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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Courses Provide a Glimpse of India

If you are interested in Indian culture, would like to practice yoga, study the Hindi language or Indian classical dance or even learn to play the tabla, the right place to head to is the Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Center.

Named after the first prime minister of India, who led the country for 17 years after it won its independence in 1947, the center, located at 9 Vorontsovo Pole, was founded in 1989 to celebrate the centenary of Nehru's birth.

"We have a large number of committed and dedicated people who are interested in Indian culture," Ashok Sajjanhar, director of the center, said. "If you look at India and Russia, these are the two countries which have always had the friendliest relations with each other."

"When a Russian person comes to India, he or she is always treated as one of our own. Culturally, we are very close together."

It's mostly Russians who take the free courses that the center offers to its visitors - in yoga, kathak, a classical dance of northern India, in playing the tabla, a musical percussion instrument, and, of course, the Hindi language.

"India is a country with such spirituality. I have always been interested in Indian culture, and the language gives me an opportunity to read books on Indian philosophy in the original," Lyubov Smirnova, a 40-year-old teacher of therapeutic gymnastics, said.

Smirnova is one of the six basic-level students who have been learning Hindi for about three months with teacher Rajesh Kumar. "It's fun to teach Russians," he said, although they may have some problems with pronouncing some of the hard sounds in the Hindi language.

Kumar gave an example of two almost indistinguishable sounds. "If you don't pronounce them correctly, there may be a difference in the word's meaning," he said. There are about 60 students learning Hindi at five levels.

The center is publishing a Hindi-Russian dictionary with about 15,000 word and 3,000 phrase entries, the first one since 1957. There is a web version of it on the center's web site,

"I have always liked Indian culture, for example in films and dances. By knowing the language, I can get even deeper into it," said Zhanita Raudive, a 24-year-old student, as she prepared for her dance lessons after the language lessons. Some 25 women gathered in a small hall with a mirrored wall were watching their teacher as he showed them how to do a turn.

Ashwani Nigam, who has taught dance in the center for three years, says kathak is very difficult. Nonetheless, there are about 180 women who come to the center to learn it. "Most of the students were influenced by Indian movies," Nigam said . "But what we teach is different and more difficult than what they saw."

However hard the dance may be, there are about 15 students who, according to Nigam, have reached a very high level. But of those advanced students, perhaps 10 possess even five of the 10 qualities necessary for a kathak dancer - a spark, calmness, nice body lines, ability to use the dance space effectively, expressive eyes, practice, intelligence, respect for culture, ability to speak elegantly and a sense of music.

Kira Gonsalves, a translator from Portuguese and a piano teacher, has been studying Indian dance for six years. "For me it's the highest degree of aesthetics and expression of femininity," said Gonsalves, 30. "I think that it is the richest dance style in the world in showing emotions and feelings. It is beauty and harmony, above all."

The Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Center is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. It is located at 9 Vorontsovo Pole. Metro Kurskaya. Tel. 916-0644.