National seminar on synergy of education and culture
- Chandra Anand

November 7, 2015

Nalanda Dance Research Centre (NDRC) is on its 50th year.  To commemorate this, the institution is hosting many across-the-board events. One of the several conducted, was a thought-provoking and rousing seminar 'Synergy of Education and Culture - Our Concerns', featuring leading cultural and educational personalities from various parts of India. It was held on 25th and 26th September 2015 at the auditorium Kanak Sabha of Nalanda Dance Research Centre, Mumbai.

There was a harmony in ideas amongst all speakers.  All advocated that a holistic education is only well defined when the elements of culture of the nation which encompasses the aesthetic and ethical values and which formed part of the Indian psyche and identity, were to be included in the curriculum. Consequently, the idea to disseminate the features of our culture from school itself was being advocated.

Dr. Kanak Rele (Founder and Director of NDRC) led the session. She says that India’s crowning glory is her culture and therefore culture is an important element of the human resource development in a country. She clarified that it is mainly the performing arts and the visual arts, literature and heritage, taken together that define the contours of culture at large, for it is in these that the presence and contribution of Indian culture is much more dominant and visible. She described the richness and dynamic nature of Indian art and culture and this is indeed needed to be preserved and promoted. She endorsed that this culture is pluralistic providing creative expression, value sustenance and belief pattern to Indian society. Naturally, in a larger context, cultural activities have a direct relevance to the national identity which makes it requisite that those activities should be in major collaboration with education.

She explained that the concept of education entered into the picture when these oral traditions and arts which have been transmitted orally are sought to have been written down.  If those were not to be followed up in actual practice, they would be archived. She stressed since heritage forms the major bulk of India’s cultural traditions, it is the coming together of culture and education, which will ensure its good health and longevity for generations to come. So, it is here that formal academic education steeped in cultural ethos would be of the utmost importance. She termed this approach as “synergy between culture and education.”

She expressed her worries that today the study and appreciation for Indian culture (inclusive of her arts) had little place in the thoughts of the average educated Indian. Consequently, the youth are out of step with the Indian traditions, ideal and conventions which has led to a general sense of confusion and apathy. Therefore there is a crying need to ensure that Indian traditions and culture are retained as a way of life and this should be a process of assimilation of the ethos into daily lives as a matter of habit.  Then definitely, she maintained that it is here that the educational system must play the most decisive and progressive role. 

She suggested that the acquaintance, acceptance and assimilation of Indian traditional culture can best be achieved by being made an integral part of general education right from the school level. Next, at the higher academic level of university education ample facilities should be made available for providing professional education to those who would like to make the pursuit of culture as their vocation.   As reasoned earlier, she upheld that in the contemporary Indian ethos these Indian traditions would mean the performing arts and the visual arts.


Early in the session it was brought out by Dr. Anil Kakodkar, (Eminent Indian nuclear scientist, Chairman, Board of Trustees, NDRC) that an integrated approach to studies helps quicken the progress of education. This was brought out with the example of how only when research in pure sciences was done in integration with allied science there was much progress. Thus integrating the arts and culture with other academic subjects would help to make learning activities more interesting and elevate and expedite the process of education. Shekar Sen (chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi) said that if anybody remembered people from the ancient past, it was because of their contribution to culture. Thus the importance of synergy of education with culture was brought out.

Prof. Anupam Mahajan spoke about the immense attention and importance of transmitting India’s cultural heritage to the next and upcoming generations, especially since passing on of values, thoughts, customs, mannerisms, concepts and behavioral patterns help the survival and the growth of that particular society.  It was in the growing years of the young when everything they learnt had a strong impact on their mental and spiritual development and they left a quick and deep impression on the personality. So, catch them young should be the catchphrase. Her point of argument was concerned with the formal education system where education and culture has separately developed instead of interlocking each other. She stressed the importance of cultural education and expressed anxiety to the fact that in India where the roots of culture are very deep owing its origin from Vedic and pre-Vedic time, in the name of modernism the rich heritage has not been passed on to the youth of the present generation. A very serious thinking into this was necessary and restructuring our education system to include cultural education with academics was needed at this point. This rectification is required in the present days or else it might be too late.

She strongly felt that a combination of arts and shared culture in the education system, will prepare our students for better stride in life. She explained and reasoned why in a country like India where every state has its own rich cultural heritage there is an urgent need for cross mingling with cultures. Also, she cautioned that with the impact of globalization, it was also then time to cross the cultural boundaries of other countries and share their culture. Then it becomes essential also to prepare our students to travel the cross cultural boundaries.  She explained the importance of creativity where the urge to express ourselves is made possible. And it is by this that the practitioner gets a unique self identity. It is through the arts, a very important element of culture, that this can be done.  She advised that as every human being had creative capacity, the key issue was to develop creative capacity by keeping a balance between traditional teaching methods and understanding the need for freedom to innovate.  This would help the genuine development of mind and soul of the upcoming generations of India.

She claimed that no art is isolated in its existence, it has relation to other disciplines and so a multi-disciplinary approach was needed to disseminate the elements of culture. She urged that the government and the society should be made aware that cultural activities are not only for entertainment but rather it helps understanding that arts are about what we are, why we are and how we are. Culture or arts are a store house of manifestation of creative thoughts and action occurring due to circumstance prevailing at that moment of time, whether, socially technically and /or economically. Since we are living in a social atmosphere with varied cultural diversities and with ever increasing cultural exposure resulting in rapidly evolving cultural changes, this culture must be disseminated with a balanced approach, taking consideration of its effects on the overall milieu. People and students ought to be made aware of the value and symbiosis of education and culture. They have to be taught to think for themselves and understand the inter-relationship between the two.

She suggested that the various stake holders needed awareness, orientation and means by which they could contribute and bring about revolutionary changes in the existing education system. National and state government should play a major role in restructuring education policies by establishing multi-cultural arts components in educational institutions. Curriculum should be developed and continuously reviewed and modified by the specialists keeping in mind the demands and changing trends of the society.

There was a unity in their ideas of education systems as it were during the ancient days and it is in the present times. These elements were compared and contrasted by Dr. Radha Kumar and Dr. Prachi Moghe, there was an agreement that in ancient time, education was for the development of the whole personality with which the student also found his vocation but today’s education aimed at vocational training and so very much job oriented.  Both suggested methods and approaches by which our Indian traditions and customs, concepts could be ingrained in the minds of children along with the knowledge of the west. Without making much ado the study of ancient culture should be integrated into the present system.

The teaching of Sanskrit was to be given emphasis and methods to generate interest in the students for the study of Sanskrit language were also suggested by Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao. It was brought out that the Sanskrit language opened up the store house of knowledge regarding our customs, traditions, morals and values, as all the epics and other scriptures and treatises on music, dance and other arts including medicine were written in this very language in ancient India.

On the same lines, emphasis was given on drama by Dr. Mahesh Champaklal of M.S. University, Baroda, yoga by Dr. Subodh Tiwari of Kaivalyadhama, and Dr. Parvin Sinclair spoke on the visual arts. The copies of the report of a project, carried out by NDRC titled ‘Discovering India- A survey of school text books and curriculums in Maharashtra’ under funding by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India was distributed to the participants.

For the purpose of this survey, the meaning of culture was defined as “the arts and manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively” and “the customs, institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or group”. This survey was done to ascertain the authenticity of cultural data and the percentage that it formed in the total curriculum. Of course, the reason was obvious. It was to be remembered that a child is molded in equal parts at home as well as the school. And school definitely means textbooks and lessons. Accordingly, it is here that synergy of education with culture must begin.

Some observations done by Dr. Kanak Rele taking account of the remarks of other individuals who participated in the survey (the full teaching staff of Nalanda Nritya Mahavidyalaya was involved) was mentioned. The results of the survey showed at the moment, that hardly any cultural knowledge is being imparted to the students in school. It was pointed out that a glaring omission is the cursory treatment given to great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata that should be treated as a store house of secular information on all that is India and her culture. Similarly, the tales of Panchatantra and Jataka tales should be used in the curriculum for they were full of ethical values and could prove to be fun stories. In fact, these tales are very current in the Middle Eastern counties. They should include these stories and the arts in the school by which they learn all the morals and values for a fully equipped life and follow to enjoy life wholesomely. 

Being a dance college, the points of how education and the art of dance is to be interlocked meaningfully was also discussed in detail from many angles. The gurushisya parampara system that previously existed and the present educational system with its methods of teaching and evaluation of the students’ progress in institutionalized training were brought to the forefront by Dr. Vasant Kiran and Dr.Meenakshi Gangopadhya respectively. The present problems of students learning their arts from DVD and the internet were also brought out.

The cohesiveness of textual tradition and dance education was presented by Dr. Malathi Agneswaran. She averred that all dance styles seek and establish their link with the Natyasastra and similar texts. She espoused that these books have to be read, interpreted and reinterpreted so that the classical dances are made contemporary within the traditional format. She mentioned the pioneers in the field being the late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatara who reworked Odissi and Dr. Kanak Rele who added a new perspective and dimension to Mohiniattam.

The potential of literature as the most important means through which culture could be carried forward was discussed by Dr. Chinmayi Hrushikesh Deodhar. She elucidated that it not only portrayed the society and its cultural circumstances at that time but had the capacity to influence society in its own way. So, study of literature would help the spread of cultural norms.

Megha Mohad spoke about those ancient values which would have help to create a better generation with balanced personalities. She sympathized that they have disappeared from the current educational system, and entreated that this had to be looked into and steps had to be taken to rectify the omission. Dr. Ambika Vishwanath spoke of importance of tala system in dance and its overall effect on performance. Dr. Radhika spoke about use of information and communication technology to store, create, retrieve and communicate or manage information particularly for learning and archiving dance.

Krishna Janmastami

There was a presentation of a cultural show by students of Nalanda Nritya Mahavidyalaya. The dance drama ‘Krishna Janmastami’ presented a dramatic wide spectrum of the life of Krishna, in four parts in the styles of Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam and Kathak. One was about his birth done in sankirtan style, then the different kinds of love towards Krishna by Yashoda, Radha, Meera and Rukmini.  And then his friends gopas and gopis; and with Sudama and lastly from Mahabharata depicting the roll of dice by Yudhistir, Draupadi vastraharan and geeta upadesha. It showed how cultural values could be spread through the presentation of the epics in performing arts. The presentation was applauded by one and all. Through this presentation Dr. Uma Rele (Principal of Nalanda Nrityakala Mahavidhyalaya) showed that ancient Indian culture is part of the syllabus in the college and through the skill of choreography and presentations based on the epics and puranas, the students’ creativity were channelized to instill artistic sensibilities. She reiterated that these ancient scriptures give encompassing knowledge and enlighten everyone with codes of conduct and realities of life.

This seminar truly opened the gates to a new approach of disseminating the cultural heritage amongst the Indian people. Like Prof. Mahajan assuredly stated that this seminar would surely be the pioneering attempt made in restructuring the whole education system which shall lead to the new approach and mind set in educational policies.

Chandra Anand is a Bharatanatyam artiste and teacher. A student of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir since 1972, she is presently training under guru Lata Raman.