Inspired by the work and research of Jaina scholar-author Sudhamahi Regunathan, I decided to venture on creating new works on the theme, Anekanta, as an appropriate celebration of the 25 years of Natya Vriksha, the organisation I had founded and continue to run.
Anekanta’s mool-mantra is that there are multiple realities to every issue—cultural, political, social, and economic, and in fact, every aspect of life. It celebrates acceptance of multiple truths, embracing diversity and of universal acceptance. But the process of how an abstract philosophical concept is decoded into choreography is a fascinating process that I wish to share with readers.
After considerable thought, I decided to work with Alarippu as a vehicle to explore Anekanta. Usually, Alarippu is taken as a beginning dance number. But the idea of playing with Alarippu appealed to me.
So I choreographed the Tisram Alarippu in three variations, in terms of rhythmic distribution that were presented simultaneously by groups of dancers adhering to their own time cycle. The choreography involved a lot of walking, showing the pace and exposing how variations happen. It’s very thrilling when one moves from one kind of pace to another, yet it is within the framework of Tisra gati.
I then embraced the concept of Vyakta/Avyakta (what is said and what is not said, what is tangible and what is not). Taking the dichotomy inherent in the Saguna/Nirguna concepts that showcased form and formlessness, I pursued concepts such as illusion, mirage and being manipulated. The choreography was constructed on the inner and outer Dwandwa (conflicts real and imagined). These concepts were explored using a Mutthuswami Dikshitar composition providing a base to explore abstract ideas and situations.
The composition also believes that opposites co-exist. The opposites of beat and silence were created through a rhythmic phrase, which was attempted with very unequal yet mathematically perfect gaps or Karvais performed in variations.
In this section, I also explored a jathi/rhythmic syllable sequence recited in one pattern but visualised differently, sometimes with matching rhythms and sometimes with counter-rhythms. It did not sound confused, it just showcased the variety and possibility of multiple explorations.
Then I explored if music could be a vehicle for Anekanta. Through Grihabheda (Murchana in Hindustani musical tradition), the exploration was on how transposition of a single note changes the raga composition. When ‘sa’ gets pushed to ‘ri’, the ‘ri’ becomes ‘sa’, thus changing the entire progression, thereby giving birth to a new raga or melody.
Anekanta concluded with an Annamacharya composition, ‘Entamatra Muna’, which espouses that God appears in whatever form you wish Him/Her to appear. If you look to God as Vishnu, God is Vishnu. To Shaivites, God is Shiva. I juxtaposed it with a tale from Odia Mahabharata by Sarala Das, where the Pandava warrior Arjuna encounters a strange beast in forest.
The Navagunjara has the head of a rooster, and is balanced on three feet—of an elephant, tiger and deer—and the fourth limb is a raised human arm. The beast has the neck of a peacock, the hump of a bull, the waist of a lion, and the tail of a serpent. First bewildered, then afraid and finally ready to wage war on the unfamiliar beast, Arjuna suddenly realises that this strange amalgamation is none other than another form of Lord Vishnu and pays his obeisance to the Navagunjara. Arjuna learns that the truth has multiple forms.
The Tillana finale reiterated the optimism that multiple realities can indeed co-exist, and need to be cherished.