“The greatest gift female mystics can give to humanity and the world at this time is to model the Truth of who they are, and through example, blaze a path of love back to God for everyone to follow.”
- Patricia Diane Cota-Robles
10 - 10.10am: Dr. Anita Ratnam’s welcome address and introduction to the day's program, and inauguration by Mr. L Sabaretnam, Chairman, Kartik Fine Arts
10.15 – 10.40am: Shanta Serbjeet Singh (Delhi), Vice Chairman, Sangeet Natak Akademi, keynote address on ‘Mad and Divine’
10.45 – 11.05am: Dr. Archana Venkatesan, University of California (Davis), on ‘Legends of the Goddess: Andal stories in Srivaishnava traditions’
11.05 – 11.20am: tea break
11.20 – 11.50am: Vidhya Subramanian (USA), performance of ‘Ojas – with that spiritual energy I yearn’
12– 12.30pm: Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik (Mumbai), mythologist and corporate trainer, speaks on ‘Myth of the Mad Mystical Women’
12.40 to 1pm: Interactive session
10am: Introduction by Anita Ratnam
10.15 – 10.45am: Rajashree Shirke (Mumbai), performance ‘Sant Kanhopatra’ on Marathi women saints
10.50 – 11.10am: Dr. Madhavi Narsalay, University of Mumbai, speaks on ‘Institutionalizing identity through divinity: Female saint poetesses of Maharashtra’
11.10 – 11.30am: tea break
11.30 – 12pm: Priya Sarukkai Chabria (Pune) on ‘Aandaal - the Autobiography of a Goddess’
12 – 12.30pm: Akhila Ramnarayan (Chennai) on ‘Temporal transgressions: Going global with bhakti’
10am: Introduction by Anita Ratnam
10.15 – 10.45am: Chitra Visweswaran (Chennai), performance on ‘Meerabai’
10.45 – 11.15am: Honoring of Vyjayantimala Bali with Lifetime Achievement Award, Acceptance speech, Anita Ratnam in conversation with Vyjayantimala Bali
11.15 – 11.30am: tea break
11.30 – 12pm: Madhureeta Anand (Delhi) & sadhvi Uma Giri, ‘Hearts in ecstasy: A presentation of images and words about Sadhvis’
12– 1pm: Plenary session coordinated by Dr. Ketu H Katrak (USA), ‘Creative representations of ‘Madness’ accessing the Divine’
12 - 12.20pm: Nirupama Vaidhyanathan (USA) speaks on ‘Meerabai and St. Teresa of Avila: Lives in parallel worlds’
12.20 – 12.45pm: Pallabi Chakravorty & Scott Kugle (USA), ‘Dancing for a divine beloved: Mah Laqa Bai and Mira Bai between Hinduism and Islam’
12.45 – 1pm: Closing remarks by Dr. Ketu H Katrak and Interactive session
1 – 1.15pm: Anita Ratnam sums up and introduces next year's conference
6.15pm: Aditi Mangaldas (New Delhi), 2 SOLOS includes ‘Seeking the Beloved’ on Meerabai
7.30pm: Mythili Prakash (USA), ‘AIKYA: IN THE VOICE OF AKKA MAHADEVI’
5pm: Zakir Hussain (Chennai), ‘VANAMAALAI - THE GARLAND OF LOVE’ (Andal)
6.15pm: Meenakshi Chittaranjan (Chennai), ‘SAINT THIRUNAVAKKARASAR - THE LORD, MY LOVER’
7.30pm: Rama Vaidyanathan (Delhi), ‘SOULFUL ABHANGS AND THOUGHTFUL VAKHS’ (Janabai and Lalleshwari)
CONVENOR'S NOTE I am delighted, as Convenor of Natya Darshan’s 2011 Symposium and Performances on the theme of “Mad and Divine Women,” to welcome you all. We look forward to three days filled with animated discussions along with the lilting sounds of poems and songs, and inspired dances that will bring India’s many beloved saint poets - Andal, Meera, Lalleswari, Jogeswari, Akka Mahadevi among others - into our midst.
We explore how the divine is yearned for and attained by these figures often judged by their family and society as “mad.” What is the quality of this “madness” that passionately craves the divine? Is such “madness” necessary to reach the divine? Why is it that when men express such feelings that they are called “realized” and women are called “mad”? In a patriarchal society, are women quicker to endorse these archetypes? Is madness towards a male God acceptable in a patriarchal society that conveniently sanctions such behavior as long as there is a male image involved? Is such a phenomenon still visible in our midst?
In this special month of Margazhi, that has a deep significance to Tamils around the world, we are delighted to honour Ms. Vyjayantimala Bali. She will be conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award for her seminal work on Vaishnavite saint poets and her long and distinguished career in dance. Prominent scholars, academics, dancers, film makers as well as artistes and interlocutors from across India and abroad have gathered to bring new illuminations to the commingling of “madness” and the “divine.”
It is my 45 year long preoccupation with the magnificent love drenched poetry of Andal that has led me to this moment. I danced to her songs at my ‘arangetram’ and have been introduced to the vibrantly ‘mad’ world of her sisterhood. World class dancers also re-imagine the words and worlds of these unique women during the specially designed evening performances.
In all, we offer three days of Madras, Mallipoo, Mylapore, Margazhi and Madness!
Dr. Anita R Ratnam
Bridal Mysticism is one of the nine modes of relationships with the Lord where the relationship is similar to the one between the bride and the groom (Bharya-Birtha). The soul of the devotee is the bride and God is the bridegroom; their union is recognized as the spiritual marriage. The characteristics such as "irrevocableness, unswerving loyalty, love and selfless service are supposed to mark the human marriage to mellow to the greatest extent in the spiritual marriage."
INTERVIEWS Dr. Anita R Ratnam When you were asked to convene the Natya Darshan seminar, what was your first reaction?
I have always wanted to enlarge the scope of the discourse on dance besides performances. To have dancers listen to the varying strands that connect performance with text, scholarship and other art forms have always been of paramount interest. In all my own collaborations - though dance led - I have constantly looked for ways to link dance to contemporary life. I am not a stranger to conferences. I have convened the Natya Kala Conference for Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in 2000 and 2001 and have attended at least one conference in India or overseas every year.
Your choice of ‘Mad & Divine’ as theme.
Subjects can be either something I am passionate about or something that needs to be addressed through a dance conclave. This time it was my abiding passion for Andal, who has shadowed me through her life, and link her life and words to the sisterhood of women who were all called mad through their individual obsessions and later made "divine" through social sanction.
About the conference.
Since 2000, so much has changed in life and technology. There are newer and faster ways of communicating and such novel ways of spreading the word. Social sites, sms, e-mails and You Tube are now indispensable to most of us. I have tried to make this conference visible through all these various ways.
Beyond a mere conference, what purpose do you think this year’s coverage will serve?
I am expecting an eclectic crowd of dancers, students, scholars, society women and rasikas. What I am hoping is that the discourse carries on outside the actual performance confines and stimulates women and men to rethink the ideas of what it takes to be possessed and fanatical about something. It promises to be a wonderful get together. Come and join the 'melam,' talam' and 'vachanam.'
Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik How does male trance differ from the female experience of ecstasy?
I prefer to see things in human terms rather than gendered terms.
Dr. Archana Venkatesan Is fully ecstatic devotion (madness) necessary to touch the divine?
Arguably, the mystical experience (if one can generalize such a thing) oscillates between moments of union and moments of separation. The mystic's madness, characterized by a dissolution of self, by a perception of an alternate reality, or even a hyper-reality, occurs perhaps more tellingly during the long stretches when the divine is perceived as absent. To put it another way, it is the very
inability to touch the divine, or more accurately, to sustain that touching - which is in its very nature ephemeral - that expresses itself in a kind of maddened longing.
Vidhya SubramanianYour comment on the paradox of female poet saints resisting husbands and marriage while attaching themselves to male gods.
It would be easy to categorize the attachment of female poet saints to male gods as jeevatma yearning for paramatma. Although that is definitely the core of Indian classical arts, thinking beyond or within this concept, one can interpret the apathy of these women to their husbands and marriage in other ways.
The resistance to their earthly spouses may have been due to a sense of dissatisfaction with the patriarchal control that many of these men exerted. Ahead of their times, these women could not reconcile with the oppression and banality they were subjected to in their daily lives by the partners who were most often thrust upon them. In attaching themselves to male Gods, they were seeking the ideal husband, the hypothetical perfection that was lacking in their human husbands. Still seeking the complete soul mate, their devotion allowed them to create in their minds, a superior companion, someone they could converse with, extol, profess love to, and feel divine union with.
DID U KNOW
Alice A Bailey, whose books include A Treatise on White Magic and Esoteric Psychology, were supposedly dictated telepathically by the living Tibetan master Djwahl Khul.
Andal, an 8th century (or earlier) Tamil saint and one of the 12 Alvars is the only woman Alvar of Vaishnavism. The Srivilliputhoor Temple is dedicated to her and marks her birth place. Adopted by her father, the famous saint Periyalvar (also called Vishnuchittar meaning "one who has Vishnu in his mind") who found her as a baby, Andal avoided earthly marriage, the normal and expected path for women of her culture, to “marry” Lord Vishnu, both spiritually and physically. In many places in India, especially in Tamilnadu, Andal is treated more than a saint and as a form of God herself. She is credited with great Tamil works of Thiruppavai and Nachiar Tirumozhi that are still recited by devotees during the winter festival season of Margazhi.
Andal’s first work Thiruppavai is a collection of 30 stanzas in Tamil in praise of Vishnu. It is part of Divya Prabandham, a work of the 12 Alvars, and is important in Tamil literature - Pavai genre. Andal imagines herself to be a Gopi or cowherd girl during the incarnation of Lord Krishna. She yearns to serve Him and achieve happiness not just in this birth, but for all eternity, and describes the religious vows (pavai) that she and her fellow cowherd girls will observe for this purpose.
The second is the Nachiar Tirumozhi (Sacred sayings of the Goddess, of which Varanam Ayiram is very well known), a set of 143 verses that fully reveals Andal's intense longing for Vishnu, the Divine Beloved. Using classical Tamil poetic conventions and interspersing stories from the Sanskrit Vedas and Puranas, Andal creates imagery that is possibly unparalleled in the whole gamut of Indian religious literature. But conservative Vaishnavite institutions do not encourage the
propagation of Nachiar Tirumozhi as much as they encourage Tiruppavai, because it belongs to an erotic genre of spirituality that is similar to Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda. Andal’s contribution is remarkable considering that she was just 15 when she composed these verses.
Each Pasuram of Thiruppavai is generally named by the first few words of the poem.
(Translated by Sri Uyyakondar)
Oh Lord Vishnu , Oh Lord who is like the blue sapphire, If you ask us what we need, In your great grace and great deeds, For our holy bath of Marghazhi, We will ask for very many conches Like the milk white conch of yours called Pancha Janya, Very many big drums whose sound can be heard everywhere, Several musicians of fame to sing “Pallandu.” Several beautiful pretty lamps, Several flags and cloths to make tents, Oh, He who sleeps on a banyan leaf at time of deluge, Please give us them all, So that we worship our Goddess Pavai. Maari malai muzhanjil
(Translated by Sri Uyyakondar)
Like the majestic lion wakes up with ire, From the mountain cave in the rainy season, Looks with fiery sight, And with deep angry sweat from all the hairs, Turns up its head with awe, And comes out making lots of din, Hey Lord, who is the colour of the blue lotus, Come from your temple to here, And sit on the majestic royal throne, And hear with compassion, For why we have come here, And help us to worship our Goddess Pavai. A 1000 elephants followed
(‘Varanam Ayiram’ from Nachiar Tirumozhi
Translated by Vidya Dehejia)
A thousand elephants followed
as Narayana Nampi walked in state.
The town was adorned
with flags and banners,
at every threshold
stood a blessed golden urn---
I dreamt this dream, my friend.
Tomorrow, auspicious day,
the wedding will take place.
A great green awning stood
adorned with shoots of palm and areca.
Entered Madhava of leonine power
the ox-like youth, Govinda---
I dreamt this dream, my friend.
Indra and hosts of gods arrived,
they blest me,
chose me as bride.
The wedding garb
Durga draped upon me,
she decked me
with bridal garland---
I dreamt this dream, my friend...
SNIPPETS In Biblical times, Moses’ sister Miriam, the military leader Deborah, and the tailor’s wife Huldah were revered as prophetesses. The mediums who served as mouthpieces for the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi were all women. Recent scholarship suggests that in the early Christian church, St. Mary Magdalene was Christ’s most intelligent and well-loved Apostle.
Women mystics of the Middle Ages have in recent years been given the attention they deserve. Perhaps the most famous is Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), from Germany. A skilled artist, she painted beautiful illuminations of her mystical visions, wrote several treatises on what they revealed. She was also a gifted musician whose songs are popular today among music and meditation enthusiasts.
(‘Women Mystics and the New Millennium’ by Mary Devlin)
MEERABAI Meerabai (1498 - 1547), Rajput princess from Rajasthan, was a Hindu mystical singer and sahajiya devotee of Lord Krishna and one of the most significant figures of the Sant tradition of the Vaishnava bhakti movement. Hundreds of
bhajans attributed to her are popular throughout India and have been published in several translations worldwide. Meera's songs are in a simple form called a pada (verse), a term used for a small spiritual song, usually composed in simple rhythms with a repeating refrain, collected in her Padavali. The extant versions are in Rajasthani and Braj, a dialect of Hindi spoken in and around Vrindavan (the childhood home of Krishna), sometimes mixed with Rajasthani, and in Gujarati.
A documentary film ‘A few things I know about her’ is by Anjali Panjabi. 2 well known films of her life have been made in India, Meera (1945)- Tamil film starring MS Subbulakshmi - and Meera, a 1979 Hindi film by Gulzar. TV series ‘Meera’ (2009-2010) was also based on her life. Meerabai's life has been interpreted as a musical story in ‘Meera - The Lover’, a music album based on original compositions from some well known Meera bhajans. Her romantic songs could not be easily understood by her court people. One day, entering a shrine, she merged with Her Lord. Her songs are sung in musical concerts even today. According to her, only Krishna is a male in the world; all others are females - jivas seeking the Paramatman.
Nothing is really mine except Krishna Nothing is really mine except Krishna.
O my parents, I have searched the world
And found nothing worthy of love.
Hence I am a stranger amidst my kinfolk
And an exile from their company,
Since I seek the companionship of holy men;
There alone do I feel happy,
In the world I only weep.
I planted the creeper of love
And silently watered it with my tears;
Now it has grown and overspread my dwelling.
You offered me a cup of poison
Which I drank with joy.
Meera is absorbed in contemplation of Krishna,
She is with God and all is well!
O my King, my father, nothing delights me more
Than singing the praises of Krishna.
If thou art wrath,
then keep thy kingdom and thy palace,
For if God is angry, where can I dwell?
Thou didst send me a cup of poison and a black cobra,
Yet in all I saw only Krishna!
Meera is drunk with love, and is wedded to the Lord!
Life in the world Life in the world is short,
Why shoulder an unnecessary load
Of worldly relationships?
Thy parents gave thee birth in the world,
But the Lord ordained thy fate.
Life passes in getting and spending,
No merit is earned by virtuous deeds.
I will sing the praises of Hari
In the company of the holy men,
Nothing else concerns me.
Meera's Lord is the courtly Giridhara,
She says: Only by Thy power
Have I crossed to the further shore. Interviews by Lalitha Venkat