The dance of Vedanta

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Hamsa Venkat’s latest production, Sattva – The Speech of Silence,  is a unique tribute to a great spiritual teacher

Chinmayam Vyapi Yat Sarvam Trailokyam Sa Characharam
Tat Padam Darshitam Yena Tasmai Shri Gurave Namah

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2016 marks the centenary of a revolutionary individual. Spearheading a spiritual renaissance movement in post-Independence India, he inspired the inner transformation of millions through Vedanta or self-knowledge and in doing so, empowered them to explore their full potential. Unto Him, our best is the guiding philosophy of Swami Chinmayananda.

“Relevant to all people everywhere, whatever their religion or faith, the wisdom of Vedanta is not merely the core of Hindu philosophy but a universal science of life,” Swami Swaroopananda, Regional Head, Chinmaya Mission UK, Australia and Far East, told Indian Link.

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“The sole purpose of Swami Chinmayananda’s journey from Himalayas down to the plains was to serve humanity and share this knowledge with the masses so that every person had the opportunity to learn and practise the Vedanta philosophy (Bhagavad Gita, Upanishad etc) which had hitherto not been taught openly and certainly not in English, thereby enabling each to become a positive contributor to society,” he explained.

Swami Chinmayananda’s extraordinary life and lasting contribution was celebrated through a stage production entitled Sattva – Speech of Silence at UNSW Science Theatre.

Conceived and choreographed by Chinmaya Mission Australia and the Samskriti School of Dance, this is the first time Gurudev’s legacy has been portrayed through Bharatanatyam.

“Working closely with Swami Swaroopananda and Prarthna Bhuta, my greatest challenge was how to present a man who has been seen, heard and known personally by most people sitting in the audience without falling short of everyone’s expectations,” Hamsa noted. “So I decided instead, to present his spirit and soul through my lead male dancer Govind Pillai. Being a sensitive individual with a great passion for the artform, Govind immediately understood what I wanted.”

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Reaching out to the audience with a powerful narrative that was deeply entrenched in Mission ideals and philosophical values, Sattva – Speech of Silence represented a brilliant amalgamation of bhakti and bhaava, seamlessly incorporating both aesthetic and athletic for a contemporary interpretation of a timeless tale.

Like the meandering river, full of twists, turns and transformations, Gurudev’s life not only offered Hamsa and Govind infinite scope for creativity but a deluge of inspiring ideas as well.

Presented in six acts (Jananam, Archanam, Vandanam, Smaranam, Kirtanam and Atma Nivedhanam), Sattva explored the transformative odyssey of young Balan as he traversed the mystical journey of life. From an inquisitive youngster to Uttama Adhikari, whose insatiable thirst for learning eventually led him to become an inspired activist, luminary and Guru, this eventful tale was narrated by mother-daughter duo Hamsa and Vishaka, giving it a contemporary relevance, with the interactive multimedia format adding depth and dimension.

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Just as day and night constitute an inseparable harmonious whole, music is the intrinsic to every great Bharatanatyam performance. The orchestral support provided by Namrata Pulapaka and Sanjay Ramaswamy (vocal), Kranthikiran Mudigonda (violin), Janakan Suthanthiraraj (mrudangam), Sumukha Jagadeesh (tabla) and Mohan Ayyar (synthesizer) offered the perfect canvas for the talented Samskriti dancers to perform on.

Mobilising our attention with pristine chants of ‘Shanthakaaram Bhujaga Sayanam’, the dance drama celebrated the all-pervasive realm of formless, boundless and infinite, wherein life forms emanate. Bhagavad Gita, the revered Hindu text that Swami Chinmayananda made accessible throughout the world, constituted a recurring aspect of the performance.

The centrepiece, Smaranam (composed specially by Swami Aparokshananda of Melbourne Mission and set to music by Mohan Ayyar) depicting the transition of Balakrishna Menon to Swami Chinmayananda was thus a fitting tribute. Likewise the memorable lotus formation of the finale, saluting the Chinmaya Roopam was etched in our minds, with the refrain ‘Hari Om Mama Swami’ echoing in our hearts long after the curtains came down.

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“An amazing artwork, not only did Sattva – Speech of Silence depict all aspects of Gurudev’s life accurately and vibrantly, Hamsa Venkat’s choice of music, palette of colours and use of multimedia, just made all our minds glued to the performance,” Swami Swaroopananda added.

“All the dancers performed well. Sri Govind Pillai in particular, was brilliant and I felt that the audience including myself was able to resonate emotionally with the story through his bhava. It appeared as though he was connected to Gurudev Himself during his movements of the dance.”

“Hamsa very cleverly integrated Gurudev’s teachings, the mission pledge and purpose effectively through the dances. She showed how much Gurudev served the community by creating classes for all ages, conducting Gnana Yagnas (public talks) 365 days of the year, travelling from country to country to share this Knowledge of Vedanta. Hamsa showed that Gurudev’s vision covered not just the present age but for many centuries to come. It was a precious event. Let us bask in the joy and enthusiasm of these young people, who carry the torch of Sanatana Dharma into the future,” he acknowledged in appreciation.