28 May 2008

Living for dance

There’s a magical place just outside Bangalore dedicated to Indian classical dance.

“I wanted to set up a place where anyone with a passion for dance could come and stay and train, not having to worry about finances or anything else, and devote themselves one hundred per cent to dance. The students would live on the campus learning all the major classical dance styles from the best gurus.”

This was Protima Bedi’s dream, which she realized by setting up Nrityagram – the dance village – in 1991. Her vision was to run the school as a gurukul, a place where students and teachers would live together in a community setting. Instead of paying fees, students would take care of the school’s daily household chores. Today the founder is no more, and there are only a handful of students studying only one classical dance style – Odissi. But Protima’s spirit lives on.

I’d been meaning to visit Nrityagram for a long time but whenever I planned a visit, the school was always invariably closed because the dancers were away on tour. The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble is known for it’s excellence and the group performs all over the world. Fortunately I had the chance to see them perform at the Chennai December Season.

I finally caught up with them on their return from their recent US tour. The dancers were busy rehearsing for an upcoming tour of Malaysia and a performance in Bangalore. Watching them rehearse in the specially-built dance hall filled with morning sunshine and a cool breeze coming in through the windows, I was struck by the dancers’ inner silence and concentration. One of the dancers would suddenly stop, think about her last movement, adjust it, and then ask the others what they thought of the adjustment. The perfection of their dance comes from their meticulous attention to detail.

The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble’s excellence is also a result of the dancers’ passion and absolute commitment to dance. You have to be passionate and committed to live in a small community in a rural setting where all you do is eat, sleep and dance.

This is a place where dancers live to dance!

26 May 2008

Time for a puja

A puja is an important Hindu ritual which can be a personal prayer and offering to a god, or a more elaborate ceremony with chanting, prayers and other rituals to pay respect and invoke the blessings of the gods.

I’ve already written about Ayudha puja, Saraswati puja and, more recently, Vahana puja here. I don’t know the name of the puja I attended this weekend, but this one was to mark the start of a new business enterprise. In this case, the elephant-god Ganesh is invoked and asked to remove any obstacles that may be faced. Respects are then paid to the goddess Lakshmi so that she can shower prosperity and wealth on the new business.

The new business in question is being set up by a French couple who are keen to introduce French cheese to Bangalore. Their Indian manager insisted that a puja was absolutely necessary to ensure success and good fortune. Though sceptical at first about the influence a few Hindu gods could have on the success of their business, they readily agreed after having encountered some minor delays and setbacks. If Ganesh and Lakshmi could make things run more smoothly, why not?

Ganesh will remove any obstacles and potential difficulties that may be faced by the new business.

Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity will ensure success and good fortune.

French Television was on hand filming a documentary about people who leave everything and start a new life elsewhere. This retired couple sold everything they owned in France and moved to Bangalore to start a French cheese business!

After the puja, the priest distributes prasad, food that has been offered to and blessed by the gods, to the guests.

Lunch was then served to guests in the garden.

Best of luck to Monique and Daniel!

18 May 2008

Flower power

Flowers are an important part of everyday life in India. Almost every street corner has a vendor selling flowers. They are used to decorate idols and given as offerings in temples. Women wear garlands of jasmine flowers in their hair. I came across this flower market in Gandhi Bazaar and I couldn't resist taking some pictures. Flower markets are a riot of colours and the smell of fresh jasmine flowers is heavenly!

15 May 2008

Vahana puja

Photo © The Hindu

From my window I can see my neighbours’ new car parked in their driveway. It’s a new model that I haven’t seen before. It has flower garlands decorating the front and an OM symbol painted on the windshield. This means they had a vahana (vehicle in Sanskrit) puja done, a special blessing done by a priest after a new car is purchased. This wards off the evil eye of envious neighbours and brings good luck on the roads.

Photo © The Hindu

Many car dealerships have their own in-house priests specially for this purpose. I see them lounging around in car showrooms dressed in saffron-coloured robes waiting for a new purchase to be made. The priest will bless the car and the driver by breaking a coconut, lighting camphor or incense, and chanting some prayers in Sanskrit. A small lime is placed in front of each tire and the driver then drives over them. I often see this happening in front of temples too.

Notice the limes in front of the tires! (Photo © The Hindu)

Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, is always the most important passenger in every car. He takes a prominent place on the dashboard, removing any obstacles on the road ahead and ensuring a safe journey!

08 May 2008

Election fever

Photo © The Times of India

In the run-up to this weekend's state elections, campaigners are making last-minute appeals to voters through loudspeakers perched on vans or auto-rickshaws circling the city's neighbourhoods. The sale of alcohol is banned for 48 hours, in an effort to keep voters level-headed on election day. This photo in today's Times of India reveals some of the more ingenious methods used to attract votes!

06 May 2008

Auroville: the macro view

The pink roads of Auroville...

The Matramandir: the spiritual centre of Auroville.

A view of Auroville beach.

Cooling off...!

For more glimpses of Auroville, I found this video on YouTube: