An eminent classical musician once said his music was both sensual and spiritual. Can these experiences co-exist?
The very connotation of the performing arts suggests that there has to be an audience and that a performance is appreciated through our auditory and visual senses. Nevertheless, in Indian tradition, age old performances like Krishna Rasa, Ram Leela and similar performances across the country not only enriched the community life but also had a basic message of spiritual attainment.
However, the increasing commercialisation of these shows in a fast changing social milieu coupled with growing cynicism has completely changed the popular perception. Now these performances and shows are meant to be anything but spiritual. There are competitive shows?Ram Leela, Durga Puja, Dandiya Rasa or Lavani?with big prize money and television channels beaming these live shows to millions of houses.
Even the character of a Bhajan Sandhya and the composition of its audience have undergone a sea change. However, the classical dancers as well as the musicians maintained that theirs was a quest to reach a higher plane through their arts. In fact, these artists are required to practice almost daily to perfect their art which they dedicate to goddess Saraswati or God almighty.
An artist is supposed to be on a spiritual journey through his/her performance which culminates into an experience which is better realised than explained. And a sensitive audience may sometimes feel transported to partly share that unique experience which is beyond mundane. The day an artist succeeds in elevating the spirit of his/her audience that is the ultimate art.
We need to pause here to consider the role of sensual response to any performing art, without which our spiritual journey is impossible. As against popular perception, ancient Indian scriptures and literature have numerous reference to the importance of senses and the body as a medium to attain any spiritual goal.
Let us now look at some of our literary wealth which have not only immensely contributed to our performing arts but also are finest examples of co-existence of sensual and spiritual experiences, that is uniquely Indian.
Bharatanatyam dancers have great inspiration in compositions of Shyama Sastry, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Tyagaraja while Satriya dancers of Assam freely use Shankardev?s. However, one work that has found almost a pan-Indian acceptability for centuries now?both among the singers and the dancers?is Gita Govinda of Sri Jayadev.
To appreciate the flavour I reproduce a few couplets in free English translation (from Song-3):
?Hari roams here and dances with young beauties and sports with them in the richness of Spring. O Radha! It is a very cruel time for forlorn lovers staying away from the loved ones.
?(During the Spring) The lovelorn wives of lonely travelers languish and groan in unsatisfied desire, fantasising wild passionate love. The swarming bees settle over the cluster of flowers which laden the Bakula (Mimosa) trees.
?Intense sensuous mood has caused all creatures to abandon modesty and shun the sense of shame. Looking at their plight, the freshly budded tender plants are smiling, and the Ketaki has spiked the blossoms to stab the hearts of the lovelorn.? (Translation by Dr N.S.R. Ayengar).
Gita Govinda is considered to be the finest lyrical devotional poetry written in Sanskrit in 12th century AD. With vivid visual imageries, erotic details and a superb combination of divine and mundane elements, Gita Govinda remains not only a great literary work but also an eternal inspiration for dancers and musicians who love to share its creativity or dare to take the challenge of rendering it in an effort to show their own creativity. Surprisingly, neither the poetry nor the divine theme nor the sensuality of this magnum opus has lost any bit of its freshness and charm. Indeed, a great creative experience!
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