Trajectories of Artistic Journey at Mahagami!
Indian arts are world famous for uniqueness of its deep, insightful, and magical creations which have stood tests of time. It still continues to influence many seekers’ mind,heart and soul both in India and abroad. Number of tourists, scholars and artists travel from world over to study about Indian thought. Those who cannot come to India or stay here, have found solace in reading texts on Indian art forms, engage with works of other scholars, visit or study at departments of Indian studies in universities there, and gain from visits of Indian scholars and artists. Indian arts, its preservation, and interpretation is a continuous endeavour and one has to engage in different roles, as an artist, scholar and as an Indian, to do the same.
However, a continuous rewriting with reinterpretation of Indian arts’ philosophy and experience is relevant requirement too! This thought is at the back of my mind as I write my thoughts when I immersed myself in a journey of Mahagami Gurukul in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India. Having heard lot about it and Guru Parwati Dutta from scholars of art, art lovers, and dancers. There is hardly any aspect of Arts that can escape from contribution of Mahagami’s work. This was my first visit to Mahagami, amidst uncertainity due to suddent developemnts of emergent situation I was doubtful if I would have courage to leave Jamia Millia Islamia and attend Sarangdev Smaroh: seminar and festival of music and dance. I think it came at the point where this visit to Mahagami would be turning point in my journey to handle life, its actions and learn in the most challenging times.
Delving in any comprehensive art experience in India involves two things one the position of self as an individual and second that no immersion in a flowing river is same. I am never the same as I dip in current of Indian arts and I am never the same when I come out from it; since the flow is also not the same. Therefore, despite following the same mudra, hasta, ritual or music what I perform: dance or experience is never the same! Fluidity is an end that I intend to experience in dance as audience, learner, and as performer!
Shastras teach us that turmoil is like sea waves or storm, hold the vessel of being to sail through it. At the same time my own awareness of being a traveler in my body (sojourn), where I interact with people, conflict or agree but it no longer disturbs who I am, in any way or how I relate with that person. This experience is on rise. The individualities of mine and other seem to be fading; something else, a flow, takes over the play of my life!
Entering the premise made me serene and peaceful. The bold orange flowers of Sapthodea or African Tulip tree against the mud walls welcomed me. These huge flowers actually appear like butterflies on tree! What a creation to experience! It was a natural settings with ample trees and plants, where intrusion of human in form of architecture is minimalistic. It blends with nature…trees were taller than houses. The evening program for day one had just finished and amphitheater had few guests who were about to exit. I could also see Buddhist monks as the artists of the event’s first soiree. But I met Parwati didi, director of the institute. I greeted her with pranaam. To get into this warmth of meeting people from arts and dance is such a welcoming gesture that this beautiful ritual has become automated. I introduced myself and she welcomed me to present my research. Hesitations of being at new but welcoming place has just started to transform into cordiality.
We moved through small passages and beautifully created environment to reach from one venue to another. There were rooms to study, trees, murals, and finally sculptures to greet us. The people were friendly and it was a welcoming environment.Two days when I stayed there from my arrival on Friday evening, I found volunteers greeting and helping us. It was like an utsav in an Ashram. Food was served in dining area: vegetarian saatvic meals to nourish us and keep us going for our work. These were served with love and utmost care. We gathered there four times to have meals and exchanged thoughts over our journeys. Apart from this each day we were welcomed with kumkum, jasmine flower veins to adorn our hair and mixture of groundnuts and sesames seeds as energy bite to keep us going. It was a complete food for senses to be prepared for harmonious battle of learning art forms. Battle is way of learning where one arms to prepare fighting ignorance and establish harmony.
Breaking existing shells of art circle and its intricate positioning within artistic community I wondered for this space’s audacity and agility to accommodate new thought but at the same time it remain true to pravritti of dance (nature can not be an equivalent translation but somewhere inclined). Mahagami looked that space where despite an ease in the air, strictness of discipline was not compromised. It was evident in notices displayed in the office that in its reverence to practice it remains firm.
Second day began at 10.30 am with presentation by Manipur’s Nat Sankirtan traditions. Their detailed presentation with drummers, singers, manjheeras, conch transformed us to another world. I reflected as I heard descriptions that we Indians have ultimate flexibility to learn from simplistic things. We make it beautiful and even create a system out of it. This was indeed an opportunity to learn so closely from this system of art form. I was motivated to visit and watch the full performance, which they said is for five to six hours. The performers have an essential role to perform this for religious-spiritual purpose and as involved in rituals of birth, life and death. Hence, the performers could participate in social events and ceremonies too as performers! I was impressed that how spirituality was so closely involved with phases of life, only we rejected it on the basis of Science that views inventions and discoveries of particular kind. Since, it was a seminar mode, there were questions too! Any challenge to a system could only be to re establish itself in changing times. The question on including females in this form, met with typical answer of purity issues for females. However, ironically by afternoon, girls were on stage (I was there too) learning the dance (syllables and foot work) with men! We were guided by equally feminine gestures of the gurus. I wondered how gender breaks its norms in its own ways!
Next presentation was of drummers (gayan and bayan) from Assam. Dancing with drums got so fascinating. Gracefully, the dancers displayed beating of dance with flow of arms, jumping around and even using hastas. Their learning system involves close association with Gurus and following strict discipline. The evening had one and a half our presentation of drummer dancers and their accompalices. The reverence dancers had for us that is, audience made us feel so humble. Each dancer did salutations: panchang and shastang pranaam. Real art in India transforms you and make you egoless. Even if one has slightest bit of egoistic feeling the challenges of learning and performing art just churns you to a human who is so docile and welcoming. Equally modest experience was Gharghara: Kathak ensemble of Mahagami, it was savoring satvic rasa of Kathak with minimalistic aharya but penetrating movements which enriched presentation form of Kathak.
At Mahagami traditions of shastriyata took form of shastrarth. Where we heard some genuinely emerging dance styles especially bharatanritya which revives Vedic nuances in dance, it was simply pleasing. The researcher Srimati Karuna Vijeyandra exhibited how research is not time bound and definitely is a personal quest. The quest finds answer intuitively, as one search: in texts, within, with gurus and in art form itself. Entire quest is a journey but a well knit path. It is there, one discovers. We often hear this. However, this time we saw the result too. The dance of carrying kumbha for vedic yajna was mystical and surreal. Everyone appreciated it. What else is ultimate research in dance but its manifestation in dance itself?
The next day and for me the last day was equally enriching where we learnt about Mudiyettu. The artists from Kerala had very uniquely grounded approach to perform Chandee killing Dhanasura (Devi killing demon). How the popular storyline of Devi killing asura would be so churned well to give it a new form of manifestation despite its common theme. We were there at 9.30 am where these priests or artisans were dressing and getting the powder ready to make kolam! Yes to paint the idea before one performs is like write before you perform. This idea finds place so deeply in art as unitary way of learning and expressing in India. The dance is a daylong affair. This was interspersed with our short research presentations and another speaker’s presentation.
Dr Chetna Beohar took us to Raigarh Gharana and nuances of guru-shishsya parampara and importance of degree from university that evolved from time of Britishers and later. The time line mattered and that despite being dependent on circumstances, art form of Kathak was preserved by Raigarh. Mention of Wajid Ali Shah was typical and atypical. I have always felt that he indeed danced or not actually undermines his larger contribution to study of aesthetics. I discussed this with Dr Chetna Beohar and other participants to inform my opinion. His projected controversial image in India and by British historians, in my view, undermines his stature. However, Dr Beohar’s talk underlined the importance of texts in conversation with practitioenrs of that time which were evolved by Nawab Sahab and Raja Sahab. Her humility and openness to listen us made me further sure that to know one’s truth completely makes one humble and open to interact.
Short presentations started with Ms Padmini Shreedhar’s presentation, another interesting and unique style of Bharatnatyam ‘Suladi’ not only the bani that is, stylization but even content and organization of Bharatanatyam. It was relevant to know several stylizations and knowledge organizations (with reference to Sangeetha Darpana of 16th century by Damodar Pandit) within a dance form are available! Richness of Indian thought was affirmed! However as Chetna ji said earlier that it is important that we remain open and friendly to each other, is perhaps what we really need. The presentation on Kathak By Moumala Nayak exploring: Seasons, Navarasa, Chayaavaad etc was not only interesting but reaffirmed that art is creation and manifestation. One cannot or should not just talk of art but experience it and present it through performance only! My presentation affirmed other points, introduced self of dancer but little short of achievement of goals that is complement it by dancing was felt. It ignited discussions and youngsters liked it! I wish I had a short presentation in form of dance. Other presentations followed on gamak in music, teaching natyashastra through Bollywood, other two online presentations on challenges for contemporary forms of Indian classical dance. One was remarkable as it used traditional repertoire of Odissi to make mark on violence in schools in US. Reflections of dancers were perfect blend of art, thought and social-change.
The last evening performance, I could attend, had Mudiyettu, Maniyaro and Shaurya Raas, and performance by Pt Madhup Mudgal rendition of two classical raga sublimed the environment however I was left crooning with maya taji taju nahin jaye…a bhajan.. that cleared complications of our existential crisis. We had a long day from ‘kalam’ of Mudiyettu dancers to vibrating dance from Gujurat.
Their syllogisms of life and art emanated entire experience of performing a yajna to reaffirm our faith and practice about journey of art. Although there was a language issue with many presenters but it never sounded as hindrance; transcending boundaries of learning art into a mystical engagement. Over all the aim and vision of samaroh opened us to so many new vistas of engaging with various art forms and enriching our journeys. This was visualized in the objective of seminar as ‘cycle of arts, impermanence and social change.’ Age old ideology was complemented by Gandhi’s dream of social change. A change that even Vivekananda visualized through his Yoga sadhna. A sangam of our existential ideals with society is mandatory for all of us. Blessed are all beings who took dip in this flow of Art’s knowledge, humbled who offered into fire of knowledge, and may learning which emerged remain consecrate!