RAJIV MALHOTRA responds, educates

Response to Indian dancer upset at my critique of Christian inculturation of Bharatnatyam
After the recent highly successful book event in Houston, ( watch video ), the organizers received an email from a dancer in Houston about an upcoming performance by Leela Samson's students. When someone sent the Breaking India excerpt about Leela Samson to this dancer, she replied that Breaking India had "resurrected the scandal" against Leela Sampson 4 years after Samson's supporters had declared it "a dead issue or a non issue". Since it was a private letter forwarded to me for a response, I will not name the person. The letter claimed that the "attacks against Leela Samson" in 2007 were the work of one man based on "some internal 'politics' and innuendos" within the dance academy. It went on to say that "the dance community of India strongly supported Leela Samson and discredited Nadar's accusations as scurrilous religion-based comments." The protestor proudly asserts: "I am a dancer, from Chennai, and to me, the Kalakshetra is a 'shrine' to art built by Rukmini Devi..."
I agree with her on the academy being a shrine. I disagree with her on what that entails. To understand the syndrome we are dealing with, it is important to first understand the strategy known as inculturation and its colonizing influences upon a growing number of Indian dancers, such as this protestor. What this dancer feels is precisely the result of inculturation - namely, to de-Hinduize the tradition in such a manner that it is welcomed by the practitioners who begin to see this shift as a kind of modernization and globalization program. The first stage is to diminish the dharmic metaphysical context by emptying the symbols of their deeper meanings, and this gets gradually secularized and eventually Christianized.
The students learn to perform across a wide range depending on the given audience. From the most traditional to the most distant from tradition, there is a spectrum with the following stages:
1) very traditional Hindu
2) modern but still Hindu
3) use of Hindu symbols but without explaining their traditional meaning
4) symbols turned into decorations and generic spirituality, to be thrown in for exotic/ethnic beauty
5) total secularization
6) Christian stories, but still using the traditional dance grammar, dress, gestures
7) dancing stories of protest against the tradition's "oppression" against women, Dalits, etc.
Ever since Christian institutions across India and the West started taking over Indian dance academies, they have been increasingly producing such students in the name of modernity. The performer will do different things before different audiences. This is sort of equivalent to what is called "al-taqiyah" in Islam, namely, to be respectful to the majority culture and traditions at least for the time being.
Inculturation is at a highly advanced stage of perfection in India. It was started by the church first in Latin America and Africa to gradually convert tribes by infiltrating them gently with appropriation of their culture. The trend of Christian Yoga is a part of the same syndrome. There are many such appropriations that confuse Indians into thinking it is a compliment to them. I deal with this partly in my forthcoming book, and in greater detail in my subsequent "U-Turn Theory".
What I would greatly appreciate from Leela Samson's academy is a clear statement of policy on inculturation and secularization of Bharatnatyam: Does she claim that this dance can be performed either as Hindu or not Hindu? Does she believe that our postmodern era makes it easier (and hence desirable) to teach and learn dance that is "liberated" from Hinduism? Does she feel that Bharatnatyam is separable from its underlying metaphysics - a metaphysics that my book "Being Different" (announced recently) shows to be incompatible with the fundamental metaphysics of Abrahamic religions?
In other words, what is the relationship between (i) Indian philosophy and Natya Shastra and (ii) Natya Shastra and Bharatanatyam?
Until such questions are debated openly and dealt with, the protestor is making a meaningless and potentially insincere compliment to Rukmini Devi and "the dancers that she had helped train, and who still carry aloft the torch of Bharatanatyam." She must go deeper than a mere surface understanding of the syndrome.

But she is unlikely to do any deep introspection. Her final sentence in the letter clarifies her escapist mindset: "It is a heavy book with disturbing writings. I'd rather spend time studying Vedanta..." This interpretation of Vedanta as an escape from whatever one finds "disturbing" and "heavy" is one of the symptoms of what I have called the Moron Smriti. But that is the topic of yet another book and I won't go further into it here.
Rajiv Malhotra