Sunday, July 8, 2007
The Ashram as a School for Dialogue
The Ashram as a School.
Jane and I have always been involved in one way or another, with Christian Ashrams. We met in Kurisumala Ashram, and Dom Bede married us in Shantivanam Ashram. We thought of living there, but it was difficult to combine what we understood as our Sadhana, and the life of what Dom Bede sometimes termed a “Benedictine Sarvodaya Ashram”. We all have our own particular way of understanding what an ashram is. And there are many different kinds of ashram.
The first modern Ashram was perhaps Shantiniketan, which was started by Devendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath, around the beginning of the 20th Cent. Later, Rabindranath Tagore gave it his own character, starting an experimental school there in about 1910, which later developed into a kind of art school, when his cousin Nandalal Bose joined him, and set up the Kala Bhavan at Shantiniketan. That was in 1919, the same year that the Bauhaus was started in Weimar. Later in the twenties Gandhi came and spent time in Shantiniketan with his group who had been at the Tolstoy Farm in South Africa. This led to him starting an Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati river at Ahmedabad in Gujarat. And after that there were many Gandhian Ashrams. The Ramakrishna movement also called their centres Ashrams, and Aurobindo started his Ashram at Pondichery Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvanamalai also started an Ashram at the foot of the ancient hill of Arunachala. Influenced by these different forms of Ashram, Christians also started a number of Ashrams in different parts of India.
Because of our links with this Ashram movement, we have always tried to keep an open home. One definition of an Ashram was that it is a place where the doors are always left open. The attempt to set up an Art Ashram was initiated in 1983, at the suggestion of Mathew Lederle sj. He was himself running a dialogue centre, which he called Sneha Sadan, and he had become the Secretary at that time of the Ashram Aikya. Already in Bombay, Fr. Proksch had started an ashram for Dance and Music, which he called Gyan Ashram. The idea was that I should help run an Ashram for the visual arts. But our place which we called the “Indian School of Art for Peace”, or “INSCAPE”, was never an ashram in that way. It was more a loosely structured community of people interested in the relation of art to life, which meant also art and education. The way education can take place through art and the imagination, has been our “Sadhana”. Jane started a school on the piece of land that we bought in the village of Silvepura, in 1975, which combined ideas of Tagore realized at Shantiniketan, Basic Education (of Gandhi) and some of the concepts of the Waldhoff schools of Rudolph Steiner.
I think my intention when I started this website was to bring together reflections related to what I am calling an “Imaginal Ashram”. Perhaps this is a kind of virtual Ashram !! I am hoping that it will be the basis for a dialogue, and a kind of community who meet from time to time. The Imaginal Ashram could be a context, or forum, for thinking about how the Ashram Ideal relates to the creative imagination.
July 9 2007