Artiste Extraordinaire: Ramaa Bharadvaj

Article By Manjula Nanavati

posted by Kurush Dordi, July 20, 2020

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Artist Extraordinaire Ramaa Bharadwaj

Ramaa Bharadvaj is a celebrated dancer, choreographer, storyteller, educator, writer and arts-curator. She has lived and worked in the US for 32 years, where she was the recipient of numerous prestigious awards for choreography, as well as for her exemplary contribution to the Arts in California. She has served on the boards of both state and national arts agencies and has been a visiting faculty member of various reputed universities, while her essays and cultural commentaries have been published by leading publications. 

Having returned to India in 2009, she currently lives in Bengaluru where she teaches, writes and speaks on the arts, with an emphasis on dance. She curates the annual national dance and music festival at Chinmaya Naada Bindu Gurukula in Pune.

As a dancer Ramaa ji displays remarkable confidence, precision, and fluidity, combined with an extraordinary spectrum of nuanced emotion. As a story teller she essays multiple roles with the ease and skill that comes only with a mastery of the craft. As a choreographer she seamlessly blends the geography of space, the geometry of form and the syntax of music. And as a writer and lecturer Ramaa ji is articulate and knowledgeable, punctuating her scholarship with experience and humour.

Despite her busy calendar Ramaa ji enthusiastically shared her insight through an interview with The Acropolitan Magazine.

THE ACROPOLITAN: The 1st chapter of the Natyashastra gives us a fascinating origin story of the Theatre Arts, of which dance is one. Can you recount that for our readers?

RAMAA BHARADVAJ: This origin story about the ancestry of India’s theatre-arts is rooted in the Indian psyche which dedicates all to a Divine Source. It is quite an intriguing tale that speaks of changing times; of creativity and collaborations; and most importantly of humility and grace. 

The story is set in the Treta Yuga, and it begins when 45 distinguished sages (including Vyasa, Valmiki, Visvamitra, Bharadvaja, Vasishta, Agastya, Durvasa and Narada) pose questions to sage Bharatamuni who had become the custodian of a new 5th Veda created by Brahma – the Creator. In fact, the entire text follows the format of questions and answers, with sage Bharatamuni recounting why this 5th Veda was created, and detailing its contents and purposefulness for the people of the Earth.

The story starts as if in a flashback when the Guardians of the world are troubled by a moral decline among humans. They see that the wisdom of the already existing 4 Vedas was too esoteric to be even understood by the common man, let alone be applied in life. So, they approach Brahma to ask for a new body of knowledge that is not only both visible and audible, but also accessible to all. Brahma distills the core values of the 4 Vedas (poetry from Rig, music from Sama, communicative means from Yajur, and aesthetics from Atharva) and creates Natya Veda (wisdom of theatre-arts) as a timeless science for all.

So extensive are the contents of this new scripture, that it is decided that only sages who are capable of intense discipline can be its proper custodians. Thus, sage Bharatamuni is chosen to receive this knowledge and pass it on through his 105 disciples/sons. Bharatamuni puts this 5th Veda immediately to use by creating the first theatrical production for the prestigious Flagstaff Festival honoring Indra. The theme, as in any successful play, involves heroes (Devas) and villains (Asuras) and the victory of the former. 

Here there is a twist in the story. One would expect that a production created with the cooperation of celestials would have had a smooth run. But not so! As the play begins, the Asuras object at being shown negatively and create havoc by freezing the actors. Indra, enraged at this sabotage, wields his flagstaff and defeats the Asuras. So, this first play has a sloppy and chaotic ending. But, Visvakarma the celestial architect is then summoned to build a proper theatre to keep away disruptive gate-crashers. 

Bharatamuni then embarks on a new production, even better than the first one, this time with Siva and Brahma as his collaborators – Brahma providing the storyline, and Siva and Parvati introducing dance into this new play. 

Scene shifts! Bharatamuni and his sons have now descended to Earth. It is here that the scholar-sages surround him, eager to hear directly from him about this 5th Veda that would benefit mankind. Bharatamuni’s answers to their questions become the Natyashastra – the comprehensive manual on the science of Indian dramaturgy.

I remember reading an interesting viewpoint on this origin story, by the renowned actor-director Girish Karnad. According to him, this myth points out that however carefully devised, live theatre carries the risk of failure and that the purpose of good theatre is not to play safe, but to continue to live and to provoke. 

TA: Why are the arts so important? What is its purpose and what can it teach us?

RAMAA JI: I doubt if anyone can expand on the purpose of the arts, more than what the Natyashastra has already defined. Even while contemplating the creation of a new instructive tool, Brahma decides to combine wisdom from various sources – Vedas, epics, mythology, science, arts, and crafts. This new medium of instruction was to be a source of advice to humans in matters of worldly life namely, duty, wealth, and fame.

Later in the text, through a soliloquy Brahma further explains the purpose of Theatre-Arts; that they are meant to

  • represent the activities of the three worlds, 
  • mimic all types of humans (good, bad, indifferent), all types of emotions, and all types of exploits of both the gods and Asuras, kings, and commoners.
  • to be a model of all the sciences (shastras)
  • incorporate goals of life relating to the righteous (dharma), secular (artha), sensual (kāma), and spiritual (mokṣa
  • portray the good and bad that befalls all
  • teach the path of virtue, give courage to the cowards, enlighten those of poor intellect, soothe agitated minds, admonish the ill-natured, encourage self-control, cheer the sorrowful, and 
  • offer encouragement and sound advice as well as entertainment and pleasure. 

He further declares that there would be no wisdom, no knowledge, no art or craft that cannot be found in the scripture of drama, and that it has been created for the benefit of all and not for exclusively glorifying any particular class or crowd of society.

Such use of the dramatic arts as a mirror to the society for seeing itself has given this inherited divine legacy a purpose beyond mere entertainment. Dance and drama (both live-theatre and film) are supposed to facilitate the awakening of higher qualities such as goodness, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, devotion, etc., thus creating a positive shift in the behavior of an entire society. As an example, when the movie “Babe” about a talking baby pig was released in the United States, this “drama” invoked feelings of great compassion and non-violence towards animals to such an extent, that the sale of pork dramatically went down for several months.

Throughout history also, there are instances of social change created by dancers and actors through their art form. My favorite one comes from a 16th-century episode. Once, as a group of Kuchipudi performers is traveling to perform in the court of a king, they rest in the village of Siddhavatam. There, they witness the sufferings of the people at the hands of the local chieftain and decide to do something about it. When they reach the king’s court, they enact a dramatized version of the chieftain’s methods of torture. An inquiry follows and the chieftain is punished.

Other examples of using drama as a tool for dialoguing come from contemporary contexts. In the 1960s, a Brazilian director named Augusto Boal began a new form of theatre known as the Theatre of the Oppressed which has influenced theatre practitioners all over the world, including India. To Boal, Theatre was not a spectacle to be observed, but a collaborative experience of, by, and for the people, in which the spectators themselves become actors, both participating and observing.

In California, where I lived for more than 2 decades, there were organizations that creatively engaged incarcerated youth in conflict resolution while teaching them concepts of tolerance, understanding, and respect, through dance and improvisational theatre. Their themes included traumatic occurrences in these children’s lives such as racism, gang violence, drug/alcohol abuse, teen suicide, domestic violence, and war. Where the justice system of society could not reach, theatre and dance easily did. 

In fact, when I see the word “Nartan” used as an epithet for dance, I see another definition in it. I see a combination of the words Nara (human) + Tanoti (expansion) thus signifying its purpose as that which allows for an expansive experience through a comprehensive portrayal and understanding of humanity in all its varied aspects. 

TA: Is Art primarily for self-expression and self-discovery or a more universal and unifying experience?

RAMAA JI: In order to answer this question, it is necessary that we first understand that from the Indian context, the primary purpose of all Art is to invoke Rasa. And this Rasa or aesthetic essence was itself called Brahmananda Sahodara (the twin brother of spiritual bliss). This implies that Art is capable of bestowing a mystic experience of realizing the Divine Truth. In this process, the priority of an Indian artist is more ennobling than just self-expression, because Art has always been about experiencing a Universal Being within oneself. But the audience member was not excluded from this experience. It was never about the artists having a personal experience irrespective of the audience, but rather the artist becoming a conduit through whose Art the spectators have the experience too. 

Hence, the receivers of the Art thus created, were also designated with a special name, “rasika” the “experiencer”, thus elevating them from mere sensory levels of seeing (spectator) or listening (audience) to that of being an intuitive participant. So, the artistic-journey was not just a personal expression or happy entertainment. It was a collaborative pilgrimage between the art-maker and the art-receiver, towards a spiritual encounter.

Here, I recall a lovely phrase that I once heard from renowned dancer VP Dhananjayan that the purpose of Theater-Arts is to educate the illiterate, to enlighten the literate and to entertain the enlightened. 

TA: How does Dance speak to an audience differently from the other arts?

RAMAA JI: Rather than say that dance speaks ‘differently’, I would like to rephrase it, that dance, because of its inherently collaborative nature, speaks ‘comprehensively’. Dance is naturally a multi-dimensional art-form, and it combines poetry and literature, painting and sculpture, nuances of adornment such as clothing and jewelry, along with movement vocabulary, music, and language of a particular global or even regional culture. However, from the Indian perspective, this sort of interrelationship is not peculiar to dance alone. And, this symbiosis is explained beautifully in an episode in the Vishnudharmottara Purana

Once, King Vajra approaches sage Markandeya and asks to learn the art of sculpting or image-making (pratima lakshanam). The sage enlightens him in a sequential way that the king cannot comprehend the art of sculpting unless he learns the art of painting (citra sutra), and in order to learn painting he must be well versed in the art of dancing (nrtta Shastra), and to understand dancing he must first acquaint himself with instrumental music (atodya), and this, in turn, can be fully grasped only through mastery of vocal music (gita). 

In dance, this interrelationship is explicit in its expression and so it feels as if it is different from other art forms. 

TA: You have said that learning starts from the outside and proceeds inwards, and while giving, in terms of performance, it starts from the inside…can you explain?

RAMAA JI: With regard to the journey from the external to the internal and vice versa, we can start by looking at the descriptions that the word ‘Dance’ bring to mind, such as movement, action, rhythm, stories. However, these are only lateral experiences like the rim of a wheel. The real core of Dance or the axle of the wheel is Stillness. Dancing is Stillness punctuated by movement – not vice versa. It is similar in music also, where the true core is Silence. And it is this still and silent core that we refer to as Spirit. Our classical arts are rooted in this aspect, and it is this core spiritual essence that the performance or the outward expression of art, aims at radiating. That is what I mean when I say that in performance, the expression is from inside to outside.

However, accessing this inner core is not a casual affair of reach-out-and-touch! It requires ‘tapasya or penance-like dedication towards mastery of this finite physical form. In fact, all finite objects have been blessed with the capacity to create a portal through which the soul may reintegrate with its Source. This in fact is the very premise of Tantra Shastra, which has been described by Swami Satyananda Saraswathi as the Science of seeing, feeling and knowing the Infinite in and through the finite” and as “being sucked into the Infinite through a whirlpool of material objects and energies.” 

In the performing arts also, it is this body which becomes that finite tool – first for accessing and then for expressing. So, it is the outer layers that have to be penetrated first during the training phase, because we need to start with the gross before we are able to access the subtle. Moreover, limbs that are not conditioned and prepared adequately, cannot manifest the images born in our imaginative realm. However, detailed attention is given not only to the fortification of the external limbs but the internal mind as well. This is because a weakness in the mind is displayed as a weakness in the external body. The science of Yoga clearly warns of this. For example, a person’s wobbliness and lack of balance would signify his wobbliness in determination and belief. Therefore, it was towards this end that Indian dance pedagogy developed as a holistic learning and practice system in order for the body to be in readiness to embody divinity. So, that is what I mean when I say that the training phase followed the formula of ‘outside-to-inside’. 

TA: Classical Indian Dance is much more than mere Technique. You have spoken of how the different subtle layers of the body must be prepared to fully connect with the dance and communicate to the audience. Can you take us through that process?

RAMAA JI: That phrase you have used – “communicate to the audience” – is the key here. Communication requires a language, and what that language is, depends on what is being communicated through it. Just because Kalidasa’s poetry is glorious, we cannot use that to communicate with computers. Computers have their own programming language. 

When it comes to performing arts, the term for communication is “abhinaya” which literally means, to bring closer (abhi+nayati). This suggests the bringing of the rasika and the artistic creation close to each other, and enabling the former to experience the appropriate rasa of the latter. As I have mentioned earlier, in Indian art, this rasa itself is termed as the “twin brother of Supreme Bliss”. So, since what the art seeks to communicate is of transcendental nature, this determines the language used for this communication, as well as the training methodology of the body-instrument that will use this specific language. 

I have always felt that we do not dance ‘with’ the body, but we dance ‘through’ it. Thus, this human body itself becomes the primary sacred space because this is where the first sprout of movement germinates. And this ‘sacred-space’ encompasses the entire body-unit, with its limbs, mind, intellect, and spirit. In Dance, it is this space that is traversed first. An understanding of this sacred space becomes clearer when we approach it through the Upanishadic concept of ‘panchakosha’ or the gross and subtle layers. These layers are listed as: 

– the physical layer nourished by food – Annamaya

– the layer of breath and vital energy – Pranamaya 

– the layer of mind, emotions, and thoughts – Manomaya

– the layer of intellect – Vijnanamaya 

– and finally, the inner layer of Bliss or Anandamaya, which is the spiritual core.

A dancer employs all the first four layers in their fullest capacity in accessing the final inner essence, and the preparation begins of course at the physical layer, for this is the gross layer. 

The body-apparatus is divided into major, minor, and ancillary limbs, and exercises were prescribed for each of these parts. Beginning with the limbs below the waist (the earth zone), movements are added in layers proceeding to the limbs of the upper body (emotional zone), and finally fine-tuning it all with minute details of the eyes, eyebrows, lips, cheeks, neck, and head (spiritual zone). There are corporeal exercises comprising of standing and sitting positions in three different height levels along with leaping, sliding, circling, and various other space-explorative ways that demonstrated the principles of alignment through stasis, repose, symmetry, asymmetry, etc.

Then, there are contemplative exercises as well. To give a simple example, in order to portray Lord Rama, one cannot just mime the holding of a bow in the left hand and arrow in the right, for these weapons can be held by other characters as well, each with a different tale to tell and therefore different kinesthetic energy. Arjuna the warrior held a bow and arrow, as did Manmatha, the God of love. The similarity between these characters ends with the weapon they carry. Therefore, to portray Lord Rama would involve understanding and meditative reflection on His qualities so that the essence of His nature is imbibed by the dancer, both conceptually and somatically. It is only then that the energy of Lord Rama will pervade the portrayal. 

Then, there is the most important element in the training of this expressive art form – adeptness in satvika abhinaya which belongs to the realm of the mind. This contained a variety of expressive techniques. First of all, there are eight determining emotions (love, humor, sorrow, anger, valor, fear, hatred and wonder); Then, come external determinants that answer the questions of what, where, when and why; Then there were planned gestures of the body in response to an emotion – some of these are culturally conditioned; These were all colored by 33 transitory emotions; Finally, comes the ability to invoke spontaneous physical reactions such as shedding real tears, blushing, horripilation, etc.

Only by developing proficiency in satvika abhinaya does the dancer develop a physical form that exhibits a contained strength, and yet pulsates with expressive energy. Ironically, only the principle of satvika abhinaya can be taught to the students. They cannot really be “trained” in it. That expertise comes only with experience. 

In this kind of training pedagogy, we can see that the development of the physical, the energetic or pranic, the emotional, and the intellectual layers have all been taken into consideration, in the preparation of the sacred body-space. 

Here, I would also like to point out the respect that is given to the external earth-space in which the dance would be seen. The sacred dances of many traditions from around the world display this deep reverence for Earth with strong earth-bound footwork. It is as if the dancers become the voice of mother Earth and that she begins to sing through their feet. The Native-American shamans speak of the Great Spirit as the Father of creation from whom the soul descends and of Earth as the Mother, for it is she that creates the body for the soul to live in.

In the Indian practice, no dancer in India would begin the first steps without a bhoomi-pranam (Earth prayer) seeking the blessing and forgiveness of mother Earth. This offering performed both before beginning to dance and at the end, consisted of a gesture of gratitude to Earth by touching Her reverentially with both palms and then joining them together over the head (sahasrara chakra) to offer gratitude to the Gods, at the eyebrow center (ajna chakra) to the Guru and at the heart (anahat chakra) to the audience. 

Thus, you can see how the intent of the art-form is reflected not only in the theme and content but extends holistically to every aspect, from preparation to presentation.

TA: Classical Indian Dance evolved as a solo art form, in temples as a medium of worship and a spiritual path, to experience universal truth. What is this intangible truth and how does one create a tangible experience of it? 

RAMAA JI: First of all, I want to make clear that not all classical dance was sequestered within the temple walls. There were court dancers too who used the classical vocabulary. So, we cannot say that dance evolved in the temples only or as a worship ritual only. In fact, if we refer back to the origin story of Theatre-Arts, the intent is clear, that performance Art was created from the mind of Brahma as an educational tool. The purpose of that education was to uplift towards nobler thinking and higher values. So, the integration into temples became a natural partnership, and the themes reflect the adoration of the highest Universal Being, or God, or Universal Truth or whatever we may want to address this Divinity as. 

The method of connecting with this intangible Infinite was to be done through the tangible finite of course. In fact, the book Srimad Bhagavatam refers to eight material objects – stone, wood, metal, sandalwood paste or clay, precious stones, paintings, sand, and the image within your heart – as being suitable for creating images into which the Universal Spirit can be summoned and worshipped. And to those who question, how one can create an image of a Supreme Being who is without form, the answer is given by sage Markandeya himself in the Vishnudharmottara Purana:

The entire universe is the vikrti (modification) of Prakrti (the formless). The meditation on the Supreme is possible for an ordinary being only when the formless is endowed with a form; and that form is full of significance.

These material objects served an important purpose for they formed a Mandala, a focal center for tuning into and drawing in Cosmic Consciousness. Even though the Tantric texts say that any object on earth could become a Mandala, they gave a special place to the human body, for while the sculpted and painted images required elaborate rituals in order to be infused with energy, the human body, possessed an immediate aptitude for incarnating the Divine because it was endowed with the capacity for conscious awareness. What it practically means for us is that the body is not to be looked at as an obstruction to spiritual enlightenment but as a tool for achieving greater insights. 

And when it came to the dancing body, there was a further significance, for as pointed out by Swami Satyānanda Saraswati, what supercharges a Mandala is concentration combined with emotional feeling (bhāvā) and devotion (bhakti), two aspects inherent in the art of dance. This is the reason why the Śāstras have prescribed that a worship ritual would come to successful completion only with an offering of music and dance and included them as part of upacāra (rites of hospitality) in the honoring of the invoked deity.

The idea of making the microcosmic into a receptacle for the macrocosmic can be found in other esoteric practices of the world as well. The Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Order of Sufism demonstrate this through a 7-century old ritual practice known as the Sema ceremony, in which, they transform their bodies into a Mandala while performing a “dance” of turning. They equate their spinning motion to a “conscious and harmonious participation” in the revolution of particles in the atoms and to an intentional replication of the cycle of life. During this dance, which they refer to as the “turning towards Truth”, they open the right palm to the sky to receive God’s blessing and direct the left to the earth as a means of passing on the spiritual gifts to all of creation. 

TA: Tradition is accorded so much prestige and value to the point of deification. Tell us about the importance of protecting and transmitting Tradition, Mythology, and Culture. 

RAMAA JI: In the genre of classical arts, the word “Tradition” seems to hold a certain nostalgic prestige. Under such a deified gaze, “Tradition” tends to get relegated to the past as fossilized inheritance. However, “Tradition” is not something etched in stone to be worshipped, but rather that which goes through creative evolvement born of human experiences and expressions. 

If “Tradition” is to be understood as collective wisdom and practices of the ancestors, then these practices themselves were once created. Thus, it is yesterday’s practices that are celebrated as today’s traditions, and so too, today’s creative practices will become tomorrow’s cherished traditions. 

Etymologically too, the word “Tradition” suggests the same. Its Latin root of trādō / trādere carries the meaning of ‘to hand over’, ‘transmit’, ‘impart’, ‘entrust’, and ‘confide’. In its Sanskrit terminology, the word parampara refers to uninterrupted series and continuous lineage, and sampradaya refers to a body of practice that is transmitted (and redefined) through successive generations. Thus, both the Latin and Sanskrit roots suggest that “Tradition” has a pliable, adaptable, and creative quality, while sustaining its continuity.

You have asked about protecting and transmitting Tradition, Mythology, and Culture. Metaphorically, this is how I would answer it – Tradition is the river, Mythology is the boat and Cultural-value is the rider. What I mean by that is, Tradition cannot be a stagnant pool of the past. Only when it is a vibrant, flowing, and a creatively relevant river, can it transport cultural values to the future generations, and it is our puranas and itihasas that are the vehicles that transport these values.

Sage Bharata, the first inheritor of the Natya Veda from Brahma, has himself emphasized creative adaptation in the Arts for its growth. After writing 36 magnificently elaborate chapters in his Natyashastra, the most comprehensive manual of Theatre arts, he concludes with these words…

Many practices sanctioned by Sastras [sic] have been described in connection with the performance of drama. Whatever remains unmentioned by me is to be included in practice through observation of people and their usage.”

What stronger endorsement than this, can there be for the relevance of adaptability and growth within a tradition? It is important to remember that for a tradition to continue, new energy must constantly offer the nourishment of new experiences and revelations. Only then does it become a living tradition. Living art forms are those engaged in re-imagining the inherited traditions for ourselves and for the global community in which we live. 

TA: Your production of Panchatantra Tales is a contemporary interpretation of Bharatanatyam. What is the role of Creativity and Originality in the transmission of tradition? You say that it is not about creating something new, but about returning to the origin and refashioning neo concepts. Can you explain what you mean? 

RAMAA JI: My production “Panchatantra – Animal Fables of India” was not created to make any kind of point about contemporary adaptation or wanting to be ‘different’ or any such shallowness. It had an extremely organic origin actually, in response to a personal challenge that I encountered as a traditional-arts practitioner when I was living in the United States. The dilemma for all immigrant artists in a diaspora setting is that our working arena is a non-native cultural environment where the arts and traditions, that have had a history of generational transmission as a Lived experience, are practiced as a Learned experience. In such a habitat, the creative dexterity required of us has to increase. 

In 1992, when my son Siva turned 3 years old, I found that I was not able to interest him in classical dance performances. I found something significantly troubling with this scenario. How can we brag about being cultural ambassadors of our tradition in a foreign land, when we cannot even seem to draw our own children in? After all, they are our first real transnational audience! I realized that it was not the dance-form itself, but its content that went way over their heads and failed to inspire them. So, here, I was facing a genuine personal need for a re-creation of my inherited artistic traditions. 

At that time, I used to read him bedtime stories from the Panchatantra fables. I jumped, leaped, and made faces, and Siva was riveted to my “presentation”. So, I decided to bring these fables to life on stage for him and for all the children who were running around in theater lobbies. Thus, my Panchatantra production was born. 

I used five different languages for each of the five Tantras, commissioned-lyrics, commissioned-music, masks, sets, props, and lots of theatrics and humor in its creation. But the core vocabulary of the movements was rooted in classical dance. I used Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and some freestyle movement-based choreography in a meaningful way. Such reconstructions actually demand deep faith in the traditions that we draw our inspiration and techniques from.

Surprisingly, it’s not the Extraordinary that yields inspiration. It is glancing at the ordinary with a slowed-down gaze that turns it extraordinary by “inspiring” or breathing into it, a new life force by way of new definitions, thus stimulating outside-the-box thinking. An apt example for such a discovery of new possibilities can be found, once again, in Natyashastra’s 33rd chapter, in a fable-like story relating to the designing of percussion instruments. The story goes that sage Svati once went to the lake to fetch water in the monsoon season. As torrents of rain fell on the lotus leaves, Svati observed that it produced high, medium, and low sounds. On returning to the hermitage, the sage drew from this inspiration from Nature to create the Mrdanga and other drums.

Vishnusharma, the author of Panchatantra also did a similar thing. He had been hired by the king to educate the three dull-witted princes. So, he drew his content from traditional sources of philosophy, psychology, politics, astronomy, etc., and devised lessons in Niti-Shastra, via 86 animal fables. Within six months, he turned the princes into experts in the complexities of statecraft.

These tales assert the point that truly original concepts emerge not through a habitual reproduction of inherited techniques, but from returning to the source and resurfacing with a mindful re-creation. And that actually is the real meaning of that word “original”. It does not imply the commonly interpreted meaning of “never-before-seen-newness”, but rather implies “returning to the Origins”, or the roots and source-knowledge, and re-creating from it.

“Creativity” and “Originality” are about forming a synthesis by linking ideas and experiences from different sources, by connecting previously unconnected concepts, and harmonizing them into a neo-avatar. That is what Lord Brahma Himself did while creating the Theater-Arts, what Vishnusharma did when faced with the task of having to educate the princes, what sage Svati did in creating various percussion instruments, and what I did when I created my Panchatantra production. 

TA: You have said that Creativity is a complex function involving many subtle aspects, including Intuition, Inspiration, Imagination, and Quietude. What are these, what does the process of creativity entail and how do you tap into it personally? 

RAMAA JI: Yes, I have written about it before and I will share those thoughts. In the Hebrew language, the word “bara” which means to create, is assigned exclusively to divine activity. In English too, the word “create” is said to have originally had a divine implication. This changed with linguistic usage and has now come to be identified with human skills. Ken Robinson, a world-renowned expert on creativity in education described ‘creativity’ as, the process of having original ideas that have value”. 

But I find that “Creativity” encompasses many layers of attitudes, perspectives, and traits that combine to give it substance. I list them as follows:

– Intuition: This quality awakens one to move beyond the comfort zone.

– Imagination: This is what gives a sculptor the ability to see the deity hidden in the stone. However, imagination alone does not lead to creativity. It only sparks ideas. One needs to execute those ideas, in order to step forward beyond the imaginative zone into the creative zone. As George Bernard Shaw said, You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; you create what you will.”

– Being present: Creativity manifests in the Now. It does not wait around for the perfect place, time, or circumstance. In fact, it appears mostly when the external factors are less than ideal. This brings to mind the ingenuity of a lighting designer in the US, who suddenly found herself facing a crisis. Minutes before the curtain went up, the moving gobo projector that was to create a rippling water effect on the cyclorama stopped working. Totally unfazed, she borrowed a couple of handheld torchlights over which she wrapped colored lighting-gel paper. She held them diagonally against the cyclorama screen, while her assistants gently fluttered the screen and voila! The effect was duplicated somewhat interestingly. 

– Inspiration: Creativity has a divinely inspired quality that leads to revelations, very much like the instance that made Archimedes exclaim “Eureka” when he came upon the Law of Buoyancy in his bathtub. This has happened to me several times during choreographic moments when I created my works such as “Jwala” dedicated to the concept of Light as a symbol of Freedom, or my “Moksha” where I used a tantric-ritual motif without even knowing what it meant. It came through my body and I choreographed with it. I learned what it means, only much later. It also happens to me when I write scripts. Words, images, and thoughts come through me and astound me and make me wonder “did I write this?” The answer, of course, is that I did not. It was written through me by a “Cosmic Intelligence”. This “frequency” is available to all of us. We just have to be humble, empty, and open enough to receive that gift.

– Quietude: Creativity does not make a loud appearance. It whispers through an “AHA” moment. And when it does, the artist must be alert, aware, and confident, to receive its inspirations. If there is too much mental noise that intellectualizes everything, the creative moment gets lost in the maze. 

The fitting example to all these layers I have listed above can be found in the Origin story of Theatre Arts in the 1st chapter of Natyashastra… To conclude, I will once again return to the same Origin story which itself was the ultimate Creative act. 

In this story, when a new body of knowledge (Veda) fit for all castes was needed, what did Brahma do? He drew the essence of the four existing Vedas to fashion the fifth Veda of Theater-Arts (Natya) and imparted it to sage Bharata. Here, we see the quality of ‘Originality’, not in the sense of creating something from nothing, but in the sense of returning to the origins of Vedic heritage, and refashioning a neo-concept from it. Here, I cannot help but marvel at the creative boldness on the part of Lord Brahma, to adapt the guarded Vedic knowledge for mass enjoyment! On a lighter note, when gazing at this episode from the perspective of our modern times, I can almost visualize a comical scenario of uproars, anti-Natya-Veda demonstrations, signed petitions condemning it as blasphemous and sinful! 

This episode also stands as a perfect illustration for the other criteria of Quietude, Intuition, Inspiration, and Imagination listed earlier. Finally, in explaining the purpose of Natya, Brahma makes it clear that this newly created tool is to be conducive to carrying out one’s duty, (dharma) earning of wealth (artha), and achieving fame, for it is to contain good counsel for providing courage, amusement, joy, and guidance to all. Thus, Ken Robinson’s definition of Creativity as “adding value to society” is also evident here. 

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that Creativity is not to be thought of as something that breaks Tradition. On the contrary, not only does Creativity exist within Tradition, in many instances, Tradition itself is born of Creativity. I will end with these words by Osho who linked creativity with the Divine Originator and said, God is the Creator; the more creative you become, the more godly you become.” 

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