Dates: October 9 to 12, 2023
Venue: The Creative School, Bengaluru
As part of the Renaissance journal’s special theme on Divine Shakti, the Renaissance team conceived, organized and conducted a 4-day intensive workshop on the theme – “Invoking Shakti: The Divine Feminine in Indian Culture.” This workshop was held from October 9, 2023 to October 12, 2023 at the two campuses of The Creative School, Bengaluru, a progressive educational institution inspired by the Integral Education teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
The workshop planning and organization team, comprising of Dr. Beloo Mehra, Renaissance Editor and Senior Academic Mentor, Ms. Biswajita Mohapatra, Research Assistant, Mr. Raamkumar, Renaissance Editorial Assistant, Mr. Narendra Murty, Renaissance Author and Volunteer, and Mr. Satya, Renaissance Website Assistant, worked for a couple of months finalizing various details. This also involved several online and phone discussions with the concerned representatives from the Creative school.
The team developed and planned a range of age-appropriate learning activities, which included chanting sessions, crafts activities, poster exhibition on Nari Shakti, learning songs on Bharata Shakti, movement-based games to help develop concentration, cultural activities, storytelling sessions, creating presentations and video content for interactive sessions. A variety of relevant topics were chosen such as Four Aspects of the Mother, Inner Demons, Woman – an Indomitable Spirit, Utkalika, who is Mother Mirra, Navadurga, Soul-powers and Me, Gender Stereotypes, Influences and Identity, and more.
The planning work also included identifying appropriate music for some of the cultural activities, preparing a list of materials which the school pre-arranged for the Renaissance team, and planning a special celebratory cuisine with the school kitchen in-charge. Special inspiring mementoes highlighting Sri Aurobindo’s and Mother’s words were designed by the team to share with the children and school.
A total of more than 350 children and teachers participated in the workshop. Parallel sessions were conducted with small groups of children, ranging from 20 to 25, only a few common sessions were held with larger groups of 50 to 70 students. All this detailed planning happened before the workshop.
The sessions were facilitated by Dr. Beloo Mehra, Ms. Biswajita Mohapatra and Mr. Raamkumar with logistic support from teachers of the Creative School.
Day 1 was reserved for working with children ages 3 to 10, attending the pre-primary and primary classes. These sessions were mostly about learning through games, making crafts and engaging children in fun interactions inspired by short animation films on relevant themes. The children also enjoyed learning a couple of new chants and practicing them through a fun game.
Day 2 onwards the team worked with children ages 10 to 19 – appropriately divided in smaller sections of multi-age groups. The themes and activities taken up in the sessions were planned in advance with a due consideration to the age-appropriate topics and the kind of learning activities that may be engaging for the students.
Some sessions such as Shakti Movement and Krida included creative use of physical activities such as move and freeze, dumb charades and dancing. A learning component on a relevant topic was added to these activities. Crafts sessions led by Ms. Biswajita involved making dandias with old newspapers and practicing dandiya dance for the final celebration on the last day of the workshop.
Other sessions such as Deep Focus Circle and Influences led by Mr. Raamkumar involved more reflective and interactive activities. A component of self-directed focused work was also included. The rationale behind these sessions was centred around the idea of developing shakti within.
These sessions included engaging children in activities and interactions around the topics of cultivating greater concentration and focus, identifying our decision-making processes, understanding our inner challenges, identity formation and societal conditioning etc. These sessions led to some interesting exchanges and brought out several original ideas and insights from the children.
A poster exhibition on Nari Shakti researched and designed by Dr. Mehra was displayed at the school premises. Interactive sessions with different groups of students were organised to explore some of the concepts and stories included in the exhibition content. A separate report on the Exhibition will be shared soon.
To ensure the smooth running of the sessions through the workshop, several of which were repeated with groups of children, and some of which ran in parallel in different learning spaces facilitated by different members from Renaissance team, detailed planning of all the necessary details was done prior to the workshop.
Because the school is a residential school, some of the sessions were also conducted in late evenings. Particularly, the chanting sessions in the evening at different locations – indoors and outdoors – were especially delightful for all.
The two short videos on the topic of Inner Demons scripted and recorded by Mr. Narendra Murty and edited and refined by Mr. Satya were shown in a post-dinner session. Dr. Mehra facilitated the discussion on the topic; several interesting insights were shared by the students.
Engaging interactions also happened in the sessions covering the topic on gender stereotypes and the impact of such societal conditioning on identity formation. Such sessions were repeated with three different groups by Dr. Mehra to ensure that students felt comfortable in sharing freely in smaller groups.
Throughout the workshop, the learning environment was kept very relaxed, friendly and informal – which also goes with the overall school culture in general. This helped children feel comfortable and open when interacting with the workshop facilitators from Renaissance team.
On the last day, a celebration was organised in which children presented a variety of cultural activities including group dances and poetry recitation. Planning for some of these cultural activities happened prior to the workshop in discussion with the Creative teachers. Some of the performances were planned during the workshop days by the children and teachers. A group of students recited Sri Aurobindo’s poem titled ‘Hymn to Durga’. Dr. Beloo Mehra recited a passage from the canto ‘Adoration of the Divine Mother’ from Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri. Ms. Biswajita Mohapatra sang an Odiya song in praise of the Divine Mother.
This celebration was followed by a celebratory Odiya meal which was planned by Ms. Biswajita Mohapatra in discussion with the school food and nutrition department. Everyone enjoyed the special lunch. On the evening of 12th October, the school had arranged a Garba programme, in which all children and teachers participated with full enthusiasm and joy.