Each and every space Raga Svara is carefully thought about and designed. Each space is its own unique experience. While each space is unique, they all have a common design philosophy: to create a sense of belonging and purpose. One of the key experiences at Raga is meditation. While designing, one option was to use the large Yoga centre, Antara, as a meditation space as well. It was (and is) a sensible thing to do. We will be using Antara for meditation as well. However, I wanted a space that was meant exclusively for meditation. In an age of “multiuse” banquets and party plots, regaining a sense of exclusive-use space is a rare experience. Of course, exclusivity does bring sub-optimization with it. However, I think the experince of entering Bodhi and doing nothing and being still inside it is one of the most moving experiences one can have.
Bodhi’s design is a conical structure above the ground. The main seating space is below the ground. A winding circular stairway takes you below and inside the hall. The flat cut out on the top brings natural light inside. The circular space inside with the conical roof makes an incredible acoustic experience. The Om chanting reverberates and echos back from the walls into your own body and soul. Like all good things in life, it can only be experienced by being here.
Thanks to our design team for these wonderful painting of the spaces at Raga Svara.
I call her Smarana. She belongs to Ficus Benghalensis family, the Banyan Tree. She is strong and wise. Older than I am. She has been here in this spot for decades and seen things. From scorching sun to 3 years droughts to torrential rains breaking century old records. She has also seen the longings of intrepid humans around it. When I was young, I would have played around her. She has welcomed guests for four weddings. Now the landscape around her is changing. Bustling workers, hauling bricks and making things. Would she be worried about her place in the new scheme of things?
Who can tell her that not just Smarana but all of her cousins from the extended family have the highest place in my heart and at Raga Svara, Northstar and RKU.
I thought whether I was wrong in anthropomorphising a tree. Some part of me does think that it may be too sentimental to think of non humans in this way. But I really think of these beings as equals. Not because I believe in some form of speciesism theory. But because it is innate to my “nature”. Most of us think of trees as a backdrop to human actions. They are always one plane behind in the focus of our attention.
Planting trees, which seems to be the dominant mode of expressing one’s concern for the environment, is an important (perhaps the most important) way of managing climate change (read this). Though planting trees does not always translate to grown, mature trees. Taking care of plants and trees is a difficult and time intensive process (specially in the early stages of growth) which most people are not inclined to do.
However at a philosophical level, planting or growing trees for the purpose of human benefit (in this case protection from climate crisis) is fundamentally an expression of instrumentalism. We want to “use” trees so that they can do things for us which we can’t. The human centeredness and the utilitarian purposes are hard to shake off. We are unable to think of them in anyway other than “specimens” of nature meant to be used for human progress. Another purpose of growing trees (or cutting/not growing) is projection of nature as ornamentation to human aesthetic. Fitting the “right” kind of trees in spaces for artistic effects (shape, texture, smell) is still a subordination of nature to human preferences.
A recent phenomenon has been the scientific study of the benefits of being in nature, within trees. Many studies have revealed the positive benefits, both in physical and psychological health, attributed to even intermittent immersion in nature (Read here, here and here).
I think a sustainable and an inherently “good” way of thinking about trees is to think of them as an extension of our embodied self. If that means anthropomorphising them to show true empathy, then it would be a good step. If that helps in removing the “otherness” of nature that has crept in our modern world, then it would be a good step.
Meet Smarana, she and many others are our guardians and friends.
Continuing the series on architecture and landscape at Raga, I am glad to share Anuraga — The Assemblage. Anuraga is the first space you go to when you enter the campus. As with all spaces in the campus, Anuraga is designed with co-existence and harmony as its central elements. Anuraga is place to come together. Anuarag is adjoined by a big open plaza, which is nestled between old Banyan trees.
These buildings and landscapes are beautiful. They allow different interactions and experiences to occur within and around them. I wrote this earlier when we were designing The Northstar School, that architecture is not a luxury for us. Raga architecture is not about making a statement or an impression. For me, our buildings and landscapes are existential spaces, which are fundamental to establishing a relationship between us and our environment. This is fundamental to my thinking about Raga Svara as an institution.
One way that I think about Raga is through, what I describe, “Porosity of boundaries”. I want to make the solid walls between apparently different ideas more porous, more accommodating. Ideas which are traditionally thought of and treated as separate: Bodily health and psychological health, western philosophy and eastern philosophy, modern medicine and traditional medicine, recreational space and educational space. These are just a few that are fused in a meaningful whole at Raga.
And I’ll repeat again, Raga is unlike any other institution. It is not possible to put us in any category. I am hoping that you are all able to find value in what we build.
Introducing spaces at Raga Svara. We are a world class retreat with some of the best spaces for healing, yoga, meditation, culture and residences. One of the spaces at the retreat is Prakriti, the treatment centre. Prakriti will be central to our “Therapeutic Wellbeing” approach. At Raga, we practice authentic Ayurveda with Ayurvedic doctors of national and international repute. Go to sideeffects.com. Our in house Ayurvedic College and Hospital serve patients from all over the state. Prakriti is nestled deep within the Raga Svara campus and is only open to our retreat guests. Raga Svara is bringing ancient Indian medicine within a world class campus.
Antara is the Yoga Centre at Raga Svara. Yoga is one of the core therapeutic experiences at Raga Svara. We had to build a space which honours this critical importance of the space. This beautiful painting gives a sense of the place that Antara will be. Antara is nestled within a Chikoo orchard. There some Mango trees as well which grow through the roof of Antara.
One of the great systems of thought and practice that India has produced is the ancient healing system of Ayurveda. Along with Yoga, Ayurveda represents an exhaustive internally consistent logic and understanding of the science of life. Ayurveda, or Ayur Vidya, means the knowledge of life.
India is a land of magnificent diversity, a place where archaic structures, concepts and traditions rub shoulders with up-to-the-minute formations, where variety and extremity stride hand in hand. No country any less richly textured could have given birth, thousands of years ago, to Ayurveda, and no other country could have prompted the sometimes bewildering multiplicity of principles and practices that have sprouted from Ayurveda’s roots. — Robert Svoboda
At Raga Svara, our goal is to manifest this understanding and ancient wisdom into lived experience of modern humans. Ayurvedic rejuvenation — bodily, mental, emotional and spiritual — forms a core element of Raga Approach, called the Therapeutic Well-being. Raga Approach also entails Existential Well-being and Aesthetic Well-being.
Raga Svara opens in Spring of 2020. We are an institution unlike any other. It is difficult to place us neatly in any category. To put it in familiar categories, Raga sits between a wellness retreat, an ashram, an ayurveda centre, a learning institution and a cultural centre. To know more, visit theraga.org
Modern civilization has brought us to the epitome of material existence, but it’s easy to forget the suffering it brings along. While its easy to gloss over or actively reject the causal link between the two, it is not easy to ignore the toll our body, mind and spirit has taken. Our air is unclean, water is polluted, food is toxic, and the “noise” corrupts our minds.
Our relationship with our microcosm (our bodies and the internal world) is as broken as our relationship with the macrocosm (our environment and the external world)
Our goal at Raga Svara is to create and maintain a harmonious relationship between macrocosm and microcosm. We need to learn this art of balance to stay away from the clutches of the modern lifestyle diseases and the general malaise.
Art and design are central to everything that I do. To me artistic beauty is inextricably linked to moral goodness. Even though it is fluid and subjective, the aesthetic remains connected to and contributes to the experience. The aesthetic, and here I fall back again on Dewey who has had a great influence on me, becomes a kind of judgment, an attitude and an experience. Aesthetic experience is not only about the visual art perceived from a detached vantage, but also includes, especially at Raga Svara, the therapeutic experience, the architectural experience, the culinary experience and the cultural and philosophical experience.
The following picture shows one design motif that represents Raga and its philosophy in certain ways. Gond art is a form of folk & tribal art that is practiced by one of the largest tribes in India – the Gond – who are predominantly from Madhya Pradesh, but also settled in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The work of Gond artists is rooted in their folk tales and culture, and thus story-telling is a strong element of every painting. With the help of our team of designers and artists, we are creating original works of art that represent the aesthetic experience at Raga Svara. Each piece of work has been made to represent an element of Raga.
One of my goals is to ensure that aesthetic experience does not, in Dewey’s words, “become isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life experience.
We are building a place where we can pause and fight disease.
The core element of our approach is to provide therapeutic relief to the malaise of the body and mind. Ancient Indian wisdom and therapeutic practices of Ayurveda and Yoga are fully realized within our “home”. Co-existence of traditional approaches and modern systems is not only possible but essential to move towards a broader conception of health and wellness. Our goal is not to stop at therapy but rather move towards Eudaimonia, a sense of flourishing, moving from relief of suffering to the cultivation of positive emotional and mental states.
The harmony of body, mind and spirit starts with the focus on the body. Authentic Ayurveda and Yoga practices demand that the individual be ready to take responsibility for her own health. Health is not received but is gained by engaging with the right routines, dietary habits and physical & psychological practices.
We are building a place where we all can learn to heal and fight disease with ancient wisdom and traditions.