It was the day after Dussera in Varanasi last year. Around 2.00 pm. I had just returned to my hotel at Chausatti Ghat on the banks of the River Ganga after a morning at Sarnath and then wandering and photographing in the alleys near my hotel. As I entered my room, I heard the sounds of drum beats and conch shells. In a place like Varanasi, this really should not have been unusual, and besides it was the festive season. But 2.00 in the afternoon was rather unusual for such sounds.
I grabbed my camera and rushed to the balcony. As I peered over the railing of my 3rd floor balcony, I saw a group of people bringing idols for visarjan (immersion).
I was a little surprised as, traditionally, Durga visarjan should have ended the previous day that is, on Dussera. But as the hotel manager told me later, the ghats along the Ganges get extremely crowded on Dussera day, leading to some visarjans taking place even 2–3 days after Dussera !
The Padmanabhapuram Palace Complex, which is situated about 50 km from Thiruvananthapuram, has a heritage museum with exhibits that range from household articles to coins to sculptures and paintings to object d’ arts. The museum is located in the 400-year-old Thekee Kottaram (or Southern palace).
I visited the Padmanabhapuram Palace Complex in November 1998 and spent a very happy afternoon exploring it and pottering among the museum exhibits. This collection of 3 Saraswati figurines at the museum caught my eye.
About 12″ in height, these exquisitely carved wooden sculptures stood out for their craftsmanship. As I gazed into the calm and serene features of the figurines, I couldn’t help wondering as to why one rarely comes across Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of learning, knowledge and wisdom. There are hardly any temples dedicated to Saraswati and even in art she is not a favourite subject for painters and sculptors alike.
Is it because we know that learning, knowledge and wisdom do not really come easy and even the Goddess cannot help if one is not willing to work hard for it? Or is it because material benefits are preferred over the intellect?
The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this serieshere.
Last Saturday, I attended a dance performance after many years—”Only Until the Light Fades: Love in Dance and Poetry”, a bharatanatyam performance by noted danseuse Alarmel Valli at the Tata Theatre of the NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts) in Mumbai. This performance, which was part of the NCPA’s ongoing Nakshatra Dance Festival, was conceptualised in collaboration with the noted poet, Arundhati Subramaniam.
When I set out for the NCPA that evening, all I knew was that I was going for Alarmel Valli’s bharatanatyam performance at my favourite theatre in Mumbai and unaware that I was attending the premiere of a special production. I was also unaware of the fact that this was the first time that Alarmel Valli would be performing to an English poem, or even the fact that the theme of the dance performance was love and poetry!
“Only Until the Light Fades…” explored love through poetry in Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and English from the Sangam Period to the medieval period to contemporary times and through the narration of a teenager, the feelings of a woman desolate in love, the actions of a jealous lover, and through the questioning thoughts of a contemporary Indian poet writing in English.
The dance programme was quite unusual in that there was no bhakti element at all. Alarmel Valli’s opening dance item was an invocation to love, instead of the conventional invocation to Ganesha or Saraswati. And yet it also followed the conventional pattern of a bharatanatyam performance by beginning with an invocation and ending with a tillana.