Shraman South Asian Museum and Learning Center Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Dallas, Texas. Its mission is to promote a greater understanding of South Asia's heritage and to cultivate appreciation for diversity. The museum will be the first in the United States to focus exclusively on South Asia.
Why South Asia?
South Asia is a unique and diverse region of the world. It consists of the modern nation-states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; sometimes Myanmar (Burma) and Tibet are also included on this list. South Asia is home to one-fifth of the world's population; India alone has more than 1.2 billion citizens, making it the world's largest democracy. The diversity of languages, dialects, and scripts in South Asia is vast; there are currently more than 780 languages and dialects spoken in India. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, four of the world's major religious traditions, developed on South Asian soil, and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have been practiced in the region for more than a millennium. South Asia's rich resources and geographical location have attracted merchants, pilgrims, scholars, marauders, armies, and aspiring rulers since the time of the Indus Valley civilization (ca. 2500-1700 BCE). During the more than 4,000 years of documented history, South Asians have made significant contributions to humanity in the areas of mathematics, science, philosophy, spiritual practices, art and architecture, and political thought.
Today, South Asia's global influence is greater than ever. As South Asian communities become increasingly prominent throughout the world, there is a growing awareness about their cultures. Many South Asian spiritual practices and philosophies, such as yoga, meditation, and the ideal of nonviolence, have become popular avenues for improving health and well-being. These are just a few of the many rich and diverse traditions that deserve greater attention. The Shraman South Asian Museum and Learning Center Foundation strives to be a forum for the engagement and interpretation of this important region of the world.
Etymology of "Shraman:"
श्रमण (Śramaṇa) n.: one who strives; one who performs acts of mortification or austerity, an ascetic, monk or nun, devotee, religious mendicant; a Buddhist or Jain monk.
The earliest uses of the Sanskrit term shramana refer to a person who has undertaken an ascetic lifestyle as a means to overcome the passions of anger, hatred, jealousy, lust, and greed. This lifestyle is best described as one of renunciation. A shramana would give up family and social ties and, with few to no possessions, wander the country as a homeless mendicant in an attempt to cultivate a state of being that would result in moksha or liberation from samsara, the cycle of rebirth. The practices of meditation and yoga were common tools used to dispel attachment to the five senses and the material world and to cultivate a higher state of consciousness. These "strivers" were determined to understand the world as it truly is, not as it appears. As time passed, the term shramana came to describe an array of religious traditions that developed alongside what is understood today as Hinduism. The two surviving shramana traditions are Buddhism and Jainism, both of which developed sometime around the 5th century BCE in what is now northern India.