Nritya Parva – annual Sattriya Dance Festival


The following piece on the festival by yours truly was carried in a national daily – please click the link –


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Dangs of Gujarat




Dang dance is performed by Dangi tribe of Dang region of Gujarat. This dance is usually performed during Holi and other festivals, also at fairs, ceremonies and rituals connected to worship. It is quite swift, vigorous and highly rhythmic. Musical instruments used are percussive Kahaiya and Dholki  besides short shehnai. Men and women stand alternately in a circular form and dance by going round and round, creating various choreographic patterns. They may have their arms around the shoulders or waists of the neighboring dancer. The movement builds gradually and reaches a fast tempo before winding to a halt. The women climb on the shoulders of men and form a human pyramid. The two and three tier formation moves clockwise and anti clockwise.


The Dangs live in the rocky, hilly forests of western central India. They are primarily located in the Dangs district of Gujarat State.

They have always lived close to nature, depending on it for survival. Animals are respected and treated as equals. For this reason, they are often called the “children of nature.” The Dangs district contains many protected forests that the Dangs are allowed to use for cultivation and residence. They live in one-room bamboo huts made with thatched roofs.

Despite their poverty, the Dangs enjoy singing and dancing. The villagers are skilled in creating objects out of stone, wood, and clay. Hindu artisans often help them with such crafts. Tattooing has also become an art among the Dangs.

The majority of the Dangs practice ethnic religions, and all of them are involved in ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors). Their lives revolve around rites, rituals and folk beliefs. Many are animists, believing that all objects have spirits. Trees, animals, demons, serpents, and spirits are worshiped through magical rituals. Wagh-Dev, the tiger god, is their sacred animal god and their emblem of worship.

The Dangs believe in magic, witchcraft, and sorcery, along with their many tribal gods and Hindu deities. They believe that the supernatural world contains both good and evil. Their constant fear of the spirits keeps them revolving around a circle of prayers, rituals, offerings, and sacrifices. The Bhagat (priest and medicine man) is thought to be the ultimate “good man.” He is believed to be a spiritual man who communicates with the gods. He is considered a friend, a philosopher, a guide, and a healer.




Sex in stone

Well, if you think we have ‘evolved’ in our innovative ways in the centuries past, going by the carvings in stone, the answer is a big ‘No’. I have left out documenting scenes of gingerly orgies, perhaps personal taste unconsciously played out in that omission. The temples in Odisha seem to have been lot more ‘liberal’ than the ones in rest of India. I wonder if the proximity to Khajuraho had its influence here, as the temples in both places built around the same period. Most of the temple sculptures consist of erotic, music and dance in nature giving the impression that it must have been one party-town! At large, the niches on the walls alternate between eroticism, musicians and dancers. No wonder the most sensuous of the Indian classical dance form Odissi has its origin here !

In general, the artists and sculptors seem to have had lot more freedom to express themselves though the administration in those days was primarily under the ruler of the province. There is even an inscription belong to circa 10 CE of the famous king Rajaraja in Thanjavur that says only the administrators are reportable to the court whereas the sculptors have full freedom to express their art. After all, how many gods and animals the sculptors could think of chiseling in, as they needed variety in subject. It is said the reason behind finding such bold and blatant erotic sculptures in the outer walls of Indian temples is that the pleasure-stage has to be ‘passed’ before we ‘reach’ higher-consciousness that is in the form of a deity at the sanctum. And on the ground, after satiating this strong and powerful force of nature, through self-inquiry, one is expected to reach the higher plane. Kamasutra by Vatsayana too written with similar views on life. This perspective is in tune with the four entities, Dharma (duty/righteous living) Artha (wealth) Kama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation), that Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) prescribes for a common man. These stages help mellow gradually, as not everyone is blessed with ‘sudden-enlightenment’. Whatever be the reason, the sculptures certainly evoke curiosity and interest and draw tons of tourists to these temples. Let alone the text Kamasutra, nothing in comparison did ever exist to these ‘open sex manual’ anywhere else on this planet.

From being so liberal, how did India become conservative? I recall watching a documentary on Africa where the local black women express a confused-look at topless European women on the African beach, and the narrator goes ‘ these women must be thinking when they were ‘topless’, the colonial occupants covered them up in the process of civilizing, and now their colonial descendants come over here and look ‘uncivilized”. Many of the famous Chola bronzes of the 10 CE are topless. So the colonists in India too must have had a role in bringing about a conservative mind-set. Prior to that, the burka-clad Islāmic invaders enforced their fuddy-duddy ways and many Hindu Indian women started to cover to save themselves from invading rapists and kidnappers whose idea was to expand their faith numbers.It is said this is the reason behind the practice of women covering their face today, particularly on the western front states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan as through these regions Islam forced itself into India. These are indicative of an open society that changed with Islāmic invasion followed by Victorian/colonial values from the West.


Women in Rajasthan today

Fes Festival of World Sacred Music 2015


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await queen’s arrival

‘India, Ah..Shahrukh Khan..Chennai Express’, a greeting that starts with an inquisitive frown but ends in gratifying smile, was what I repeatedly heard from the time I touched down on Moroccan soil. It made me realise that going from the land of Bollywood has an endearing factor in certain places. I was in Fes, also called Fez, for the 21st edition of the well-known World Sacred Music Festival, a festival that set the tone for many across the world under the same tag.

Founded in 1994, the festival has enjoyed growing success year after year. In 2001, the UN designated this as a major event for promoting cultural dialogue through music. It is only apt that it is held in a city that is in the distinguished list of UNESCO world Heritage Sites. For nine days every year, the sacred sounds from various cultures across the world, comprising hundreds of musicians from over 25 countries featured in about 50 concerts, would radiate from numerous venues in the city.

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The drive from the airport dotted with trees was indicative I was in olive country. After the ritual of unpacking in the riad, a traditional home turned guesthouse, I headed out through the mind-boggling narrow, winding alleyways of old medina (city), that felt like a work of Aladdin’s genie. I was on time-travel, literally walking through 1300 years of Moroccan heritage that lined with shops selling anything from camel meat to ceramics, olives, handicrafts to carpets. Amid children playing in the lanes, throng of traditionally dressed people, donkeys and mules with their loads threaded down Tala Kebira, the main thoroughfare of Fes.

Gasping for air, I finally made it to Bab Al Makina, a large open-air square and part of the Royal Palace, the venue for the opening evening. The security was tight as Princess Lalla Salma was going to chair the festival opening. Once the capacity crowd gave their respects to HER MAJESTY, the spectacle unfolded on stage with the artists and on the ochre walls of the Makina with projected images using innovative multimedia technology. Scores of artists for the evening came from various African countries, in keeping with this year’s theme of paying tribute to Africa and celebrating the travels and works of couple of Moroccan icons of the past centuries, whose journeys shaped the historical relations between Fes, Andalusia and Africa. The audience in thousands were in rapture all through the evening as they were taken on a similar journey to the sites and landscapes that charmed these two explorers of the past, with the aid of music and dance melding in an exciting series of tableaux. Though it was a bit nippy evening, the grand inauguration not only provided the warmth but a clear indication of what was to follow in rest of the festival days.

the famous blue gate

the famous blue gate



Batha museum evenings



While the top acts and the ones with local patronage were hosted at Bab Al Makina, afternoon concerts were at Batha Museum, a former palace, under the cascading foliage of a Barbary oak with a dense garden as the backdrop. The shows here included Kurdish to Scottish and Flamenco to Malian and more. India’s Debashish Battacharya playing with Ballake Sissoko, a Kora player from Mali, showcased the ragas flow from the banks of the Ganga to River Niger. The museum was also the venue for the forum that took place over five mornings, where the intellectuals dissected subjects such as Spiritual paths and trade routes, Linguistic pluralism and other contemporary challenges pertain to Africa.


dar adiyel


Sufi nights




Then there were couple more venues where ‘Night in the Medina’ shows held – Dar Adiyel, an 18th century residence for the Governor of Fes, and Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural complex. These places were signposted in the medina for easier access, but there were no reverse signs to get out which made some get lost in the maze. ‘The more you lose your way in the medina, the more you discover’ is the popular comfort-saying there. But it shouldn’t deter anyone as help is always lurking in the form of young kids in the corners, who are constantly looking for ‘lost souls’ to bring them out for a small price.


Bhagavata Mela

Mellatur Bhagavata Mela troupe gave the audience an introduction to this 500 year old dance theatre art form by performing for the first time outside India. While the informed ones and the Indophiles were in subliminal state, a lady from France walked up to me and said ‘I have seen better shows on my travels in India’. It is probably not fair to expect the electric atmosphere of the Melattur agraharam when the team is trimmed to a bare minimum for factors demanded in international tours. A packed Bab Makina saw an Arabo-Andalous melodic evening on the penultimate day but the much loved Hussain Al Jassmi of UAE brought on a high-octane finish to the festival with the young and old among more-than-capacity-crowd were on their feet all through the show.

Free fringe concerts happened at the magnificent public square called Boujloud square that attracted 50,000+ in an evening; Sufi Nights were held at Dar Tazi gardens. These shows were big draw for the locals who came in large numbers after their day chores were done with.

Weather can be variable in Fes and it is better to pack layers, something water-proof and a sun-hat. Getting to the venues is always on foot. Since there is no afternoon shows on festival Wednesday, it is the best time to take a day-trip of your choice out of Fes. It is better not to get to the festival expecting all ‘sacred’ as the artistic director Alain Webber said ‘well, I need to mix in a bit of commercial acts in order to make the festival viable’. For vegetarians, enough options on the menu and there is even a veg-riad. Being an Islamic country, dress code is in place though I saw western jeans and veil walked together.

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medina ways


As you walk through the medina, you plunge into the sights and sounds – traditional industries such as soap-making, flour-mills, tanneries, textile weaving, metal ware; bollywood songs meld seamlessly with Reggae and local Gnawa strains. Fes is famous for artfully painted ceramics, rugs and carpets hand-made by women in the Atlas mountain, spices, jewellery, leather goods, antiques, dry fruits and so on. Century old madrassas, mosques, Andalusian architecture, museums are all within the medina gates. And no one leaves Fes having not climbed the tanneries’ terraces despite the stench! Fes merits a visit on its own right for its historical and magical charm, but a combined trip during the festival would be a visual and aural treat.


Festival site –
Info –

FOR MORE PICTURES, Please visit my Dropbox below  –

A report on the festival by yours truly was carried by the national daily – Please click  the link below –


Pandarpur – a kinda ‘Woodstock feel’ in India….

…. intimacy, yes, with higher consciousness and not between man and woman…get ‘high’, yes, through music and not by getting ‘stoned’……..

Ashada Ekadesi, the most auspicious time in Pandarpur is round the corner (July 19th) and here is a blast-from-the-past –

In the early 1980s I lived in Bombay. On my way to Chembur rail-road to catch train to work, a catchy chorus music would emerge out of an obscure street-side temple. The musicians inside would be in their typical but soiled-white Maharashtrian outfit of dhoti, shirt and Nehru cap that reflected their simplicity, soaked in poverty. This was my first exposure to this genre of music – Abhang !

Since then, an Abhang cassette tape of the Bollywood singing diva Lata Mangeshkar travelled with me to the shores I went. On my return to the roots, I went back to what is now called Mumbai and also to Chembur to rediscover Abhang but with no success. As it is not Bombay of the 1980s anymore, I reconciled to ‘Mumbai’ and returned home to the city of Chennai down south, just with a couple of Abhang CDs in the bag.

Voila ! an ‘Abhangmela’ right near my house, within a month of return, something that a Maharashtrian city could not offer when looked.  Taking in the mela music for a week, the spirit stirred for the ‘real’ – the place is Pandarpur and the time is Ashada ! Off I went through a divine design, which I would rather not get into here, but following is what unfolded –


Abhang at one


Abhang at another while ladies blissfully make roti with music as backdrop


on the banks of holy Chandrabhaga river


music on the street….and everywhere


vermilion seller

following is a piece by yours truly, published in the Hawaiian based publication –

here’re a couple of abhang audios – by the legendary Bhimsen Joshi and the diva Lata Mangeshkar –

World Sufi Spirit Festival

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Jaswant Thada mornings


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Mataji temple dances

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Mataji Temple dances


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Rajasthani bagpipe

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Nile musicians

Please click below for video clips –

the above, at a different angle –

And please click below for an article on the festival by yours truly in an India’s national daily –

note : the paragraph that starts with ‘Zenana Deodi courtyard’ and the one that follows are to be read together, as the editor was at fault in splitting it at a wrong place


Siva-Rathri and Beyond..

The night Lord Siva, the only formless god in the hindu pantheon, revealed his true nature in the form of light to rest of the gods is celebrated every year as ‘Siva Rathri’, rathri meaning night in Sanskrit. People keep all night vigil at the Siva temples everywhere, singing Bhajans (devotional songs) and observing the rituals performed by the temple priests. The following is an account that is a few years old –

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Lord of dance





After a blissful Siva-Rathri at the backdrop of ‘Natyanjali’ (offerings through dance to the Lord of Dance who is Siva – His dance creates, sustains and dissolves the universe in endless cycles) festival at the Chidambaram temple, I set off to explore beyond the periphery of the Dikshidhars, the priestly community found only in Chidambaram.

There are 2 neglected ‘padal-petra sthalams’ (hymns by saints here) at Sivapuri, hardly 10 kms away and an auto would gladly take you there, through the dirt-road. First being Uchinatha Swami, who is said to have fed 60,000 guests on their way to Sambandhar’s wedding at Achalpuram, a small lingum (symbol of the divine) housed in a compact temple at Thrunelvayil and the second temple being Paalvannanathar at Thrukazipavai, only an aavudaiyar (yoni part). And both these are privately managed by the same family. The priest with his twirling moustache requested money for oil and claimed that the lord gets his light only with the help of occasional visitors like me- granted ! This temple is known more for the Bairavar (an offshoot of Siva-energy) in charge as he wields more power than the presiding deity. I was told by the priest, as stated by Paramacharyal of Kanchi that similar Bairavar was found only in Kasi (Banaras), with no dog accompanying him.

Next up,Thiruvetkalam, also Thevaram (hymns on Siva) featured, near Annamalai University. The lord here is called Pasupatheswarar and the temple is well maintained, thanks to the Chettiar community. After a brief stop at UmapathiSivachariar (the ostracized Dikshidhar) mutt (hermitage/monastery) at Chidambaram, reached the outskirts to have a dharshan (look) at Anantheswarar, established by none other than the Yoga-founder sage Pathanjali himself – again a neglected temple.


Sambandhar house

On to Sirgazi, and no better place to start than the birth place of the divine-child, Sambandar. A Patashala( a school of Veda) is in place in a renovated building, which is owned by the Kanchi mutt. A second batch is at study while in the graduated first, I was told, two students found their way to overseas employment – so it’s not just IT, veda-studies pave way to become an NRI too ! If you get here, make sure to take a look at the old structure clipping, published in The Hindu, hung on the wall of Sambandar’s birth-room. A visit here is a must for those who are bitten by the beauty of Thevaaram hymns, as it stirs something deep to touch that holy-soil !



Now comes the one that might make this write-up worthy. Hardly a km away from Sirgazi is Thirkollaka, Sambandar’s second stop on his father’s shoulders and
the location for his second Pathigam ( a set of 10 songs,generally). On entering the temple, the baby started singing by clapping his hands and Siva took pity and offered a pair of golden cymbals to save the tender hands from getting blisters. But the cymbals of gold didn’t make the right resonance and that’s where ‘Osai-Kodutha Nayaki’ (goddess who gave the sound), the goddess at this place pitched in. The priest’s interpretation here was that lord Siva was gracious enough to make Ambaal (goddess) worthy of higher worship at this temple. So, the goddess here has given ‘voice’ to 119 mute-children since 1979 that includes a Muslim child and the priest is keeping a log and told me one of them spoke right in the sanidhi (sanctum) and in his presence. Please pass the word if you happen to know anyone needs divine-help on this front. Just an ‘archana‘ (offering) plate and a honey bottle are all is required and of course, deep-faith!! To top it, the Ambaal here is simply gorgeous ! Again, thankfully, a Chettiar managed temple.


Thirupungur Nandhi




the pond

3 Kms from Vaideswarankoil is Thrupungur, the place where Nandhi (Siva’s Bull) made way for the ‘untouchable’ Nandhanar to have a look at his Lord. A dirt road led me to the temple which looked desolate on entering. The priest was all at leisure at the front gate in this reasonably large temple. The ‘out-of-place’ Nandhi was in his glistening majesty. Siva was in darkness, as the priest had ‘forsaken’ him too ! I walked around the temple to its back, through the bushes and one-time Agraharam (living quarters of the Brahmin community) to take a look at the pond, dug-up by Sivaganas (Siva’s servants) at the behest of lord Ganesha, to enable Nandhanar have his bath, as he was not allowed to use the pond on the front meant for other sections in the society of those days. As I went down the steps and sprinkled water from the holy-tank onto me, the sight of water-body taken over by growth and lack of maintenance were heart-wrenching.

Contrary to the temples visited so far, VaideswaranKoil (the doctor temple !) was milling with people – for obvious reason, a sign of ‘ailing‘ society we live in.


way to Thirunarayur


a river on the way……


Pollapillaiyar sannadhi

Final stop was Thirunarayur, the place of Nambiaandarnambi, who by communicating with ‘Pollapillaiyar’ (Lord Ganesha) at the temple helped Emperor Rajarajan trace hitherto lost Thevaram inside Chidambaram temple. This is one place where you feel the time has frozen since the days of those blessed souls – a country road dotted with hay-stacks, flanked by rice fields, occasional villagers on bicycles and a river to cross over, birds on the fields – do not ride on anything, just walk down this road just before the Sun plunges at the horizon and it is heavenly ! – Pollapillaiyar is swayambu (natural), as told by the priest and did seem by the appearance too; also, this is probably one temple where you  find both a granite one and a urtsava-vighgraham (metal made) for the great king Rajarajan.

Hotel Akshaya is a decent stay at Chidambaram and all the above temples could be covered in day-trips. Please visit and support these sanctified abodes so
that they can still stand for the future generations.