For dancers who perform at different venues, memories are often a blur. Eventually, extremely few venues stand out and our memory paints them all a dull boring brown. Which is why I choose to write performing for the Yaksha Festival organised by the Isha Foundation at its beautiful location at the foothill of the Velliangiri Mountains outside of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu was a special experience. What Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has achieved at Isha is to create a moving transformative meditative experience constructed with the highest standards of aesthetic expression.
The drop-dead aesthetics of the place totally bowled me over. The search for their inner architecture at Isha is enabled by the unmatched external architecture of the Foundation’ s designer facilities. Be it the Dhyanalinga shrine or the Lingabhairavi shrine, the mercury-energised dip pools or the large meditation halls, or the state-of-the-art Home School, each and every space is infused with high karma and dharma.
The craft initiative at Isha is also amazing. Setting highest standards for hand-made products, creating new hybrid crafts merging stone and metal, wood and stone, fabric and design, the Isha craft experience showcases the top-notch quality of hand-work that in the past had given Indian craft a legendary status in world markets. Alas, today, with the bottom end of the market for crafts burgeoning, the quality of Indian crafts has been abysmally lowered to accommodate market tastes. Isha shows that quality is possible and can be made integral to the creative process.
My harking for quality in design and craft was wonderfully reiterated at a unique show that I visited at the Stainless Steel Gallery in Okhla in Delhi. Kerala Sutra was the work of two young designers—Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta—who were catalysed by curator Anjana Somany to look at Kerala Crafts in a contemporary way and to create avant-garde designer lighting. And what pure pleasure that experience was! A stack of shirodhara vessels were combined to form a pillar of light. Paper lanterns inspired by Kathakali costumes created muted light reminiscent of Isamu Noguchi’s world famous lanterns. A chandelier created with aggregating ritual bronze kindis was another unique highlight. Anjana Somany had also reenergised the languishing tradition of punched leather shadow puppets from Kerala, and the designer duo had integrated those intricate puppets as amazing light screens in abstract geometries. The other sources of inspiration from Kerala that had fired the trio’s imagination were the ubiquitous nettipattam decorations on elephants, the art of Katahakali chutti make-up and the larger than life theyyam masks. Deeply referenced but completely modernised in approach and recreation, every corner of the exhibition, each turn in the gallery evoked adbhuta rasa—total wondrous-ness! Bravo!
Both Isha and Kerala Sutra were linked with one firm belief that our animated future lies purely in a deeper understanding of our past; but the lessons of the past need to be constantly and continuously revitalised through modern technology and communication, to create new products, rituals and philosophies that match the needs of our contemporary age and to be relevant to our youth. History that is merely calcified and enshrined as an unchanging dogma will not serve our modern youth; it is only with the enlightenment of the past that the future’s brightness can be assured.