The Abhyas Trust was found in New Delhi, by internationally acclaimed Bharatnatyam dancer, choreographer, yoga exponent and urban activist, Navtej Johar. The objective of the Trust was to teach and experiment with traditional dance; offer training in yoga; a space for research and study of ancient texts related to yoga and dance; plus, a forum for urban activism. The Studio was also meant to fulfil another objective, i.e. act as a permanent rehearsal space for Johar to make his dance creations.
Navtej studied dance at Kalakshetra and yoga at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, in Chennai, India. After his training at these prestigious institutions he moved to the US in 1984, where he studied at the Department of Performance Studies, NYU. Before setting up the Abhyas Trust, Johar already enjoyed a successful career in dance over two decades in the US, he had collaborated with several Modern dancers, choreographers, and composers as well as taught yoga in his hometown, Ann Arbor, MI, in the USA. So, when he opted to open Abhyas at Delhi, he brought into it years of experience as well as a sound influence of Western Critical Studies and Modern techniques of movement.
Since 2006, offering yoga practice in a structured and sustained manner over an extended period has resulted in a gradual deepening of Navtej's own practice and his understanding and commitment to Yoga. It also resulted in strengthening of the bond he shared with his alma mater, the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) in Chennai and his teacher Sri T.K.V. Desikachar, who offered annual workshops at the studio for as long as his health allowed. In 2012, the KYM collaborated with Abhays to offer a two year long Teachers Training Course.
Since the inception of Abhyas, Navtej's understanding of Yoga has widened to include the social and the civic. The Yoga Sutras advocate that both our sanity and serenity are integrally tied to the quality of our 'seeing' and engagement with the world and its objects. It is with this basic philosophy that the Abhyas Trust ventured to include the Urban Design Program.
In 1992, when Navtej visited India after a gap of almost a decade in the US, he was dismayed to observe that Indian cities were chaotic and haphazard and totally overlooked the concerns and safety of the pedestrian. There was an utter lack of attention to the detail, most of which was discourteous to the human body. The second despairing realization (after seeing that the little nieces and nephews that he had left behind were now young adults) was that a whole new generation had grown up with the same attitude, blinkered and blind, insensitive, with no sense of responsibility towards public spaces and facilities.
The year 1997 was marked by the ‘Uphaar tragedy’ in New Delhi. During the matinee show on day one of the release of a Hindi movie, a fire started by a faulty transformer in the basement of Uphaar, a movie theatre in Green Park, New Delhi, snuffed out the lives of 59 people who had gone there to watch the film. This news of the man-made tragedy in a neighbourhood he was very familiar with during his growing up years, proved to be a turning point for Navtej and he made a silent resolve to do something about it in his own way. Thus, when the Abhyas Trust was formed, Navtej was determined to include urban activism as part of its activities and to target children in particular to bring about a change in mindset, to make them conscious of their surroundings, instil an eye-for-detail and make them proactive vis-à-vis their immediate environment.
Concern for the urban environment further extends to care and nurturing of stray animals that are very much a part of our surroundings. People often overlook their plight, not because they are unfeeling or callous, but because most don't know what to do and whom to turn to when they see an injured animal badly in need of help, or for that matter when they see an open drain or a dangerous turn.
The Abhyas Trust was thus set up with the hope to simultaneously work on two planes, the inner and the outer, both of which need to be addressed to lead a happy, healthy and harmonious life.