Parwati Dutta explores dance through Buddhist philosophy

During the pandemic, when live performances stopped, Mahagami, the dance gurukul from Aurangabad, came up with ways to keep students and performers engaged. Besides organizing online webinars and workshops, it also created new choreographies. Some of these works were performed at the 13th Sharngadeva Samaroh recently held in the gurukul.

Buddhist mandala chanting by the monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery, as part of the 13th 13th Sharngadeva Samaroh.

Buddhist mandala chanting by the monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery, as part of the 13th 13th Sharngadeva Samaroh. † Photo credit: special arrangement

The festival, which began with the soothing Buddhist mandala sung by the monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery in Karnataka, concluded with a soulful dhrupad concert by Pt. Nirmalya De, who presented a detailed alap, and the dhruvapada, ‘Pratham sur saadhe…’ in Rageshri as a sadra on Jhaptaal and a Drut Sool taalbandish in Adana. He was accompanied on the pakhawaj by Pratap Awad and on the tanpura by Veronic.

Dhrupad Concert by Pt.  Nirmalya De on the 13th Sharngadev Samaroh 2022.

Dhrupad Concert by Pt. Nirmalya De on the 13th Sharngadev Samaroh 2022. | Photo credit: special arrangement

The Mahagami ensemble’s Odissi dance presentation ‘Arpan’ consisted of four segments. The music and choreography was by the versatile Parwati Dutta, the founder of the gurukul. It started with Shiva-stuti, ‘Veda-Sara-Shivastotram’ composed in raag Vibhas, along with ‘Amurta Akshara Thayee’ consisting of abstract syllables and ‘Shabda-Swara-Paat’, in which the Sanskrit shloka is recited innovatively in the meters from Misra Jati Chhand of seven counts.

The Odissi dance presentation 'Arpan' by the Mahagami ensemble on the 13th Sharngadev Samaroh.

The Odissi dance presentation ‘Arpan’ by the Mahagami ensemble on the 13th Sharngadev Samaroh. † Photo credit: special arrangement

The second piece was ‘Mudita’ based on Bauddha Darshan (Buddhist philosophy). According to the second-century Mahaprajna-Paramita Shastra, in Buddhist tradition, mudita refers to one of four immeasurable things (apramana) – maitri (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy), and upeksha (equanimity).

Mudita is traditionally considered the most difficult to cultivate because it celebrates happiness and achievement in others, even when we are faced with tragedy ourselves.

The concept of mudita became crystal clear when Parwati shared her own experiences and thoughts about the production. “The sudden pause in our lives during the lockdown forced us to adapt to new challenges. The vibrant artistic space was suddenly devoid of the collective resonance of ghunghroos and laughter. While the silence initially provided a positive creative stimulus, the frequent sirens of ambulances from the nearby hospital sent chills down my spine. Life seemed to be headed towards uncertainty. The idea of ​​joy seemed a distant concept. It made me look at mudita again,” says Parwati.

The play was based on raag Madhamad Sarang, who flourished as a pallavi in ​​the emotions of selflessness and compassion.

The third piece ‘Pratibimba’ was based on the ‘darpani’ pose, one of the main bhangis of Odissi. This sculptural posture can be seen on temple walls with the Shalabhanjikas holding the mirror. The choreographer reflects on what the woman is looking at. Does she simply admire her own beauty or explore the connection between physical and inner beauty?

The pallavi in ​​raag Jog set to Ashta language explored the different connotations of the darpan (mirror) and the pratibimb (reflection).

The closing piece was based on ‘Om mani padme hum’, the six-syllable Sanskrit mantra associated particularly with Avalokiteshwara (the Bodhisattva of compassion), and a primary mantra of Tibetan Buddhism, where the lotus represents purity and spiritual fulfillment and so, wake up. Mani Padme is preceded by ‘Om’ and followed by ‘Hum’, both syllables commonly known as divine sounds.

Sustained Resonance

The soundscape for this piece is aesthetically designed by Parwati.

It opened with the lingering resonance of the Tibetan metal bowl, mixing the deep low chanting of the monks and the kharaj-sadhana in the dhrupad tradition. A low-pitched mardal and ukkuta (mnm) recitation provided a musical basis for the dance, which was choreographed by Parwati, in which she maintained Odissi’s sacred geometry while observing minimalism in movements.

The dancers Vaibhavi Pathak, Aishwarya, Bhargavi and Sheetal Bhamre made their guru proud with their performance. “The movement vocabulary is inspired by the paintings of Thangka and Ajanta,” says Parwati.

The Delhi-based author writes about classical art.

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