Culture with a new face
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh, New Delhi

December 1, 2009

Culture morphs all the time.And Delhi culture does it at double speed!  These days the 'aam admi's' culture, a mix of not just foot-tapping song and dance but also some katha and pravachan, some mela style cuisine and some shopping, of things both utilitarian and low-priced,  has shifted to a high ground and become an important component of what the kitty partywalis and the Page 3 types put on their social calendar as 'not to miss' events.  After all, their conversation openers for some time thereafter depend on attendance at such uber sophisticate events!

This week at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts ( IGNCA) in Delhi's peerless Lutyens district, the 'Braj Mahotsav,' was one such packaging of several components built around the rasa of  Braj.  Whether Krishna and Radha actually existed may never be proven from the kind of artefacts and physical evidence that archaeologists and rationalists demand.  But no one can deny that an unshakeable, unvarying mythology, reinforced by literature, the visual arts and the performance arts exists around the mythology as well as the space that forms the triangle of Braj. This consists of Vrindavan where Krishna was brought from the jail to safety, as an infant of a few hours, to the home of Nand and Yashoda.  All his childhood leelas were played out here, of Kaliya Daman, whereby he punished the serpent king, Kaliya, for poisoning the waters of the Yamuna (come back Krishna, we need you NOW!), of raising Mount Govardhan on his little finger, to save the Brajvasis from the oppressive antics of Lord Indra, (and we credit the superman myth only to America!), not to forget the manifold play stories with the Gopis and the cowherds.  Varsana, the second leg of the tripod, was the village where Radha was born.  And finally there is Mathura, from where Krishna began his ministry and his reign as king.

Braj Mahotsav attracted crowds for all of its eight sections every day for all of eight days.  Each morning's activity began with fresh displays of shringar of flowers, inspired obviously by the traditional manner in which the Radha Krishna icons and altars of Braj Bhumi are decorated and made ready for the public every day. On view were things like 'Phul Bangla' one day, a bewitching display of flowers as shringar. In the exhibition space of Mati Ghar, the IGNCA's prime mud walled display gallery, there were examples of the  art of Sanjhi, a distinctive art with paper cut outs which are filled with colour.Or the multiple varieties of Bhog, the special cuisine which the godhead is served at mealtimes.  The section on Chitra kala, in the afternoons, would feature the region's visual arts followed by the performing arts.The panel on 'Vraja Prakalpa' sparked off by  the learned discourse of Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan was followed, later in the evening, by Geeta Chandran’s performance of the Nritya leelas of Braj. 

Books for children offered a welcome introduction to the antics of Bal Krishna, the universal hero of Vrindavan.The coffee table book, 'Celebrating Krishna' by Shrivatsa Goswami illustrated with photos by Robyn Beeche gives an appropriate overview of all of Braj.It features all those aspects which the Braj bhakta wants to know about - the daily and annual calendar of activities, details of all those festivals of Sri Radharaman ji in Vrindavan, special events which give this religio-cultural space its unique flavour.  You can find here the various darshans of Lord Krishna in scores of temples, big and small, the Holi festival, the special Astayam Lila and Ras Lilas which originated in Braj, its forests and its lovely 16th century architecture, all captured by Shrivatsa Goswami, himself one who is the direct inheritor of the clan which was given this entire bhumi in Akbar's time as a special enclave for their religious and cultural activities.

As a bonus, as far as performances go, there was Shubha Mudgal one day, with Brajras Geeti, the Fire Dance another day, Bhagavat Katha by Venugopal Goswami, Dhrupad by  Premkumar Mallick & family, Braj Kala Dhara by Chandramani Singh, Braj Raslila another evening and of course Makhan Chori by Swami Fateh Krishna's Ras Mandali as the week progressed.

Culture and spirituality at the Kumbh - an Italian perspective
An Italian Yogini who calls herself - hold your breath - Mahamandaleshwar Yogacharini Pandit Emy Blesio, president of the International Yog Confederation in Delhi and The World Community of Indian Culture & Traditional Disciplines with the Mahamandaleshwar Swami Suryananda Amadio Bianchi, president of the World Movement for Yoga & Ayurveda and of the European Yoga Confederation, has a special experience on offer for the 2010 Mahakumbh.  For this once-in-twelve years event, on the banks of the Ganges at Haridwar, in February, she offers: "Spiritual rites with fire on the Ganga holy waters, chanting of mantras at sunset and sunrise, great, mystic, voices of the holy cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh... the gardens of  Krishna's erotic Rasa dance, the temples of Mathura, mirrored on a lake with magic atmosphere... the enchanted palaces andhavelis of Jaipur... the beautiful temples in Delhi… and so much more, all punctuated by meetings, with the real India (spiritual leaders, teachers of yoga, artists...) In short, an India that you do not see with a common tourist trip." 

All this is on tap, for a price of course.  And don’t forget, says the firang yogini,….  "It is very important to book fastly (sic) otherwise the travel deals expire and there is a risk that costs will increase."

So, do your reservations soon!

Shanta Serbjeet Singh, for twenty-five years, columnist, critic and media analyst for The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Times of India, India's most important mainstream English dailies, is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the premier Government cultural institution of India in 2000 and the same from Delhi Govt.'s Sahitya Kala Parishad in 2003 for her contribution to the field of culture.

She is on the Central Audition Board of Doordarshan, India's national television, as well as the selection committees of several prestigious government bodies involved in culture such as The Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Department of Culture. She was a member of the Tenth Five Year Plan Committee for Cultural Policy and of the First National Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Singh has authored several best selling books on Indian arts such as 'Indian Dance: The Ultimate Metaphor,' 'The 50th Milestone: A Feminine Critique,' 'Nanak, The Guru' and 'America and You' (22 editions).

As elected Chairperson of APPAN (The Asia-Pacific Performing Arts Network) for the past nine years, she has individually organized and helped her team of eminent artistes to organize eight international symposiums and festivals in several Asian countries and in the United States. APPAN, set up in 1999 by UNESCO, has, with the collaboration of UNESCO, pioneered the concept of delivering stress therapy, in particular in disaster-prone situations such as the tsunami and earthquake victims. The pilot project of this series was done under her leadership in four Asian countries after the tsunami of 2005 and another for the cyclone affected of Myanmar in 2008. Singh is the founder-Secretary of The World Culture Forum -India and Director of WCF-India's first Global WCF to be held in New Delhi in 2011.