King Charles III: A royal keen on Islamic art, Ayurveda, environment and tradition

He is at the centre of a large number of charity organisations active in various spheres of life

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By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Fri 9 Sep 2022, 5:01 PM

Born to preserve the Crown and pass it on, King Charles III, 73, begins his long-expected reign in the knowledge that he has a tough act to follow: he will be often compared to his iconic mother, Queen Elizabeth, who earned wide respect and affection for her lifelong sense of duty and dignity.

Most Britons and others have known him as Prince Charles. It will be a while before the shift to ‘King Charles III’ happens in the popular imagination. He has had perhaps the longest probation period for any heir to the throne: 70 years, closely shadowing his mother over the decades.

Affable, understated and often using wry humour in public, he has been one of the royals whose words and actions always make headlines. His personal life has been chronicled in much detail, also reflected in popular television shows such as The Crown, but less known are his activist views on issues such as alternative medicine, environment, climate change, tradition, the arts, education and agriculture.

He is known to be an ardent fan of Islamic art. It is one of the subjects offered at the postgraduate level in the Prince’s Foundation School of Tradition Arts. The “grammar” of Islamic art, he once wrote, “underpins the whole of life”. He is at the centre of a large number of charity organisations active in various spheres of life.

As Prince Charles, he has promoted an array of complementary therapies and diagnostic methods: aromatherapy, Ayurveda, chiropractic, detoxification, Gerson therapy, herbal medicine, homoeopathy, iridology, marma therapy, massage, osteopathy, pulse diagnosis, reflexology, tongue diagnosis, traditional Chinese medicine, and yoga – drawing much criticism from scientists and experts.

He and his wife Camilla joined holistic healing sessions in a health centre in Bengaluru in 2019.

After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts from Cambridge in 1970, the young Charles Windsor reportedly became friends with the South African author Laurens van der Post, who urged him to explore the old world of the spirit and convinced him that his royal intuition came from a far deeper source than conscious thought.

As the United Kingdom prepares for the reign of King Charles III, the ‘M’ word is being uttered in hushed tones in some quarters: his critics call it ‘meddling’ in political-executive matters, while he prefers to describe it as ‘mobilising’.

The default constitutional position is that the British monarch scrupulously remains politically neutral, but it does not mean that views are not exchanged during weekly meetings between the monarch and the prime minister.

The Queen was always discreet about such things, while as Prince Charles, he has had several meetings with ministers, written several letters to them bordering on lobbying and activism. The Guardian has long pursued avenues to make his hand-written letters to ministers public.

He is known to have lobbied ministers over health policy, foxhunting, farming, grammar schools and human rights laws, but his office says the meetings were essential to his “understanding the workings of government, its departments and its senior members”, which will be necessary when he becomes king. He firmly believes that areas such as architecture and planning, agriculture, education, the arts, healthcare, society and economy have all suffered as a result of humanity’s disconnect from nature.

One of his quotes offers a clue how he views his role as the king. He told NBC in 2010 that he felt he was “born into this position for a purpose”, adding: “I don’t want my grandchildren or yours to come along and say to me, ‘Why the hell didn’t you come and do something about this?’”

But he also told a BBC documentary marking his 70th birthday: “Clearly, I won’t be able to do the same things I’ve done as heir, so of course you operate within the constitutional parameters”.

Prince Charles outlined his vision in a 2010 book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking At Our World, expounding on areas such India’s Vedic traditions, spirituality, the timelessness of Christian iconography, Chinese Daoism and the ‘magical rhythms of gardens and nature’.

He wrote: “I was born in 1948, right in the middle of the 20th century, which had dawned amid the gleaming Age of the Machine, the very engine of colossal change in the western world…By the mid-1950s, a frenzy of change was sweeping the world in a wave of postwar modernism … By the 1960s the industrialised countries were well on the way to creating what many imagined would be a limitless Age of Convenience. Even as a teenager I felt deeply disturbed by what seemed to have become a dangerously short-sighted approach.”

He added that by the 1970s, “I could see very clearly that we were growing numb to the sacred presence that traditional societies feel very deeply.”

King Charles III has visited south Asia several times. Before the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, he travelled to New Delhi carrying a personal invitation from Queen Elizabeth to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the deliberations.

It was at the London CHOGM that Queen Elizabeth expressed her ‘sincere wish’ that Prince Charles succeeds her to ensure stability and continuity of the 54-member group. The Leaders’ Statement at the conclusion of the meeting said: “We recognise the role of The Queen in championing the Commonwealth and its peoples. The next Head of the Commonwealth shall be His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.”

Before becoming King Charles III, the prince attracted a wide range of views from people, from the laudatory to trenchant criticism. As the royal baton passes on to him, there is already a realisation that his reign may not be as long as her mother’s, with young Britons more connected with his sons William (the next in line to the throne) and Harry.

As author Catherine Mayer writes in her 2015 biography (with a new edition in 2022) titled Charles: The Heart of a King: “Charles has weathered more than a few scandals and won over more than a few sceptics. His environmentalism, once widely derided, resonates more widely than it did. He remains, however, a polarising figure trying to navigate an increasingly polarised world. The primary role of a head of state is to unify. This could be a bumpy ride”.


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