The Margazhi season, associated with the music and dance concerts in Chennai, has always been synonymous with tradition. Breaking out of this conservative grid would certainly take a fair amount of courage. And should such a move occur, it would definitely speak for itself. Moving one step forward to make the cultural festival more accessible to academicians and youth, Anita Rathnam recently conducted a Mad and Divine conference, which celebrated women saint poets from across the county and the world.
The three-day dance conference and performance event featured academics, poets, performers, writers, historians and cultural commentators. On day three, at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium, Mylapore, Delhi-based Madhureeta Anand, a film maker, was in conversation with Sweden-born Uma, on the images and words associated with the lives of Sadhvis. Uma, who came to India over 40 years ago, has now been initiated in the male-dominated Naga Sadhu sect. “Most Naga Sadhus are simple people. Their way is not that of learning through the mind, but through experience,” said Uma. “It is very difficult to be a Naga baba. You have to completely surrender your ego, you will have to disappear.”
In the beginning, Uma admitted that she did admire the male Sadhus, smoking their chillums and going on about their lives, but the more involved she got with the Naga way of living, she learnt not to admire them so much. “I had to learn to become more independent.” Being one of the few Naga Sadhvis in the country, Uma knew what she was talking about when she said that women needed to go out into the male-dominated world and establish themselves as the creative women that they were, and not turn into one of the men they were competing with.
At the final plenary session of the conference, US-based Nirupama Vaidhyanathan, dancer, writer and choreographer, spoke on Meerabai and St Teresa of Avila: Lives in parallel worlds. She compared the lives of the two poets, how both the women saints dedicated their lives to their beloved gods, how they were not able to pray with freedom, and how their faith was constantly doubted. Following Nirupama's presentation, Kathak dancer Pallabi Chakravorthy and US-based Scott Kugle, in their session Dancing for a divine beloved: Mah Laqa Bai and Mira Bai between Hinduism and Islam, compared the similarities between the Hindu and Sufi courtroom rituals and performances.
Earlier, Vyjayantimala Bali was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award.