Dancers who brought Buddha to life

Divya Kapoor, Daily Pioneer, December 7, 2010

New Delhi, India -- Originally meant to please the Dalai Lama during his visit to India in January this year, a group of dancers recited Buddha Tatvam as part of the Delhi International Arts Festival recently. Vadodara-based choreographer Parul Shah along with 10 Bharatanatyam dancers, traced the life of Gautama Buddha through an elaborate dance.

“I had created this dance specially for the International Buddhist Heritage Conference where we were blessed by the Dalai Lama. We gave one more performance in Vadodara and this is our third performance,” said Shah, who took about six months to research on Buddha and understand his philosophy.

“I read Divided into five parts, each depicting a significant period of Buddha’s life, the recital showed temptation, political turmoil, friendship, life cycle and the strength of people against negative energies. “Legend has it that Gautama had three palaces and about 4,000 dancers to keep him amused. But he learnt early in life that luxury does not lead to happiness.

So when he was about 29, he abandoned his life as a prince and went into the forest, dressed in rags, so seek enlightenment in the solitary life of a Hindu ascetic. We tried to put these elements in the performance because they are prevalent even today,” she said.

The audience was first given a glimpse those 29 years which Siddhartha is said to have spent as a prince in Kapilavastu, how his father shielded him from religious teachings and knowledge of human suffering and ensured that he was provided with everything he could need and how he realised that material wealth was not life’s ultimate goal. Then came the spiritual fraction where his search for enlightenment began.

“According to Buddhist scriptures, he remained in meditation for 49 days. He emerged from this experience as the Buddha,” she explained.

Instead of opting for a story-telling form, the dancers opted for a symbolic interpretation of Buddha’s life, said Shah, “I wanted to depict the five stages symbolically, letting people interpret it in their own way.” Each stage was also explained by a voiceover. “He searched foe solace everywhere and ultimately found that it is within one’s own self. The idea was to show his search,” she added.

And since Buddhism travels all over the world, Shah said, they decided to use varied music instruments too. So from Kerala drums, viola and flutes to Thai drums and tabla, one found a amalgamation of different beats and rhythms. “I have also consciously used bright colours like pink and blue to show his life as a Prince and deep shades like yellow and maroon to show the period after transformation,” she said.