Sunday, December 9, 2007

hi guys, i have just written a new play. it took four years, and just the last two months to really put it all down. i will be working with chitra purnima of tfa singapore to create this play early next year. i have created a link here to the play which is actually on another blog of mine. feel free to read it and let me know what you think.

uncle ket

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What was ABHAYA to me...

Abhaya... an odissi production thought of and brought to life by my mother. Now, it's been 3 months already and i'm only writing my thoughts now!!! Please forgive me, appa. To me, there are so many ways to look at this exciting production. Therefore, let me give you a small idea of what i had felt during ABHAYA...
When Abhaya first started, it felt like another one of those ordinary shows which require you to dance or perform. All you had to do was do your part well and you would make a thousand people cheer. But was that all to Abhaya? I believed otherwise. There were many questions as to why this production was taking place and what were its effects on us dancers. Here's one side of the story. According to my mother, she had wanted to do Abhaya not because of any intention of getting fame, but for showing the world that we humans are protected and taken care of by Lord Shiva Himself, the One who Destroys all negative feelings and thoughts, and yet protects and blesses His devotees. Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer who is the universe itself, time, energy is everything. There are so many ways to look at the Lord but i can only think of Him as i have said.
Abhaya was not just a show, it was a story itself, a story in which every realm was somehow attracted to the Lord one after the other. From the devotees on Earth to the Gods in the heavens, all of whom worship the Lord Shiva, the One whose Third Eye Burns Negativity into Ashes, the One who sits in Deep Meditation, and the One who Weilds the Thrishulam. These are some of the different forms of Shiva.
Shiva, the One who holds Ganga on His Matted Locks, has the power to attract anything and everything. He is Energy. All these aspects that i talk about now are all part of this show. Even a person with no fortune is attracted to the Lord. Abhaya was an experience like no other. It was something beyond words. It was a revelation to me. Abhaya taught me that no matter what kind of situations we are put in, we should first get rid of the fear. Abhaya, literally meaning HAVE NO FEAR. It is Fear that leads into other negative thoughts, so what do we do? Pray to Him, to Shiva! OM HREEM NAMAH SHIVAYA!!!
There's is also another side of Shiva that is just as important. Shakthi, Power, Grace, Strength. The Goddess, commonly known as Parvathi, is the other half of Shiva. This Symbolizes the unity between Man and Woman, the balance of forces, the equilibrium of the entire cosmos. Neither of them can stand without the other. Ardhanarishwarar. Shiva Shakthy. TaLa, Tandava and Lasya. you see? Everything in the entire universe is at balance because of this Divine Union. Strength is Grace. Grace is Strength.
When we give in to Divine, we feel Their presence in us and in everything else. When we learn to surrender, we are free from all ties and bonds. We become One with the Lord... Abhaya. To my understanding, when we say, "i let go", we become fearless. Shiva is there...

Friday, August 31, 2007


Hi again,
now..about ardhanarishwara...The concept was amazing.. so perfect..a dynamic equilibrium..but how did this fit into abhhaya ?...i din't get it at first , but just a few days before the penang show, i began to understand. One of the most obvious problems we face in life arises from the tension of opposites. Most of the time in life, actually almost from the simplest of activities right up to the big descisions that affect our lives,we have to make a choices. For some actions, our minds have already been conditioned a certain way and so there is no big struggle to make a descision...we automatically make up our minds. But for other things there is always and internal struggle between the opposite choices that we face. Right or wrong ? , This or That ? Blue or Green, Medicine or
Dance ? TFA or home ? I feel attracted to this person..should i tell the person or not ? Will that person like me in return or not ? What to do !!! It all ends up in one huge confusion. Where does the conflict come from ? It is the fear of ending up with a negative result which in turn causes more fear. Basically fear of fear.

When the mind itself is split into two parts, how can it merge with the soul ? So Lord Shiva says 'I am the union of these two opposites, meditate and surrender unto Me and I shall reconcile you.' So when we meditate and be in touch with that Ardhnarishwara,Everything becomes one..there are no opposites...if we alllow his grace to flow through..there will be no more negative results for He will bestow upon you the knowledge and conviction that everything is for your own good and that He is looking after you..there is no need to fear...just forget all your complexes and contemplate and commune with HIM..just like how swamiji says..'take off your garments and just stand in front of the sun and absorb all the energy and vitamin....'. this way Lord Shiva Grants ABHAYA. I have learnt from this production that all we have to go on doing is just forget these complexes that we have..just go on communing with our GURUS and with SWAMIJI and with GOD in whatever form we perceive HIM because that is the understanding heart..when we just forget about about our ego and commune with others around us...there is no more conflict and all is JOY.
Sounds really ideal but i think that's the purpose for which I have been put into TFA and to learn from all the great masters that teach here..the glory goes to them..Thank you for making me grow..It is all your grace. Swamiji's grace.



The grace of swamiji through Geetha akka

Hi ,
so continuing form where i left off,, there were all these questions and confusions and mind blocks and slowly one by one, they were all answered. One day during one of the practices...i could not get one step and Geetha akka kept telling me 'stop using ur mind...don't think too much...'and she told me a lot more things about one of her students being blind and learning oddissi and how she would feel Geetha akka and learn ,not see with the eyes which is simply one of our senses. After that practice, i suddenly realised how much I was being controlled by my mind... for me, it may sound weird to say this but one of the goals i have set for myself in life is to become master of the mind; and suddenly I realised how much i was being controlled by it in seemimgly positive or negative ways. Throughout this year i have been monitoring my mind and I realised finally that the mind is all just full of complexes,going on creating more and more maybe positive maybe negative complexes..and these act as a resistance from allowing the divine grace to flow through us which is what we ought to do in dance. How does Geetha akka just come up with beautiful movements..simply out of nowhere ?.... without any resistance ? I guess people like that just let go and allow the divine energy to flow through. There is no mind.. the mimd has merged with the soul and the body through years of practice has been traind and is the slave of the mind. The body, mind and soul have all become one...that is Yoga..that is union with GOD..and that is why dance is a prayer.

So now..if we dance as a form of prayer.. what does it matter what it looks like ? if i pray with the correct bhavana...won't GOD accept my prayer ? If dance is going to be such a complicated many technics and styles and footwork and remembring the lighting cues and formations...why should I waste my time ? Isn't it simpler to just go and do annalakshmi duty and pray to GOD ? Well, one day as i was doing annalaksmi duty...i realised i was wrong.Geetha Akka always kept telling me strength is i thought okay strength is grace and grace is beauty and love and so on and so forth... now this lead me to understand my purpose for dancing.
From what i have learned in baratha natyam theory, dance was not just and art but, to put it in broad terms.. a medium of propagating religion, bakthi, and love which is GOD. Dance is the practice of religion...religion in action... dancers and all other artists have to take the pains and effort( perfect the get get that perfect movement that perfect breathing...the style and the list goes on..and all this requires lots of discipline.) to present the artform beautifully to tell the audience that God is not just some big man up there who is going to throw us in hell if we don't pray to tell the audience that God is love..and beauty and GRACE and therefore we have to dance with GRACE and to do that we require God's GRACE. An artist is just like a sannyasi....who has to go through so much discipline and japa and rules like brahmacharya so many complex matters and some infinite hours of meditation..why? so that he/she is pure and sanctified..without any blemish at least 99% perfect so that they can spread the light and love of GOD just like any beautiful can't go there and bore all your listeners right ?.. you can't bore the audience....and so i found that the same felling i get when i listen to swamiji's talks(it's so full of fun..and jokes and sweetenes of his voice...) and when i see someone like Geetha akka dancing; and the same concept applies when we do annalakshmi duty..serve with love..swamiji says 'athithi devo bhava'... Leesa mohanty says'rasika devo bhava' it's all one and the same. It is GRACE. So, whether we love the art form or nor, it is a means of connecting with God and to do it with beauty and grace is the sadhana.
I gtg now..all this is what i have learnt by the grace of swamiji through Getha akka... I'll write about Ardhanarishwara next.



Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Abhaya: connecting with lord shiva

Well, when it first started out, i wasn't going to take part and geetha akka said she would like me too...and the tought of it kept bugging me as geetha akka called me for class even if it was just for learning the Ardhanarishwara item. Then one night as i was reading one of swamiji's books,it was written that when we pray what we really ought to do is just forget about all our complexes and try to commune with the particular deity or saint. The next day as i was studying, I suddenly realised that it was not about me taking part whether or not geetha akka wanted me too. It was as more like through Geetha akka, i was being given an opportunity to connect with shiva and to grow as not only a dancer but also as a human being...Ardhanarishwara being the dynamic equilibrium that every human whether consciously or not will want to attain. I decided i was going to take part and give it all I had.

So then practices started out and everything went on....The thing was, all throughout the year, i had always been asking myself why do i dance ? .... and if i dance to connect with GOD, then what does it matter what it looks like ? Why does it have to be so complicated ? Why can't i just do annalakshmi duty and connect with GOD ? ...and when Abhaya was on....what did ardhanarishwara have to do with having no fear ? All these questions were answered through the journey of Abhaya.

I gtg now.. so i'll post those answers on as soon as i can. adios, madman.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

My Experience Meeting Guru Durga Charan Ranbir

this is a little something i put together as an assignment for Geetha Teacher, after Odissi great Guru Durga Charan Ji visited TFA one morning...

My Experience Meeting Guru Durga Charan Ranbir

On the 24th of April 2007 it was by God’s grace that I was lucky enough to be present when Guru Durga Charan Ranbir of Bhubaneswar, India visited The Temple of Fine Arts, Kuala Lumpur. I had heard of him many times before, and had also read about him on the Internet, and thus knew he was no ordinary person. Guru Durga Charan Ranbir is the protégé of one the members of the famous trinity of odissi Gurus, Guru Deba Prasad Das. He is known all over the world mainly for his immense contributions to Odissi dance, especially in the unique style, or Gharana of his guru.

As he walked in with a gentle stride through the main entrance of TFA I was amazed as this man with all his knowledge and fame was so simple and humble to all around him, treating others around him as equals. He nodded politely as Geetha teacher introduced the teachers and students who were there to greet him. He was accompanied by one of his senior disciples Debasish Pattnaik, and Shrimati Shangita Namasivayam, also an Odissi dancer, teacher and choreographer from here in KL, with whom Guruji and his disciple were staying with. Guruji was down to choreograph for an Odissi show produced by Shrimathi Shangita and her dance school; a show which Debashish was also performing in.

Guruji seemed quite delighted to see our current TFA building as Geetha teacher showed him around the humble premises. He also learnt of our new building which is coming up just around the corner of Jalan Berhala. As we reached the altar we all stopped to offer prayer and Guruji took the aarti. It was quite breathtaking as I stopped to think and realized that such a renowned artiste was among our presence, and praying with us. Geetha teacher then proceeded to present Guruji with some gifts to commemorate his visit to our premises. I was then quite fortunate as Geetha teacher asked me to present Debasish, a talented dancer in his own right, with his gifts.

Everyone present then proceeded to sit opposite the altar, as Geetha teacher and Gowri teacher were about to present an Odissi item for Guruji. They presented a beautifully choreographed Mangalacharan, which delighted Guruji. Shankar anna, who was also present, then proceeded to perform a Bharathanatyam padam, set to the bhajan Sri Ramachandra. Finally, Guruji himself agreed to dance. This made me very excited; to think that I was lucky enough to witness the foremost proponent of the Guru Deba Prasad Das Gharana of Odissi, performing in front of me. As Guruji danced his Abhinaya piece to lovely Oriyan music, he exuded amazing grace, and facial expressions. Despite his age he still did many lovely poses, and continued to amaze us with his histrionics until the end. It ended too soon for me, as I would have liked to have watched and studied his dancing at least a little longer, but that was not meant to be.

After that he was showed around a little more, as others and I helped prepare for the lunch which was to be served for him. As he was beginning to eat Sumathi teacher thrust a plate of food into my hand and asked me to sit down on the same table as Guruji. I really did not want to because I felt I did not deserve to sit down at the same table as Guruji and others like Shangita akka and Shankar anna, when even Sumathi teacher and Geetha teacher were not, but I did not really have a choice. It was very lucky for me to have dined with Guruji himself

Sadly, after lunch it was time for Guruji to leave. After having signed the TFA guestbook, everyone said their goodbyes. It was a wonderful experience having met one of the foremost exponents and Gurus in the art of Odissi dance today. It would be interesting to note that while chatting with Shankar anna, Uncle Ket and the other teachers present, Guruji stated that even now he still had not actually reached the status of a Guru! Such humility from one of the greatest and most well recognized Odissi Gurus alive today…

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Playing Ganesha

Umesh Shanker

As we all know we just finished our show Krishnaarpanam, and I had danced as Ganesha. This was actually not my first time dancing as Ganesha - it is my third. My first was in Sharavanabhava, for the Vinayagar Chathurti celebration in TFA few years ago, where I was the main character. But this time in Krishnaarpanam, it was quite different from the other two.

In Sharavanabhava, I just stood as Ganesha for 2 minutes, circling Hari, who was Muruga, then went backstage and became a ''human'' again. Then, during the Vinayagar Chathurti which was called Gam Gam Ganapathy, it was more of a drama kind of thing - just walk here and there and act out some stuff - so it was ok. Not to say it was so easy - I still had 2 wear the mask for both of them... but it was much easier than Krishnaarpanam.

For Krishnaarpanam, I literally had to dance. When Shankar anna first asked me to dance for the show, I said I could not. Actually I did not want to because I had so many things going on and wanted a break, but he managed to persuade me and now I do not regret at all dancing for this extravagant show. I learnt almost the whole dance in one day! And it was like ''Wow!! this is like a varnam''. But then later on, when I had learnt the item properly and was sure about the steps, it did not feel so long. Only it was quite tiring but which dance is not??

But I do not know why - I never thought about wearing the mask then. Only a few weeks before the show Shankar anna told me I should start practising with the mask. Even after I knew about the mask, I was not worried. I never actually thought about the fact that I would be dancing so fast with that heavy mask, whether it will move or fall or whatever. But all the thought about the show came to a pause when the show got postponed.

Only beginning of this year did we resume the practice. I still could remember all my steps. Just had to polish up the dance with the other dancers. So anyway practice went on for quite some time…and the biggest challenge I had was to hold up and balance my leg for the poses in the beginning. But eventually I managed to overcome that problem towards the show…

Until I got the mask that is! That whole practice was a mess because I was concentrating so much on the mask: it was moving so much, which made it even harder for me to see, in addition to the size and position of the eyes on the mask itself!! I tried stuff like stuffing the sides to prevent it from moving which was not that successful though… and not to forget… it was really hot and difficult to breathe!!! So that made the whole thing worse. I always came out panting like mad and was in a rush to take off my mask after every time I danced with it…

Finally Latha teacher and Saro akka found a solution and fixed strings to the mask and tied it to my head which was really effective… although sometimes the face of the mask got so close to my face that the eye of the mask was touching the eyeball of my eye… making it tear…like on the first day!! But that was a small matter.

The show day finally came… I felt really nervous… I got ready and was waiting backstage. I was waiting eagerly every minute for the show to start… but while waiting, I felt really weird and just not right. Geetha teacher, Sumathi teacher, Gowri teacher, Sandhya akka and few other people touched my feet and asked for my blessings because I was ‘’Ganesha’’ - even if I was just wearing His mask, dressed up like Him and all. I felt myself merely acting his part. I did not have his powers or what… I was just dancing as Him for the show. They are all older, more experienced than me… my guru’s, but they wanted my blessings… I did not feel right. But I forgot about it and continued with the show…

I felt I did not do so well in the first show - it was in super speed and I could not hold up my leg!!! That was the worst part of all that made me feel really disappointed. I did not want to blame anything much so for the second day I really focused on it and tried my best - and I managed to do it!! I was so happy once that part was over.

I felt generally the whole show was really good - my hair stood up for the end of Eppadi Thaan and Madhava Panchakam. I was actually singing the Madhava Panchakam backstage while it was going on as I had learnt the song from Dashani because I love it so much….

Overall, I really enjoyed this show and, of course, playing Ganesha, which is my main thing in the show. I think this is the best show that I have ever danced in… or rather seen. This experience is one of the best I have ever had and will always remember it but all is not over - we still have the Singapore show to look forward to, and if possible, stage it in Penang, Chennai and New Jersey as well. But for now, I just want to meet everybody and start practice again for the show! Krishnarpanamastu OM

The Musical side of Krishnaarpanam


Krishnaarpanam. The first musical dance drama I have experienced. A live performance which, in my opinion, caught every one of our hearts. Believe it or not, it was like the music needed the dance to relate the whole story or the meaning of the song, while the dance needed the music to dance to it, to follow the rhythmic beats. At times, the orchestra members would want to get up and join the dancers rather than sitting for 2 whole hours and enduring the numbness, and at times, the dancers would want to relax their legs from all the pounding and sit on the mat and sing and play the songs.

Krishnaarpanam. The practices actually started last year around April. My friends and I only joined the practices during September. At that time, our practices were only once or twice a month. So it was the average come-sit-down-play-and-go-home thing, I think. But practices grew more intense when 2007 started. Of course, things started moving, I mean we were more serious into our practices. Shankar anna would come and explain to us the meaning of the songs, and in turn we would try express the music according to his explanation.

February went by in a blink of an eye. Once again, I say, practices grew more intense, more scoldings. Haha! Then we had practices with the dancers. Now, things were moving really fast for we had to play correctly and at the right speed. And naturally, when the music's fast , you could see smoke emerging from the dancers' feet - I'm saying it metaphorically!!! Shankar anna was there to make sure we didn't bungle. So you could say that he and teacher were sort of the conductors of the production.

The first day of the show, an 'interesting' experience. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. ah but that's all normal. One would still feel nervous even though he or she knew the work at the tip of the fingers. The music was running at 18o miles an hour, the dancers were trying so hard to keep up, their feet steaming, and out of all that, the musicians were not allowed to slow down the speed because Shankar anna said it would cause some confusion for the dancers. Every one of the orchestra had made at least 4 to 6 mistakes. How tragic!!! Oh ya!!! and the final song of the whole show, the Madhava Panchakam was the hit for all of us! Well, if you were there to watch it, then I don't have to say. The last verse of the song had automatically picked up speed from God knows where, and then the whole interlude was 'amazing' - in other words 'unbelievably crazy'!!! (I don't know how else to say it; forgive me). Shankar anna of course, I think, was enjoying it... aiyo!

The second day was the best, I mean literally. Everything was good, from sound to dancing, singing, the music. Maybe it was because all of us finally gave all our heart and soul to this last performance. According to most of them, the music was beautiful, the dance was extraordinary, the narration - Madana Gopala if you are reading this, then, at least let me say something good - was great and awakening to the whole lot of us and the audience. So you can say that everything went on well. One last dose of preparation by Appa and Shankar anna and Kanagamani teacher finally lifted us up into the air say, we're ready!!!

Krishnaarpanam was wonderful and heart lifting for all of us, including the audience. It brought many pictures to life for those who were eager to know about Krishna and his pranks. Krishnaarpanamastu... Narayana Narayana... hehe.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Narada: Propagating the path of Bhakthi.

Madangopal Narayanan

When I first started off practice for Narada, the few thoughts that occured to my mind was "whooh this is much harder than dancing, it really drains you mentally". As practice went on over the next few days, I realised that a lot of things that Uncle Ket had said when we were doing things like Ramayana (ages ago) all seemed to make sense now. I actually understood it because I experienced it.

But halfway through when Shankar anna came and made some changes and stuff, I was thrown off balance at first because I think there was some kind of mental block; then there were all those late nights with Shankar anne until 2 am which made it even worse. But one night, he sat and he talked with me for a long time about Venkatakavi and about Narada... that made life very much easier because Ii began to appreciate Venkatakavi even more. And I felt I was beginning to understand the concept of Narada and his role in Krishnaarpanam.

It was then that I realised how much study had to be done, how much u had to know about the character u were going to play. But things still didn't seem perfect: the first day of the show went by and I wasn't that satisfied. I didn't feel like Narada. On the 2nd day however, Shankar anne kept on drumming into my head that the purpose was to share the knowledge of this great path of bhakthi. That blessed day, during the puja before the show, it suddenly hit me. I felt like I found the 'core of the character'. Narada was the Lord's friend and servant, propagating the path of bhakthi for the liberation of all mankind. Narayana Narayana.