Using arts, Gandhianism to educate, learn and question

VR Devika, a champion of Indian arts, culture and Gandhianism, speaks about the importance of incorporating traditional performing arts and Gandhian principles in education.
Using arts, Gandhianism to educate, learn and question
VR Devika, cultural activist

Chennai

For the uninitiated, Dr VR Devika, Founder and Managing trustee of The Aseema Trust, a non-profit organisation that is primarily aimed at linking traditional performing arts and education, and Mahatma Gandhi and education, is a renowned cultural activist. Through her Trust, she tries to bridge arts, artists, and education through various workshops and discussions in schools and other institutions in an ever-expanding network. “The idea is also to reinforce a respect for differences, dignity in labour, and integrity in cultural preservation, through a focus on performing arts such as puppetry, dance, theatre, and music,” says Devika, who spoke at this year’s October edition of The Bliss Catchers. Conceptualised by life coach, happiness curator, author and organisational transformation consultant, AVIS Viswanathan, The Bliss Catchers is a monthly event series that celebrates people who have gone on to do what they love doing the most in life. 
Stressing on the importance of performing arts in education, she says, “We have created an education system where performing arts is never emphasised enough. Students are brought up with the idea that art comes after book lessons. But isn’t literature art too? Knowledge is attained only if one has the skill to process information. So, any expressive medium only helps the child to understand it much better.”  
Devika uses dance as a means of expression and it has been a significant part of her journey as a teacher and her life at large. “It has helped me communicate and teach better. You can learn anything using performing arts — from triangles, parallel lines, and geometry — all using just your body. More importantly, you learn to tell stories. Storytelling encourages kids to listen, ask questions and form their own perspectives.” She learnt Bharatanatyam to equip herself to spread her ideas further. However, despite having trained with the legendary dancing couple, the Dhananjayans, for over two decades, she has not had her arangetram. She says, “I didn’t want to restrict myself to a certain blueprint that one abides to after attaining a certain expertise. Therefore, it has given me the freedom to learn and unlearn whatever I wanted.”
She has also used performing arts to reach out to children and women with traumatic pasts and empower them. “I see the power and dramatic elements in our performing arts as a tool to look at our body, our control on our situations and our refusing to be humiliated. Art gives individuals the opportunity to grow and develop self-awareness and self-worth through self-expression. This reduces stress and accelerate psychological and physical healing. It helps them cope with horrors of their past and liberate themselves,” explains Devika. 
All the concepts Devika tries to propagate come from her strong affinity to Gandhian principles. “We often forget the fact that, apart from other great qualities of Mahatma Gandhi, he was an excellent strategist. He believed that if your hands are busy, you don’t turn to violence. And to teach this, he became a strong advocate of performing arts. So, the future, simply lies in Gandhian ideas,” she concludes.

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