “The fragrance is so engaging, but it dissolves as soon as it is released in the elements.”
Dairy Entry – 3 : Innovations & Apllication of Knowledge to Projects
The Geet Govind Multimedia Project – “Everybody laughs at me and says, Kapila, what are you doing with this small 13t c Radha –Krishna love-story? You know what I discovered. This small little poem was the story of the Indian Subcontinent’s organic ethos of Multimedia. It is written, painted, danced, sung, and created as a ritual. The poem is an entry path to linguistic nuances as much as to the key to understand cultural geographies.”
– Creating International Dialogues. Dr. Vatsyayan had launched in the form of extraordinary exhibitions, an ecology of creating sustainability for cultural ecosystems, cultural skills, and creative communities. From Documentation, Exhibition to Sustainability was her motto. “Cultural Diplomacy is not about onetime events. It is about starting dialogues, about conversations, abut questioning, and critiquing!” From Nordic countries to Europe and America, her participant list had the best.
An example of this was her program titled “Mind, Man, and Mask.” In our several talks over dinner, I learned the manner she conceptualized such a complex program.
– To address the Mind’s idea, she got a range of National and International Scholars who worked on psychology, Mind, and creativity E.T.
– For Man- It meant scholars and practitioners engaged with studies of human societies.
– For Mask- It was performing arts and crafts.
Diary Entry –4. Culture is a response to varied Physical Geographies and Natural Resources
Her Visual, Performing Arts in-depth knowledge and training in archeology, numismatics, literary and spiritual traditions covered the wide span of Indian, Asian, and Western Aesthetics.
She could speak in-depth and in one breath about the organic multi-media on Sacred Mountains from Kailash to Mount Fuji; Of Cubist painting styles from M.F. Hussian to Pablo Picasso; Geometry and Science of Archeological Sites – From Brihadeshwar to Angkor Wat.
She could map the idea of the Science of Modern Dance movement, say of Laban and with microscopic surgical eyes and then contextualize that understanding to the Natyashastra for the Modern Practitioner.
She was as inspired by her the iconic Guru Vishnu Sharan Agrawal, as she was by Stella Kramisch. But her soul was in Dance, for the longest time she had the portrait of Balasaraswati where she slept.
Diary Entry 5: The Eagle Eye of Nurturing Talent
Holi was nearing, and Kapila Didi was engaged with Spring Cleaning. Her house-help Dulari looked harassed as things got pulled out, put away… Suddenly Kapila Didi remarked, “Look, these are school writing books, and here is what I did with Birju Maharaj when I brought him to Delhi…”
Kapila Vatayayan identified, launched, and patronized legends like Pt Birju Mahraj, Yamini Krishnamurti, and took Balasaraswati for her first concert abroad.
It was as much about protecting as it was about preserving the creative communities of this country. Most grants in the Ministry of Culture were planned and started by her.
Entry 6: Culture & Politics: Politics Can Work Only When Cultural Geographies Are Understood, Negotiated To Create Coexistence:
“Culture is the response to geographical contexts.” The only way power can work when those in power respect local cultural world views. How can the person living in the Northern Indian Plains understand the context of the Cold desert of Ladakh? Or how can the person on the Western coast of Mandavi relate to the forest community in Bandhavgarh? Conversations, dialogues need to happen so that negotiations happen, and multiple streams’ coexistence becomes a reality.
Diary Entry 7: India- The World & Geopolitics – We do not need troops in thousands on our borders; the people on Borders are our permanent Soldiers.”
Hers was a futuristic aerial vision that remained well ahead of time.
I had returned from rigorous research in Ladakh. Soon after, in one of our Sunday Garden walks, she said, “Our political borders are so vulnerable and unchartered. Geopolitics’ strategy is not about placing thousands of troops on the coast or land borders; it is about comprehending to include the people on the margins and the borders. The troops’ man-in-charge is on a ‘posting,’ and the Border people are permanent soldiers. It was so important to involve, for instance, H.H., The Dalai Lama, to build healthy border cultural communities in the Himalayas through the thread of Buddhism. His wisdom and other Tibetan Scholars and knowledge streams were not only about addressing the fragile Indian Buddhist Cultural Heritage, but engagement with the exiled Tibetans were ways to build the communities on the Border.” Dr. Vatsyayan was the one who suggested to Pt. Nehru and Maulana Azad the idea of Higher Buddhist Study Institutions like Sarnath Sikkim, Ladakh, and other places. His Holiness continued to call her “Mother.”
Her Eyes caught talent and worked to understand the Idea of India better- Spiritual leaders, Shankracharya, Sufi Scholars from Kashmir, and Mata Amritanandamay, among many others. They felt honored to dialogue with her. Leading Indian and World Scholars like Stella Kramisch, Bettina Baumer, Dr. Roger Lipsey, John McKim Malville, to name a few, worked with her.
THE ‘ASIA PROJECT’ OF THE INDIA INTERNATIONAL CENTRE was once again ahead of time. Dr. Vatsyayan already knew not EVENTS like festivals, but knowledge networks with Asian nations will pave the way for India to invest in a rooted, concrete manner to lead Asia.
Diary Entry 7: Guiding Young Talent She did invest in younger people, although she was a difficult old time guru.
Some names include:
Late Premola Ghosh, Teteii L.S. Tochhawng, and the team of the India International Centre(whom she called ‘My Girls’) Amar Behl,(designer), Radha Sarkar, Himani Pande, Dr. Advaitvanidini Kaul, Dr. Mouli Kaushal, Vaswati Mishra (Dancer) Rekha Tandon, and a few others.
Mentoring the Young – My Initiative in the End:
It was clear that Dr. Vatsyayan’s Time was nearing its end. Last year in 2019 the India International Centre asked me to present a live Multimedia program on the concept of Jhoola ‘”Swinging India’ . I requested if the program could be a tribute to Kapila ji while she was alive,. It was also the last time she met Pt. Birju Maharaj my guru of Dance.
I reached out to a couple of young dancers to interact with her. The relay of interactions opened for them new ways to enter the world of creativity, and imagination
Entry 8: Engagement with Culture is weaving:
“Culture is similar to weaving. If you are the weaver, then respect all the colors in the threads. Respect the dynamics of the weft and the warp. It is only then you can optimize the functionality of human communities. Diversity is the strength of Culture. If you suppress diversity, you kill the human community.” That day, Kapila Ji and I listened to Kabir’s ‘jhini re jhini re jhini chadariya,”
Entry 9: My last Conversation: My Teacher Always
Last week I called, and she was irritated. “You always call at the wrong time! I am going to a meeting at the India International Centre!” I was happy that in COVID Time, despite some health issues, she was back with her spirit to live. (To be 91 yrs.’ old and all set for a meeting. Wow, what zest to live). For that energy, one cannot but thank those who worked to take care of our National Treasure – Mr. Ramachandra, Amita, Vishwajeet, her driver, and the India International Centre’s entire world.
Before we put down the phone, she said what her last words to me were –
“I am sitting on the platform for quite some time waiting. I am glad you are all set for creative work. Jeeti Raho!”
Long Live – Kapila Vatsyayan
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