my Sanskrit and Vedic chanting guru: Marcia Solomon of Boulder, Colorado
my Bharatanatyam guru: Supratim Talukder of Kolkata, West Bengal.
I am so very blessed to have these souls in my life. Thank you both for all you give to me with your wonderful teaching. I can truly say that my life has been transformed, and continues to be transformed, by your compassionate and generous guidance which extends beyond technical training to helping me along the path of life.
A flowing sequence that typically begins a practice of yogāsana.
A movement prayer that punctuates a class or performance of Bharatanatyam.
I have been focussing a lot lately on the movement prayer version of Namaskaram. A few dance classes ago my teacher, observing my Namaskaram, suggested, can you do it with more feeling? Since, I have begun to open each of my yoga practice sessions by repeating the dance Namaskaram three times, with greater attention/intention before I follow it with my Surya and Chandra Namaskaram variations.
I asked my dance guruji what each element of the dance Namaskaram signified. His response taught me that different schools of dance practiced different variations of the Namaskaram.
Some of the common elements: a sweeping motion to acknowledge the eight directions; touching the earth that we would dance upon, bringing this blessing up to our eyes, and releasing the blessing back to the earth with outstretched hands; reaching prayer hands up to acknowledge the Divine love that holds us in being, drawing prayer hands to the third eye to acknowledge our gurus, and finally bringing prayer hands to the heart to acknowledge our companions on the path.
And then Supratim Talukder, my teacher, did something that quite took me by surprise: he made the sign of the cross, observing/asking this is your Namaskaram?
I was brought up as a Roman Catholic in a very devout and loving family. Attendance at weekly Mass and a celebration of the main feast days in the Christian calendar were part of the air I breathed. Making the sign of the cross as I intoned in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit was a gesture that commonly punctuated other prayers. It was something so much done as to have become somewhat invisible – again, like the air I breathed.
Seeing my teacher (brought up as a Shaivite Hindu with a special devotion to the Bengali saint Sri Ramakrishna) make this gesture, made me see it in a new way. It held up a mirror…
A new question emerged: How does the tradition in which I was brought up inform my spiritual sādhanas of yogāsana and Bharatanatyam – and vice-versa?
Yesterday I started reading this novel by Kiran Desai. She won the Man Booker Prize for it in 2006. It has been slowly tearing my heart out.
Her writing is deeply poetic. It reaches into the intimate details of lives lived, of places inhabited… I’m only 42 pages into the worlds the author describes, and I am wrenched by the penetrating violence of colonialism. I shudder to recall my Bengali dance teacher saying there were signs saying no Indians allowed – in India.
And I am thrown into a reflection on how I fit into the horror of colonialism. People in my own country are reeling from the unearthing of so many unmarked graves surrounding the residential schools. The extreme violence of ripping indigenous children away from home.
I’ve always been a homebody, given to bouts of homesickness whenever I have had to leave home. As I reach inside myself and touch this deep feeling of loss, I am overwhelmed.
It is an immense privilege to have Kiran Desai’s words draw me deeper into this dark and shameful reality.
One of the immense blessings that studying Bharatanatyam dance with my Bengali teacher affords me is the antidote to the sickening reality of racism: connection. To say that love is the answer sounds trite, but it is true. However, it needs a specific application, a specific connection between specific people. Then the transforming power of love can flow.
The magic of connection – from one side of the planet to the other – through 9 yards of fabric.
As you know if you’ve been following my blog, I have begun studying Bharatanatyam with Supratim Talukder, a teacher in Kolkata. Santasree Sasmal, a friend of my teacher and an accomplished performer and teacher as well, agreed to teach this awkward westerner the intricacies of draping a saree for dance.
So, today, as my day was beginning and her day ending, we met online.
The 9 yards of a saree hold incredible potential. In expert hands (like Santasree’s), it can shape-shift from a half-saree or dhoti-style drape for dance, to an elegant full saree with exquisite variations for every occasion. In hands like mine, however, more often than not, something is created that resembles a floppy mess.
My first stumbling block: I was convinced that my left side was my right, and asserted this falsity with conviction… until I realized my error, and continued with a little more humility. But every time I encountered a difficulty, Santasree, exhibiting an abundance of patience and good humour, found a novel approach that resolved the issue. You don’t have a cord to tie around your waist? – no problem, just tie the saree to itself. No half saree – ? Aha. Let’s fold the top third of the width down… When I was dismayed by my complete inability to create pleats with Santasree’s one-handed lightning accuracy, she showed me how I could lay the pallu on the floor and do better.
Many thanks to this wonderful performer and teacher who took the time today to reach halfway across the planet and connect with me, through 9 yards of fabric!
All crawling and flying beings; all the green ones deeply rooted in the soil’s nourishing embrace; all feeding, breeding, birthing, dying – with one hand in pure blessing, you throw beneficence off extravagantly in all directions.
You hold the paśa, the instrument that destroys what is no longer needed; you are served with endless devotion by Nandi; being and perceiving the thread that runs through everything, transforming endlessly, you are the dancer and the dance.
When I perceive the faintest tracing of your action and boundless love – I dissolve in awe.
But you are too vast, too endless, too overwhelming for me to hold. I create a frame, a threshold, a form for the formless. I surrender to this. Again and again. When fear overwhelms me, your love is there, an infinite web of support that banishes all doubt and confusion in the pure light of love.
Your love animates the world, shimmering, unfolding every where and every when, and dancing, dancing – always dancing – a wonder to my mind!
Your hair, intertwined with the cascading turbulence of the sacred feminine in and through all, surrounds, connects, transforms, flows, dances –
urging me to move from here to there,
to leave shrinking into the coiled comfort of the known,