for India Today on Dec. 6, 2008
Sample this. He is French; he has sold gobhi pakoras in Tel Aviv for a living; he is a practicing Hindu, living a life inspired by Vedic philosophy. But these aren’t the most unusual things about Yves Ayoun.
The most implausible thing is his line of work—he designs figurines of Hindu gods and goddesses in Melbourne, in association with a partner in Hong Kong, and after the figures are produced in China, they are sold worldwide.
In fact, last year Ayoun signed a contract for 10,000 models of the Golden Temple, half of which have already been delivered to many parts of the world.
Ayoun, 51, was born in Paris. At the age of 18, he left Paris and crossed over Europe and Asia. “After spending time in Israel and Afghanistan, I arrived in India and felt that this was home,” says Ayoun, adding, “My first stop was Amritsar. I stayed for free at the Golden Temple, ate langar and was made to feel really welcome. Then I went to Delhi and Varanasi, which had a huge impact on me. Since then I have been coming back to India every year.”
In 1977, he was initiated into the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition and was christened Radha Charan, a name his acquaintances at various Indian ashrams address him by.
While in India, he also learnt to cook Indian food and, over the years, has demonstrated his ample culinary skills at various countries around the globe.
Following the message of the Bhagvad Gita that one can live in three ways—ignorance, passion or goodness, he has adopted the message into his culinary style as well.
“I’ve learnt to cook in goodness—that is, simply and wholesomely.” He has cooked at various ashrams and even for the survivors of the Latur earthquake in 1993.
During his travels, he always cooked and catered to earn a living. He talks about his food stall at the main mall in Tel Aviv. “I had this tiny stall where I made gobhi pakoras and koftas. They sold like hot cakes.”
In 1999, he finally wanted to settle down and run his own business. A friend in the UK, aware of his faith in Hinduism, asked him to source 10,000 figurines of baby Krishna.
“I attended an exhibition in Hong Kong where I came across Velina Designs and asked them if they could make me pieces according to my specifications. They had a factory in China that manufactured such statues. That was the first time I sourced statues of Hindu gods and goddesses from China.”
Today, Ayoun manages the Australian arm of Velina Designs in Melbourne. Ayoun has nearly 700 designs of Hindu deities, which are all custom made at their factory in Xia Men, near the east coast of China.
“They are handcrafted.” Says Ayoun, adding, “We train our artists, and relate to them the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata before they craft any pieces.” Ayoun is meticulous in the field of design perception. He points to a figure of Goddess Lakshmi standing with both her feet covered.
“If you show the goddess sitting with one foot exposed, it implies that the goddess is about to leave. No one would like Goddess Lakshmi to leave. Hence, this particular design.”
Last year, when Velina Designs exhibited their figurines at the Hong Kong Trade Show, a father-and-son pair from Amritsar visited the stall and asked if they could make models of the Golden Temple.
Says Ayoun, “The Golden Temple has always been special to me. But my partner in Hong Kong had no idea about it. So the Punjabi businessman arranged for her to visit Amritsar. She was given a copy of the design by the priest there, and here we are, ready with the finished product.”
But Ayoun wants to pursue this business for eight more years. “After that, I will spend time writing about ancient Vedic philosophy and Indian gods and goddesses,” he says.