Thursday, January 17, 2008

another visit to the dance village

a few more photos and commentary about nrityagram are at:

a wee bit of info about one of the foremost dancers in india, whom i have had the fortune to see several times:

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Durga Dance

When we arrived there were three professional dancers and a singer performing a kind of warm-up act. The two female dancers wore sequined tops and short skirts. One had black tights which protected her ankles from the Morris-like bells they wore; the other female had socks to protect her ankles, and her legs were bare. The male dancer was all in gold: he could have been a back-up singer for the James Brown Revue, or a Brazilian Carnival celebrant. They danced with moves that looked more African than Indian. The girls’ head-dresses also looked quite African. After a quarter of an hour of non-stop high energy soul music and bump’n’grind dancing, the horn section took over and kept the beat happening. The dancers got bawdy, simulating sex and popping a balloon between a man and a woman. After another quarter hour or more of frenzied dancing, the crowd began moving to re-assemble in front of the temple. The professional dancers stopped dancing and some old locals started dancing. Quite soon it was obvious that two of the dancers were possessed by Durga. One woman stuck out her tongue and kept it out non-stop for the better part of an hour. She blinked in time with the drumming, and spun slowly around, making deep eye contact with everybody there. Her eyes were WIDE open, big white circles like we see in “primitive” temple paintings.
One man held two burning logs pressed to his chest while he danced around, his eyes fluttering madly, his chest dripping with sweat and grease.
Three goats were tied near the temple gate: they were eating juicy leaves and colourful flowers which people were feeding to them. An old fellow went over and untied one of the goats and led it to a spot right outside of the temple where Durga could clearly see it. The dancers gestured to the drummers to pick up the pace, so the rhythm became frenzied fast. suddenly a man moved over to the goat and raised a half-meter-long curving blade and held it swaying and bobbing high over the goat’s head. He brought it down swiftly onto the animal’s neck, killing it instantly. The goat drifted down to the earth and lay motionless—no quivering nor jerking. The drummers burst into chaotic hammering away at the skins of their instruments. The dancers gyrated and flapped their arms. The woman with her tongue hanging out stared at the sacrificial beast and shook all over. A couple of men picked up the dead goat and wrapped it in a bright red cloth with a gold border. They held it up high in the air, showing the limp carcass to one and all, blood running down their arms. Then one of the trance dancers stepped up to the headless bloody animal and thrust his head under the cloth. The drummers resumed their pulsating beat; the entire crowd glued their eyes on the man under the red shroud. The rhythm grew faster and faster, until finally the man’s face re-appeared grimacing, eyes bulging, his tongue thrust out and downwards, dripping with blood. His whole face was lathered in blood. His face was matted with fresh red blood which flowed down his beard and all over his shirt. His eyes darted all about, his face a mask of wide white eyes and hideous red tongue. The two men who had been holding the goat carried the limp dead thing away behind the temple to a small bunch of people who began to remove its skin. Another fellow poured several liters of water over the blood-drinker’s head, cleansing all traces of the deed. Minutes later the ritual was repeated with another goat, another red shroud, another bloody face with its tongue obscenely extended, dripping with the stuff of life and death. Soon a chicken was brought out and the scene was repeated with chicken blood dripping from the mouth of the frenzied fellow whom Durga had possessed. Some of the guys directing the crowd cleared a path from the scene of the sacrifice out to the steps leading to the street. The headless chicken was quickly brought over, still wrapped in its red shroud, and released in the direction of the road. It flew a few meters, spewing blood from its neck, then ran around a few more seconds before falling to the ground, its wings fluttering and sputtering a bit more until it lay still in a heap, looking like common roadkill. By the time we looked back at the crowd, the last of the blood-drinkers had been cleaned up and the scene was innocence itself: just some drummers and dancers moving together in pulsating rhythm. The crowd’s energy quickly dispersed and many turned their backs on the scene and nonchalantly strolled towards their cars or other vehicles parked nearby. They had seen the Goddess in her hideous form, but now She was gone: time to get back to the mundane world.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

vacation report (more to follow)

we just got back from two weeks in kerala, on india's west coast. the state slogan is "god's own country" but i thought G-d lived EVERYwhere... well, things certainly is be-you-tifull in kerala....

we flew into kochi and went straight to *fort* kochi, a touristy region settled and built by dutch traders (18th century) and british colonialists (19th century) which has lots of colonial-era charm. there is a section of town unabashedly called "jew town" because many jews lived there for several centuries, before they all emigrated to israel. we took a little boat trip (see photo above) in the backwater region. slow and peaceful...

after five days of wandering around kochi, we went to the hill station called munnar, the center of india's tea industry and also the site of many herb farms and even wildlife parks. the mountains are magnificent, especially in contrast to the plains of bangalore and the flatlands of kochi.

our final five days of real vacation were basic beach relaxation, with plenty of sleeping and swimming in the warm ocean. the seafood in all the restaurants was amazing: fresh marlins, tuna, barricudas, etc which we could point to and say "gimme a slice of THAT one!".

and now i need to gird my spirits for a return to the "real world" of teaching math according a rigourous schedule, rather than swimming or hiking as the whim strikes me....