Monday, January 24, 2005

(D) October 12, 2003 - A Star is Born

SITTING on the floor mat in the cool, semi-open-air hall, I observed the members of the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA), Kuala Lumpur, with intrigue and interest.

It was the eighth day of Navarathri (literally meaning “nine nights”) and there I was catching a glimpse of one of their most important festivals, together with members from Malaysia, Singapore and India.

Starting Sept 27 (till Oct 5), they had been worshipping Devi in the form of three divine aspects. Durga (goddess of strength and courage) presided over the first three days, Lakshmi (wealth and prosperity), the second three, and Saraswathi (learning and speech), the last three.

That night, the children paid tribute to their gurus, both present and past, with a surprise item titled A Star is Born.

The simple production was a performance within a performance. It depicted how the TFA members have made performing arts very much a part of their lives. Their love for dance, theatre and music, their turning to God in regular prayer, and their respect for teachers and elders have clearly been embedded in the young as they showed their gratitude and appreciation in a most meaningful show.

The item began with the graceful entrance of the Apsaras, who showered the crowd with rose petals and (holy) water. Apsaras were believed to be lesser goddesses renowned for their beauty. Their duty was to dance for the higher gods. These heavenly nymphs were inspiration for love and possessed extraordinary seductive powers.

The Apsaras proceeded to display their beauty with an enchanting free-style Odissi dance cleverly worked into the drama. The audience was undoubtedly captivated by their elegance. The dance, which left Odissi teacher Geetha Lam beaming with pride, revealed the coming of age of 24-year-old choreographer cum dancer Chinmayee Thiagarajan, who is based in Madras.

The story revolved around the growth of a student dancer. The uninspired, frustrated and clumsy youth turned to the gods in prayer for help to improve. The Apsaras heard her cries and came to inspire and guide her during practice sessions. She made great improvements and was selected to be the lead in a production entitled Dharma Ashoka (a story about the most famous Buddhist king). Before the show began, the cast lit oil lamps and chanted prayers to pay obeisance to the gods and the stage. When the show started, the dancers became instruments of the gods as they were guided to move and communicate their story.

The dance drama was reminiscent of Gopal Shetty, the late creative leader of TFA and a symbol of Indian classical dance to many Malaysians. He died in April 1990 at the age of 59, but his soul and spirit continue to dance, resurrected in the bodies of TFA’s children as they now call upon him (during practices and performances) for guidance and blessings.

The performance ended with the entire cast getting down from the stage and standing in line to kiss the feet of their mahaguru, the visiting Swami Shantanand Saraswathi (Swamiji), founder of TFA International. It was a teary moment for the community as he blessed Chinmayee, praised her for being a shining example, and declared that, “... a star is born.”

I remember the hopeful look on the face of a young mother sitting near me, as she gazed approvingly at her two-year-old daughter. The child had moved instinctively to the sweet and hypnotic bhajan sung by Hardev Kaur earlier on. For TFA, each child is a “star” who will become a teacher one day, carrying with her the responsibility of nurturing the next generation.


Ayshu said...

That was a nice blog reg TFA production. TFAI is known for its various production shows like Ramayana, TajMahal and many more...
and being the student of TFA i get immense pleasure in reading every article i get related to our TFA activites and our Gurus...

Sneha Acharya said...

I jus happened to be in this blog thru the link sent by my frnd 'Ayshu'. The post you have put on Geetha Akka and Chinmayee is really good and is surely an encouragive one for Chinnu (thts the way we call her). Chinnu is my dearest friend and I have seen by being her for almost 6 years the urge she had for odissi and inspiration she has on Geetha Akka. Infact we both used to dream together on becoming a good dancers of odissi. But since i have to engage my self in setting up a family .. she managed to do it. I am really happy on ur post regarding my frnd. :-)