Philosophy, action and reflection
Non-profit school in Varanasi, India
Author and Photography by Niko Serpanos
NIRMAN, Vidyashram, or Southpoint School are all names used to describe this school of the arts and education. Director and Co-Founder Dr. Nita Kumar hosts UWB students at the school, as a part of a study abroad program. She walks with style and swagger through the city that demands a presence, and just by being around her I hoped I could absorb some of it! Dr. Kumar represents the kind of scholar and academic that I admire, she was a researcher in anthropology, but then one day got stuck and fell in love with education. She created a school that embodies her own progressive principles, while maintaining and preserving the local culture and art of Varanasi.
Dr. Kumar takes a second from showing UWB students around, to engage with the kids from a nearby monastery, that were keen to so what all us students were doing walking around.
We begin our days with lectures on various parts of India, then in depth on specifically Varanasi. Dr. Kumar started lecture with learning about Hinduism, the pantheon, and then we visited numerous shrines and temples.
Standing before one of the many tiny shrines of Hindu gods, Dr. Kumar explained that anyone can create a temple anywhere, which contributes to a problem of invasive space manipulated by locals. In an ancient city with a booming population space is ever decreasing, and because removing or destroying shines is seen as directly going against god, it is generally frowned upon. Kumar elaborated that her staff would likely do anything she asks, unless it was to remove a shrine! One interesting thing was how every temple or shrine we entered, we had to remove our shoes, guess you could say it was to make you more down to earth!
One of the Sahdus, invited us into his dwelling to take pictures with him doing yoga poses. He was friendly, and excited by the camera perhaps too well acquainted with tourists. Sahdus are Hindu monks that posses a certain ascetic in nature. Easily recognizable as spiritual people, the Sahdus walk the streets of Varanasi just like everyone else.
Contrasting Hinduism with Buddhism was a unique and vastly different. The buddhist philosophies seem strongly rooted in scripture, logic, and reasoning. Where as Hinduism reminds me of Greek mythology: a set of interesting stories, rituals, and art that characterizes the polytheistic religion and gods as humans. There seems to be less rationale, and more faith based following in Hinduism, which can be amazing, and yet extremely perplexing when leading into the essence of modernity and post colonialism.