How The Bangalore Temple Festival Keeps Krishna’s Word And Wish

 

The celebration of the sacred, in art and Nature, is the throbbing nerve of devotion and its many expressions. In India, a stolen idol returns to a village temple. The temple comes back to life with celebrations. Festivities and rituals, in many places, still revolve around temples. Art, in its different manifestations continues to give the devotees — their prayers and presence — new dimensions. Spaces mould response to art. Globetrotting artistes meet immense joy and creative depth in performing dance and music at Devasthanas after a fulfilling darshana of the deity.  The line separating deities and audience, rasikas and bhaktas, bhaktas and vidwans, priests and performers, listening and worship, fades easily, into the singing marigold and tuberose at the temples.

The 2017 Gudiya Sambhrama, the temple festival, begins in Bangalore. To be held during the next six to seven week-ends, it will feature nearly 100 artists from across India. An initiative born with the idea of reviving the temple eco-system and our cultural and natural heritage, the festival, this year, will celebrate sacred flowers and honour florists who have served the deities. Renowned cultural impresario Vijayalakshmi Vijayakumar tells Sumati Mehrishi, she is exploring flowers from Ramayana, Mahabharatha, the Agamas, Ayurveda, and related texts.

Has the reconnecting of art, artistes and audience with temples helped in evolving performance? 

The temple festival has helped in creating awareness and appreciation for our arts which are centered around the sacred. Since we follow a theme related to our natural heritage, the festival has inspired artistes to research on lyrics from our ancient literature and poetry. There is a close connection between our arts and Nature, especially music, where lyrics and compositions carry so many references to rivers, mountains, animals, trees, earth, flowers and the elements.

Tell us about Gudiya Sambhrama 2017. 

Our theme for 2017 is ‘Sacred Flowers’. We have tied up with the agriculture dept of Rai Tech University to bring flowering plants and a few native Indian trees to every venue. The trees will be displayed with details of the verses from the original text, the meaning, botanical name, and other details. The displays will be thematic. For example, we will have flowers from Ramayana, Mahabharatha, the Agamas, Ayurveda, and flowers used in the aroma industry. We will also be honouring and recognising flower vendors who have served the temples and used flowers in their art, making the deities so beautiful.

 

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There is a close connection between our arts and Nature. Odissi celebrates it.

 

What does the idea of “sacred” in art (and its various forms) mean to you? 

The idea of “sacred”, is indeed, all pervasive. Art is sacred. Trees are sacred. The idea of looking at them as sacred makes them all worship-worthy. We cultivate respect for them, we nurture and protect. Had we Indians followed our culture, we would not be in the environmental and ecological mess we are in today.

Tell us how “Srishti Rakshati Rakshita” guides and nourishes Gudiya Sambhrama and Srishti Sambhrama — the events, celebration and ideas.

The concept of “Srishti Rakshati Rakshita” is the guiding force behind our planning of the events. We plant trees, avoid the use of plastic, and our mementos fall in line with the same thought process. We use only recycled paper bags or cotton cloth bag for gifts, we gift books and try to keep any kind of pollution, including light and sound, to the minimum.

 

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Lamps and lives.

 

Does the temple, a sacred space, become an element in this beautiful confluence?

Traditionally, our temples have played a major role in the community eco-system. The role of temples has now shrunk, mostly, to fulfilling religious and ritual roles. Earlier, temples were the centre of a community. The most important activities happened within the temple precincts. Temples had gardens, ecologically important trees and plants, and abundant fertile lands which were given to farmers for cultivating crops. Part of the crop was given to the temples and the farmers could keep the rest. Temples ran vidyashalas and veda gurukulams. They distributed food. Many still do. Temples were, and in many cases, still are the place where charity is done as a divine duty. Essentially, life revolved around them.

For rejuvenating the temple eco-system, we felt that the best way was to begin with bringing back the performing arts to the precincts. Of course, the role of the arts we are bringing to the temples today is certainly not the same as the role the arts played earlier. Dance and music were integral part of the temple rituals and worship in earlier times. Invasions and colonisation happened. People who ruled our country had no knowledge of our ways. The beautiful aspects of our culture were removed from temples and we almost lost them.

We want to celebrate our parampara. Each year, we have a lot of joy deciding on the deity we would place on the dais. A lot of planning goes into that. The last festival was dedicated to Mother Earth, hence, we found an artist who made an image for Bhuvarahaswamy, in terracotta. Another artiste made a beautiful base for it, painted it with rangoli designs and we placed decorated terracotta lamps.

Since 2017 is dedicated to sacred flowers, and Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says that he is Vasantha or spring amongst the seasons, we are getting an artist to make terracotta padukas of Lord Vishnu. Another artist will create Lord Krishna with flowers to place on the stage. We have added yet another feature to the festival in 2017. We will have poets from Padyapaana, a group, to compose and recite poetry at every venue as part of the programme. They will compose on the theme of ‘Sacred Flowers’ in Kannada and Sanskrit.

Five temples (outside Bangalore) you would like to take the festival to:

Sri Bhoganandeshwara Temple near Nandi Hills, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Magadi, Melukote Temple, any in Palakkad and temples in Lakshmipuram.

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Three generations: Audience at one of the venues. 

 

The aspect of darshan strongly binds audience and artistes. How does it nourish art and its viewing?

Performing in temples has a different appeal than performing in other spaces. The audience is attuned to the spiritual and religious. We are probably the only culture that can easily absorb the idea of God’s all pervasiveness, and yet, worship in a temple, or worship the elements, or simply, be able to meditate. Our culture is designed for people of varying natures and of our own varying states of mind.

The first Gudiya Sambhrama was held in 2010. Was involving temple administration in the festival a difficult process? 

Temple administration is a complex issue in our country. Hindus do not have the freedom to administer their own places of worship. Hence, we have to apply to the government department for permission. Between 2010 and 2016, we went to the Muzarai Department, or Hindu Dharma Datti Illake to submit an application, but now, we have to submit it to the District Collector’s office. I have no idea why this has changed. The topic of government interfering in the running of temples is a long one and there are a few issues of concern.

Do priests get involved in the festivities? 

In government-run temples, the priests begin the programme with chanting, offer prayers and honour the artistes. They are present when artistes perform within the temple precincts, in front of the deity and before the performance on the stage. Private temples involve more. They distribute prasadam and provide water and refreshments to the artists. One of the temples has even given us some funding every year. The temples look forward to the festival. They display our invitation poster in mid-January and distribute the programme schedule to all devotees.

 

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Naadopasana: The Gundecha brothers

 

Can the festival go global?

Since 2016, we web-cast the entire festival. It would be great if organisations in other countries spread the word about the web casting. We are more than willing to help organise the festival with the same spirit anywhere if there is a demand and local support-group available.

Tell us about Katha Parampara — another Heritage initiative.

There is a story in every grain of sand, just as there is a tale in every drop of water. Every moment is an anecdote and every life a biography.  The roots of our historical, cultural, social, economic and scientific milestones have been preserved and handed down to us through the vedas, Upanishads, ithihasa, puranas and other ancient literary works. Generations have passed this great body of knowledge in various ways through festivals, celebrations, learning traditions, visual and performing arts, life styles and different aspect of living. Katha Parampara is an effort to bring the beauty of India’s traditions, culture, history, natural heritage and mystery into our lives today. We are building a new multi-disciplinary narrative of Indian products, books, technology, and other arenas of life that enrich our connection with our tradition. We released our first series during Deepavali in 2016. Commissioned by MyTemple, it is a series of six stories connected to Deepavali. There are 75 colouring sheets covering six genres of Indian art.

My work will feature various textile traditions. The first story is located in Varanasi, during Aurangzeb’s rule. The characters are from a weaver family, toy makers, scholars and sadhus of Varanasi. Kashi Vishwanath temple, Mother Ganga and the fresh water dolphins figure in the story. The story will be around 60 to 80 pages followed by academic articles at the end of the book. The book will be illustrated in the local art tradition. The cover will be made with woven fabric from Varanasi. There are colouring sheets. It will be a book for the entire family.

Is your kitchen a busy place?

Yes. I love traditional cooking. I believe that cooking is a spiritual act. It is healing — for the one who cooks and the one who eats, if done with good thoughts, and peacefully. I experiment a lot, come up with new recipes and make all my masalas at home. I am strictly vegetarian and to add to the challenges of cooking, I do not use onion and garlic. Not boasting, but my cooking is appreciated a lot. I make chyavanprash for the family. I follow a basic formula that has come down for generations, and with some research and input from my ayurvedic doctors, I have added value to it. It is a long process I enjoy. I also make a bath and face powder with many herbs. Since my husband is a perfumer and we have an aromatic industry, I add pure essential oils to the scrub and make facial oil and hair oil with herbs and natural ingredients. I am very interested in the traditional way of taking care of pregnant women and the new mother and infant. The system that was traditionally followed took care of all aspects — physical, mental and emotional.  The mothers were nurtured with such love and care. I love gardening. We have an organic farm and we keep some desi cows.

What are you listening to and reading?

Am listening to talks by Swami Paramarthananda and Swami Dayananda on the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads; Sri Nochur Venkatraman’s talks on the Bhagavatham. Finished reading Abhaya and currently reading the Bhagavatham.

What are your plans for 2018?

For 2018, we plan to have Bhagavat Sapthaha for Gudiya Sambhrama. We will look into many aspects of the Bhagavatam, including the close connect between our heritage, literature and our natural heritage.

 

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Spaces mould the response to art. Vidwan Kumaresh and Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh performing at the festival.

— All pictures sourced from Heritage.

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