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Dancing towards kindness, compassion and responsibility

Shovana Narayan
(Image courtesy: G V Anna Rao)

The six Tibetan Buddhist monks did not dance. Yet they were a compelling presence on stage and an integral part of the ballet that Shovana Narayan had created to tell tales of the Buddha and of emperor Ashoka in choreographic brush strokes of ballet, at Ravindra Bharati in Hyderabad on the 3rd of April 2016.
The costume colours of the dancers and the carefully designed stage and lighting matched the ochre robes of the Tibetan Buddhist monks while they moved in procession. Chanting sometimes. Clapping cymbals sometimes. Strategically and aesthetically placing themselves on the platforms placed at two levels on the stage, on and around which, the principle dancer Shovana Narayan, and the graceful and energetic Kathak dancers, six female and two male dancers, worked their magic,swooping and swirling around the monks.
Shovana Narayan the the principal dancer and choreographer, commanded the eyes of the audience when she made a her entries, lending more drama to the already dramatic ballet, while she pirouetted and whirled; tracing elegant arabesques with her arms and etching the floor with her rhythmic footwork alongside her accomplished team of dancers of the troupe was they danced to the specially composed and recorded music, to tell the stories, the katha, that kathak is named for, which Shovana Narayan had choreographed so spectacularly.

Each dance, or movement, told different stories. Of Ashoka, who realises the futility of war after battle. Shovana played the part of emperor Ashoka, ferocious and then contrite. The dancers depicted the battle with ferocity and yet with beguiling grace. Another story was that of a mother telling a story to a dying child and then appealing to Buddha who tells her that life cannot be brought back.The last story; of Buddhas’ enlightenment, and how he realizes that the source of suffering is within all beings and not without, and that an end to suffering is not through deprivations of the body and extreme rejection of the world, nor is it through deep and corrupting involvement with it, but, in striking a middle path.

The monks participated in this with chants and ‘throat singing’ and the clashing of cymbals. To hear ‘throat singing’ by the Tibetan monks was a rare pleasure. This vocal technique, a form of Buddhist Chanting is usually only heard in Tibet. It is a deep, pulverising, drone-growl that carries to the end of the theater. For those who hear this for the first time, it is intense and overwhelming. It would perhaps sound odd and unmusical. But, Tibetan throat singing is an aid to meditation, and with time, and getting used to it, it is relaxing, mystical, peaceful and tension dissipating. And though this type of drone-chanting is a rare talent, the Tibetan monk practitioner was humility personified, as all the Tibetan monks on stage were. Clapping his cymbals while droning and going to his assigned place on stage without calling attention to himself.
Kathak itself is a beautiful dance form, and a pleasingly conceived dance ballet with nine Kathak dancers and six Tibetan Buddhist monks on stage, took dance aesthetics to a high point. The mind lingered on the dance theater that we saw; we enjoyed the visual imagery and the worlds created by the dancers in a series of evocations;and we enjoyed the marriage of music, dance and meditation that they presented.
As Rinpoche Duboom Tulku, the stately, Founder and Managing Trustee of the World Buddhist Culture Trust, co-sponsor, along with the Departments of Culture and Language, and Tourism, Govt.of Telangana, said, the idea of having this beautiful presentation was nothing more than to share the belief in “love, compassion and responsibility”.