Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran’s new dance autobiography speaks of how she tackled the pandemic as an artist and inspires all to emerge out of darkness
The auditorium reverberated with live musicians playing for her as she performed a 90-minute piece reflecting her internal dance journey through the Covid pandemic. “I believe the other side of infinity is insanity. It is a tough choice during the pandemic that we had to make about whether we were going down the slope towards insanity or whether we were able to rescue ourselves towards infinity,” she said. The pandemic that the world has witnessed in the past two years has greatly impacted every person on the planet. To portray that era of darkness that everyone needs to put aside while treading the path forward with caution, Chandran deployed ‘Beeti Vibhavari Jaag Ri’ by Hindi poet Jai Shankar Prasad Ji as a potent metaphor that also promises a better tomorrow. Using images of rejuvenation and of finding renewed strength within, the opening piece set the pace and tone for the evening. The pandemic had seen each of us experience different emotions ranging from anger, compassion, fear and restlessness. Mirroring this, the episode of Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Mountain to protect humanity offered an opportunity for Chandran to explore various nava-rasas in her dance spiralling into the deepest recesses of her core to understand feelings of sorrow, wonder, disgust, and love. Verses in Sanskrit from the Sri Krishna Karna-amrita shlokam of Bilvamangala Swami become the libretto for this exploration in music and abhinaya. The performance then approached transcendence in the danseuse serenading the Goddess in Amba Nilambari, who drapes the sky as her garment.
Chandran said that she specially chose this Goddess who rules the skies as her object of devotion since Covid too came to us air-borne. This grand Carnatic music composition of vaggyekara Shri Muthuswami Dikshithar was presented in a mature vilambit fashion. Chandran’s abhinaya of the Goddess, Neelambari who blesses devotees with eyes full of compassion, became a dance of hope and post pandemic sustenance. In Search of Infinity also brought out Chandran’s maternal feelings which were invoked watching her grandson toddle around during the pandemic year. This experience informed a beautiful lullaby wherein Ma Yashoda narrates the story of Rama while putting little Krishna to sleep. In an epiphanic moment in the story, when Sita isabducted by Ravana, the baby Krishna, transcending time and space, calls out to Lakshmana (his brother in his previous incarnation as Ram) to get his bow readied, since he wants to call out Ravana. This wonderful literary piece by Poet Surdas, presented the concept of a grand Sanatan philosophy were avatars are linked in cyclical memory. Finally, Chandran concluded her performance with a call for social tolerance of differences. In a piece written by Swami Annamacharya of the Tirupati Balaji temple, the poet called for samdrishti to human beings who may follow different sets of beliefs. All of humanity is one, says the poet, even as all the Gods are one! Images of devotees worshipping Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Tantra practices and Vedanta all showed the multiple ways of reaching the single Parabhramam. Chandran said: “The pandemic affected all performing artists deeply. I was no exception. My dance studio, which was, until then, daily humming with hyper creative activity and the bustle of students, went eerily silent. After a brief hiatus of about two weeks, I shook off my ennui and started reassessing my blessings.
I recognised that my art was replete and capable of feeding my soul and saving me from the downward spirals that so many around me were sliding down into! And I also realised that my internal landscape was robust enough to keep me busy, creatively occupied, feeling fulfilled and happy. I reached the blissful Point Zero within myself, and I thank the pandemic for that. I truly tasted eternity.”
She further added, “In Search of Infinity showcases compositions I worked on during those 30 null months. With the support of stellar musicians K. Venkateswaran and Manohar Balatchandirane who were my pandemic co-travelers, I survived the pandemic and two Covid infection cycles with hope, and positivity.” Calm, quiet and Nirvana can be achieved if one wills it and this is what Chandran tried to bring out through her performances as she took a housefull audience through this fascinating autobiographical journey of how she emerged from the pandemic quick sands that engulfed so many. There is a reason why performing arts have been esteemed so high as they and other creative fields are the most potential ways at hand for anyone to find balm for battered souls. Through In Search of Infinity, Chandran inspired everyone to find their happiness and calm within themselves and quench their creative thirst. The outburst of an impromptu standing ovation was proof that the audience heartily endorsed Chandran’s path. Chandran started dancing at the age of five. She has spent the last 55 years teaching and performing the classical dance, which has proved her as ‘dynamic’ and ‘magnificent’. Even after giving many best performances, she is always eager to learn something.
“The 30 months of
the pandemic underlined
limits of everything; we were
all boxed in both physically
and metaphorically. In that
state of despair, my dance
led me to deeper spaces