The build up to India Foundation’s inaugural conference on soft power was marked by a series of roundtable discussions, on each of the individual themes that were to be discussed at the conference – Arts, Crafts and Design; Ayurveda, Cinema, Cuisine, Language and Literature, Museums, Performing Arts, Spirituality, Tourism, Education and Yoga. The roundtables covered how a specific theme has to be presented and discussed at the conference with respect to its role in promoting Indian soft power.
The first roundtable to be held was the roundtable on Yoga, held on 23rd September, 2018, at Krishnamacharaya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai. The roundtable focused on how Yoga has become one of the most dominant Indian cultural exports in the modern world. The roundtable looked at how despite its apparent success, the popularity of yoga has some underlying issues – such as the commercialisation of Yoga. The participants focused on how India can properly leverage the global popularity of yoga for its own political and monetary gain. They also tried to address the problem of how India can accurately communicate the true essence of what yoga is to the world, to counteract the current, commercialised versions of yoga that exist abroad.
The roundtable on Performing Arts was held on 2nd October, 2018, at Lshva studio, Bangalore. The roundtable was attended by practitioners of numerous art forms, with the aim of determining means by which Indian performing arts can be successfully taken abroad. The participants stressed the importance of collaborative efforts between Indian and foreign artists as a way to make classical Indian art forms more initially relatable to foreign audiences. They also focused on how both government and private entities must take greater initiative in supporting Indian artists, both home and abroad, by facilitating them to perform at larger international venues and festivals.
The Roundtable on Ayurveda was held on 11th October, 2018, at India Foundation’s office in New Delhi. The roundtable examined some of the current obstacles that Ayurveda faces as it attempts to become recognised in foreign societies. The participants identified the need to create a singular narrative for Ayurveda that is echoed by all parties – government and private institutions – consistently. They also discussed the potential role that Ayurveda can play in such things as Japanese elder care, where it can serve as an alternative to existing western medicines.
The next roundtable was on the topic of Arts, Crafts and Design. The roundtable was held on on 13th October, 2018, in New Delhi. The roundtable looked at how Indian arts, crafts and design can properly tap into an ever growing global market. It focused on the growing trend towards organic and handmade materials and goods, and how Indian handicrafts are in the perfect space to take advantage of this trend.
The roundtable on Language and Literature was held on 16th October, 2018, at South Avenue, New Delhi. The roundtable looked at Indian soft power through the lens of India’s myriad of literature as well as through the lens of India’s multiple languages. The roundtable focused India’s contributions to literature in both indigenous and foreign languages. It also looked at how the teaching of Indian languages like Sanskrit can serve as a facet of Indian soft power, and how subsequently Sanskrit literature can serve as a doorway to wider Indian culture.
The Roundtable on Spirituality was organised on 21st October, 2018, at the Chinmaya Heritage Centre, Chennai. The roundtable looked to tackle the issue of how to communicate the core values of Indian spirituality effectively and accurately to a foreign audience. The participants spoke of the need to ensure that Indian spirituality and its teachings are not warped or appropriated when sent abroad. They spoke on how Spirituality can serve as the perfect gateway to truly understand India and its culture, since spirituality lies at the heart of much of India’s culture.
The Roundtable on Tourism was held on 23rd October, 2018, at South Avenue, New Delhi. The roundtable noted India’s growing tourism sector as having the potential to become one of its most important soft power tools. The roundtable identified a number of solutions to address how to grow India’s tourism sector. The participants suggested measures such as streamlining the visa procedure and making the information more easily available, and creating promotional campaigns based on the testimonials of real tourists who have visited India.
The Roundtable on Cuisine was conducted on 23rd November, 2018, at South Avenue, New Delhi. The roundtable focused on issues facing Indian cuisine abroad. They highlighted problems, such as failures in marketing Indian food to foreign audiences, the outdated nature of Indian food abroad, and the failure of culinary schools in India to educate students on traditional Indian cooking techniques.
The participants looked to provide solutions to these problems, such as encouraging fusion between Indian and foreign cuisines, so as to act as a gateway to foreign audiences. They also suggested promoting not just food but also specific ingredients such as ghee and turmeric for their medicinal properties.
(This report is carried in the print edition of March-April 2019 issue of India Foundation Journal.)