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A Coaching Perspective: Passion and Purpose of Indigenous artisan and performing art communities

In December’21, I went on a 3 week drive down Kerala’s second longest river, Bharathapuzha, or romantically also called Nila in some parts of the state. Kerala is God’s Own Country, no less. And within it, courses Nila, blossoming in its bountiful bosom small ancient migrant as well as indigenous artisan and performing art communities living in harmony with the river, on its banks, drawing from it their inspiration. I met many of these artistes, upholders of their family traditions of their craft, for generations, some tracing the ancestry of their craft to as long back as 15 generations.

I wondered how did these communities maintain, deepen and sharpen their art and craft, through all the vicissitudes of time and changing cultural tastes and landscapes. How did each generation manage to inspire the next generation to stay true to family tradition instead of finding more materially enriching vocations elsewhere? In India, one ancient socio-cultural practice which has become nearly extinct is the “guru shishya parampara”, the teacher-student tradition through which knowledge, skill and wisdom was passed down in a way which exemplified the highest principles of teaching and learning. This tradition demanded from the teacher complete selflessness in passing down all extant knowledge and skill to the student, holding nothing back. The student in turn was expected to completely surrender to the teacher, learn with humility, and without trace of ego, aspiring to become even better than the teacher in the skill, craft, knowledge being imbibed. This delicate yet profound pedagogy worked because of deep, abiding respect the teacher commanded and because it was founded on morally sound principles. The student learnt not just the craft and became an expert, in the likeness of the teacher, who in the such communities was usually the father, but also was grounded in moral ethics. One may wonder what moral ethics has to do with becoming a world class professional exponent of any art or craft.


Everything!


When the qualities you imbibe are modelled on your teacher’s, and those qualities are selflessness, kindness, generosity, sacrifice, non-covetousness, sharing freely, integrity, then you are not just a great exponent of your craft, you become, first and foremost, a superior human being. Where these qualities were passed down generationally through the medium of a family tradition of craft or art or any other skill, that skill, that art survived and flourished. The inheritors of the family wealth of the craft inherited along with the skill, the desire to perform for the sake of the art and the joy of sharing with admiring audiences, and not for what it gave them back in return, materially. On my drive down the ephemeral Nila, I met young artistes and artisans, barely in their 20s and 30s. Educated, internet exposed, widely travelled not just across their home country, but across the globe. Some of them had already achieved much recognition in their own right. Unlike what one would imagine, they were not dying to leave their homes and villages for a materially brighter and rewarding future. They wanted to stay in their little villages, spread the knowledge and skills they had acquired, amongst other young people like themselves, revive dying art forms, innovating and bringing new ideas into their age old traditions. When I asked them what was their motivation to trade material well-being (particularly since all of them were severely under compensated), to pursue big dreams, they would look at me wondering where the question was coming from! For them the dream and its realization was the reward and the motivation. If one youngster wanted to set up a university of indigenous percussion instruments and take Kerala percussion traditions to the world, another wanted to teach (for free) school students, the dying art form of shadow puppetry. These young artists had passion, inner drive, imagination and the courage to dream big. I was humbled beyond words. I felt, compared to what I could think of contributing to humanity, coming as I did from my privileged background, they had so much more to offer, so much more!

And they could because they developed an understanding and deep respect for their craft, but more importantly they learnt to be good human beings, with a desire to serve their society through their craft.


From a coaching perspective, this gave me deep insights about how to help my clients develop the same passion, discover their profound purpose, and live it. What were those lessons?

  1. As a coach I want to epitomise moral and ethical principles. The chances that my clients will respect this association and choose to learn from the engagement, grow and develop their potential will be much higher if they see me as an exemplar of goodness.

  2. I want to make the qualities of kindness, sharing, generosity, selflessness, as the indelible route to realizing their highest and best potential. I know these may sound old fashioned and not necessarily aligned to the modern notions of success. I am challenging the notions of success. Mahatma Gandhi once said “Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much, recall the face of the poorest and the weakest person you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to that person. Will it lead to freedom for the hungry and spiritually starving millions”? Success is when the impact of my actions goes beyond myself, and its ripples touch and enrich many. My clients’ greatest potential flourishes when they act out of selflessness, not self-centredness.

  3. I don’t want to hold anything back, just give everything I have, know, generously and selflessly. My biggest reward must be to see my clients flourish. If at any point I see my clients becoming self-sufficient and self-reliant, I will just let go, let them fly, take wing, and myself, fade away into the background. I want to be, always, just the wind beneath their wings, nothing more

  4. My single most important goal should be to see my clients uncover, enrich and strengthen their humane qualities. But these will remain meaningless unless they get expressed in their daily lives through their work, vocation, profession – the means they have to touch the lives of others. I feel duty bound to work with them tirelessly to develop “expertise” in their calling whatever that may be – a parent, an artist, a writer, a healer, a politician, a corporate professional, an activist, a social reformer, whatever. My clients must become “humane achievers” – experts in their fields of operation, because only then can they spread the goodness that’s within them


I feel I have a responsibility, the same that forefathers of these artisan communities had towards their craft. They protected their craft by raising their young to be worthy carriers of that craft. Good human beings who would be interested in preserving the craft for its sake and for the joy of it, and who measured their success not by their bank accounts but by the impact they have had on their communities. My responsibility is to generate in my clients a wave of consciousness that places a premium on selfless kindness and expertise as expressions of highest human potential.


May this potential be released for the benefit of many, may many become happier than they were before.


Sridevi Rao

Founder - BodhiTaara

ICF Certified Life Coach (ACC) & Business Coach | Transformational Youth Leadership Coach | Talent Strategy Specialist


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