Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Yoga as part of the matrix which links India

By Saeed Naqvi
Ayurveda entered our lives as tiny, plastic vials of Amritdhara, three drops in a teaspoon of sugar, the panacea for all stomach ailments. Yoga followed in its earliest manifestation as photographs of Pandit Nehru doing a head stand or ‘sees aasan’.

“Don’t try it without being guided by a guru,” elders would warn. “It can be dangerous.” We were tempted because we imagined headstands would make us brainy like Pandit Nehru.

India’s first prime minister would have been the perfect poster boy for yoga because not only was he supple and therefore adept at it but he also had the charisma, an essential requirement for successful marketing. Narendra Modi must be given marks for all the hullaballoo which has, let’s face it, given yoga renewed global notice.

Would this not have been a wonderful occasion to focus on the late Guru Aiyangar’s institution. The yoga ashram in Monghyr, Bihar, set up by Swami Satyanand sends thousands of yoga teachers, one of whom guides me and my family. From him I learn of the precarious existence of many, serious yoga teachers.

It was never brought to our notice that yoga or indeed Ayurveda were Hindu. Likewise, the Unani system of medicines, the one which Hakeems practiced, was certainly not Muslim. It could not have been. Unani means Greek which would suggest it was part of the traffic of neo platonic ideas in medieval time across Arab lands.

The trajectory ideas take is often unpredictable. The late Hakeem Abdul Hameed, founder of Hamdard, which became part of our lives, actually came from a family from Kashgar in Xinjiang region of China, which clearly links up with Central Asia and clarifies the narrative so much more.

In north India, the Hakeem became more than just a medicine dispenser. He became something of a cultural institution. In addition to the human body, he knew languages, philosophy, art, music.

Ghalib’s contemporary Momin was actually Hakeem Momin Khan Momin, whose ghazals surpass Ghalib’s in some instances. It is generally not known that poet, lyricist, Majrooh Sultanpuri was a Hakeem by training. While Hakeems and Vaids represented two cultures with a common purpose, there was actually nothing quite like yoga. It was exceptional.

Some Muslims thought that anyone who said his Namaz five times a day would never be an invalid. This made immense sense. If you stand upright, bend, rest on your knees, then go down placing your forehead on the prayer mat, and repeat the reverse process as well in five sets of exercises five times a day every day of your life, you will keep nimble and fit. At the end of the Namaz drill, you must also rotate your neck in both directions ostensibly to keep the devil away but actually to protect yourself against spondylitis.

Namaz, therefore, would both be prayer and light exercise. But Namaz is a religious ritual. It is denominational. Yoga in its conception is not.

And this brings me to my theory of the Triple ‘S’ Matrix to which yoga may be added as the forth ‘S’, possibly as “Sadhna”.

Long years ago, after a conversation with the late Abu Abraham, I had acquiesced in the theory that Sanskrit, not Hindi, should have been the national language because every Indian language, except Tamil, has anything between 50 to 75 percent Sanskrit words. Tamil too could be cajoled because both Karuna and Nidhi are Sanskrit words after all. This would have placed equal pressure on all regions to study and master the new national language. This would have served an important, additional purpose: it would have obviated the adversarial Hindi-Urdu equation, one of the ingredients in the simmering communal cauldron.

So, in this theory, Sanskrit became the first ‘S’.

Two important ‘S’ in the national chain are ‘Saree’ and ‘Sangeet’.

A country with 17 regional languages on every currency note is held together by the most exquisite Kancheepuram, Kota, Patola, Janmdaani, Baluchari, Dhaka and a thousand even more exquisite designs of sarees. This is the great national heritage which deserves to be preserved and protected from market predators peddling other apparel.

Of course nothing links the country quite as stoutly as Hindustani (music) sangeet does. Let me conclude this section with a story.

Vinod Kapoor, connoisseur and patron of Hindustani sangeet, was introducing a singer from Dharwar. “Jaipur-Autrauli, Kirana, Agra – all well known schools of music are next of door to Delhi. And yet the practitioners of this music come from northern Karnataka and Konkan. What is the explanation?” Kapoor was asking a simple question, with a sense of irony because he knew the answer.

But an audience in today’s vitiated atmosphere may be forgiven to arrive at biased conclusions. Marauders from outside pushed the thriving enclaves of sangeet to the south of Maharashtra.

The real story is quite different.

Ustaad Alladiya Khan, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, founders of Jaipur-Autrauli and Kirana gharanas, were invited by promoters of Natya Sangeet in the Hubli, Dharwar and Pune region to train their young musicians. This was before musicals became popular on Broadway and the West End. Land owning patrons of music retained the Ustads to train singers in their courts. Kishori Amonker’s mother, Mogubai, visited Alladiya Khan’s grave in Mumbai every year on his death anniversary.

That extraordinary evening at Vinod Kapoor’s ‘baithak’ the singers from Dharwar regaled the audiences to two compositions by Adarang and Sadarang, an uncle and nephew team whose real names were Niyamat Khan and Firoz Khan. This duet transformed the Khayal style of singing in the court of the great patron of music, Mohammad Shah Rangila.

All of this is part of India’s soft power which deserves as much attention from Narendra Modi as yoga does.

(A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on The views expressed are personal.)

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