Blasting Into India

On my first day Here my colleague and friend Anuradha arrived and we jumped right into work. We prepared and headed out to film a Puja ceremony at her spiritual community's "Maath", a center for spiritual activities, events, education and ceremonies. The synchronous timing that the "swamiji" leader of their konkan community just happen to be here in Bangalore seems a positive omen for our efforts here. With the help of Anu's uncle I dressed in traditional garb, a white sarong and a white cloth over the shoulders. I felt quite at home and comfortable. I privately thought to my self, "Hmmm, should I join the priesthood? It seems so comfortable!" Then I remembered the rest of the renunciate stuff and quickly moved on to other thoughts.

Zipping along the busy streets in a very small car, Anu, Kishur (Anu's Uncle), Choti (her Aunt), The red bearded driver, and I bounced our way across town. While they discussed things in native tongue I seemed to be absorbed by hanging out the window snapping pictures like as if I were sampling treats from a dessert cart, hungry to dig in and enjoy! I felt the relaxed up-tempo rhythm of the city and contrasted it in my mind to the clatter of Chennai I had experienced a couple of years ago. 30 National Geographic pictures later we arrived.

After formally inquiring for permission to film the ceremony, I darted across the gender segregated room and I scouted out a sweet spot to set up my camera. Ahhh, found it. Being the only "white boy" there is now such a familiar feeling for me that I think even some of those I encounter in these situation hardly even notice... :-) well... maybe not. Any way it did seem to fall insignificant to myself in light of my ignorance of procedure and proper etiquette. Though once the ceremony began echos of Bali waft through my heart and a peaceful calm familiar feeling filled me. Here there was a group of people gathered to give offering to god, a spiritual commonality, a shared love to give and experience. This felt like home.

the next day we hired an "ambassador" and a driver then we were off to a little village a couple hundred kilometers from Bangalore named Belur, home of the Hoysla dynasty that built amazing temples in the 1100 & 1200 AD period. The Belur Temple is of particular interest to us as it was erected for a queen who was a dancer. Here are engravings that have many examples of the early use of Hasta Mudra in dance. This was a long and arguous drive... we were zonked when we got there and quikly got our rooms at the local Vishnu Regency, not a place to write home about.

The next morning as we arrived to the temple so did a small group of villagers there to perform a puja, prayer and meditate. They were eager for the temple gates to open, as if a group of teens waiting in line for an amusement park. Perhaps they knew they joys that awaited them? Through the morning and on into the day we filmed dance and sculptures as we learned about the temple. The inner sanctum was powerful to see and even more so when the doors were opened and the awesome ornate Vishnu was exposed. It was in the afternoon that Anu dressed for Dance and many of the locals and foreigners came to watch her thinking she was a Bollywood film star, so did I! :-)

We repated the day again the next day and started our return to Bangalore. Tick tick tick the clock ticked away fast as we filled our days with thoughts and discussions of mudras. We planned our days ahead and filled them with filming interviews with filming pujas, Interviewing priests, and interviewing famous classical Indian dancers and teachers. All to be connected with darting around the bust streets of Bangalore, a city i was growing to enjoy with each sweet smile, nod and eye to eye connection made.

The swamiji granted us an interview, off camera. He was kind and smooth. He sat with dignity as the leader of this community, clearly aware of his responsibility. to his side I noticed a small tupperware box full of chocolates. I liked him. He almost constantly figitted, but in a very slow methodical way. Tapping his hands to music from the other room or adjusting his robe, he was filled with constant motion and constant thought. The discussion went on in Konkanese and I only felt this full conversation and its content as it went by. I could tell he knew many many things and was reluctant to be in front of the camera for the expressed reason that he wanted to be prepared to really deliver his knowledge. Truly a fair thing being the leader of a community to care not to deliver information that could be misinterpreted. But I think he was also some what camera shy.

Next we returned to the Maath to interview of one of the swamiji's right hand men. A kind and knowledgable priest who spoke at length, in lecture style, about mudras. He was eloquent as he delivered his gems of wisdom for the camera as we sat on the roof terrace of the Maath. This first on camera interview felt right. With the buzzing bustle of ceremony and people below and traffic swirling just beyond the gates, we seemed to capture some peace and quiet as the sun was preparing to end it's long tall journey across the sky. I prayed that the upcoming interviews would go as well.

Tall and solid like the temple in Belur U.S. Krishna Rao greeted us at the door of his large home. He invited us in and we quickly went to his studio where I set up the camera to begin our interview. His wall was proudly coated with photos from his long career if Barata Natyam dance. He was a man set in his ways, down to the particular chair he sat in and it's placement. His hands were huge as they waved in front of the camera like a flag flying mudra symbols, one after another. This spoke to me of his years and years of experience he had collected since his arrival here on earth on the 31st day of December 1912. He watched Anu like a hawk after its prey, then after the interview, quickly like shooting and arrow, he said to her, "You know, you'd make a great Bharata Natyam Dancer." I thought to myself, "She is."

Maya Roa. Wow, what a woman! In her seventies and recently having cataract surgery, she offered us a gentle graceful woman who spoke with experience and passion. She calmly tells me, "Kathak Dance was my First Love." Her home was beautifully ornate in Hindu art. Including a Carving of Kali that aged somewhere over a thousand years. As I scan the room over I notice that the Shiva Nataraj is the highest places sculpture and know this is no mistake in the home of a seasoned classical Indian dancer. During the interview she softens and returns to a girlish demeanor when she speaks of having created her own language of hand gestures when she was young and returns to the calm strong woman as she notes that once she had learned to established use of mudras this ability disappeared. Without judgment, I thought about how this is common with many structured art forms and how they seem to take away the youthful nature of ad labidem... a binding form eliminating freedom.

With the filming of the temple in Belur, Ceremonies at the Maath, and these interview done and with Anu returning to Hyderabad I had time to reflect on the Blasting week i had just experienced. Knowing I would be alone in this highly structured society I cautiously planned my next move. I decide to head to Goa for some beachful rest and a place to work... praying for internet connectivity.

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