(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 132-133, Note the Copyright!)
India is a land of great diversity with an ancient and spiritual cultural heritage. It has a population of over one billion people who belong to the most varied tribes, races, casts and creeds. Seventeen main languages and hundreds of dialects are spoken in India. Hindi is the national language and English is used extensively as the lingua franca. India is a secular country, home to nine major world religions. Many religions and spiritual organizations of the world are also based in India.
This is mainly due to the high level of tolerance which prevails in India, coupled with the ability of the people to accept and assimilate different forms of spiritual thought and world views. These contrasts enable age-old traditions to coexist with ultra-modern lifestyles, and there is an ever growing need to find a balance between the two. Fields like medicine, agriculture and education, which used to be entirely within Indian traditions and methodology, are now being influenced by modern materialism. This tendency is most evident in the case of early education. Two and three-year-olds are made to read, write and count, and pressure to pass exams and get a good job is on the increase. Many parents and teachers are now looking for alternative modes of education where children can learn in a tension-free atmosphere and enjoy going to school. Many have found the answer in Waldorf Education.
In London in November 1961 Major Ramachandra, a pupil of Mahatma Gandhi and general secretary of the Serve India Society, was introduced to Helen Salter, an anthroposophist, by Mr Pilgrim, a Jamaican. Major Ramachandra was looking for new methods in child education and Mrs Salter spoke to him about Waldorf Education. In 1968 he met a Waldorf teacher from the Netherlands, Daan van Bemmelen and invited him to lecture in India. So van Bemmelen, accompanied by the eurythmist Christine Hebert and Walter Soesman, travelled by road to India, arriving in Bombay on 6 January 1969. The lecture tour took in Bombay, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Madras, Calcutta and Dehra Dun. Most notable among those who benefited were Professor Lekh Raj Ulfat and his wife Sadhana who became interested in Rudolf Steiner’s modern and yet spiritual education. They had founded the Nanhi Dunya (Small World) School in Dehra Dun, Northern India, where hearing and deaf children were taught together. Later Professor Ulfat studied Waldorf Education at Emerson College in Britain. The Nanhi Dunya School was for a long time the only school in India to incorporate elements of Waldorf Education. Since the death of Professor Ulfat in 1991 his wife and daughter have continued with the work.
Taking on responsibility for Waldorf Education
Daan van Bemmelen’s lecture tour also introduced V. P. Subbaramu and his wife Mani to the education. They began by founding Thakkar Bapa, a teacher training seminar near Bangalore before moving to Shimoga where Subbaramu became director of the Children Education Society. He too attended the teacher training college in Britain after which he founded Chethana, a primary school with Waldorf elements for poor children who were taught in their language, Kannada.
Dr Heimo Rau, the German art-historian, Indologist and Waldorf teacher who had built up the Goethe Institutes (known as Max Mueller Bhavan in India) in New Delhi and Bombay, also lent his support to the development of Waldorf Education in India.
In 1973 two sisters from Bombay, Aban and Dilnawaz Bana went to Dornach, Switzerland, to study Waldorf Education and eurythmy. Today they co-ordinate the two Waldorf projects in India, travel to various anthroposophical initiatives and give courses in Waldorf Education and eurythmy. Since 1999 Aban Bana has conducted an intensive, residential teacher training course in the summer holidays, together with friends from India and abroad.
In 1982 Karin Mortensen, a Norwegian Waldorf teacher, married the Indian school principal Ranvir Kochhar in Dalhousie, Hinachal Pradesh. Together they started the Himgiri Waldorf Boarding School. After Karin’s return to Norway and a critical period the school is once again making a new beginning. In the town of Vasco da Gama in Goa there is a lovely kindergarten run by Lisa Chowgule on her huge estate. She combines elements of Waldorf Education with the methods of the Krishnamurti school, an Indian alternative movement.
Relations which began in the late 1960s between interested parties in India and the Netherlands led in 1989 to the forming of the India Care Group in the Netherlands. In 1997 the Friends of Waldorf Education organized a tour for their exhibition “Waldorf Education” to New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bombay and Bangalore which was accompanied by lectures and seminars. The exhibition enjoyed a positive reception by the public at large and contributed much to new developments of Waldorf Education in India.
A second wave of foundations
Nirmala Diaz and her husband Suresh Kuppu were the main people to work towards starting a school in Hyderabad. After two years of preparation the Sloka Waldorf School opened its doors in 1997. By 2001 it had a playgroup, a kindergarten group and Classes 1 to 3 with altogether 170 children. Many of the teachers have visited Waldorf Schools in Europe during their holidays. They have been trained by Tine Bruinsma from the Netherlands who spends six months each year in Hyderabad.
In Secunderabad, Hyderabad’s twin city, there has been a Waldorf inspired kindergarten, Diksha, since the year 2000 with 50 children in two groups. The teachers train at the teacher training courses of the Sloka Waldorf School.
A group of teachers and parents have been working to found a Waldorf School since 1996 in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). One of the parents, Patrick Brillant, who trained as a Waldorf teacher in France, took over the training courses, and a kindergarten group and a Class 1 totalling 25 children started up in June 2000.
Waldorf Education is growing in India. More and more parents are looking for teaching methods that address not only heads but also hearts and hands. They recognize the importance of having a truly child-centred approach to education.
Organizes teacher training in India and advises Waldorf initiatives.