Filmmaker Gita Desai shares what inspired her documentary trilogy of Yoga, Ayurveda and Raga Unveiled.
India’s history of yoga can be traced back to the Rig Veda, which is one of the oldest texts in the world. The ancient Indian practices of Yoga, Ayurveda and sound therapy have been mentioned in some of India’s earliest written texts like the Vedas and the Natyashastra. Los Angeles-based Filmmaker Gita Desai felt that these ancient traditions are being diluted in the modern context and wanted to preserve and revive the purest essence of these practices. Her documentary trilogy Yoga Unveiled, Ayurveda Unveiled and Raga Unveiled are elaborate “text-books” that yoga teachers and practitioners can refer to for education and information.
I got a chance to watch Yoga Unveiled at a screening in Mumbai six years ago and was thrilled when the director of the film, Gita Desai, agreed to share her views with SanātanaYoga.
Sophia: What inspired you to film these documentaries?
Gita: The realisation that there was a lack of an overview of what these yogic traditions are. The knowledge of yoga was being offered in little bits and pieces, and that didn’t sit well with me because it didn’t give people the real profoundness of these traditions. Short-cut, six-month courses try to jam millennia of information into a small course and that isn’t enough for students to grasp the deeper, real essence of yogic traditions. I wanted to bring this depth to the people who practise yoga so that they understand the higher level of transformation that these practices can enable. There was far too much being lost in translation and instant gratification, so I wanted to create these documentaries to preserve the real essence of India’s yoga schools.
Sophia: How did your idea of yoga change or develop while making Yoga Unveiled?
Gita: It was a two-year marathon and I was so immersed in the work that I didn’t even see the growth in me while it was happening. Through these films, I have answered so many questions and learned so much. It made me established in yoga and gave me conviction in my beliefs.
Sophia: You had spoken about the interconnectedness between yoga and Ayurveda. Can you elaborate on the film Ayurveda Unveiled and how it connects to Yoga Unveiled?
Gita: I think we all missed the boat of realising this. It was the design of the sages that yoga and Ayurveda be practised together. It is a very silly oversight that modern schools do not combine the two, and I blame every modern yoga master. Nobody gave Ayurveda the credential and importance it deserves. They’re still not doing it. Yoga and Ayurveda are one and they cannot be practised without each other. The Ayurvedic approach to the body helps us refine our yoga practice to suit our body and constitution.
Sophia: Tell us about Raga Unveiled?
Gita: Indian classical music is very close to my heart. There so few great masters of classical music left, and I wanted to archive their contributions. That was the inspiration for Raga Unveiled. I captured the last archival interviews of the great masters. The film explores the power of sound as understood by the sages of Indic culture. It highlights the tradition of the guru-shishya parampara and the genius of texts like the Natyashastra. These musical schools and gharanas took centuries to refine and they’re being butchered by commercialisation. I made this films to educate and inform people about these precious traditions.
Sophia: What do you think of modern yoga?
Gita: There is no need to talk about them.
Sophia: What was the most memorable part about making these movies?
Gita: Sitting in front of these yogic masters and musicians that I would never had a chance to meet otherwise. I am not a famous filmmaker or yoga practitioner. I was just a homemaker who had passion and devotion for these subjects. I got to meet all these incredible people and the real masters possess a great deal of humility that I find lacking in modern yoga teachers.
Sophia: What are your favourite documentaries?
Gita: The films of Ken Burns. His documentaries never take sides. He is almost an historian.
Sophia: Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?
Gita: No. (Laughs). I just did these films as I thought film was a strong medium to convey what I thought of these schools. I wanted to educate and show the true essence of these subjects.
Sophia: What is your favourite part about India?
Gita: Our ancient knowledge and traditions that the sages and masters have left for us all. These practices are timeless and still apply to the human condition.
Sophia: Are you making any more films on Indian culture?
Gita: Not for now. At present, I am working on marketing Yoga, Ayurveda and Raga Unveiled.
For more information on Gita Desai’s work, visit Yoga Unveiled