The Indian Express
Written by Dipanita Nath | New Delhi | Posted: September 29, 2014 12:00 am
The river of blood is thick and flows slowly through a field of dead bodies in Kalinga as Emperor Ashoka comes to a terrible realisation: “What am I a ‘samrat’ of? Only flowing blood and grotesque corpses? I have won wars but have I won hearts?”
The pivotal moment when a dreaded warrior turns into a spiritual leader marks the beginning of Shunyata, a production with which Delhi-based Kathak dancer Shovana Narayan has commented on the recent spate of conflicts across the world. “The killers want the same thing Emperor Ashoka did — power and control. But what happens after they kill everyone?”she asks.
Shunyata, which will be staged at Kamani Auditorium tomorrow, grew from conversations into a collaborative venture with Buddhist monks of Palpung Sherabling Monastery in Bir, Himachal Pradesh. Two years ago, the monks had made news for winning a Grammy Award for their chants. Shunyata takes off from an earlier production, Sound of Emptiness and Harmony, which also used Buddhist chants and reflected on the role of ego in strife, post 9/11.
“We have to realise that swabhiman is good but ego is a human failing. The question is, ‘how do we check it?’” asks Narayan. The production begins with the Buddhist monks coming on stage, chanting, as an antithesis to the proud dancers who stand before them.
“After a dance of harmony, suddenly, the dancers come into their own as ego starts taking over. The goodness, represented by the monks, tries to assert itself but the ego is stronger and the monks get covered and leave the stage,” says Narayan, adding that “for the Kalinga scene, it seemed so natural to take four Chhau dancers with four Kathak dancers to play out the war.”
While Narayan’s student plays Ashoka, the dancer becomes the protagonist of the next episode. “She does not accept the death of her child and becomes a demented woman,” says Narayan. The final episode is of Sujata, considered Buddha’s first disciple as she, a woman from the village, would watch Buddha meditate through the days and leave offerings for him. “After Buddha attains enlightenment, he has kheer that Sujata offered, making her the first disciple,” says Narayan.