There is a common thread that runs among painters, dancers, artists, calligraphists, authors and historians of the world today — their fascination with Sufism. It is a road towards fulfilment of love and admiration of creation. Inspired by its illustrious history, artists from all genres of the social and artistic life seem to be creating their personal interpretations of a concept that lends itself to more than just one meaning. Most recently, two artists, veterans of their respective fields, came together in an embrace of the mystical faith — Sufism. Showcasing her creative choreographic presentation based on the vibrant heritage of Sufism was Padma Shree dancer and choreographer, Malavika Sarukkai who effortlessly won the audience over by her latest creation titled ‘Love, Longing and Transcendence’ in the language of classical dance, based on the poetry of Amir Khusrau. Preceding her bespoke presentation was an insightful talk by the renowned Art Historian Dr B N Goswamy who through an illustrated lecture, ‘Inward Journeys’ talked about Sufis as seen by the Indian Painter. Goswami made observations on Indian painters from the Mughal, Deccani and Rajsthani schools, their expression and approach to Sufism. Some of these included for example, venerable men in collective meditation, a devotee breaking into ecstatic dance or a prince approaching a faqir seeking guidance. He said, ‘It is doubtful that multitudes of people know what Sufism is, and certainly few understand what its core is all about. So shallow is our understanding of it that, in our own times, the term is on the point of being trivialised, even debased. That perhaps is why it is time to repeat the words of Jalaluddin Rumi, one of the greatest of them all, who said it aloud at one point: “Come, come, whoever you are, wander, worship, lover of leaving, it does not matter.”
In one of the works displayed at the illustrated presentation, was a painting showing quiet venerable men seated in a circle — as if in collective meditation; Amir Khusrau standing as a young boy outside the simple hut of Khwaja Nizamuddin in the hope of getting enlightenment, a devote suddenly breaking into ecstatic dance while listening to the words of a Sufi poet and many others. Through these images, he hoped to reach the realms of thought on his own terms.
In an exploration of her own personal understanding of Sufism, Malavika Sarukkai attempted to explore the concept, recreating the emptiness of longing and the ache of desire and the calling to be fulfilled. In an exploration of love imagery, she weaved a sensuous tapestry of love and longing. Beginning with a passionate rendering of Amir Khusrau’s poetry by Shubha Mudhal, she engaged in a dynamic dialogue with accompanying musicians. “The title traces the journey from earth to flight, from wanting to finding, from the worldly to the spiritual, from the known to the unknown. My search for the ‘spiritual’ continues though my dance and the various interpretations,” said Malavika.
In a composition personifying the art of living — nature, beauty, pleasure, and sorrow, she transforms the human body into a vehicle for transcendence. She added, ‘The word ‘sufi’ suggests many things to me — surrender, dissolving of self, inner journey and silence. The spiritual journey has been a constant calling and much of my dance reflects this search. Engaging with my art permeates me in every sense. It is inseparable,” she says.
With generous amounts of symbolism thrown into the performance, her dance left no stone unturned in creating a masterpiece. The bird trying to reach the sky, being jolted by the ocean of life, dancing on the rhythmic movements of water, she visibly came of her own. “I believe an artist’s challenge is to respond to the theme with vitality and not rely on habit and the security of the comfort zone. I had to internalise and respond to the philosophy, poetry, intonation of the sahitya sung by Shubha Mudgal. It required thinking completely out of known patterns.”