Watch the full conversation here.
A close study of Sri Aurobindo's insights into the field of cultural studies tells us about one major difference between the modern anthropological and the Indian approach to the study of culture. In the former the predominant stress is on the social and external aspects of culture such as behaviour, customs, habits, ritual, skill and the outer way of life. But in the Indian view the primary emphasis is on the psychological and subjective dimensions of culture, such as its insights, ideals, values, temperament and genius. Stories can, in this view, be great vehicles to convey these inner dimensions of a culture.
India has been a land of storytellers. From times immemorial, our sages and seers have conveyed the profoundest truths of existence and life through the medium of stories. Also, some of the deepest cosmic mysteries have been explained through performance, re-enactment, personification and creative visualisation -- all elements that make for a good, engaging story. In our scriptures from Veda onwards, and particularly when we come to the itihāsas and purānas, story and dialogue have been the dominant means to elevate, inspire and educate.
Stories for Cultural Education
The core culture of a community expresses its highest ideals and aspirations, its governing values, its unique aesthetic, moral and psychological temperament, and its distinctive and special genius. It is the expression of the mental, moral and spiritual energy of the community. Stories continue to be the perfect medium to transmit across generations these deeper dimensions of culture.
Capturing and expressing the inner temperament of a people, the deepest and highest aspiration of a people, stories can become wonderful means of elevating the consciousness - both at individual and collective level. They simultaneously paint vivid and richly diverse pictures of all that is beautiful, noble, great and generous in the life of a people.
Stories also facilitate a powerful and safer exploration of the richly varied aspects of human condition. They have the power to shape the living culture of a people, and also uplift and fashion the significant forms of national thought.
Let's Meet Our Storyteller
For this month's Insightful Conversation, we invited Ms. Deepa Kiran, an award-winning storyteller of international repute. She shared with us some thoughts and perspectives on how storytelling can be a powerful means to entertain, educate, inspire and elevate.
Ms. Kiran is the founder of Hyderabad-based Story Arts Foundation, and has performed in various parts of the world. She has been a TEDx speaker, writer, teacher-trainer and curator of storytelling conferences and workshops. Her unique multi-lingual, music-dance integrated, storytelling performances are inspired by the rich oral traditions and literature from India. Her style offers a universal appeal engaging the contemporary audience. She has been invited to many international storytelling festivals around the world, including Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Kanoon International Festival (Iran), and International Storytelling Festival in South Africa.
We began our conversation with Ms. Deepa Kiran sharing briefly about how she entered the world of storytelling. She spoke of the ways her rigorous training in classical dance and music, her multilingual abilities plus her passion to learn about the rich and diverse storytelling traditions of India have influenced her storytelling performances.
Storytelling in Classroom
Ms. Kiran has a long experience of working in the field of education. Over the last two decades, she has reached lakhs of children and parents with the magical power of story-arts as an intervention for meaningful transformation.
Through our conversation we found that the art of storytelling definitely brings back the joy of learning. But when the experience engages the listeners' at the level of various senses and integrates music, dance and other artistic elements, it can also become a great means to develop children's imagination, visualisation, comprehension, expression, and overall sense of confidence.
Ms. Kiran is an experienced teacher-trainer and primarily works with teachers of English in multicultural and multilingual classrooms. Since 2011, she has reached over 75,000 educators through her workshops and courses based on the art of storytelling as a pedagogical tool. During our conversation, we learn more about this part of her work. She shared with us that her key focus is to help teachers think about the art of conscious communication through the simple beauty of storytelling interwoven with the child-like joy of artistic self-expression.
We also talked about some of her observations on the revival of indigenous storytelling traditions in other cultures. She also addressed a key question -- why stories are important, and how essentially we all are storytellers though we may not see it like that. Stories can also be great de-stressors and help us vicariously experience certain situations without being involved. This helps develop a kind of witness orientation within us and makes us better prepared to deal with life's challenges.
Story as a Teacher
Our conversation helped us recognise that stories have the capacity to instruct, give example to emulate, and also influence the listener deeply. Thus stories perform the role of a teacher, especially when storytelling is offered as an art form. The experience invites the listener to explore and seek his or her own understanding of the truth being conveyed.
The conversation brought out the fact that stories can help the listener imagine those dimensions of the truth which the storyteller has chosen not to reveal. An engaged listener can also uncover new side-lights to the truth which were hidden because of the original context of the story. In this way, one experiences a kind of expansion of one's consciousness during a storytelling session. Thus in various ways, stories facilitate a widening and deepening of the intellect.
Stories for Personal Growth
Another part of our conversation focused on the role of story for healing and transformation. We exchanged thoughts on the power of stories in shaping our sense of who we are, and what we aspire etc. Ms. Kiran gives some valuable examples in this regard.
As human beings we often weave stories around our experiences and feelings. Sometimes we find ourselves telling these stories again and again -- to others and to ourselves. And these stories start to become part of our identities and begin to shape our character even. The result may be uplifting, but sometimes not so. Ms. Kiran explained how storytelling or even listening to a story in a fully engaged manner can help us very naturally identify those areas in our personalities which need addressing or some loving attention. This can create opportunities for healing and growth.
Our richly diverse oral and literary traditions have magnificently employed the art of storytelling to greatly influence and shape the collective mind of people. Especially the storytelling art forms inspired by two itihasa-s, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, have been deeply instrumental in disseminating higher life-values among the masses. This is, in fact, the deeper sense of a living and true education that is in harmony with life.
Such is the power of stories. Our conversation with Ms. Deepa Kiran made this realisation more concrete for us. We also recognised the power of the art of storytelling in making education a more living, joyful and transformative experience, for both the children and the teachers.
While the whole conversation was inspiring and delightful, we also had the privilege of watching Ms. Deepa Kiran in action, when she performed a story about a little boy who goes to the market to buy a new shirt.
More about Deepa Kiran
Deepa Kiran has a Master's in English Literature from University of Hyderabad and a postgraduate Certificate in Teaching of English from English & Foreign Languages University. For almost two decades she trained rigorously in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dance forms. She also has three years of experience as a programme host for All India Radio, compèring interviews, talk shows, drama and music programmes. She is proficient in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, and can sing in many more languages.