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A RECITAL SPACE FOR THE CLASSICAL ARTS

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Hidden in the center of an ancient mystical banyan grove is a sacred Nrithya Mandappam. Arriving through the thicket of trees and vines, two ornate wooden pillars with jasmine and marigold flowers, flank the mandappam entrance. A sensuous sandalwood fragrance fills the air. The faint strum of the tanpura drops all in a state of trance. A light breeze weaves in and out of the room making the orange flames from the glowing oil lamps dance coyly. A deep violet blue hue radiates out of the Pooja room, on the opposite side of which seat the musicians in a dark crimson enclave. A pool of yellowish golden light awaits to celebrate the temple dancer. The rasikas witnessing this evenings recital are already seated in the deep red shadow opposite this glowing yellow light. A buzz of excitement enlivens the air. Veiled inside this healing greenery, everyone awaits prayerfully to be transported into the ethereal world of music, dance inside a meditative silence …

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Nestled Inside The Sliver of a Delicate Crescent Moon, classical dancer, Sujit Vaidya, a kindred spirit, victorious and triumphant like his name. He moves majestically, draped in peacock-hued silk with a playful dash of vibrant pink! Reminiscing his dance recital, on the eve of 10th January, 2015, a resonance of hushed tranquility rests within.

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With much inspiration and quietude…

 


I observe the ocean waters play with these sands strewn upon the shore. Swallowing without a trace. Both quiet and roaring aloud at the same time. In the serenity away from maddening crowds, alive with busy, silent crabs prancing about in their bizarre horizontal gait. Tunnelling into sandy homes, that are washed cyclically with salty waters, they remain unperturbed. I find myself pondering about our work upon this earth in this lifetime. All of nature is saying to me- Life is to be lived in utter ease and surrender. Life, a celebration of strangers waiting to be met, adventurous journeys to ancient cities, river banks, beaches, monuments, forests, civilisations and much much more.

A few days ago, I saw the recital of an Odissi dancer from Bangalore, Vandana Supriya. She is beautifully present, and emotive in her sensuous movements. Carefree, well endowed with a voluptuousness, her fish-like languid eyes, are quiet in appearance. The moment she enters on stage, she draws me in. There is an inwardness to Vandana. Her dance is free of a deliberate studiousness. Her moves await none. Her being is free of cues from the words that the singer sang, free of synchronising with the pauses in between two phrases. Vandana is like a flowing river. Her dance, a continuous weave. A quality vital to the classical tradition of which I too am a student.


Is this something one is endowed with? 

Is it a journey of rigorous practice, for as long as it takes, to arrive at this fluidity? 

Is it both? 

BHIMA

Who is he?

Did he know love?

Is he love?

Is he born again?

Is that birth devoid of might, and raw, open senses?

How are his answers met?

Who is he?

Did he know love?

Was he love?

Who is he?

There are stories within stories. There is love, rage, despair, hunger, obsession, surrender, vitality and death. And through it all weaves a story of great might, about the warrior prince, Bhima, the second of the Pandavas from the epic of Mahabharata. The drums resound. Impulses guide. The eyes, focus. The pulse deepens. The emotions shoot out. The body speaks. The limbs and breath are slaves to his command. He contains. He consumes. He swells. He vomits. He swallows. He gulps. He shreds and tears. He scratches, till blood spills out from these guts. He roars and hammers the thickest boulders to dust. His being crushes all that lies in his way. He lusts. He allows. His senses, rise and ebb, in a visceral dance. He tastes the flesh of a demoness. He receives her nectar. She pours her wet river into his thirsting mouth. He convolutes. He twists and bends. Her passion, he drinks raw and bloody. They are consumed. They are allowing. They hibernate inside this fullness. They bear fruit. The seed is fertile in her red womb. He has to leave. He is commanded to leave. He leaves. She is who she is. She births. She dies. He is tormented. He loves another too. He is passion. He is raw passion. He is unhindered lust. He is love, unconditional, primal, visceral.

He, a spark of ignited flame, untempered, unhindered, involuntary, united with the essence of love!

Bhima, a powerful play infused with energy that is pulled out from every vein and every artery, and throbs with life through the genius of theatre artist, Vivek Vijayakumaran, supported by percussionist, Sachin Gurjale. http://www.ourtheatrearts.com

Astad Deboo, a magician, a sorcerer, a poet, a muse!

It is an evening buzzing with life, breath, and humid dew, before the unveiling of the unseen, unheard, the unfathomable. I am drawn to drape in vibrant, vermillion, and white muslin silk, fired up from within, after a meal with the artist, a day earlier. I am led to take a center seat, an uninterrupted view, of the dimly lit stage. A soft, golden glow illumines the compassionate face of Rukmini Devi alongside idols of the Devi and Nataraja. Well-groomed students of dance, sit cross-legged on the floor ahead of me. I drop inward. Feeling the energy around me, and within.

At the scheduled hour, the bells begin to toll, and in the silence and resonance, a row of sculpturesque, bodies shimmer, in a haze of soft light. The bells toll at an interval, laying me gently inside a trance. Some begin to move forward, while the central figure is cloaked in flowing streams of fluid fabric, holding a fulcrum of silent energy. He moves into the center of the large, riverbed. There is orderliness in the rippling waves of life around him. The blooming, the blossoming, is tender, is unpredictable, is beauty in motion and rhythm. I feel inspired. I feel open. I feel a tingling sensation of life and dance, mirrored in my body and breath.

The river-scape is flowing, ever changing, thinning into an expanse of nothingness. Dropping me into an endless void of peace and tranquility, only to be jolted awake to receive the throb of one thundering heartbeat, multiplying into several. I break open further, the reverberating beats reveal delightful lily pads, crawling with crocodiles, digesting life with ease, rising and ebbing waves of energy, liquid and splashing, making me wet inside out, outside in. I close my eyes, reveling the wetness. The silence, returns. From the dark void, now appears, an indigo-blue being, with a shimmering, ornate, blood moon delicately woven on the back, illumining the dark night ocean. This being is quiet, playful, mysterious, alluring, with silken streams, swirling from the limbs. She dances, He celebrates, He beckons inward, She reveals her scrolls of calligraphic poetry. I listen to their music and movement, as He and She swirl, entwined in the love. For a brief moment, their veil lifts, blinding these eyes by their dazzling, silver skin. I gasp! I return to the sparkling space of magic and wonder, recollecting the poem of a Sufi Mystic, Rumi,  ‘To my eyes, lovers touching are folded wings in a beautiful prayer.’


They arrive. Luminous symbols in their hands, with vibrant, red, woolen tails. The red tails and gold symbols swirl and spin, like dancing leaves twirling down in autumn. A being now appears in sunset orange, quick witted, with a penetrating gaze, glancing at the minutest details, in all those who dare look into those hazy eyes. The rhythms, movements, and swirls, gather momentum with an orange sunrise, as mountain goats and rice fields of the East, meet the wild, dark, mendicants from far away lands. Eastern, delicate sinuous, yellow mountain men, meet the music of the dark skinned, muscled, meat eating, loud men, from the land of the wild beasts and great hunts!

Enters into this, a being, like a dark tornado, with gilded edges. This tornado is steady in its gait, its fierceness tamed, commanding worship. The delicate, mountain men offer their spirals into those darkening, swelling and ebbing edges of the towering tornado, and then disappear back into their homes with humility. With the last man gone, the winds halt unexpectedly, revealing the ugly face of Satan screaming aloud in his Jaguar tongue.


Into the void, is a halting, an unsettling scratching, of the otherworldly sort.

From this emptying, appears a being dressed in virgin white, holding two, ivory conch shells to his mouth. His deep breath enters into the conch, enveloping us with a circular sound, neutralizing the resonance of the Jaguar tongue, and allowing clouds of milk-white light to float down the serpentine river bend. A soft mist of clouds, crackle upon the golden dry riverbed. Moistening it slowly. Allowing tiny beads of dew to unite with others. These droplets quench the thirsty, invisible life, running through the unseen depths of parched riverbeds.

And a brook begins its joyful gurgle ~ ~ ~

 

 

What is it, when you chance upon the fragrant soil of a sensitive being? 

There is a lingering, there is healing, there is release. Judgements, first impressions, opinions, moments, timing and portals open up suddenly, and then abruptly disappear into the dark void. I fell into the depths of a story, an happening, a history, a universal moment of thought, desire, despair, hurt, rejoicing, suspicion, doubt, mourning, and the transmutation of it all. Today, I see an elderly woman, braving to express, to revisit, to speak, to share an opening to Shakti. May there be art, may there be theatre, may there be sweet surrender to the opportunities knocking at our doors.

The divine drops a presence, a friend, a woman, a mother, a sister, an artist, at my door. We share a meal in innocence, and then enter a portal of healing, transformation, and fire. The fire burns, waters rise, the ocean swells, and we both crack open into Her light. An island of sisterhood births. Stories make manifest.  Whisperings, tremble upon our skin and pores. In gratitude, I swell and deepen in breath. Held inside an hushed embrace, devoid of words, music, and sound. A simmering revelation of an unending, divine beauty, and an all encompassing, unfathomable love …

{Inspired by dance and theatre production of Dancer Vidhya Subramanian and Gauri Ramnarayan}

He leaves a bouquet of wild blue flowers at her doorstep. She rushes in delight with his gift, upstairs to her studio. A large, square and dusty white canvas, lay staring at her for many weeks. She’s had visions of painting each morning, when she strolls meditatively through the gardens. She paints many paintings in her minds eye. She has grown fearful to begin painting despite these months of quiet observation. A stubborn antennae guides her for many moons now. She is afraid of its madness as she dusts her canvas. A sensation in the belly reminds her of a ravenous appetite, as aromas from her kitchen seduce her senses. She is fighting to keep lit, a tiny spark inside of her that may catch the strong wind of the sensory world outside. If her inner light dims and retreats into that unfathomable dark abyss of nothingness, many months may pass before this frail, flame of light will appear to her again. She makes bold.

Pulling out her multilayered grey oil-paint box, she picks out a tube of the oxide of chromium. With the warmth of her wooden brush with the bristly hair, she let’s loose. The dance of darting glances between the wild grass in her left hand, and the canvas, gathers momentum. She finds it harder to paint nature than to make portraits of people. The random orderliness in the chaos of the web of leaves, stems, flowers and seeds, are a great challenge for her to simplify. Yet years of inward vigilance, her pregnancy, motherhood, marriage, the scars, and the love-bites from the fire of life’s many lessons, have strengthened her. She is calm inside the deafening noise of the inner resistance. She allows herself to feel. She allows herself, her darkness. She allows herself, her light. The voice of judgment, the burden of applaud & admiration, try hard to suffocate her. She envelops herself in the awareness of a divine intervention, and the soft music of playfulness. She let’s go. She surrenders. Her fingers move at an uncanny speed, her minds chatter begins to recede. She struggles to do the portrait of the wild blue flower.

She breaks down in frustration. She used to be good at portraits. She desperately searches for herself. The wind inside her is getting stronger. She fears that this rising inner gale may extinguish the tiny spark of light within. She halts. Steps back. She rests. She listens. She prays. She senses the warmth of a non-judgmental presence. They whisper to her, “Let go of fleshing the flower in paint. Listen. Look. Allow.

Stepping farther away from the canvas, she takes distance. She gently closes her eyes. When she opens them, she sees someone lying amidst the leaves of her canvas. She picks the blue of the flower. She begins to flesh her out. She reaches the outer limits of a contour of blue. A silhouette of limbs lay languidly upon the whiteness of her canvas. The poetess within whispers her a line:

   A veil of delicate green leaves, rests lightly upon a blue lake of hushed limbs … 

‘On a day when the wind is perfect, the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty. Today is such a day.’ ~ Rumi

The morning sky is laden with a gathering of monsoon clouds. A light breeze caresses my body. The loose garment makes its softness felt, whenever the breeze swings itself towards me. An enchantment envelops this crisp air. It pulls my naked feet in the direction of a striking presence. He is dancing. His eyes boldly lock into mine, hypnotic, and commanding. Losing all sense of space, I outstretch my fingers to caress his silhouette. He turns away. Now, I see him, only from behind. As he turns away, his palette of enticing colors, metamorphose into subtler hues of grey, black and vandyke browns, with a sudden dash of electric blue appearing, only when he sees me with his profile. The rhythmic sounds of his graceful dancing put me into a state of trance. Like a bashful bride; like a first blossom about to be kissed; he looks at me, through his translucent veil, coyly, enticingly, with a tinge of shivering trepidation that awakens only inside the river of attraction. I allow him to take his time. He waits and watches. The tension lengthens. My heartbeat weaves itself into an eternal gaze. Our eyes lock into each other, once again. Then, in trust and surrender, he swirls around. I receive his ocean of unending beauty. He steps forward, awaiting my reaction. My body remains like a statuette in ecstasy. I remain frozen. He loses interest. He turns around, and speaks aloud a mono-syllable, in a foreign tongue, with a mocking tone, that seems to say, “O Women! such a Mystery!

I remain spellbound. He quietens, momentarily, only to then crescendo into a grand finale, allowing his entire body and being, to ripple and cascade down like an icy and biting waterfall, of pure ambrosia, overflowing across our infinite cosmos. I remain transfixed. He continues to be aware of my locked gaze. Slowly, ever so slowly, he begins to lower his magnificent cape of feathers, reminding me of a delicate, ornate, snowflake swirling down on a slight flurry in winter; like an autumn-leaf, twirling off the branch ever so gracefully; like the thick and sensuous weight of a village woman’s wet knot of hair, suddenly, let down like a rope swing, after her head bath. He walks away from me with panache. With an agile, charismatic leap, he perches regally on the branch of a mango tree, his face turned away, yet, fully aware of my admiring gaze …


Below: A link about ‘The Dance Lesson’, filmed at the ancient temple town of Swamimalai, in Tamilnadu, India, on the 16th of April 2015.

Lord NatarajaThe auspicious day of Maha Shivaratri was a week away. My travels were taking me to a heritage village in Karnataka, to receive the blessings of a mystic. I have a premonition that on the night of Maha Shivaratri, I am to offer my dance to the Lord Nataraja. Intuitive processes, guide me to pack my bags for this journey. I choose a range of beautiful ornaments and choicest silk saris. I carefully place these in my suitcase. The classical dancer within begins to gather her additional belongings. Firstly, she picks hues of pigment colors to accentuate her eyes, lips and face. Then she packs a range of vibrant liquid enamel bottles to paint her nails with. She chooses to leave behind the bottle of deep red, liquid alta that usually outlines her palms and feet. However, she’s drawn to take with her, two pairs of specially cast, brass-anklets from Bali, Indonesia. The sound of one pair of anklets with the smaller sized, brass bells is suited for intimate spaces that have a more contained sound vibration. The other pair of anklets has larger, brass bells, which seem, better suited for large open spaces with high ceilings, or spaces, unbarred to a vast expanse of sky. She places all her delicate ornaments in a range of cheerful, silken pouches; cushioned on the inside with layers of soft, fine cloth. She chooses to take along a pair of delicate, grape-vine string of tiny pearls for her ear-rings, an ornate bindi with a crescent moon motif fringed with loose pearls, to hang from the central divide of her parted hair (a spool of thin black thread to hold it in place while dancing), a range of gold necklaces of varying lengths, embedded with rubies, emeralds or diamonds, along with finger rings, bangles in glass/gold/diamonds, a gilded waist belt, a variation of two pairs of black parandas which are bejeweled at its far end with rubies, pearls and diamonds. Then, she wraps up finely crafted pairs of leather slippers, a few silken purses to match the saris, ornate safety pins, and handkerchiefs with flower motifs. She places small glass bottles of attar-perfumes in suitable pouches, along with silver dabbi (small box) of two shades of red kumkum powder for her forehead. Next comes a smaller ornate, dabbi of translucent wax, fragrant with pure sandalwood paste, to stick this dry red kumkum powder upon her forehead.

I arrive at my destination. The journey leaves me fatigued. Maha Shivaratri dawns twenty-four hours later. I am nervous, as my body and mind, are still finding their center. But time waits for no one. I am told that in an hour’s time, an intimate audience will await to celebrate my dance offering to Lord Shiva. With an inward chant of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, I begin to get ready. The deep, blue silk, Paithani sari from Maharashtra beckons me. I lay it carefully next to my dressing table. First, I comb my hair, the paranda weaves itself into my hair, at the precise length. Then comes the makeup. The eyes transform, the lips redden, the eyebrows take the shape of a classical bow. This time, my fingers are guided to color-pigment cakes of blue, orange and golden hues. With some trepidation, I observe my face as a blank canvas ready to be transformed into an ancient, classical painting. I highlight the plain contours of the face with bold coloured, brush strokes. I allow myself to be my own master. It is the night for the Lord of destruction and transformation. I make bold. And soon, the painted muse steps out from the blank canvas of my face and body. She is ready from head to toe. Her hair bereft of flowers, she searches for a temple to buy flowers for her hair from a flower seller. She is guided to small shop. The delicate jasmine flowers of Karnataka have a subtler fragrance than the ones she delights in Tamil Nadu. Yet, her heart rejoices. She enters the heritage village, and is led to the doorway of an illumined rustic house built with Laterite stones from Karnataka. As she steps inside, a blazing golden hue welcomes her in. She stands before a gallery of the most beautiful, gilded, Pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The most resplendent of them all is a huge Tanjavore painting of Lord Nataraja, with a towering gopuram, embellished with 108 dancing poses of the Lord himself! She feels blessed, over-whelmed, every cell in her body rejuvenated, alive and awake. She prays with all her heart. Her body, mind, and spirit, become one. Her being brims with reverence, delight and gratitude. The elder mystic takes his seat along with few other rasikas. The music begins to play and she dances, dances and dances. At the end of her offering, silence returns into this sacred chamber of divinity. She bows down in gratitude, and receives the applause.

We return into the silence of her room. I look into the mirror. Wiping off the layers of colored pigment with a wet cloth, she leaves, and the canvas of my face returns to its natural pallor. I carefully place all the ornaments in their pouches, untie my hair, loosely fold the nine yards of silk, and let it lay to dry. Entering a waterfall of flowing water, this body cleansed, I lay myself down into the quietness of the night. The fatigue metamorphoses into overflowing vitality. I lay awake until dawn, restless, and charged with an inner fire. At first light of dawn, this body surrenders to deep slumber. I awaken to a beautiful new morning, cloaked in love and happiness …