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Devi Diaries: Part 1

October 15, 2020

Inspired by the writings of Sri Aurobindo's 'The Mother,' initiated DEVI DIARIES, inviting artistes to share their personal experiences and enhance it with a brief video presentation of their favorite Goddess or a real life female heroic figure.

The basic questions asked were:
Who is your favorite Goddess figure / why?
At what point in your life did the particular Goddess become your favorite? / Do you recall any particular incident connected with the Goddess?
How did you celebrate Navaratri in the past? / What are your plans for this year?

Check out below, the daily postings on Narthaki's social media through the auspicious month of October and Navaratri...

(Vilasini Natyam)

(Photo: Inni Singh)

I have grown listening to LALITASAHASRANAAMAM. As a child, I did not understand why Amma constantly recited the names of LALITAAMBIKA, ANNAPURNA, KALI, MAHISHASURAMARDINI. Now I know how much strength she gained by the sheer recitation of DEVI'S NAAMAAVALI.

Many years ago, Amma and I visited a workshop where artists were working on Durga sculptures for the upcoming Navaratri. I picked up a face and felt SHE was saying something to me. The smile was so graceful and intensely poetic. I did not share this with Amma. We had to leave the face in the workshop as it was not complete. That night both Amma and I dreamt of the same face. SHE talked to both of us. Next morning, we got HER home and placed HER on the altar.

Navaratri in the past was a period of celebration - elaborate decoration of DEVI, intense prayers, chanting, music, dance, and many delicacies. We have exploited Nature and she is reclaiming her space. There has been a rise in selfishness and greed but also a great deal of gratitude and selfless service. This is my prayer to the Goddess to protect and save us - HER children.




(Photo: Inni Singh)

RANI RUDRAMA DEVI was among the early embodiments of modern day feminism in India, all the way back in the 1200s. What a dynamic woman - a brave warrior adept in the art of swordsmanship and horse riding, who not only created war strategies and techniques for her soldiers, but also led her troops into war herself by fighting beside them on the battlefield - she was the first of her kind! She was a just and benevolent ruler of the Kakatiya dynasty who built hospitals for the sick and needy and who gave land revenue benefits to her soldiers.

She had an intelligent strategy oriented mind- when a ruler from an opposing kingdom cut off the water supply to the Kakatiyas by building a dam on the Kaveri river, RANI RUDRAMA DEVI used the concept of rain water harvesting to make sure her kingdom didn't go into drought. She was also a connoisseur of the arts. She popularised Perini Shivatandavam, a dynamic and highly energetic dance form of Andhra Pradesh, as a warm up for the body and mind for the soldiers before going to war. An obedient daughter, a loving wife, a nurturing mother and a visionary grandmother she was, who prepared her grandson Prataparudra to take over the throne after her. She had it all, she did it all, RANI RUDRAMA DEVI is definitely my Hero, or better still, my She-ro!



My favourite Goddess is obviously DURGA. Being a Bengali, my earliest memories are of Durga Puja, the celebratory mood in every home, the smell of shefali flowers in early morning, the pandals, new clothes, the aartis in the evening, cultural programs, eating bhog in the puja pandals, and the sadness of bisarjana, that is immersion of the Goddess idol in the river, and waiting for the next year for HER arrival.

The happiest incidents used to be the preparation and planning for 5 days. In my childhood, Durga Puja was the time we would all get new clothes, yearly only once. So I can't forget that excitement and happiness as a child. Meeting friends, dancing in the evenings were the highlights. Years later, after I became a Kuchipudi artiste, I could again relive my love for the Goddess in all HER glory in our dance compositions. The all powerful embodiment of SHAKTI, BHAVANI, MAHISHASURA MARDINI, DURGATI NASHINI DEVI, empowers me and inspires me to sing and dance in HER praise!

This year due to the pandemic the celebrations are mostly off. I will light diyas at home and pray from my heart to the Goddess to lift this curse of illness and make the world happy again. I wish you all health, peace and positive spirits!

I present MAHISHASURA MARDINI in Kuchipudi style.



(Photo: Ashok Pillai)

In the 18 years I spent at Jamshedpur, I grew up looking forward to the week-long Durga Puja. The first time I encountered the word 'Navaratri' was only when I moved to Delhi. As another embodiment of DURGA, I found myself resonating with my favorite Goddess PARVATI in each phase of my life. I was born on the auspicious day of Shivaratri which led my parents to name me 'Gauri'.

Many times, when I found myself obsolete of strength, I found empowerment in my inner Shakti. I remember an instance from a few years back. I used to travel by a DTC bus at the time. Around 10pm in the night, when I got off at the bus station nearest to my residence, someone attacked me for an unknown reason. I just took the Goddess's name and discovered a surge of strength coming from within to protect myself. The vividness of that courage still amazes me.

The aroma of the flowers of 'Harshringar,' the scent in the atmosphere, used to be an indication of Durga Puja festival for me. During those days, we used to spend most of our time at the Puja Pandal. In fact, my first dance performance, even before I had started my formal dance training, was in front of the Goddess. I had participated in a 'Dhunuchi' competition and won the first prize, a flower vase that I still possess. Recently, I was exhilarated to receive a call from one of the curators of the Durga Puja I attend, that they will continue the celebrations for this year on a smaller scale. I hope that this year too, we celebrate the Goddess with all the precautions and fare HER well, only to invite HER again with the same vigor, strength, grandeur and feeling the next year.

This video is part of SAMARATRI- NIGHT OF DIVINE UNION based on the dialogue between DEVI and BHAIRAV, for my Senior Fellowship project for Kalavahini Trust.


(Vilasini Natyam)

A composition of the Telugu saint poet Annamacharya, this is an ode to ALAMELUMANGA, the powerful consort of Lord Venkateswara.

Annamayya says:
"O ALAMELUMANGA, YOUR ever youthful form, brings eternal joy to the lotus eyed Lord Venkateswara.
Maybe he became blue black, taking the hue from YOUR midnight blue tresses, and abandoned his conch, for the sweet words emitting from YOUR conch shaped neck. Maybe he forsook his flower garlands to be encircled by YOUR lotus stalk arms, and wore the Namam as a tribute to YOUR Kasturi tilaka.
O ALAMELUMANGA, your glances are cooler than the moonbeams. With elaborate charm, YOU take under your control, the Lord of all three worlds.
O Mother, bestow YOUR benevolent gaze upon this world. Nourish us with your compassion, O ALAMELUMANGA!"

Vocal - Sweta Prasad
Videography - Churnika Kylash



My favourite goddess is MADURAI MEENAKSHI. It is probably HER beautiful form that attracted me when I was young. Later when I grew into a dancer, HER inner strength and courage impacted me the most. Incidentally, my grandmother's name was Meenakshi, and one of the keertanams I danced at my Arangetram was "Meenakshi Thaye" in Keeravani ragam. One of my first performances was at Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswara temple right outside the sanctum and so on.

My childhood memories of Navaratri are very special. Every morning we would have an elaborate puja at home. In the evening, a group of friends would go to different houses, sing songs, happily eat Sundal and all this was part of the celebrations. Today, everything is virtual. We will celebrate Navaratri virtually, beautifully like the other festivities we did earlier this year.

Presenting my all time favourite kriti MAMAVA MEENAKSHI with vocalist Murali Sangeeth in Ragam Varali and Misrachapu talam - in virtual...



Being a Mohiniattam dancer, I have always been drawn to LASYESHWARI, Goddess PARVATHI. SHE is the kinetic energy without whom Lord Siva cannot create. It was Adi Shankaracharya's Saundaryalahiri which opened up the entire gamut of HER power to me. He says, SHAKTI's right eye, as the Sun, gives rise to the day and the left, as the Moon, to the night; HER third eye is like the half bloomed lotus that signifies twilight, between day and night. These lines convey the larger truth that the Goddess is the embodiment of time itself; SHE is beyond time, SHE is infinite. These lines of Adi Shankaracharya have inspired me always. Every time I danced to Saundaryalahiri, it has had a transformational effect on me. Praying to Goddess SHAKTI gives me immense peace and courage to face this world. Maybe as a woman I also identify with HER in many ways.

In the past few Navaratris, I have been lucky to have performed at some divine Kshetrams such as Brihadeeshwara Kshetram in Tanjore and Pannachikaadu Bhagavathi Kshetram in Kottayam. For me as a Keralite, based in Vadodara, Gujarat, celebrating Vijayadashami with my disciples and family members by performing Vidyarambam Puja is one aspect of the festival, and on the other, I am able to revel in the many Garbas held here. The nine nights of revelry in DEVI's honor is mesmerizing indeed!

DANCE INSPIRED...AN ODE TO LASYESHWARI is about SHAKTI, the feminine energy. The Tulsi plant in center position in the visuals is on the one hand Prakruti and on the other hand, represents Goddess LAKSHMI. The dancer breaks into a graceful dance as PARVATHI. Mesmerized by PARVATHI's grace, Lord Siva joins her in this dance.



LAKSHMI, SARASWATI, SITA, RADHA, PARVATHI - all of them are significant and in all of them I see my mother and my mother in them. Being a Kshatriya at least by birth, it's natural for me to pick the Goddess of war SRI CHAMUNDESHWARI and the Chamundi temple in Mysuru is one of my choice destinations. In my formative years, I didn't have any favourites. Once I realized that my calling was to be an artiste, I gradually grew extra fond of CHAMUNDI DEVI particularly as I was learning dance from Guru Narmada. I found immense positivity, exuberance and an amazing energy quotient while depicting CHAMUNDI DEVI. My life is dotted with many incidents where I have felt HER presence, received HER blessings, and have had my prayers answered.

Navaratri is one of my favourite festivals. Earlier on, I would visit friends' houses to appreciate the Golu. Over the years, I have collected a lot of miniature dolls from around the world during my travels and what better use than to celebrate Navaratri by Golu, decorating these dolls with a different theme each year. This year it's going to be no different and I will have friends and family over. I'm also planning to help the artiste community by hosting their performance at my place with a few rasikapriyas for a small fee as prasadam from the DEVI.

I present a piece in praise of DEVI CHAMUNDESHWARI with Lyrics by Prabhakar Shastry and Music by T.G. Lingappa, Karthik Hebbar on vocal, Lingaraju on mridangam, Raghunandan on flute, Srinivasan on nattuvangam, Naveen MG on lights, Satish for video.



Our mythology has a rather beautiful concept of the different aspects of a woman as portrayed by the various deities. Consciousness, tranquility, radiance, beauty, abundance, time, devastation, knowledge, wisdom, unexpressed and expressed words - SHE is myriad, yet SHE is one.

For me, every woman is a human manifestation of Mahamaya, Parama (Absolute) Shakti who has to pass through these meandering lanes and layers of self realisation to awaken the Goddess in her. I admire every deity that has been so beautifully described in our mythologies and the profound underlying philosophical interpretations. I do not have any particular Goddess who I can call my favourite. I adore and worship all the manifestations of BHAGAVATI, the source of primal energy that incites creation, the invincible one, who represents all the sentiments that a human being can think of, removes all obstacles, represents wisdom and Ultimate Truth. In HER Satwik, Rajasik and Tamasik rupa, SHE creates, sustains and preserves the universe.

Being born and brought up in Kolkata, Durga Puja has always been an occasion for which I would wait throughout the year. It is a time for me to celebrate the homecoming of the Mother along with her children, like rejoicing with my own family. However, with time I have started adoring the Manipuri way of invoking the divine feminine energy. Manipur is popularly associated with Vaishnavism and the performing traditions revolving around the life of Lord Krishna. However, Manipur being a part of the Himalayan Tantric belt, Shakti cult also plays a pivotal role in shaping the land's cultural edifice and this aspect has not been very well portrayed in the cultural map of the world. There are many traditional ritualistic performing art forms hailing the Goddess that are presented mandatorily during Durga Puja and even during other times of the year. I have always wanted to present to the world these beautiful lesser known facts through my work.

My production DEVATMAYEE - THE SOUL OF GODS is about the different concepts described and embodied by the various Hindu Goddesses whose identification is a matter of belief, conjecture and 'deciphering the deep.' Inspiration was derived from mythical Meitei deities and those from Hindu Puranas. The music is a tuneful blend of Manipuri indigenous hymns and Sanskrit chants.



Some of the most beautiful stories I have come across during lockdown have been about the positive effects the timeout has offered the earth. Of all the stories, the one that made my heart burst with joy is the story of RIVER GANGA - a Goddess - purifying HERSELF in isolation; A Goddess who needed to purify HERSELF in the absence of demons!

There are days when each of us fail to recognise the strong Goddess living within us. At these times it is paramount that we retreat and take time out to understand and reclaim who we are and re-engage with the deep spirit of being a woman.The story of Goddess GANGA, be it as the wife of Shantanu or as the mother of Bheeshma, portray a woman who has HER own mind, is strong, yet loving and giving. SHE is a nurturer but also one to reckon with as depicted through the story of HER descent to earth.

If the Goddess GANGA needed time out to rest and rehabilitate after years of giving and nurturing, what about mere mortals like us? The story of HER purification during this time of crisis has reiterated that we all need time to focus on the self to give power and wholeness to our life to nourish the life of others. We constantly need to rediscover our strengths, self worth, power, and ability to give and receive.

THUNGA THARANGEY GANGEY was choreographed in one such moment; when happiness, self discovery and self worth were in tune.

Vocals: Dr. Balamuralikrishna
Choreography: Bindu Rajendren
Venue: North Pine River, Brisbane, Australia
Video: Raj Kallath



My favourite Goddess, since childhood has always been Goddess DURGA, as to me, SHE is the embodiment of peace, strength, and motherhood and so much more. To me, Durga Puja does not only mean celebration of those five days in Kolkata - of wearing new clothes, the sound of dhaks, beautifully decorated pandals, the bright illuminations, dhunuchi dance, sindhoor khela, anjali , bhog and other rituals associated with Goddess DURGA and Durga Puja.

To me it means transcending borders as Durga Puja is celebrated by not only Bengalis but also other communities.... this was how it was in Kolkata when I lived there and that is the best spirit any festival or puja can boast of - that it can be celebrated by all, irrespective of caste, community and creed.

Earlier, I would celebrate Durga Puja by visiting pandals, and try to be part of some of the rituals. Navrathri was celebration time and meant going to crowded places and celebrating with friends, family and students. Sometimes my students and I performed to large crowds during Durga Puja, at various venues all over the city. This year due to the pandemic, I will be celebrating quietly with my family - possibly light diyas and incense sticks, keep scented flowers in the house, cook some special Bengali dishes and soak in the spirit of DEVI in a more reticent way.

YA DEVI SARVABHUTESHU, Matri, Shakti, Shanti rupenna, samsthitha-namas thasyai, namo namah...
Salutations to that Devi, who lives in all beings in the form of mother, strength and serenity. Salutations to her again and again...



Right from a young age, my favourite Goddess figure is LALITA MAHA TRIPURASUNDARI, as SHE is Adisakti Jaganmatha - the divine mother. A visit to Rajarajeshwari temple in Bangalore during my childhood is when I was awestruck and drawn closer to HER through the vision of her divine form. SHE is the embodiment of all the three Devis - MAHA SARASWATI, MAHA LAKSHMI and MAHA SAKTI - the personification of iccha Sakti, kriya Sakti and Jnana Sakti or the three Guna namely Satva Guna, Rajo Guna and Tamo Guna.

Navaratri is always special to me with regular visits to temples, attending concerts or dance performances at the famous Mysore Dassera celebrations or local temples in Bangalore. I am sure this Navaratri will turn out to be a memorable one by HER divine grace.

My presentation is a prayer to the divine mother. "Amma, YOU are my sole refuge when my mind is clouded with sorrow. I am caught up in this world of Maya, illusion and ignorance. YOU are that source of light, which will illuminate my self and liberate my soul."

Vocal: Ranjini-Gayatri



Being born in Assam, I have grown amidst the multi-linear narratives of Devi streamed along with the philosophy and devotion of Neo-Vaishnavism. Saraswati Puja, Durga Puja, and Lakshmi Puja are popular celebrations in the festival calendar of Assam and I have fond memories of childhood, in organizing the public ceremonies of the puja for our school and college. Months long preparation by a khanikar (one who prepares the idol) in carving out every detail of the deity to bring HER alive in sculpturesque engraving, the grand celebration of Durga Puja with colored lights, thematic spectacles of the goddess destroying evil, decorative pandals, delicious delicacies and even decorating our home with lamps on the occasion of Lakshmi puja with a bouquet of rice sticks from a paddy field, seeking the blessings of the Goddess to usher in well-being and prosperity.

In each of these rituals, the invocation of nature, for instance, preparation of the idols with clay, decoration of the pedestal with banana leaves, and offering of natural ingredients - fruits, rice, etc and final submerging of the idol in the Brahmaputra, nature has always been a personal connecting point for me, that made me realize PRAKRITI as a unifying thread in bringing alive the tangible and the intangible. And the rituals with its symbolic components are expressive units of these. Hence PRAKRITI or DHARITRI is undeniably my favorite. Furthermore, with the philosophy of Bhakti, as introduced by Srimanta Sankaradeva, the understanding and evocation of feminine spirit PRAKRITI in every existential being as micro-units of the Supreme whole leads me to the realization of an organic connect with every existential being of the PRAKRITI.

I am sharing with you a clipping of a PRAKRITI representation that celebrates the feminine spirit, glory, and significance, from the piece Shree Vandan set to Raga Shree and series of Talas.
Text: Saint philosopher and poet Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449-1568)
Khol: Hari Prasad Saikia Barbayan
Cymbals: Pallab Bora
Vocal: Bhupen Nath
Flute: Pradip Deka
Violin: Dwipendra Sarma
Music: Hari Prasad Saikia Barbayan and Bhupen Nath



In most languages, the word mother starts with the syllable "maa." For me, my mother and DURGA are synonymous. Since we lost our father at a young age, she has been our mother and father, both being strong, bold, soft, lenient and loving when and where necessary. It was always DURGA puja for me. Navaratri is a term which I learnt later in my life! The whole year passes, striking off the days from the calendar in a year long wait for DURGA puja.

It's a meet and greet festival. The anjali of Maha Ashtami, the Sandhi Puja of Maha Navami is unparalleled. Pandal hopping with friends and family is mandatory and a whole night affair. As we all know, we can't keep food and Bengalis away from each other, so it's also a festival to eat the best cuisine from mom's kitchen! This year won't be the same as the previous years but zeal is the same. Because of Covid, we will be confined to our homes; still the feel of HER here brings a different level of joy. This time, some of my friends and I will be doing puja for the first time and we are super excited about the fact and doing our preparation for the same.

Almost every deity in Hinduism has their Dhyan Mantras, a set of shlokas which describes the deity. JATAJUTA SAMAYUKTAM is no different; this set of shlokas can be traced back to Matsya Puran where it was used to describe the physical attributes of DEVI DURGA in MAHISHASURAMARDINI avatar. Later it was adopted in Shree Chandi, which became immensely popular in the eastern part of India. Most of the idols of MAHISHASURAMARDINI worshipped in Bengal are made based on the description given in these shlokas describing how DURGA looks like while SHE slays Mahishasura, what weapons SHE has, what ornaments SHE wears, etc.

This piece was originally composed by Pankaj Mullick for Akashvani Kolkata in 1931, when it became a part of Mahishasuramardini Radio Programme aired on the morning of Mahalaya.

Location: 26 Shiva Mandir in Khardah, Kolkata
Video: Pratyush Roy Dasgupta



When we (My mother Guru Rajeswari Sainath and I) started conceptualising a production on Lalitha Sahasranamam, I had just returned from the USA after training at the Martha Graham school and was still figuring out about my identity in this space. I'm fortunate to say that Goddess LALITHA had different plans for me and it was through that divinity that I realised what I wanted to become.

During the premiere of the production for the Mylapore Fine Arts, I experienced what can only be called an artiste's high. My mind blanked out during the crescendo and I could feel transported to another realm. Later, I realised that many members of the audience were so moved that they walked up to the stage to offer their pranams. It was through this divine intervention that I could first-hand experience the feeling of a collective consciousness, a state where the audience and the artist have merged into a singularity. This experience made me realise what I wanted to become and set me an ideal to aspire for and reach.

Presenting an excerpt from LALITHA SAHASRANAMAM...



The time of the year is now about celebrating the power of supreme Feminine energy; the Goddess - the Shakti. My favourite Goddess is NARMADA maiyaa whose blessings I have been bestowed with. It was in the year 2008 when I was invited to premiere a work based on river NARMADA for Natyarangam's  annual thematic festival ‘Teertha Bharatham.’ In fact, I had hoped then that I would be asked to choreograph either on river Yamuna or Godavari or Ganga, for the stories surrounding them were much closer to my existence as a dancer. But as it is said - one can never see the larger picture of life.

In my work towards collecting conceptual material, getting the music done, setting up choreography, I realised that for all HER bhaktas, SHE is not water but amruta; SHE is not just a river but a mother; maiyaa who protects them. The NARMADA vaasis do a pradakshina to the entire river i.e. a pilgrimage of 3000 km walk along the river which is done till date. There are stories of how many bhaktas have actually seen HER during their parikrama. I too started dancing with this faith and sharanaagati. From then onwards, my dance changed from within - an experience which is beyond words. The idea of dance as saadhana started to make real sense. I truly believe in HER - NARMADA maiyaa.

Navaratri, as a Mumbaikar, has been about celebrating the Goddess Durga through playing the garba in the evenings and nights. That this year for sure is out of the question. But I have decided to work on a new Devi piece during this year’s Navaratri.

Devi Diaries: Part 2

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