Sangeet Natak's 'The Performing Arts: A Mantra for Healing'  
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai 

July 17, 2006 


In the current day scenario, one is constantly reading about health problems, how everyone is over-stressed and how to de-stress oneself and so on, with the end result that even a normal person sometimes gets psyched into stressing out over his/her health. The polluted environment and recent spate of natural and man-made disasters has only added to this concern. Amidst all this, what has come to the fore is the healing nature of dance, music, theatre, yoga and meditation.  

What could be better than a journal that gives an insight into how the arts heal us in our daily lives? Reading Sangeet Natak's latest offering on 'The Performing Arts: A Mantra for Healing' is a therapy in itself. The white serene setting of the cover communicates the essence of calmness. The articles range from the healing powers of dance, music and theater to how it is applied in various situations. Simple, easy to read and informative, one gets to understand how the arts promote physical and mental well being and how one can help oneself as well as another human being in need, something that is vital in present selfish times.  

The lead article is by the Chairperson of APPAN International, Shanta Serbjeet Singh.  'Healing through arts: Decoding the Indian paradigm' elaborates on the healing powers of music and dance on one hand and yogic science on the other to create a balance between the inner being and the outer universe. "The arts heal, they are completely therapeutic in nature and behind the apparent good health, longevity and incredible stamina of most dancers, musicians and visual artistes lies the fact that the very nature of the work they do, i.e. sing, dance, paint, sculpt, in short, create a work of art, is an endless source of pumping metaphorical iron, vitamins and nutrients into the body while at the same time ridding it of disorders, imbalances and diseases." 

Everyone knows of sms in this age of cell phones, but what is SSM? Dancer / researcher Kanaka Sudhakar says the various hand mudras and movements involving the dancer's head, neck, eyes, waist, shoulders and feet are performed simultaneously and symmetrically so that in minimum possible time, maximum number of movements is executed. This is simultaneous symmetric movement or SSM. The sequential pattern of a style like Bharatanatyam, repetition of movements on both sides, stretching and toning of muscles all help in the development of a child, as does the acupressure effect on health of performing on bare feet. That's 'The therapeutic value of Indian classical dance.'   

'NADA: The sound within, without' by educationist/musician Shruti is about the vibrational energy of sound, the stimulus of different kinds of music, harmonizing and healing power of Vedic mantras and bija mantras, leading to correction in physical, emotional and psychological health. All matters evolve from sound (nada) and dissolve into sound.  

In 'Special dance for special children,' dance therapist Tripura Kashyap writes about the challenges she faces when working with mentally and physically challenged children, visually impaired people, hearing impaired children, schizophrenic adults and how best to go about it. Her case studies give an insight into how much thought and work goes into the therapy for different individuals.  

Ambika Kameshwar founded RASA in 1989 at Chennai. She has done extensive research on theatre as a holistic developmental (THD) tool. In 'Natya rasa at RASA' Ambika explains how she uses drama, dance and movement, music, story telling, arts and crafts as developmental tools for children with special abilities. More than a thousand lives have been transformed by her work.  

In an interview with Lada Singh, dance therapist Syed Sallaudin Pasha talks about his post-tsunami stress relief therapy project at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands - 'Islands of despair, islands of hope.' "Enacting the Tsunami by the tsunamis at the workshops removed their trauma. I had tears in my eyes. This therapeutic theatre activity actually endowed them with a great strength…I remember with fondness, two children who were given Aqua Therapy. Six year old Jogaram is suffering from Down's Syndrome…This whole experience proved to me that the arts don't just entertain, don't just titillate and distract the inner being, but most importantly they empower each and every one of us with new sources of strength and energy to carry on with life's daily joys and sorrows."  

This is echoed by Alvin Tan (Founder/Director of The Necessary Stage, Singapore) in 'Beyond entertainment: Theater of social healing.' To quote from his interview, "The possibility of healing takes place in how we see ourselves through others' eyes; whether they are those who behold us or those who view us with prejudice. It works either way because human beings are complex. And that's where art still plays an important role." Theater is like a medium for healing. Healing happens when the victims/participants heal themselves or in collaboration with the creators or audience.  

In the aftermath of earthquakes and tsunami disasters, Sangeeta Isvaran tries to reconnect the people of Nias, Indonesia, to their traditional art forms. 'Locating Nias through India' shows how arts can help reduce bitterness and tension among survivors especially when they belong to different communities, religions and socio-economic backgrounds.  

'Tsunamika: Life on strings' is puppeteer Anurupa Roy's report on how the doll Tsunamika touched the hearts of millions in over 35 countries and has become a source of livelihood for women devastated by the tsunami.   

To sum up, the journal provides an insight into the ways performing arts not only affect our daily lives but also help human beings with special abilities to discover their unique qualities and thus assist them in re-connecting with mainstream life. Sangeet Natak's youngest guest editor Lada Guruden Singh gives a brief overview of the journal.   

"It was after much deliberation that SNA agreed to go ahead with a special issue on Healing through the Arts. As you must be knowing, some organisations like APPAN have been at it since 1999 and though we have had international bodies like UNESCO supporting and promoting their work, there has not been much (I dare say any!) documentation in the form of journals and magazines, in the category equal to or higher- than The Sangeet Natak.  
I was given a free hand to choose the topic (as also content and design) for this issue, 'The Performing Arts: A mantra for healing.' As someone who has been closely connected to dance as a student and as a writer, I always felt that performing arts have a purpose that extends beyond 'spiritual upliftment,' 'PR tool for India,' 'novelty value' and 'entertainment.'  
For me it was personally important to explore the other less talked (and discussed) about definitions of arts and healing happened to be one of the most significant and yet least talked about areas of concern. So, for the first time, in the history of any governmental body dedicated to performing arts, we have an issue exclusively talking about healing through dance, music, theatre, sound, puppetry et al.  
Indeed the relevance of India's contribution assumes significance since taking a cue from APPAN conference in Banikhet in Himachal Pradesh in India in 2001, other Asian countries started collaborating with their national institutions and universities and started organizing seminars and festivals from Korea to Singapore. In fact, the last M1 Fringe Festival in Singapore which is billed as Asia's biggest dedicated this year's edition to 'Art and Healing.'  
SNA Journal is a very small step to understand (and later de-code as the discussion on healing picks up in media and masses) the large corpus of work that scientifically connects the mysticism in arts and their relationship with the human body, with our contemporary times when "body-worship" is on its high - flaunting it at gyms, stretching it through dance or preserving it through Yoga!  
The 104 page journal is 40 pages more than a normal SNA Journal with some rare photographs capturing the range of work, in cities like Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi and also for the first time, Andaman and Nicobar islands. Not to forget, it looks at the work being done in Nias, Indonesia and in Singapore, in an attempt to underscore the link that defines the collective vision of Asian tradition of healing. In keeping with SNA directions to cull out relevant articles and reports that may have appeared elsewhere but perhaps for a different constituency, I have had to re-publish certain articles after editing it to suit the theme and the general direction of the journal.  It is vital that the work done by India is highlighted because we certainly have the history to stake claim and a future to patent! 
Personally for me at my station in life, editing this journal has been a revelation of sorts since it helped me have respect for our arts."