Yoga, Jatakas and fragrant sampaguitas

INPHINITELY YOURS - Shambhu S. Kumaran - The Philippine Star

It is a truism that relations between countries go well beyond those between their governments. In democracies such as India and the Philippines, this is doubly true.

As our two vibrant and young nations successfully energize our contemporary partnership covering areas of mutual interest such as the digital economy, health and agriculture, it is equally important that we revitalize our civilizational links that provide a deeper basis for connecting our people and societies.

India and the Philippines share cultural linkages that span centuries. From the Agusan Tara, the iconic marker of Filipino antiquity, to the Laguna Copper Plate, the earliest discovered artefact written in the Kawi script that has roots in India’s Devanagari script or the many words in the Filipino language that have Indian etymological connections, our historical interactions are evident.

The colonial period interrupted these pathways of engagement. However, with the active support of our two governments and a range of other stakeholders, we are now witnessing a steady rediscovery of our cultural ties.

Yoga, India’s civilizational pathway to holistic wellbeing, continues to attract enthusiasts in the Philippines cutting across gender, class and age. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of yoga in the Philippines, especially as it helps build a robust immune system among its other health benefits. Online yoga classes have now become extremely popular across the country. The embassy also organized several well-attended online lectures by renowned Indian and Filipino experts.

The International Day of Yoga on June 21 provided a long-awaited opportunity for an in-person yoga session. Held in partnership with the Mall of Asia as well as local yoga schools and community associations, four leading local yoga experts presented their favourite yoga asanas drawn from the Common Yoga Protocol (CYP). The event, ably compéred by popular TV host and yoga enthusiast RJ Ledesma, witnessed the enthusiastic participation of hundreds of Filipinos, especially women. For those interested, the CYP, which includes most important asanas, can be freely downloaded from the embassy website.

A highlight of this year’s Yoga Day celebrations was the release of a well-written book ‘How to Never Diet Forever’ by Clara Day Herrera, one of the top yoga and meditation experts in the Philippines. The book draws upon Clara’s profound life experiences and the transformative power of ancient Indian teachings to offer a viable framework to rewire our stressful modern lives. Truly a must read, especially for young Filipino professionals.

Earlier in May, the embassy concluded a pioneering new cultural collaboration, Kuwentong Jataka, with Ateneo de Manila. The project brings, for the first time ever, age-old Jataka Tales to young children in the Philippines. The Jataka Tales are simple yet deeply meaningful stories based on the life and teachings of the Buddha. The translations and the recordings by the team at Areté Ateneo has produced 12 Filipino language podcasts of outstanding quality that mark a new highpoint for India-Philippines cultural and educational cooperation. Hopefully, some of these stories will find their way into the school curriculum in the Philippines.

Releasing in mid-August, to commemorate 75 years of India’s independence, will be another milestone project under our bilateral Cultural Exchange Program. The Philippine Madrigal Singers, the country’s leading choral music troupe, has partnered with the embassy of India to interpret, in their characteristic singing format, four popular Indian folk songs. Ably guided by Choir Master Mark Antony Carpio, with the active support of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), this promises to be truly a unique musical voyage of inter-cultural collaboration.

The ongoing discovery of India by Filipinos covers various other fields. From the diversity of Indian cuisine to the beauty of India’s varied textiles or its sparkling gems and jewelry, just to name a few. A new area of interest is the healing power of Ayurveda, India’s millennia-old system of medicine. In April, at the Global Ayurveda Summit in India, the Philippines Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITACH) signed an MOU with India’s National Institute of Ayurveda. The MOU will initiate structured engagement on Ayurvedic treatments for the benefit of Filipinos. It will also support PITACH in its efforts to develop the Philippines’ own system of traditional medicine and pharmacopeia for which two Indian experts are being deputed with PITACH later this year.

Many Filipinos may not be aware that the National Flower of the Philippines, the fragrant sampaguita, originated in India. This is truly a fitting symbol of the bouquet of initiatives that seeks to again bring our cultures and peoples closer together. May the wonderful fragrance of the sampaguita inspire our two cultures to continue to understand and engage each other, now and in the future.

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Shambhu S. Kumaran is the Ambassador of India.

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