indian cultural heritage

Gifting cultural heritage to the next generation

A seeking spirit and a true mentor to youth, Prof Seth is acquainting the young to India’s rich art and culture .

Our lives are defined by innovation and technology. Be it leisure or work, gadgets are our lifeline. But while we manage to keep ourselves updated with what’s new and happening, we may lose out on self-reflection, the true me-time. There’s barely time and band-width left to stay in touch with the finer aspects of life such as art, culture, heritage and what have you.

It is here that organisations like SPIC MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth) come into the picture. Founded by Padma Shri Prof Kiran Seth, SPIC MACAY promotes Indian cultural heritage through a plethora of mediums.

In the last 45 years, Prof Seth has worked tirelessly to bring together the youth and the cultural legacies of Indian heritage. Legends like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Dr Mangalampalli, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Girija Devi and Ustaad Zakir Hussain among several others have joined SPIC MACAY in this effort.

This August, the 72-year-old commenced ‘Cycle Yatra’, a cycling expedition from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. This visionary hopes that several more will join the organisation through this mission.

In an exclusive conversation with Soulveda, Prof Seth, who was cycling from New Delhi to various cities in India, shared his inspiring story behind the inception of SPIC MACAY, when he heard a concert of the Dhrupad maestros, the Dagar brothers in New York, and the long strides he has made since.

You founded the SPIC MACAY in 1977 to promote Indian classical music and culture among the youth. How has the journey been?

The journey has been a mixed one. On the positive side, we have been able to get some young people to appreciate the fact that Indian heritage and culture might have something to offer them to improve their quality of life.

On the contrary, it’s just a drop in the ocean. With the sheer number of institutions that is there in a country like ours (almost 20 lakhs), we have been able to touch the lives of only a few. We have a long way to go.

You have decided to set out on a bicycle tour from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. What inspired you to take up such a challenging goal?

A lot of prosperity can be seen in the outward domain post-independence, but I often question, are we independent in the inward domain of wanting more? The want level has gone up a lot. And once the want level goes up, it tends to bind the inner domain.

So it is time we all thought of ways and means of freeing ourselves from this bondage. This is one of the reasons why I decided to undertake this trip.

We are also trying to make the youth aware of these through different aspects of our heritage. This is where SPIC MACAY comes in. The Cycle Yatra has the objective of trying to get many more volunteers for this movement.

Lastly, I want to showcase the importance of cycling for better health, not just physical but mental and also spiritual health. Cycling also promotes a cleaner environment.

Your journey with SPIC MACAY has been glorious and rewarding. What has been your greatest obstacle and what did it mean to you? 

Initially, people would ask what and why I was undertaking this work.  I was told I should stick to research as all this is not important. “Why should you be involved with gana bajana?” some asked. So I experienced a lack of both monetary and human support in the initial stages.

But as we progressed from 1977, people started to join us and today, we have a lovely group. Now the bigger challenge is to get more volunteers who feel connected with our concept.

Youth have been at the centre stage of your work. What do you believe is the true role of youth in the world today?

Youth today is brighter, dynamic, enthusiastic and has the ability to take the best of what exists in the world to make it a much better place. So if the West can take the best of the East, and the East can take what’s best of the West, without neglecting what they have, I think, it would be a lovely world.

How does SPIC MACAY help foster the youth?

What SPIC MACAY does is that, it tells the youth that everything that they actually see is but a small percentage of what actually exists. And they must learn to see beyond that and if they can do that, then they can truly go into a state of ananda.

Ananda is not just a state of happiness, but a state where ups and downs will not affect them like it does right now. I truly believe that there has to be a balance between parvidya and aparvidya – ‘knowledge and wisdom of the external’ and ‘knowledge and wisdom of the internal’ respectively. Once they attain that balance, they become full human beings.

SPIC MACAY aims at nurturing that inner domain or inner wisdom of youth. That’s how it helps foster them to become finer young people.

How do music, culture and youth come together in your initiatives?

Our musical endeavours are not an end, but a means to an end. The end is very subtle, inspiring, abstract and mystical. We are using it as a tool to take the young person into domains they normally don’t go into. That is the connection between music and youth.

We take not just music, but different aspects of our heritage, like yoga, handloom, theatre and cinema, which are very important for inspiration.

Self-motivation is key to tenacity and commitment to a cause.  What keeps you going and motivated?

When you are touched to the core, then you need no motivation as you are simply on auto-pilot. Similar to falling in love, you don’t question ‘how?’

I keep going because I am on auto-pilot regarding our extraordinary heritage, I want to keep doing more.

  • Prof Kiran Seth, Padma shri awardee and the founder of SPIC MACAY aims at taking education beyond the classroom by promoting India’s rich heritage to students across the country and abroad. From just five students in its first event to having 500 chapters in India and abroad, SPIC MACAY as a cultural movement has become a force to reckon with in its four decades of existence.

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