Purush Perspectives 2: Environment and the arts

In an evening of ‘Baitak Bhav’, [A session where artist is sat down and expressing] on the last day of the Purush conference in Madras, the 22nd of December 2013, Birju Maharaj made my point really well about nature as inspiration for dancers.

Pandit Birju Maharaj being conferred a Lifetime Acheivement Award by Karthik Fine Arts on the 22nd of December, 2013. Dr. Padma Subramanyam presented the award to him.

Fresh from riding the wave of my National Parks award, I was delighted to hear it come from the horse’s mouth so to speak – that traditional dance has long been inspired and awed by nature and wildlife. Pandit Birju Maharaj, coming from the Kalka-Bindadin Gharana couldn’t be more steeped in tradition, following on in the footsteps of Shambhu Maharaj, Lacchu Maharaj and other Kathak greats from North India. His Bhaitak Bhav at the Purush Festival justifies my impassioned belief as ranger-dancer that dance and dancers have a special obligation to spread the environmental message. I employ the legal principle of common but differentiated responsibility in a novel way here! All of us are equally obliged to do our bit for the environment, but some of us more so, and that some of us are dancers! And the incentive for dancers and dance teachers, especially the latter is that we will be benefit all the more from it. It is a good deal. Use nature a tool for creativity, I say to teachers and choreographers. Now that is not a new message, I hear you say. Ah, but how do you use it as a tool to creativity is the million-dollar question. Not by drawing from stale memories of an elephant in a zoo or of from a memory of a nearby tree, not by recollecting school day outs or even visits to a farm, nor by watching films or viewing pictures of birds and animals – but by including nature in a very real way in the classroom, or by taking the classroom into nature [see post], by making the choreographic space a nature space, by making nature the choreographic space, to open up to the fascinating, powerful and complex system that is nature. Some even took nature to their heart and employed their life to understanding nature and making nature their teacher like Avadutta Dattatreya. Dattatreya considered the earth, breeze, sky, fire, the sun, pigeon, python, sea, moth, elephant, ant, fish, the moon, honeybee, deer, bird of prey, serpent, spider, caterpillar and water are amongst his teachers.

Here is a short clip from the Purush Festival programme where Maharaj expounds his mastery and shows his obvious love for nature.

Wah Maharaj, wah!

While a lot of dance is going techno and which I very much enjoy, like the recently premiered Shobana Jeyasingh’s Strange blooms, there is a still a place – a delightful place for going eco in dance. Techno is still resource intensive and not as widespread, sometimes one wonders if techno might get caught up and bogged down in the resource debate of the 21st century.

Funny Strange blooms is about flowers and nature! Is it telling us something there? I leave it to you to take it from here…

Chamu Kuppuswamy


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