Monday, August 17, 2009

Dancing for Jagannath....

I had the sublime pleasure of attending a performance of Rahul Acharya last night at the Integral Yoga Institute Princeton.

Rahul is an extremely gifted and renowned Odissi dancer from India. Although difficult to bring such an intricate performance to life through a description, I really wanted to share this experience with you and tell you a little about the extremely fascinating history of this dance.

Odissi dance is a sacred Indian classical dance from the eastern state of Odissa.
The origins are linked with the culture of Devadasis (or dancing girls) and can be traced back for more than 2,000 years. Following this tradition these dances were performed by Maharis, virgin women dedicating their lives to Lord Jagannath, and only danced for him within the Jagannath temple in Odissi. (Boys dressed as girls or "Gotipua" could perform these story-telling dances outside the temple for the public at festivals.) Unfortunately, during colonial period Odissi dance was banned, the Maharis labeled as prostitutes, and this sacred dance form nearly lost. Modern Odissi dances are now reconstructions.

There is so much to the rich history of this dance, I am sure I would need more than a blog, and more than my unreliable memory to do it justice! If you would like to dig deeper, I would recommend searching online on the numerous cultural Indian sites.

As to the performance last night, it was amazing. I am not even going attempt a description. Rahul is deeply devoted to the diety Jagannath and while he dances it is a kind of transcendental experience for both performer and audience. He truly lives his art in each pose, gesture, and facial expression. Here is a video I found on youtube of Rahul. One of many! My only complaint is that you cannot see the intricate mudras (hand gestures) and his facial expressions which are tied deeply into the poetic and story-telling aspect of the dance. For those who have the time to watch the full video, I recommend you do so ! He does this amazingly difficult pose at the end (around the 8 minute mark) which is stunning! You will know it when you see it!

I hope you enjoy his performance as much as I did.

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