The Asian Age

Giv­ing our myths a new per­spec­tive

- Mayuri Upad­hya

We live in a time when the most sen­sa­tional sto­ries make it to the head­lines of the news­pa­per. From crime, pol­i­tics to celebrity gossip it’s out there for us to bite into, like a juicy ap­ple, and we do just that with­out ques­tion­ing. We call it in­creas­ing our aware­ness: with peo­ple, the sit­u­a­tion and the times. Very soon, to­day’s re­al­ity be­comes a mere story to­mor­row, buried be­tween the pages of his­tory.

But some of th­ese sto­ries are time­less. They have a golden voice of their own, char­ac­ters that can pro­voke thoughts in a reader. They reach out, re­main in the minds of peo­ple in a way they would have never un­der­stood oth­er­wise. Th­ese are “myths”, mag­i­cal colour­ful tales that demon­strate hu­man be­hav­iour and give us the worldview of the past eras. They carry in them spir­i­tual teach­ings, philoso­phies and ide­olo­gies em­bed­ded in each cul­ture. To un­der­stand one’s cul­ture, a study of their mythol­ogy is a must. Ev­ery child, man and woman in In­dia, at least till re­cent times, has grown up lis­ten­ing to tales of gods and demons, an­i­mals that can fly, monsters that live in the depths of the ocean and have stirred their imag­i­na­tion.

Some myths even have ge­o­graph­i­cal sites, dates and places of oc­cur­rence men­tioned to support the rel­e­vance of the story, which also goes to prove mythol­ogy and his­tory over­lap. Then why this mad rush to embrace his­tory over mythol­ogy?

Popular mythol­o­gist Dev­dutt Pat­tnaik says, “Mythol­ogy is de­rived from the Greek word ‘ mythos’ which means ‘ story’. Clas­si­cal Greek philoso­phers re­jected mythos, in favour of lo­gos, that which ap­pealed to rea­son. Thus was born the di­vide be­tween mythol­ogy and his­tory”.

This di­vide even ap­pears in our dance sce­nario be­tween tra­di­tional forms and mod­ern dance. While most tra­di­tional dancers find their in­spi­ra­tion in myths that tran­scend or­di­nary hu­man life, con­tem­po­rary dancers pre­fer to ex­press their con­nect with cur­rent is­sues ad­dress­ing our so­ci­ety and the global sce­nario.

From Ram Gopal’s de­pic­tion of Nataraja, Odissi guru Kelucha­ran Mo­ha­p­a­tra’s ren­di­tion as Radha in the ash­ta­padis ( from Jayadeva’s Gita Govin­dam) to the elab­o­rate six- part Ra­mayana of Kalak­shetra, the cre­ations have taken their muse, in­spi­ra­tion and en­ergy from myths.

Con­tem­po­rary artists work with newer medi­ums, meth­ods and ab­strac­tions, like London- based Shobana Jeyas­ingh’s culi­nary trib­ute Just add wa­ter? that cen­tred the plot around the suc­cess sto­ries of cross cul­tural eat­ing or Jayachandr­an Palazhy’s mul­ti­me­dia pro­duc­tion Trans Avatar , which ex­plored mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties of the in­di­vid­ual.

While the two schools of thought can ex­ist in a par­al­lel man­ner, what if there can be a pos­si­bil­ity of con­ti­nu­ity of th­ese myths in our danc­ing with newer rep­re­sen­ta­tions and per­spec­tives?

Per­son­ally, I be­lieve you can’t throw out your cul­ture even if there are as­pects of it that you may not be able to re­spond to. It’s in our blood. You live with them, ques­tion them, draw in­spi­ra­tion from them, and oc­ca­sion­ally re­ject them only to re­turn to them with a dif­fer­ent sense of be­long­ing. In one such com­po­si­tion of mine, I’ve ex­plored the con­cept of Ardha Naresh­war, a tra­di­tional theme with a con­tem­po­rary ap­proach and con­text. In our myths Ardha Naresh­war is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of Shiva that unites forces of male and fe­male power, mat­ter and en­ergy, to dis­play the per­fectly bal­anced two- fold na­ture of the uni­verse. Whereas to­day th­ese di­vi­sions and gen­der roles are fad­ing, th­ese dis­tinc­tions ex­ist only ex­ter­nally. They don’t ex­ist within the self. So, the whole dance was de­signed keep­ing a frontal view, ex­plor­ing the move­ment ver­ti­cally on a gi­ant prop­erty of a tr­ishul ( tri­dent). Like­wise, in the Game of Dice by Sad­hya dance company, even though the sub­ject is from clas­sic epic Ma­hab­harata, the chore­og­ra­pher, Santosh Nair treats it on con­tem­po­rary lines.

The work looks into the con­flicts of char­ac­ters and finds co- ex­is­tence of mul­ti­ple truths re­lat­able to the common man of mod­ern times.

To­day we have enough tools and meth­ods to doc­u­ment events, but what about ear­lier times? The best way they could think of pass­ing rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion was with the medium avail­able to them from stone carv­ings, writ­ing to recitals of events in the most visual man­ner. Many an art form has emerged as a re­sult of this. Out of them my favourite are Harikatha per­form­ers who use a pair of cym­bals to keep beat and dance and nar­rate sto­ries min­gled with songs and anec­dotes.

In the larger con­text, myths grant con­ti­nu­ity and sta­bil­ity to a cul­ture. The sto­ries are top­ics for great art, lit­er­a­ture and mu­sic. One finds them used in ad­ver­tise­ments, in po­lit­i­cal cartoons and even names of or­gan­i­sa­tions or busi­nesses. Whether true or fic­ti­tious, they are the most imag­i­na­tive sto­ries en­trusted to us from our her­itage and hence it is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to pre­serve, pro­mote and pass to the best of our ca­pac­ity. When Harry Pot­ter can be­come a best­seller world­wide and be turned into a mu­si­cal, then why not cel­e­brate our leg­endary he­roes and vil­lains?

The writer is a chore­og­ra­pher, per­former and the artis­tic di­rec­tor of Nri­tarutya Dance Company, based out of Ben­galuru

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Con­tem­po­rary dance forms
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