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Celebrate Gently

Celebrate Gently

Last year, on the sixth day of Ganapati Mahotsav, a truck carrying an idol was proceeding towards immersion. The reveling children and adults were dancing to loud music and throwing gulal (red colour) on passers-by. As this writer overtook the truck in his car, some of the ecstatic celebrators tossed some colour, which landed on his windshield, blocking the view partially. Fortunately, it covered only the passenger side of the windshield. If the colour would’ve landed on the driver’s side, it could’ve led to a disaster on the road, risking the lives of pedestrians and of passengers in other vehicles.

Every year the twin cities of Thane and Mumbai celebrate Lord Ganesha’s birthday with vigour. Millions are spent on extravagant pandals, ornate idols complete with themes and contests marking the ten-day festival. Immersions too are grand affairs with devotees dancing all the way to tunes produced by a combination of large drums, banjo, keyboard and other musical instruments. With so much show of devotion, the Lord of Prosperity would be pleased with Mumbai devotees. So what if in the process of celebrating, the devotees cause irreversible damage to His creation? So what if they disturb the peace of their neighbourhood, cause traffic obstructions and create impediments for ordinary passers-by who are trying to reach home after a hard day’s work? These are trivialities that the Lord will obviously overlook. Or will He?

The world over, and especially in India, people spend a lot of energy in trying to please God by celebrating religious festivals lavishly. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong in celebrating per se, even celebrating lavishly. It is only when these celebrations take on a competitive nature, with everyone vying to please God that the problems begin. It does not require a high level of IQ to understand that you cannot bribe your way through to earn the blessings of the almighty, the Creator, the omnipotent. Bigger idols and brighter colours are often made from substances that pollute the environment and harm Mother Nature, which God created with such love.

Loud music creates noise pollution that has been found to be harmful to humans in the long run. And nothing, not even celebration of the Lord’s birthday, justifies the inconvenience that all this causes to millions of residents, both believers and non-believers.

It strikes one as ironical that devotees create impediments for others in the name of the very God who is known as the "Remover of Impediments." Such is the inconsideration displayed by some of the devotees of the Lord that they need Supreme Court rulings to prevent them from blasting music after 10 pm, so that senior citizens and those suffering from high BP can get sound sleep. Come to think of it, it must have been Lord Ganesha who, in the guise of the Supreme Court judges, gave the 10 pm ruling, in order to protect His other devotees – the ones who express their gratitude silently – while the noisy devotees indulge in reckless extravagance to earn brownie points.

Let’s take a pledge this year to be more considerate towards God’s creations – both Mother Nature and Her people. We can do so by acquiring only idols made of clay, keeping noise pollution in check, by immersing the idols at home in a bucket of water, and by celebrating Lord Ganesha’s birthday in the spirit of love for all humanity. Let’s pray for greater peace in the world and seek His blessings for a better world.

Dance Stance

Dance Stance

Pandit Birju Maharaj, the most distinguished Kathak Dancer of our times, and the recipient of Padma Vibhushan award, was in Thane’s Gadkari Rangayatan Auditorium last week to participate in Gopikrishna Sangeet Mahotsav. While on stage, he recounted a rather funny but meaningful episode that occurred during a performance tour in Russia.

Just a day before the performance was scheduled, the Pakhawaj master who was to accompany Birju Maharaj in the show, realized that he has forgotten to carry atta (wheat flour) required for treating the Pakhawaj. For the uninitiated, the Pakhawaj is an important drumming instrument that accompanies Kathak. The Pakhawaj, known as the king of Indian drums, produces an extraordinarily rich resonance. This powerful reverberation is a result of a flat cake of whole-wheat dough, which has to be prepared fresh for each playing before it is loaded on to the drum-skin.

Coming back to the Performance in Russia, Birju Maharaj and the Pakhawaj player knew that they had to get hold of wheat flour for the show to go on. So they set out to find it in the foreign country. They visited a local bakery but found it extremely difficult to communicate the exact nature of their need as they could not speak Russian and the Bake Man did not understand English.

When verbal attempts failed, Birju Maharaj turned to his Kathak Skills, using his hand movements to convey what was needed. After managing to gesticulate "bread" and the "dough" that goes into making it, Birju Maharaj finally succeeded in putting across his need of wheat-flour, which the bake-man delivered to the artists so that they could go on with their show.

"Dance is the hidden language of the soul", said Martha Graham. We may add that it is also a language that souls of all nationalities can understand.

A Rhythmic Challenge
While on the subject of Kathak as an art form, a mention must be made of Mrs. Manjiri Deo, a well-known personality in the field of Kathak Dance. About 25 years ago, this disciple of Padmashree Nataraj Gopikrishna, founded Shri Ganesh Nritya Kala Mandir in Thane to teach Kathak dancing. Then, a few years ago, she came across Netrali Bhide, a deaf and dumb girl from Thane, who wanted to be her student.

Mrs. Deo took up the challenge of teaching Kathak to Netrali. "I knew it was going to be difficult to teach someone who can’t hear. But I was also aware that Kathak depends on the technique of abhinay (miming). Now, suppose a dancer, unaided by music, were to keep his eye on any person or object (for e.g. movement of the drumsticks) which was marking dancing-time to his/her sight, then he or she could definitely dance to it," states Mrs. Deo enthusiastically.

Although Netrali had previously performed in dance and ballet shows, that was with other handicapped students. Acquiring a degree in Kathak was altogether a different matter. But with Netrali determined to master Kathak, Mrs. Deo put her heart and soul into this challenge. Netrali’s parents too were quite supportive of their child, which according to Mrs. Deo was extremely important.

"The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination", said Tommy Lasorda, one of the greatest Baseball managers of the United States. Last year, at the age of 20, after years of meticulous practice, Netrali went on to become the first and only Deaf and Dumb girl in India to obtain a Visharad in Kathak. Her determination has certainly paid off.