Warwick Writing Programme and Mahābhāratam Diaries

i have officially completed my first year of the Warwick Writing Programme ✅! 🥰! it has been absolutely delightful. 🤍🙏 my gratitude to my professors for guiding me on working on my first collection of bhakti poetry, in researching devotional literature & in translating from sanskrit, as well as from my mother-tongue. 🤍


it was so much fun to venture into freelance writing & to work with my colleagues on different projects – a highlight of this year has been a collaborative audio-translation of my beloved Draupadī’s imposing speech from the Mahābhārata created with Sumithreyi Sivapalan! it is always a joy to work on anything Mbh-related, but it truly is an honour to collaborate with someone equally enamoured with itihāsa! 🙏


you can read a sneak peek here:
https://teanicolae.com/2022/06/18/draupadis-speech-vastraharaṇa-a-collaborative-and-experimental-audio-translation/

indeed, what i adore about academia is the opportunity to meet and connect with people with similar (or identic!) research interests! it truly is so enriching to discuss your research with someone as equally passionate about it as as you, and these discussions unmistakably propel each of you towards greater growth and understanding. in my case, it has been one of the greatest gifts to meet someone as madly infatuated with the Mahābhārata as me!

it wasn’t until meeting my colleague Sumithreyi that i realised how much i had longed to dissect the Mbh with a fellow lover of this magnificent epic, and I can wholeheartedly say that the insights we shared together refined my understanding of the intricacies of its narrative – a narrative so grand that it undoubtedly humbles anyone who dares to venture in it. thank you, dear sakhī! here’s to continuously learning and to emptying our cup of the arrogance of knowing.

pics: all smiles after 7 hours of editing work for the Warwick Anthology 2022!

Warwick Anthology and Re-introduction

#Repost @thewarwickanthology with @make_repost
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Introducing the Team of Warwick Anthology 2022: Florilegium! 🌺

Meet Téa Nicolae! Téa is a marketing co-head and an editor of this year’s anthology. She joined the Warwick Writing Programme to delve deeper into poetry and literary translation.

Téa is a poetess and a scholar-practitioner. She writes devotional (bhakti) poetry and her research interests are Śāktism, Mahābhārata and non-dual philosophy.

Téa holds a BA in Film and Creative Writing and an MA in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Lancaster University. She is studying oral-practice traditions with Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan at Śabda Institute and is part of the Operations Team of ŚI. Her studies at Śabda Institute enrich her writings with the insights, delight and fervour unearthed only through practice.

🥰🙏❤️

winter graduation, my research and dissertation

♥️ happy to be graduating with a distinction in my first master’s degree! 

♥️ what a transformative journey this MA has been – i would not lightly call my last year at lancaster university life-changing! my studies in Indian philosophy and literature, with an emphasis on the exquisite Mahābhāratam, combined with my wondrous immersion in oral practice traditions at Śabda Institute, have radically challenged and changed my perception of both myself and the world, and introduced me to so much beauty, wisdom and wonder.

the pressing longing to * know * that had been hounding me since my teens, it was for * this *. i often joke that it feels as if i wasn’t living before – only dreaming! 

grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Brian Black, who guided me in my research and introduced me to the Mahābhārata and its complexities, and incredibly grateful to my beloved teacher, Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan, whose teachings are the foundation of all that i do; i am so fortunate that my studies at Śabda Institute enrich my academic writing with the insights, delight and fervour that are only accessible to practitioners.

lifetimes of refinement to go!

🌺 with the occasion of graduating from my master’s, taking a trip down memory lane to revisit the dearest pieces i worked on during my MA, namely “Feminine Dimensions of ‘God’: The Deification of Mahābhāratam’s Tragic Heroine”, “The Western Revival of Goddess Worship” & “The Question of Religious Violence in the Mahābhārata“.
🌺 my first paper explored the richness of the non-dual concept of ‘God’ by addressing the intricate worship of Draupadī, the Mahābhārata’s enigmatic female character – whose tragic and distinct storyline establishes her as a multifaceted heroine: a devoted wife; a caring mother; an abused and vindictive woman; a polyandrous empress; an avatāra of the Goddess; the Supreme Parāśakti, the all-pervading absolute reality herself; the celestial Śrī. i argued that, through the worship of an abused & vengeful woman, her devotees are deifying the entirety of the human experience. this piece has been my heart and soul, as my love for the fireborn Yājñasenī Draupadī knows no bounds. ♥️
🌺 my second essay employed a discourse rooted in psychoanalysis, and was centred on the therapeutic values Goddess archetypes hold for the traumatised female psyche + commented on the ramifications of the phenomenon of religious revival in a secular age.
🌺 my third paper deconstructed the hypothesis of the existence of instigation to religious violence in the Mahābhārata – but this perhaps deserves a post of its own, so some other time. ♥️
current situation is incessant editing, and i am hopeful that in 2022 they will feel ready for publication. cannot wait to share my findings.
image: “The Flaming Tresses of Draupadī” by Onkar Fondekar, for the illustration of the cover of the book of the same name written by Veerappa Moily, Rupa Publications. ♥️

finally, attaching below the praise i received for my MA dissertation, which i plan to publish one day:

“This is an excellent and impressive dissertation written with a confident analytical voice and with lucidity. It is extensively researched, clearly structured, and engagingly written. It is theoretically apt and brings into conversation analytical concepts such as iconography to tease out the sub-connective cosmological view underlying the Mahāvidyās analysed. It deftly weaves together discussions of iconography, mythology, and philosophy to make an original and compelling argument. You have identified a very interesting research area that might be worth expanding upon if you were to take your academic studies further.

Overall this is a highly scholarly thesis and deserves a strong distinction. Well done!”

Jungian Reflections on Mainstream Cinema

happy to share my academic article, “Jungian Reflections on Mainstream Cinema”. ♥️

“Jungian Reflections on Mainstream Cinema” was written during my undergraduate degree, and i expanded on its conclusions in my undergraduate dissertation. my research interests have shifted since then, and, as i dive deeper into other topics in academia, i want to briefly share some of my past findings – how perfect the form of an academic letter is for that! thank you to AL for gifting me the opportunity to publish open-access and, graciously, free of cost, my swift farewell to Jung, psychoanalysis & to the mystical gaze of cinema. grateful to all i’ve learned about myself while immersed in Jung, grateful for the bridge this individuation journey of mine represented – a transition to my postgraduate studies in philosophy & religion. very much looking forward to sharing complete papers centred on religion & philosophy in the future – if i’m ever done with obsessively editing them, that is! ♥️

end-note: have loved conversing with other Jung enthusiasts since this came out. i thought – oh! so this is the magic of presenting & sharing ideas with those who have similar interests as you do!

https://doi.org/10.20935/AL3814

ACADEMIA Letters
Jungian Reflections on Mainstream Cinema
Téa Nicolae, Lancaster University

Fantastical worlds have been enchanting humans for centuries. From fairy-tales and legends to science-fiction blockbusters, we have been drawn to bewitching stories of heroes, magic and supranatural creatures since the dawn of creation. (Zipes, 2006) Although this subtle desire to encounter mysticism in art has been labelled as ‘escapism’ (Addis and Holbrook, 2010; p.823), I propose that the phantasmal imagery  of mainstream cinema offers valuable insights into the human psyche. 

I am building my assumption on the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961), who believed that fantastical images of mythology and religion are allegories, cohesively constructed to supply ideas about the psyche. According to Jung, mythology and religion resemble psychology by perfectly creating ‘archetypes’ packed with meaning, which allow humans to dwell upon images of rebirth, transformation and self-realisation. (Jung, 1998) 

The psychoanalyst was unconvinced that our ancestors went to great lengths to interpret the happenings of the natural world through religious iconography because they lacked scientific explanations. Instead, he considered that mystical imagery does not serve as a rationalisation of the physical world, but of the inner one. Thus, such images use the external, chimerical universe to decipher the complex layers of the mind. (Jung, 1998) Therefore, in Jungian thought, images that cross religious and modern myths reveal the nature of the Self, which represents one’s authentic identity. The Self emerges when consciousness and unconsciousness are united; Jung considered this union to be the nucleus of all psychological and spiritual inquiries, as he associated this psychological aspiration with the spiritual yearning for the Divine and believed that the ‘God’ referred to in religion is the Self. To allow the Self to arise, one undergoes psychic processes such as ‘individuation’ and integration, which are reflected in religious iconography within prototypal storylines and quintessential imagery. Hence, Jungians believe that humans have been telling similar stories for centuries: stories that are imbued in our collective unconscious because they are meaningful, soulful, because they guide us to understand our humanity. (Jung, 1998) 

Jung considered that new myths are continuously created in lieu of ancient ones. (Jung, 2002) The concept of modern myths greatly interests me. As cinema has undoubtedly become one of the most accessible and popular artforms, I am inclined to believe that it is a medium where modern myths are crafted. 

Accordingly, as technology allows our unconscious to rapidly absorb images and ideas without properly processing them, Jungian scholars consider that cinema ‘offers both a means and a space to witness the psyche in projection’, thus proving to be an ‘antidote to the modern assault on the unconscious’. (Hauke and Alister, 2001; p.2) I would thereby maintain that, while watching aspects of their humanity and layers of the world unravel on screen, spectators are guided to understand themselves and to find meaning in cinematic tales. 

Indeed, numerous mainstream films encode traditionally religious beliefs that interlace with the Jungian worldview. For example, Star Wars: A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977) is heavily influenced by Hindu thought and is rich with archetypes, whereas George Lucas himself based his work on Jungian conceptions. The Lord of The Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003) embodies Catholic consciousness and constructs a distinct individuation process. Both Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014) and Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) include influences from Eastern schools of thoughts and address the concept of the collective unconscious, while Avatar (James Cameron, 2009) mirrors Hindu convictions and illustrates unity of consciousness. These works have been enthusiastically received by audiences and critics alike. 

I suggest that the popularity of these cinematic pieces arises from a collective subconscious yearning for modern myths and self-reflection. The archaic nature of images that appear in the enumerated films allows cinema, even in its mainstream form, to engage the psyche, and to guide spectators to find purposefulness in life and in themselves. A Jungian analysis of mainstream cinema would thus unveil commercial films as psychic expressions of the unconscious that transcend individuality and collectively touch upon the complexities of our humanness, thus resembling religious myths. 

I would therefore reject the dismissal of commercial films as ‘escapist’, embracing scholar Christopher Hauke’s articulation that ‘their very popularity (…) demonstrates a resonance with unconscious needs in the collective psyche to which the cinema frequently responds.’ (Hauke, 2001; p.9) Additionally, I would sustain that ancestral symbols present in film have the capacity to perform healing functions and to ‘indicate a psychic reality to which each person potentially has access’, which ‘transcends bounds of personal history’. (Frederickson, 2001: p.29) In a fast-moving society which allows little space for introspection, cinema makes complex psychological inquiries approachable and attainable: ‘when an intensity of experience is mixed with the less intense, psychological and emotional replenishment and growth may be made bearable and possible’. (Hauke and Alister, 2001; p.2) 

In conclusion, I propose that cinema is becoming a religion of our own: it is a medium where stories of self-understanding and self-realisation are crafted, where our shared humanity reverberates in archaic images that are pregnant with meaning. Films, our modern myths, invite us to embark on inner, earnest journeys which lead to the Self: the nucleus of humanness. 

‘I believe there’s spirituality in films, even if it’s not one which can supplant faith… It’s as if movies answer an ancient quest for common unconscious.’ 

Martin Scorsese (Scorsese and Wilson, 1995)

Corresponding Author: Téa Nicolae
Citation: Nicolae, T. (2021). Jungian Reflections on Mainstream Cinema. Academia Letters, Article 3814.
https://doi.org/10.20935/AL3814.

you can read the bibliography and the filmography of this article visiting the link pasted above.

Navarātri beginnings…

♥️ this week is one of beginnings for me, and i am delighted that it coincides with the auspicious time of Navarātri… ♥️ overjoyed to share that i am joining the Warwick Writing Programme to complete my second master’s degree in poetry & literary translation, as well as commencing my study of Sanskrit at the Oxford Centre of Hindu Studies ♥️ and, this week i’m beginning my new job as a transcriber-translator! 😸 in typical fashion, i will turn this around to the Mahābhārata, and hope that this paves the way to translating some of its most beautiful ślokas… sometime in the far future 😝♥️

MA dissertation: “Mapping the Absolute: The Iconography of the Daśa Mahāvidyās”

💚 over the moon to share that i have submitted by MA dissertation, entitled: “Mapping the Absolute: The Iconography of the Daśa Mahāvidyās” 💚

💚 my dissertation has been fuelled by Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan’s books & courses addressing the lustrous wisdom embodied by the ravenous sequence of the Mahāvidyā Goddesses. my intention (icchā, if you will 😺) to explore the deities from a cosmogenic standpoint was sown during a retreat i attended in 2020 that was centred on the first five of the Mahāvidyās, led by Kavithaji & Hareesh Wallis. i was spellbound listening to Kavithaji present the Goddesses as non-dual expressions of cosmological creative forces and i was concomitantly dismayed to realise that all the material i had encountered which addressed them was rooted in strong misconceptions. poignantly, the distortion & appropriation of the Goddesses in popular culture & western scholarship appear to majorly stem from the legacy of colonialist writings – and, i tried to offer my small contribution towards the deconstruction of the colonial / orientalist gaze through this thesis. 💚 if there’s one thing i know for certain after writing my dissertation is that one needs dozens of lifetimes to come to grasp the vidyā embedded in one Goddess – and my 100 pages have barely scratched the surface:

“The six systems of philosophy remain powerless to describe Her.
She is the inmost awareness
of the one who realises
that Consciousness alone exists.
She is the life blossoming within
the creatures of the universe.
Both macrocosm and microcosm
are lost within Mother’s Womb.
Now can you sense
how indescribable She is?”

💚 Śākta poet Rāmprasād Sen, translated by Lex Hixon.

💚 very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Brian Black, who has encouraged and guided me through the entirety of my MA. (and who shares my obsessive love for the Mahābhārata!)

🙏

*the painting appearing on my cover-page: Mātaṅgī by Kailash Raj. 💚

graduation blues

💜 with the graduation ceremony officially indefinitely postponed in the light of covid, here’s me recycling last year’s improvised photos!

📷: summer of 2020, graduating from my beloved university with a first class honours and with jolly gratitude. 🕊💓

💜 flash-forward to summer of 2021: leaving lancaster after three years of undergraduate study and one postgraduate degree, in which i profoundly grew as a writer & as a scholar 💓 i am humbled and grateful for the opportunities lancaster university has offered me in the timespan of these four years: opportunities to challenge myself, to question, to learn and to become more aware of myself and of the unfoldings of the world.

💜 i am so very honoured to have received the lancaster gold award for my extracurricular activities – i was involved in such fantastic projects, from unicef, nightline & precious plastic to writers’ society & flash journal, and it was a blessing to be part of such dynamic teams & initiatives, as well as to expand my creative horizons as a writer.

💜 finally, my deepest gratitude to my colleagues, teachers, friends, and fellow writers! {a big thank you especially to those who have listened to me go on & on about the Mahābhārata! 😹}

💜 MA-dissertation in-progress, and, onwards!

A Journey to the Self

thrilled to have finally gotten my undergraduate dissertation printed & bound – a tangible copy to celebrate its one year anniversary! 🌻

☀️ taking a moment to gush: my final year as an undergrad was so very precious to me, as it represented the first big leap i took with my writing. dissertation-wise, i wanted to focus on what Richard Leonard calls “the mystical gaze” of cinema: cinema’s arguably innate fascination with the esoteric that enables the viewer to encounter the transcendent. although my supervisor advised me that it could be a tricky topic, i felt curiously pulled to it and decided to trust my gut – and so, my dissertation addressed the archaic imagery emerging in commercial cinema as seen through a Jungian gaze & argued that cinematic archetypes unveil layers of the psyche. 

☀️ while i immersed myself in mystical Jungian realms, esotericism concomitantly trickled into my poetry modules. i stepped out of my comfort zone & compiled a collection of occult poetry for my final year portfolio: the poems centred on constructing a numinous female gaze that coloured the experience of transcendental states. 

☀️ it was magical to delve into the otherworldly and to construct my very own lyrical cosmos, which resulted in deep awe of our internal psychological processes. i grew, and, most importantly, i had fun! it turned out to be my most mature & appreciated work at that time, while i myself realised that what had been missing in my approach was passion! i was playing safe with my writing, unwilling to pursue what truly interested me out of fear. the fear made my writing & myself stale, dry of wonder or juiciness – which are two things i’ve become committed to seeking in all that i do. thank you, sleepless dissertation nights, for this! here’s to piercing through the fear & to taking big scary beautiful leaps! 

🪐

God(dess) knows we need them! 

lent term

very happy (& a tad relieved) to have finished & submitted my lent term papers!! it’s been fun – i wrote about: 

  • the myth of religious violence 
  • the particularities of purity, impurity & pollution in the context of non-dual philosophy
  • the western commodification of spirituality.

my favourite essay to work on has been: “The Question of Religious Violence in the Mahābhārata“, in which i explored Mahābhārata‘s cosmological rationalisation of violence through the concept of mahāpralaya (great dissolution) and through beloved Kṛṣṇa’s actions, addressed in the light of his self-identification with the destructive function of the divine: the all-consuming Time (Kāla). i juxtaposed this with the more secular stances the epic extolls, such as ahiṃsā (non-violence) & ānṛśaṁsya (non-cruelty) in the context of dharma-yuddha (just war). the overarching argument has been ~ it is simplistic to claim that the thematic preoccupation with conflict of an ample spiritual text such as the Mahābhārata instigates violence, as the epic’s fascination with conflict stems from its attempt to understand & unravel (& often regulate!) violence.

anyway, the personal conclusion i have reached is that, if i could spend my life writing about Kṛṣṇa, Draupadī and the Mahābhārata, i would – i certainly aim to! 

💙 pictured: my favourite sequence of the Kurukṣetra War & one of my favourite paintings – beloved Kṛṣṇa attacking Bhīṣma, while Arjuna pleads. the epic’s verses are hauntingly beautiful:

🦚 Filled with wrath, the great lord of Yoga jumped from the chariot. The mighty Kṛṣṇa of immeasurable splendour, the Lord of the Universe, roared like a lion. With eyes red as copper from rage and with his bare arms alone as weapons, he rushed towards Bhīṣma, desirous of slaying him. Now, with a whip in hand, Kṛṣṇa splits the universe itself with his tread. Robed in yellow silk, and himself dark as the lapis lazuli, Janārdana looked as beautiful as a mass of clouds charged with lightning. With a loud roar, the bull of Madhu’s race impetuously darted towards Bhīṣma. Beholding him of eyes like lotus petals, Bhīṣma addressed Govinda: “Come, come, O thou of eyes of lotus. I am yours.” 🦚