For the Hindus, nature is sacred, it is a manifestation of the Almighty that permeates all things—animate and inanimate.

This ancient wisdom could not be more relevant today as human greed and foolishness desecrates all that is essential for the sustenance of life.

In fact our age-old traditions did not merely treat our resources, particularly our rivers as lifelines but as the very embodiment of life, a truth we would do well to remember today.

Last Friday’s Bharatanatyam presentation “Stories of our Sacred Rivers”, by noted exponent Marie Elangovan and her troupe at the Bharatiya Kala Utsav festival organised by Shanmukhananda Sangeetha Sabha (New Delhi) and Shri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha (Chennai), at Andhra Pradesh Bhawan, was a timely wake up call for the immediate need to preserve and rejuvenate our great and ancient rivers.

The waters that have fed our civilisation, traversing the vastness of our motherland, have not only nurtured life but have preserved the very fabric of Indian culture. Like the innumerable tributaries that fan out of these mighty water bodies, there have been as many legends and lores that these waters have inspired through the ages. Many a kingdoms rose and fell on their banks, many a Gods, Godesses, great men and women walked by their meandering paths, leaving their impressions in stories full of colour and wonder that were expertly picked and presented at the Friday recital.

The evening opened with all dancers led by Marie Elangovan taking to the stage for Niranjali, a choreography that portrays the flow of water as it streams and leaps and swirls on its journey from the mountains to the Ocean. Niranjali is a unique choreography by Marie, exploring various movements while keeping the hastas limited to just two gestures—katakamukha and alapadma. It is composed by G. Elangovan.

The presentation had two soulful bhajans associated with Lord Krishna of whom legends abound with tales of his serenades with Gopis on the banks of the Yamuna. “Chalo Man Ganga Yamuna Teer” describes the form of the charming Krishna and has Meera bai, as the narrator, beseech her friends to go to the banks where the mighty Ganga and Yamuna meet where they may behold the beautiful Lord. The other bhajan, “Jamuna Kinare” vividly described the Gajendra Moksha episode.

The Swaranjali, composed by Elangovan Govindarajan and choreographed by Marie Elangovan, was again reminiscent of the flow and rhythm of water —the dance unfolds like a tapestry of enchanting movements and ends with a jugalbandhi.

The traditional Bho Shambho was also presented. This piece eulogises Lord Shiva who brought the Ganga down to the Earth from her heavenly abode. It describes Bhagiratha’s penance, pleased by which Brahma, the Creator, commands Ganga to descend upon the Earth and subsume the ashes of Bhagiratha’s ancestors, thus redeeming their souls. The Earth could never bear the violence of the great river, which is when Shiva gathered the waters in his matted locks to soften Ganga’s journey from the heavens. 

The centre-piece of the evening was a choreography that shined a spotlight on the havoc unleashed on nature by man and his unscrupulous, exploitative activities. In “Nadiye”, after establishing nature in its pristine form, the dancers switched between scenes describing the ravages of deforestation, industrial pollution, global warming, melting of glaciers, large-scale flooding and droughts, ending on a grim note as the audience observed the real-life, current disasters afflicting various parts of the globe, unfold on stage before them.

The centrepiece “Nadiye” was choreographed by Marie and composed by G. Elangovan at the request of the WHO and was shown at the 14th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland.

The last piece was a Tillana composed by G. Elangovan in Ragam Amritavarshini and in Adi Talam. The sahityam of the Tillana, choreographed by Marie, described the condition of the Ganga and the urgent need to preserve it for our future. The Tillana ended on an appeal to all to join in the effort to clean and restore the great Indian rivers.

After all, whether we call our land India or Bharat, one name finds its origin in the mighty river Indus and the other has many a theory explaining it, but what is undisputed is that Bharat refers to  “the land with natural borders”. The majestic mountains in the north and the seas surging in the south cradle the land that we call India or Bharat. The abode of snow or Himalayas, the cascades, the gurgling streams that issue from this magnificent range and meander through the fertile northern plains into the yawning Bay of Bengal are all different manifestations of the same elixir of life—water.

“Stories of Sacred Rivers” makes us reflect on why “sacred” precedes our rivers, which we have come to think of only as a natural resource, something that serves humans rather than something that deserves veneration. Indeed, by this altered perspective, we have caused the most damage to our own selves.

(The dancers for “Stories of our Sacred Rivers” were Bharatanatyam exponent Marie Elangovan and her disciples: Anuradha Vellat, Dipavali Hazra, Rajeshwari Sankar and Ramyya Kannan.

Live orchestra support was by noted musicians Elangovan Govindarajan on nattuvangam and vocals, M.V. Chandershekar on the mridangam and Raghuraman Govindarajan on the flute.)

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