Experience India on a Budget
In keeping with this issue's theme, I have chosen to concentrate on India, the birthplace of two of the world's great religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as of numerous faiths with somewhat smaller followings such as Jainism and Sikhism. India has also been a location of great religious turmoil in the past century, most significantly between Hindus and Muslims. Not surprisingly therefore much of the media available on India focuses a great deal on religious theology and influence. Many of the materials I was able to locate for $50 or less concentrated on Hinduism, India's most prominent religion, and Mohandas Gandhi, India's most famous Hindu. Both of these topics are covered in this article. But India cannot be understood as just a place of great spirituality, like every other nation in the world it has been impacted dramatically by globalization. Over the past few years, the nation has fast become a major economic player, with an internationally trained workforce, emerging infrastructure, and decreasing restrictions on foreign trade. India is also gaining recognition for its artistic achievements, both traditional and modern. Its film industry produces more movies than Hollywood, exporting Indian culture around the globe and revolutionizing India's countryside. Many of the documentaries I watched take differing views on these transformations; some embrace the nation's development as the solution to its historic backwardness, while others protest what they see as the destruction of an entire way of life.
Hinduism in Practice Hinduism is an extraordinary complex religion, which can be daunting to try to teach in a short unit. Several multi-media units do a good job tackling this subject in a simple and interesting way while at the same time remaining sensitive to the fact that Hinduism is an active religion that many people still practice throughout the world. Puja: Expressions of Hindu Devotion, a curriculum unit and accompanying video compiled by the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C., focuses on how Hinduism is actually practiced by worshippers in the United States and modern India. Puja shows how rituals are preformed in various settings, such as households or shrines, and discusses the ultimate purposes these ceremonies serve. High school students will especially relate to the numerous interviews with young Indian-Americans discussing their personal relationship with Hinduism. The unit also comes with three posters of deities. (For a more detailed review of Puja, see AEMS News and Reviews, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1998)
Another curriculum unit/video combination, Spotlight on Ramayana: An Enduring Tradition, teaches Hinduism through a more historical/cultural lens. The Ramayana is an epic story, much like the Greek Odyssey, that imparts important societal values, such as integrity and chastity, and features prominent deities. In fact, the educators that assembled this unit thought the tale was such a good representation of Hinduism that they included over 350 pages of lesson plans focusing on it, as well as a 60 minute videotape, mostly featuring poorly filmed performances of the tale, and several posters featuring important scenes. The result is a comprehensive teaching tool for any classroom teacher willing to sift through all of the material provided.
For a greater understanding of how Hinduism evolved through the millennia, check out the 60-minute documentary, Religions of the World: Hinduism. Unlike the other units, Hinduism follows a chronological timeline, explaining how the religion reacted to various stimuli, including the development of Buddhism and Jainism, Muslim invasion, and the independence movement, and how in turn it shaped those events. This gives the viewer (preferably someone in 9th grade or above) the sense that Hinduism is an active, changing religion, not a static, mystical one.
The Great Mahatma
Gandhi died over 50 years ago, but his belief in nonviolent resistance is just as relevant today as it was during his lifetime. Two inexpensive resources, a documentary and a CD-ROM, look at this man's life and legacy.
Mahatma Gandhi: Pilgrim of Peace is a 60-minute video produced by A&E Biography describing the life and times of the great leader. Journalists, biographers, former colonialists, family members, academics, and even the Dalai Lama touch on his legacy. This informative and straightforward introduction to Gandhi would be most useful for high school and college classrooms. For a more in-depth look, purchase Gandhi: Apostle of Peace and Nonviolence, a PC-compatible CD-ROM that includes recording of Gandhi's voice, letters in his handwriting, 175 photographs, a 45-minute video, maps, timelines, and extensive background information.
India in Today's Changing World
After years of protectionism, India opened up its economy in the early 1990s. The result has been an economic boom and the creation of a substantial middle class able to fully enjoy the perks of capitalism. This emerging consumer culture has in turn sparked a number of fundamental changes in Indian society. The Wall Street Journal documentary Emerging Powers: India views these developments in a generally positive light, emphasizing the development of a powerful middle class, improved opportunities for returning expatriates, and increased customer choices for everyone, while allowing for the fact that these changes have not been good for everyone.
National Geographic's The Great Indian Railway, on the other hand, has a more nostalgic attitude toward the past. This almost two-hour production uses trains, the predominant form of public transportation in India, to explore several important themes common to developing nations. These include 1) the supplanting of traditional culture with modern values and techniques (represented by the replacement of steam engines with electric ones), 2) the rapid development of the city compared to the stagnation of the countryside, and 3) the necessity of unifying diverse groups of people to form a solid nation state. In my opinion, these ideas are explored much more successfully during the second hour than the first, which tends to be overly bogged down by its own sentimentality. This video would be most appropriate for middle and high school students and can be shown in clips.
With the exception of a few lessons plans in Spotlight in Ramayana, nothing I have mentioned thus far is appropriate for elementary school students. Fortunately, the series I mention every single column, Families of the World, does have a video focusing on India. Families of India is 30 minutes long and features an urban boy who lives with his parents and a young girl who resides with her very large extended family in the countryside. These segments can be shown separately.
India's Artistic Achievements
Indian culture is currently going through a period of massive change. Nowhere is this more obvious than the music industry, where national celebrities supported by multi-million dollar corporations are rapidly replacing traditional street performers. Not to say the country's music is now borrowing wholesale from the West; the emerging popular culture is uniquely Indian, but with more hype and much sexier than before.
Classical Indian music, which can be argued to be the basis for the nation's modern pop, is explored in Discovering the Music of India. This videotape is useful mainly for late elementary to high school music teachers because the focus is on the elements of the music itself, such as tone, rhythmic patterns, augmentation, and the sound of different instruments, rather than its socio-historical development. Discovering also distinguishes northern and southern musical traditions and demonstrates various dance techniques.
The Indian Film Music Phenomenon: There'll Always Be Stars in the Sky mourns the loss of traditional music performers, who are increasingly being driven to margins of society as the silver screen (most Indian movies are musicals) mesmerizes the masses. It also criticizes the Bombay film industry for creating fantasy worlds that intoxicate people instead of motivating them. Indian Film Music discusses different elements of the film industry as well as various strata of the society as a whole. All around, it is a thought-provoking film even if you don't agree with the director's conclusions.