Category Archives: Dance


t330_156054_1The Pioneer
Saturday, 03 December 2016 | Saritha Saraswathy Balan

Celebrating peace is the core of Nirvana, a performance choreographed in Odissi and Chhau by Aniruddha Das and Nibedita Mohapatra. By Saritha Saraswathy Balan

Nirvana, a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire nor sense of self, which is commonly called moksha (salvation), is what people have within them but fail to tap into. Nirvana is also about Yashodhara, the wife of Siddhartha Gautama, who did a supreme sacrifice after realising that the man she married was meant for the society and not just for her.

“People have illusions in their life. Many of them seek peace, not aware of the fact that it is there within themselves. Through Nirvana, we are trying to convey a message to look into yourself and find peace,” says dancer Aniruddha Das who along with Nibedita Mohapatra has choreographed a piece on the subject.

“Normally, choreography in classical dance forms is about Rama and Krishna. We decided to do something different. We attempted to answer the question that if Gautama, a prince, could leave earthly pleasures for propagating peace, then why couldn’t we start searching for it in ourselves,” he adds.

Nirvana was presented on the first day of the Natya Ballet Dance Festival on Thursday. About how effectively a message rooted in Buddhist philosophy, which is not followed by a majority, could be communicated to the audience, Aniruddha says that it is possible with visual art. “It is like watching a movie rather than listening to a lecture. We can create the world in visual art that will be played on stage. It could leave a lasting impact on the audience,” he adds.

Nibedita says that through their presentation, they’ve attempted to add a bit of contemporary element into classical dance. “We focussed on Yashodhara, for whom coping with the reality that her husband’s life was for the society was painful. Siddhartha left when his child, Rahul, was very young. Yashodhara didn’t give up and later became a bhikshuni, (a Buddhist nun). Discussion on Yasodhara’s life didn’t happen quite often as it did about Buddha. It’s similar to Lakshman and Urmila in Ramayana. An unknown sacrifice is there behind every great life. The balance in the society is maintained by a man-woman relationship, not solely by men,” Nibedita observes. She adds, “We searched for a poem to narrate Yashodhara’s life and finally we found Yashodhara: Six Seasons Without You by Subhash Jaireth.” Continue reading

Bollywood was the biggest draw for young Buddhists at the Kumbh of the Himalayas

4dde759835c2247276aa3aac0bb61d41Yahoo News, September 22, 2016

Outside the Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport at Leh, billboards announced the Naropa Festival, described to outsiders as the Kumbh Mela of the Himalayas.

The Naropa festival this 2016 was particularly special for two reasons: it was the millennial birth anniversary of yogi Naropa of Drupka lineage, the leading sect of Himalayan Buddhism, and it coincided with the Hemis Festival, a celebration that marks the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.

Usually, Hemis is held in July, inside the monastery, the seat of Drupka order in Ladakh. It is better known among tourists for the famous and sacred Chams, the masked dance of the Lamas that is performed to the music of drums, long horns and cymbals.

In honour of the double celebration this year, a new Gompa (a religious structure, like a university) was built in Leh. Unfortunately, it could not be completed in time, and so the month-long ceremonies of Hemis and Naropa were squeezed into September, before the weather grew too cold.

Looking at the vast crowd that chose to stay in Leh despite the chill to celebrate, I realised why Naroda is called the Kumbh of the Himalayas: monks and nuns had gathered from Bhutan and Nepal, where Drupka sect following is large, but followers of Buddhism also arrived from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and the remote villages of Ladakh. From afar, the festival’s pandal area looks like a sea of maroon caps.

The biggest Buddhist festival in the world has changed in many ways over the years: for the convenience of global pilgrims, it has embraced technology. This year, the sacred ceremonies were held outside the new Gompa, where they were relayed on LED screens for the convenience of the large gathering. Continue reading

Walking with the Buddha

30bgfrartists_of_a_3027399gThe Hindu, Archana Nathan

Anjasa, a stunning Bharatanatyam production, took its audience on a journey through key Buddhist monuments in South East Asia

When you look at a frieze or a piece of sculpture closely, one often gets an impression that life, in all its myriad splendour, is frozen in time. But what happens when no one is looking? Left by themselves, do the intricately carved swans, the overlapping vines and forests, the majestic lions and horses on these relics and monuments come alive and continue their journey?

It was this thought that crossed one’s mind as one watched Anjasa, a Bharatanatyam production by Apsaras Arts, Singapore, which made its Indian debut at the Bangalore International Arts Festival recently. A team of fine dancers took their audience on a journey through key Buddhist monuments in South East Asia, starting from Lumbini Gardens in Nepal to the Bodhgaya and Sanchi in India to a Vattadage in Sri Lanka, the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar, Bayon in Cambodia, Borobudur in Indonesia and Wat Pho in Thailand. It was perhaps the best kind of armchair travel possible because not only did the dancers recreate through their bodies the architecture and significance of these monuments but they also gradually teased out the symbols and stories encased in stone to life. In other words, the performance was an example of what it would look like when the rich fields of performing and visual arts collide.

Right in the beginning of the production, Aravinth Kumarasamy, the man who conceptualised Anjasa, made an important distinction though:“The production is not about Buddhism,” he said. In Pali, Anjasa means ‘the path’ and “the production is a journey through the Buddhist monuments, for each monument has a purpose and means something to a community,” he explained.

So, each monument’s segment was carefully thought out– while the story of the birth of Buddha belonged to the Lumbini section, in the next stop at Bodhgaya, the story of Mara, the demon became the narrative. In Sanchi and Srilanka, they focussed on celebrating the architecture of the sites and in Indonesia and Thailand, they concentrated on recreating the meditative environment of these temples through dance and music. Continue reading

Sounds of Korea Korean traditional dance

1472691792tm_160831[sound link at KBS radio site]

KBS World Radio

The poet left a detailed record of how he came to write this poem. One winter night a grand Buddhist ceremony was held at Yongjusa용주사 Temple in Hwaseong화성 and he was inspired by the Buddhist monks’ dance he saw for the first time in his life. He was so awestruck that he stood under a persimmon tree in the temple ground late into the night, long after the ceremony was over. But that experience did not immediately produce a poem. The following spring, he was again inspired by a painting of the Buddhist dance, which eventually led to his iconic poem “The Dance of the Buddhist Nun.” The Buddhist dance is called “seungmu승무” in Korean. This dance embodies a feeling of sincere penance for past wrongdoings and a strong yearning to seek eternal truth.

Music 1: Dance of the Buddhist Nun/ Composed by Hwang Eui-jong, performed by Gyeonggi Provincial Traditional Music Orchestra

The piece you heard, inspired by Cho Chi-hun’s poem “Dance of the Buddhist Nun,” was composed and sung by Hwang Eui-jong and accompanied by the Gyeonggi Provincial Traditional Music Orchestra. The dance that Buddhist monks perform during a Buddhist ritual is called “jakbeop작법,” which means establishing the law. In Buddhism, the law really means the truth. Jakbeop is not performed to hide human emotions, but to bring the truth to light. The folk version of Buddhist dance is much bigger and more intricate in its movement than jakbeop and is marked by an energetic drum playing at the end of the dance. One of the characteristics of Korean traditional dances is described as “movement within stillness, stillness within movement.” And seungmu승무 and salpuri살풀이 are two Korean dances that best demonstrate this feature. Salpuri is a dance that repels evil spirits and was probably influenced by the dance performed by shaman priestess during exorcism. Dance enthusiasts are amazed by the light footwork required in salpuri and the arching line created in the air when a long cloth is thrown, which represents the futility of life. Coming up next is the salpuri accompaniment performed by the Lee Seng-gang Traditional Folk Music Orchestra.

Music 2: Salpuri Accompaniment/ Lee Seng-gang Traditional Folk Music Orchestra Continue reading

Preserving the arts through books

28072016103732charya-dance-book-600x0Kathmandu Post

Aug 3, 2016- Chandra Man Munikar, the founding Chairman of Vajra Kala Kunja, recently published a translation of his book on the mystical Charya dance form. The book, Vajrayana Tantrika Charya Dance, which was previously published in Nepali, has been widely appreciated not only in Nepal but various part of the world for its promotion of the dying dance form. In this interview with The Post, Munikar, a dancer himself, talks about his love for the Charya Dance and why art forms need to be documented. Excerpts:

Tell us about your new book?

Charya Nepal—Vajrayana Tantrika Charya Dance has been one of the most ambitious projects of my life. The book is about preserving the classical Charya Dance. With rampant modernisation, we are slowly losing parts of our culture, tradition and values. Charya, for instance, is the only classical dance form still widely practiced in Nepal now. In the book, I have tried to give an in-depth analysis of the dance and its facets. Thanks to a lot of encouragement from my peers, I have now published an English version of the book. The Nepali version has been available in the market for the past three years.

As an artist, did you ever think you would publish a book of your own?

I never considered myself a writer; I am a lover of performance arts. I come from an agricultural background but, thankfully, I had the opportunity to go to school and I keenly read whatever was provided through textbooks. I was only 16 when I was introduced to Charya Dance and I instantly fell in love with it. With regards to the publication of the book, I give all the due credit to Satya Mohan Joshi, who constantly encouraged me to preserve the art form through a book.

Can you tell us more about the essence of the book—Charya Dance?

There is a misconception that Charya Dance is a Newari dance but that is misguided. The Charya Dance is a Buddhist ritualistic dance. This form of classical dance had been widely popular in Bengal for centuries before it slowly faded away with modernity. All those involved with Charya Dance happened to flock to Nepal and the Charya community here has been preserving it since then. The people involved in the Charya community desire to make it extremely exclusive and keep it a secret—they believe this way they are preserving the pristine tradition but I disagree. Secrecy is definitely not the way to preserve a culture—hence this new book. At the moment, Tuladhars, Bajracharyas, Shakyas and Munikars are actively involved with this classical form of dance.

How has the response to the book been so far?

I have received great reviews for the Nepali version. The book was thoroughly enjoyed by the Buddhist community and students pursuing a degree in Buddhism. Three years ago, many people asked me to publish more prints due to the book’s high demand. People wanted to read more about it. I am currently sending my books to countries like India, Sri Lanka, China and France. The book has seen wide readership both in the country and abroad. Continue reading

Navigating the musical sea with Prinivan Mangalyaya

The Island
August 13, 2016, 12:00 pm
Anoja Weerasinghe

Dusk was slowly falling upon Abhina Academy of Performing Arts in Bellanvila, as the timbre of musically-bent sailors of the Sri Lanka Navy filled the tranquil environs in reverence to Lord Buddha. Rehearsing for the cantata pirinivan mangalyaya, originally created by the doyen of Lankan music, Premasiri Khemadasa were the naval voices fine-tuned by his musician daughter Gayathri Khemadasa. Caught in a melodious reverie, we spoke to the talent behind the ambitious musical feat which is to come alive soon at the Nelum Pokuna theatre.

On notifying the unusual earth tremors, Bhikku Ananda who functions as a valet to Lord Buddha approached him. After paying the due respect by worshipping His feet, inquired the reason behind those unusual signals of the mother earth.

Thus our Lord has answered: ‘Ananda, the mother earth has shaken herself on two occasions earlier, that of my birth and attainment of Buddhahood by defeating Vasavarthi Maara (the death) under the Bo tree. When the day nearing of my demise, the mother earth has started releasing her tremors again…’

Thus goes the English rendering of an extract from Pirinivan Mangalyaya, original verses of which were composed during the time of the Kandyan kingdom by an unknown folk poet based on the popular Parinirvana Sutta. They were collected and published by J.E. Sedaraman. The original Pali sutta is a reportage of the demise of Lord Buddha and the rituals which followed afterwards, written in hyperbolic and metaphorical language.
Continue reading

Good triumphs over evil

Dressed up: Exqusite and traditional Perak headdresses for the festival. Photo: Special Arrangement

Dressed up: Exqusite and traditional Perak headdresses for the festival. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Hindu

July 21, 2016

July 31 and August 1 are important days for the people living in Zanskar mountains as they celebrate Karsha Gustor.

Karsha Gustor festival, is celebrated at the Karsha Monastery in Zanskar, Kargil district. One of the largest monasteries, it is home to over around 100 lamas. This festival is celebrated to remember the victory of good over evil. It takes place at the largest Geluk-pa (Yellow Hat) monastery, located on the slopes of Zanskar mountains.

Dance drama: Character traits. Photo: Special Arrangement

Dance drama: Character traits. Photo: Special Arrangement

The monks perform a masked dance which resembles cham.

The history of cham is interesting. Buddhist monks in medieval monasteries hold sacred festivals once a year, during which they perform these 1,300-year-old mystical dances, collectively called cham, to transform evil for the benefit of the entire world. Masked dances have been a part of the Buddhist scriptures. These dances were especially performed to ward off evil forces, and dates back to the historic times when Buddhist manuscripts were first written. The Zanskar (Karsha Gustor) Festival continues for two days.

Stok is a royal residence. At this time a man is chosen from the crowd after a formal selection. This layman is spiritually cleansed by the lamas, and is prepared to receive the spirit of the Holy Deity. During the Karsha Gustor, it is the layman who predicts the future not the reputed soothsayers.

Depicting myths: Citizens participate actively, making this festival a success. Photo: Special Arrangement

Depicting myths: Citizens participate actively, making this festival a success. Photo: Special Arrangement

The festival culminates with the Black Hat Dance where the leader of the dancers kills the evil force known as Argham.

The main feature is the re-enactment of the assassination of the Tibetan renegade, King Lang-dar-ma, by a Buddhist Monk. The king was said to be a traitor who lived in the mid 9th century, and caused a lot of harm to the state. An effigy of the evil forces is burnt at the end of the festival.