Monday, 12 May 2008


On Sunday evening I saw 'Meera' the dance drama staged by Sriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra for their annual Summer ballet festival in the capital (New Delhi).

The swirl of skirts and the costumes of Rajasthan and Gujarat still inundates my senses. The superb performance of 'Meera' looking ever so erotic in her long Rossetti-like hair and white ghagra-choli exposing her taut midriff, made it easier to understand why the Rajputs so feared female sexuality amongst the clan.

The early-16th century mystic poetess threw the royal house of Mewar - in which she was married into - in disarray, to pursue her devotion to Krishna. Marriage and the family did not bind her and as a local saying goes, for those who will listen, though she left behind neither a son nor disciples, her name lives on through her life-events: Nam rahega kam son / Suno sayane loye / Mira sut jayo nahin /Shishya na mudo koye.

Of course, for the story from Meera's husband's point of view, one has simply to turn to - heir apparent to the throne of Chittor - Rana Sanga's first person narrative in Kiran Nagarkar's brilliantly crafted novel, Cuckold.

Meera's single-minded devotion to the spiritual, as expressed in song, reminds one of the 12th century German mystic Hildegard von Bingen and her chanting in Gregorian chant. Both redefined the scope and value of a woman's truth.

The beautiful ghoomar dance of Rajasthan made one walk the streets of Jaipur. In medieval India Chittor, Malwa, Marwar and Gujarat were constantly at war. Meera, rendered outcaste by her husband Rana and his family, travelled widely, slaking the dust on her feet, singing bhajans across these territories crossing borders in faith. Akbar travelled incognito to meet her. Legend has it that Tansen and Meera sang one of her bhajans. Twenty years after her death Akbar would return to take Chittor in 1567.

The use of every conceivable space of the stage at the Kamani auditorium (near Mandi House) made for total theatre. Saffron-robed mendicants with manjira (small cymbals) chanting bhajans emerged from the audience just in front of the orchestra pit and proceeded up the steps, stage left, to occupy centrestage.

At the back of the stage was a prop resembling a palace turret with steps like out of the opening scene of Macbeth. On this ensemble, the scene of the offering of poison to Meera is mimed in dance. The poison turns to nectar. Later Meera staves off a cobra attack - all interpreted through dance. The dramaturgy was heightened with the huge screen backstage constantly being dipped in colours evoking the mood of the ballet - the bloodred of a murder attempt, the mauve of struggle, or the rusty blue of dawn.

Often one felt transported to ghats beside funeral pyres, in the waiting room between this world and the next. The use of special-effects like smoke, screens, drapes and laser lights certainly gives bollyhollywood a run for its money. One only wished these performances were better publicized and more well-attended in Delhi.

It is perhaps time now to taste the dust on the road . . . continue the journey in Rajasthan and watch Jodha Akbar.

Rana I have no one to accompany me
on the journey of my life
All these ties are dust
They are poison
Rana I have no one to accompany me
On the journey of my life.

- Mirabai

'Dust on the Road: The Family and the Self' was the title of an article of mine taken from a line from one of Meera's songs (Pioneer, 1 October 2000, New Delhi).

The line-up for Meera at Kamani : Direction--Shobha Deepak Singh; Choreography--Shashidharan Nair; Music--Shubha Mudgal; Lighting--Sharad; Sets -- Keshav Kothari; Meera--Molina Singh


JAI said...

Hi Brian...visited yr blog...writing on yr blog feels good no? I liked this meera post very much...what having partaken of Kiran Nagarkar's 'Cuckold' and listening to numerous meera bhajans (esp. Kishori Amonkar's)... btw I think I mentioned this to you sometime ago about this unique collaboration between Kiran Nagarkar and Shubha Mudgal...called 'Unorthodoxies: Reimagining Meera'...where Mudgal sings meera songs and Nagarkar reads from his novel...interspersed... this album was designed to give two sides of the meera story...meera's and her husband' is available with going friend...

lastbustovasco said...
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Elsie Coelho said...

Loved the article Sir!! The language you've used is so beautiful..