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Enabling women through education (an artiste's perspective)
- Dr. Padmaja Suresh

March 16, 2014

Educate a woman and thereby educate a nation is a popular saying. Bhaarata, our nation is known to have been led by several women who had deep-rooted knowledge of many subjects and could openly debate with men. The education which a woman possessed was most useful in grooming herself and molding the children from within the family system which was itself a replica of a world class university. Art, culture, skills, values were all part and parcel of the process and means of acquiring knowledge with the larger end of spiritual goals.

Education enabled one to pursue the four goals, the Purusharthas with due regard to the Ashramas or stages of life. Women were not expected to earn a living and their knowledge reflected on their position as the backbone of every society to balance a peaceful co-existence. Our legends often quote some occasion or the other where even the deified lord turned to his spouse for advice at crucial moments. Stree Shakti is the energy that enables every movement, action and knowledge and this principle is portrayed as 'the one who rides a tiger.' Devi, called by various names, is the combined power of G-O-D as the generative, operative and destructive force. Every religion has similar representations. In yogic philosophy, SHE stands for fire and in fact, it was far easier for a woman to achieve the highest spiritual goals than man and hence, she was discreetly kept away by the men from many practices in order to reserve her attention on the family.

Arts, be it fine arts or performing arts, encompasses a whole stream of visual and spatial geometry, beauty and harmony. While the term 'modern' may permit loud expression, the term 'classical' characterizes subtlety. Either static or movement-based, they always provide scope for imagination and creativity and suggest an enhanced connectivity with the viewers. The response of aesthetic enjoyment or rasa is instantaneous in dance, drama or music and gradual in painting or sculpture but all the same, this always lingers in the minds because art truly represents our lives and natural emotive states. Art is also an exalted medium to transcend and elevate from the mundane into the realm of divinity. Our classical arts are known to have emerged from philosophical and spiritual roots and always reinstated dharma or righteousness. Universal good, love, brotherhood, and unity in diversity are emphasized within the beautiful framework of this discipline. It has to be remembered that it is the inherent resilience and strength in these arts that faced all invasions and remained as it was in its intrinsic spirit.

Today, in our education system, thanks to our invaders, much of our ancient traditions have been hurled out of our windows and schools which were open to natural environment and cherished a great relationship between preceptor and taught through Gurukul have now become heartless institutes, taking pride in cemented and stoned architecture and producing data-filled operating systems out of human beings. We are consistently focused on creating economic power at the cost of holistic living. If education is concept accumulation, then the greatest phenomenon - Google or the internet - could be better teachers. Teaching profession has less takers and most of them have hardly any motivation, calling it a thankless job. Besides this, education like every sector in our country also suffers unfortunately, due to disregard of merit and interference of other factors including by and large, the politicizing of education by policy makers. Is gathering concepts and rote memorizing for exams, even remotely the true test of intelligence, presence of mind or competence, actually required in abundance? Should we build the nation with inspired youth working with passion as sensitive and bold leaders or merely create self-centered individuals, bereft of any humanitarian worth at all? Do we not have to drive home the point that they have not only to become creators of wealth but also to be able to sustain wealth in this planet?

Sanskrit, the mother of all languages, our very own, is given the same consolatory place as an optional third language whereas it has been adopted in primary education in some western countries. It is acknowledged that learning Sanskrit would pave way to better thinking and values in children. Arts education, not only painting but also performing arts like music, dance and drama, yoga and martial arts have to become embedded in the main curriculum and not just categorized as extra-curricular. While men are equally adept enough to take to artistic professions and would do so more willingly, if employability gets well organized, women can take advantage of this learning in incorporating better balance between their home and career. Women have won laurels throughout the world with their performance in various careers but at the same time, there is one wave of thought that is getting needlessly promoted and that is the so-called 'fight' for women's rights. The extremist ideas give room to negative thinking that a family and career cannot go hand in hand respectively as a happy and successful blend. Ambition gets sacrificed at the altar of a marriage - so thinking, women are incessantly fighting their own selves at the end of the day. We see plenty of split families in our country these days.

We have to understand that rights go in hand with responsibility and very often, rights also become a subset of respect. Any right which is demanded and enforced by law cannot match that right which is spontaneously bestowed with earned, mutual and lasting respect. Women need not compare themselves with men or act like them. It is not competitive, it is complementary. The increasing number of old age homes, child care centers, junk food joints, health hazards and innovative support systems that have emerged in the recent past speak volumes of the diminishing time that a typical urban couple can spare for close family members. We have begun to need reminders for every relationship like Father's Day, Daughter's Day and so on...

The first Acharya is the mother. She can uphold her stature when she herself is educated and rightly so. When the mother educates the child about the distinct nature of being a boy or a girl and the joint co-existence of both in this world, it is but for sure that the child would learn to respect this unique aspect of life from that preliminary stage when it is a raw spiritual being. Kindergarten lessons are at home! In the rush for admissions into famous schools, much of the rudimentary steps get lost and real joyful growth does not happen in the child's life.

The need of the hour then, is better values in our children from a tender age that has to be instilled from the family and simultaneously, the primary schools at a time when they have highly impressionable minds. Only a woman can do it. She is 'Mother' above all. It is only a woman who can prepare the child not only to face the university but the entire Universe. Only a woman can bring about change from within. It is sad that the image of a woman is getting increasingly shattered by the depiction of her as an object. Women themselves can stop this trend which is demeaning her dignity in society. If women join hands, they can improve their own lot and take protective action against crime. She can fight causes of women that are truly facing them in every part of our nation through the powerful tool of education and spreading awareness.

Every woman has to take pride in her motherly instinct and every little girl should feel that it is NOT an insult to cry in is her nature, her strength!

Bharatanatyam dancer/teacher Dr. Padmaja Suresh has been trained by prominent gurus in dance and music. She holds degrees in Commerce, Law, Diploma in choreography, a Masters in Philosophy and a doctorate on 'Science of Tantra and Art of Natya: a Co-Relative Study.' Her institution Aatmalaya in Bangalore imparts training in classical dance and music with a wing Kalachaitanya for propagating arts for lesser privileged children.

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