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MA in New Humanities and Design – 2018-19


Specialisation : Indian Thought and Practices

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.
- M. K. Gandhi

This unique course in Indian Thought and Practices at Srishti is a structured and intensive program with a substantial component of individual research. This program opens up new ways of entering the inquiries and practices of different Indian traditions. Both pedagogy and research will center on the learner as a seeker, an apprentice, who will be guided by a practitioner. The search may not necessarily take the form of a theoretical treatise. It may be a work of art, a poetic performance and a meditative intervention. The students come with their own research topic/idea and pursue it under the guidance of an experienced research supervisor. A major focus of research is how different traditions conceptualize different kinds of learning and its transmission.

Indian Thought and Practices is designed for independent learners with strong research orientation, experienced professionals who like to pursue higher studies, and artists and designers who want to develop an independent and original body of work through research. Although there are no continuous residency requirements in a semester the students enrolled in this program are expected to devote at least 20-30 hours per week to research, seminars, colloquia and other academic activities.

  • - Srishti offers a unique intellectual and artistic environment enabling trans-disciplinary scholarship. It’s home for highly accomplished scholars and practitioners from diverse disciplines and fosters dialogue, discussions and collaborative learning between artists, philosophers, designers and social scientists.
  • - The program prepares the students with skills to be independent researchers, undertake scholarly work, publish and pursue further research-based programs, especially PhD.
  • - Practitioners of different arts, craft and science would be able to deepen their pursuit through interdisciplinary inquiries into Indian traditions.
  • - It allows students to produce research-based creative outputs such as paintings, illustrations, musical compositions, performances and others that are accepted as qualifications for award of the degree.
  • - After the completion of the program the students will be qualified to pursue PhD program or find employment with research and cultural organizations.

Research Areas

Indian intellectual traditions have been objects of different kinds of Western scholarship for over two centuries now: European Indology and Anglo-American social sciences have spawned varieties of theories about the nature of India’s traditions, the character of its social systems, the peculiarities of its “religions.” The extraordinarily rich and diverse systems of knowledge and performative and poetic practices were never seen as providing resources and insights that could possibly offer radically different possibilities for thinking and living. The Western scholarship could not see Indian intellectual traditions as embodying profound inquiries into different domains of thought and action.

The student enrolled in this program can choose from four areas of inquiries to locate himself/herself in: 1) Practices and Performances in Bhakti Marg  2) Indian Aesthetics and Visual Poetics 3) Indian Contemplative Traditions  4) Contemporary Forms and Idioms of Adhyatma  (Experiential Knowledge) . The areas will not only overlap, they are also designed to be inter-connected and inter-translatable.

  1. Practices and Performances in Bhakti Marg:  The poet/thinker Kabir (15th C) has been one of the influential thinker/practitioner of Bhakti.  There are many living traditions in the sub-continent, which trace their origin to Kabir.  The singer/filmmaker Shabnam Virmani has been evolving her own pursuit of Kabir-marg. The core inspiration of what she has been calling the Kabir Project is the wisdom contained in this poetry, and its capacity to transform our inner and outer worlds.

    The student in this area will explore contemporary resonances of bhakti, sufi and baul poetry through songs, images and conversations and seek to understand the spiritual and socio-political resonances of Bhakti poetry in our contemporary worlds.  The researcher will journey through a stunning diversity of social, religious and musical traditions which Kabir and other Bhakti poets inhabit, exploring how their poetry intersects with ideas of cultural identity, secularism, nationalism, religion, death, impermanence, folk and oral knowledge systems.  Drawing on the experiences of the Kabir Project’s work in the area of curating, archiving and expressing the Bhakti, Sufi and Baul oral traditions, this course invites students to engage with its poetics, aesthetics, spirituality and politics.

    The students who choose this area will work with the methods of experiential learning through participation in the live oral traditions through travel and immersion, along with classroom discussions, viewings from the video and audio resources of the Ajab Shahar online archive and textual research and readings.  Students will propose a clear project idea as a live learning opportunity in the early part of the program – involving some inquiry and cultural intervention in the oral traditions of bhakti, through the act of research, curation, archiving and creative expression. Students may choose to create works that take the form of any media – musical, artistic, textual or digital, using the tools of video production, audio, graphic art, song, performance or any other artistic or knowledge-based hands-on inquiry.

  2. Aesthetics and Visual Poetics of Indian Tradition: Central to this inquiry is the consideration of Art as transcendental experience. While art is widely understood as a form of creative expression and communication, in much of traditional Eastern thought it is also seen as a mode of transcendental experience. This area invites students to not only engage with the expressive nature of the arts, but also become aware of its transcendental nature and to see it as a path towards deep reflection, as yoga. To this end the course looks at four critical areas of thinking: Artistic Inquiry. Ecological Consciousness. Finding our True Centre and Creative Practice. Whether an artist chooses to work with a traditional artistic form or with a contemporary form, the essential questions that one needs to ask surround the grammar, meaning and the soul of the form. At the same time, however, it is important to use artistic practice to further evolve our own consciousness. Traditional systems and artistic practices across the world offer us many models to discover our paths. Old forms are broken to create new ones; new practices are added and expand old ones. For each artist, this journey is personal. At times, it is confusing, and at others exhilarating.

    This area of research will look at the powerful engagement between art and the artist as the very canvas for thoughtful exploration to understand how we can find both transcendence and liberation through our artistic practice. It will further explore why such an approach can be rewarding and meaningful.

  3. Learning and Contemplative Practices: Can contemplative practices provide the route to understanding the notion learning so pervasive in Indian intellectual traditions? Exploring the link between contemplation and learning will be at the centre of this research field. Contemplative practices have come to play a critical role in the interdisciplinary inquiry into consciousness and cognition. The researcher will participate in the on-going dialogue between thinkers of the contemplative traditions, cognitive scientists and phenomenologists.  The research would be based on immersion into one of the contemplative traditions. The insights into learning emerging from that immersion could be used by the researchers to develop a project or practice in the pedagogy of any field. There will be opportunities for collaborative work with educationists, artists, philosophers, neuroscientists, and therapists.

  4. Contemporary Forms and Idioms of Adhyatma (Experiential Knowledge): This area will enable researchers to use the conceptual resources of Indian traditions to formulate critiques of Western philosophy and the social sciences. Since the devastations of globalization cannot be solved by the rationality that produced it in the first place, it becomes an urgent intellectual task to look for traditions that have thought deeply about non-violent modes of being in the world. Some the larger questions that the research in this are could answer include, How can a reconceptualized Indian thought actively transform the way the social sciences and the humanities, as we inherit them from the West and practice in mainstream academia? How do we go about theoretically and practically recognizing the forms in which Indian thought still lives? How do we develop its idioms in ways that provide insights into our contemporary predicament?

    Students will begin rigorous theorization of the west while actively reconceptualizing Indian traditions. They will intellectually equip themselves to questions the way western scholarship divides up human experience into domains that we now take for granted. Their inquiries will unfold the genuinely plural ways in which Indian traditions articulate the relationship between inquiry and living.

  5. Knowledge, Tradition And Practice  In The Architecture and Settlement Forms of South Asia:  Architecture in the South Asian region emerged out of an extremely diverse range of knowledges  and traditions that resulted in various modes of practice. The wide variety of geographical conditions, the immense richness of materials and the organisation of a bewildering range of social groups specialising in aspects of the building task – all these created place-specific forms of architecture. While the written texts codified such knowledge into guidelines for architecture and town planning, oral traditions continuously explored possibilities, enriched knowledge and transmitted traditions through practice.

    Most studies of Indian Architecture have concentrated on built forms and textual materials in the marga traditions. The range of examples thus delineated consist mostly of religious buildings, royal palaces, fortifications and to some extent urban form. These materials, while important, lead to an incomplete understanding.

    At least five aspects are not studied in the above approach. The research may concentrate on an approach that builds on the following understandings:
    1. The ingenuity evident in vernacular and folk settlement forms, architecture and building technologies is not studied. The relationship of these artefacts to environmental considerations, sustainable practices and social aspects could transform our views on architecture and the built environment, yet our knowledge of these is fragmentary, anecdotal and haphazard. The Masters programme could focus on gradually building up our knowledge of vernacular and folk architecture. It would also need to build up a discussion and discourse based on the knowledge thus generated. 
    2. The organisation of traditions of building through social practices, through language, through evolved tools, methods, skills and techniques also need to be studied. Equally the modes of transmitting knowledge through the father-son, teacher-apprentice, guru-shishya and ustad-shaagird traditions need to be elucidated.
    3. Vernacular and folk architectures and modes of practice can offer insights into collaborative practice as well as participatory modes of practice. Further they can bring about a new understanding of originality and uniqueness, individuality and coherence. This aspect of the notions of an aesthetic of incompletion, transformation as well as of ephemerality would be important areas of study.
    4. An interesting area of the study is the concept of embodied learning and practice that is strongly woven into these modes.
    5. Finally, the interconnection between knowledge of various kinds – ayurveda, dance, music, sculpture, painting, literature as well as philosophies and narratives that conceptualise reality – all these as part of a multifaceted yet unified knowledge system is perhaps unique to these traditions. These would necessarily form part of the areas of study. 

    The above emphases cannot rule out the study of more formal works and knowledges, in fact the symbiosis between the codified and folk knowledges may prove to be one of the most important learnings, and therefore the two modes would generally be seen side-by-side. However, every study could perhaps begin with an interest in the folk or the vernacular mode, and then extend outwards.

  6. Poetry and Politics: Radical social transformations mark junctures in history. Creative arts document, critique and participate in the making of these junctures. Literature in general and poetry in particular has worked as important catalysts in these processes. Poetry is a special genre that leaps beyond the parameters of literature. It is rooted in the socio-cultural and political nuances of communities and societies. The course traces the relationship of poetry with the socio-political movements in India alongside comparisons with different geo-cultural contexts.

    The focus area deals with the complex connections between poetry and social processes, with a special reference to Indian socio-historical contexts. A comparative study of the multilingual and multicultural milieus open up areas where students can either look at poetry as a tool to engage with the national and/or transnational political, historical and socio-cultural contexts or as works of art documenting tangible and intangible elements of time and space. The course will enable students to understand how poetry reflects what is getting translated into culture. Students will draw upon a research methodology and theoretical framework along the choice of their study area.

Course Structure

The seminar provided a space for investigating a particular idea, topic, praxis through reading, writing, making and discussion. The seminar can include presentations, reviews and readings of work in progress or completed work.

Provides intense learning experiences and enable discourse through making and thinking. It will be a core practice space where students will draw from their learning and critical thought from individual programs. seminar-studios here for a more enriched understanding and experience. It is envisioned as a space for experimenting, synthesizing knowledge and practices through immersive engagement, intuition, contextual learning, design processes and creative methodologies.

Independent Study
An independent study can include systematic exploration/research/studies undertaken in an area of interest with faculty mentoring through specially designed study units.

General Studies
General Studies provide an expansive view of issues in order to broaden the mind to become aware of contexts for design, as well as sharpen critical thinking and communication skills. They run parallel to the disciplinary studio programs and, play the role of nudging, inspiring and provoking the students’ evolution as Artists, Designers and Creative Practitioners.
Click here to read more about the General Studies Program >>

Skills Enhancement Course
The Skills Enhancement Course (SEC) is value-based and/or skill-based and aimed at providing hands-on-training, competencies, skills, etc. that is relevant to specific disciplines.

Self-Initiated Project
The Self-Initiated Project is a form of end-of-semester summative assessment where students are given an assigned task to complete. They are required to apply and synthesize their learning and use the thinking skills and capabilities that they have developed over the semester. The Self-Initiated Project tests a student’s ability to research, conceptualize and execute a given task with autonomy and self-direction.

Performance of Understanding
A Performance of Understanding is a form of end-of-semester summative assessment where students are given an assigned task to complete. They are required to apply and synthesize their learning and use the thinking skills and capabilities that they have developed over the semester. The Performance of Understanding tests a student’s ability to research, conceptualize and execute a given task with autonomy and self-direction.

Interlude is a space for critically engaging and responding to themes and provocations of contemporary relevance. It lies at the intersection between academic learning and a ‘design-free’ zone. Interlude requires working in collaborative endeavors to develop outcomes that are creative, reflective and multi-dimensional. The work can take the form of conceptualizing and conducting experiments, symposiums, exhibitions, public engagements and others.

A professional internship provides an opportunity to put to use the multidisciplinary skills and learning acquired during the course of study and obtain professional inputs that complement academic study. The internship can be completed in a professional art or design studio, organization/industry, research institutions, government or in the cultural and not-for-profit sector. It fosters students understanding of the working of art/design practice and of a studio or business establishment.

Field Practice
A systematic exploration or study undertaken in an area/place, within a community or organization. Field Practice can involve ongoing participation, research or intervention.

The Capstone provides an experience of the full cycle of a design/art project under the mentorship of disciplinary faculty and/or external experts. It can be taken forward by the individual researching, proposing, validating and executing ideas or solutions. Or it requires the individual to experiment, speculate, and critically inquire into emerging ideas around art, design, and technology within the purview of a specified framework. The Capstone is rooted in real-life contexts and concerns; the subjective creative process and/or industry or societal organizations. It is a performance of understanding that integrates and demonstrates the learning acquired in previous semesters of study.

The Dissertation is written discourse taken forward by the individual researching, proposing, validating and executing ideas or solutions. It can require the individual to experiment, speculate, and critically inquire into emerging ideas around art, design, and technology within the purview of a specified framework. The Dissertation can be rooted in real-life contexts and concerns; the subjective creative process and/or industry or societal organizations. It is a performance of understanding that integrates and demonstrates the learning acquired in previous semesters of study and is completed under the mentorship of disciplinary faculty and/or external experts.

Learning Approach

The learning approach of this course is active, collaborative and practice-oriented. It combines a philosophical approach with art and design thinking and practice-based enquiry. Students, with their unique personalities and specific learning styles, are at the center of the process. The participants of this postgraduate course will be encouraged to constantly question, critically analyze and look through different lenses on their own practice. Through experiential learning and reflection on different kinds of knowledge systems students will develop the ability to formulate research questions and plan their own project.

Capability Sets

  • Ability to be independent researchers to undertake scholarly work and publish
  • Ability to undertake interdisciplinary inquiries into various Indian traditions and pursue advanced research
  • Ability to combine critical inquiry and creativity


The capability sets equip and prepare the student for a wide range of opportunities, including,

  • Education and Research
  • Cultural Institutions and NGOs
  • Archives and Museums
  • Foundations and Philanthropy

Practitioners and Researchers

Srishti is a home for large number of artists, designers, architects, scholars, philosophers and social scientists engaged in trans-disciplinary practices and research.  The students enrolled in this program will have an opportunity to engage with them and benefit from their expertise.  However, following practitioners and scholars are specially assigned to guide and mentor the students in the Masters by Research Program in Indian Thought and Practices

  1. Shabnam Virmani conceived and directed the Kabir Project, which brings together the experiences of a series of ongoing journeys in the quest of the sociopolitical and spiritual meanings of the 15th century mystic poet Kabir in our contemporary world. It consists of documentary films, folk music videos, music CDs and books of the poetry in translation. Future work consists of creating an archive of Kabir poetry and music in partnership with folk singer and rural communities, both on the web and on the ground. Shabnam has been a journalist and has directed several award-winning documentaries in close partnership with grassroots women’s groups in the country. In 1990, she co-founded the Drishti Media, Arts and Human Rights collective in Ahmedabad, a group of media professionals working to strengthen struggles for human rights and gender justice. In 2002, she co-directed a community radio program with a rural women’s group in Kutch, Gujarat.

  2. Dr. Vivek Dhareshwar’s research investigates the role of culture in learning different kinds of knowledge. He is working on two book projects: a philosophical exploration of the relationship between norms and experience; the other on the idea of multiple sites of ethical learning in Gandhi. He has published widely in the areas of ethics, political theory, literary criticism, and the philosophy of culture.

  3. A.V Ilango is a renowned artist with over 40 years of artistic practice.  He has exhibited nationally and internationally in numerous one-man as well as group shows.  His work is showcased in public collections such as Lalita Kala Academy; National Gallery of Modern Art and also in private collections.  Employing three critical components—line, form and space—Ilango’s works focus on representing dynamism of bodies in space—be it dancers, drummers, bulls or immobile traffic on the Indian roads. 

  4. Dr. Pithamber R Polsani’s current research is focused on two areas. One, understanding modernity and modernism in India through art and artistic practices and two comprehending thought and practices that inform the vernacular designs.

  5. Dipnkar Khanna is a teacher of meditation and a mediation master and he also runs Upaaya, which is Srishti’s contemplative practice and research center and The Garden of Samadhi Mind Centre, both of which are inspired by the Heart Advice of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.

  6. Mamta Sagar is a poet, playwright, translator and academic. She has four collections of poems, four plays, an anthology of column writing, a collection of critical essays in Kannada and English on gender, language, literature and culture and a book on Slovenian-Kannada Literature Interactions to her credit. As a practicing poet she has collaborated poetry performances with artists, poets and musicians from different parts of the world. She is actively involved with international poetry translation projects like Literature Across Frontiers, Poets Translating Poets, Melding Voices etc. She has been curating KAAVYA SANJE the community poetry event performed in public spaces involving people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

  7. Neelkanth Chhaya has been an academic and practicing architect for nearly forty years.  His professional practice, spanning over 30 years, has dealt with institutional and residential projects across India. His practice has won many Architectural Design Competitions, and has also won National Awards for completed projects. The practice is focused on culturally and environmentally appropriate design, and has emphasized innovative application of local skills and materials.


For enquiries, contact Pithamber R. Polsani at

Disciplinary Intersections

The program is informed by the following disciplines:

Art and Music History
Cultural Studies
Design and Architecture
Language and Literature
Public History
Vernacular Art and Music Practices

Research and Collaboration

The students under this program will have the opportunity to work with the following centers and labs at Srishti.


View Eligibility for Admission, Fee Schedule, Application Form & Other information for this Program >>