Thursday, July 09, 2009

We can be superheroes

Just for one day

The Lalit Kala campus reeks of urine.

That's my overwhelming impression of what should be Nepal's equivalent of the "Kids From Fame" high school. Lalit Kala ("Fine Arts") is a secondary school where classical music, singing, and fine (visual) arts are taught. The building is historic; several generations of Nepali royal court musicians used to house and practice there. But it's terribly dilapidated; the semi-modern toilet installed smack in the middle of the ground floor is only the beginning.

According to Raju who graduated from there 15 years before, absolutely not one thing has changed. Looking round the fine arts and sculpting studios was nothing short of depressing. Dimly lit, dusty, musty rooms; even the grimy brown anatomy skeleton was missing parts.

In case you haven't figured this out yet, money is not a problem in Nepal. There is plenty of money. It all goes into deep pockets! I had to wonder how a student could concentrate on anything, let alone fine arts, with such a reek coming into the old classrooms.

Raju and I performed briefly there on 15 May; we opened the end-of-term classical music show with the "Sodasa Lasya" (Sixteen Graces) item.

In order to dance the approximately 6-minute hymn, we still had to garb up in full Tantric dance gear; all this in one of the empty classrooms with no mirror. But I'm not complaining, it was my first Charya performance of any kind. Raju was dressed in the yellow gown of Manjushree; I wore the red attire of Vajrayogini.

I'm accustomed to 3-hour dressing sessions from Bharatanatyam, and Charya is quite a bit simpler in alankaram (decoration), but still involved:

-under trousers, -choli blouse, -full skirt, -mekhala (deccorative belt), -another kind of overskirt waist-piece, -a big full thavani (top part) that made me feel like a Catholic cardinal, -another top piece that fit around the breastbone, -and lots and lots of jewelery, including:

-Several sets of bangles,
-heavy silver anklets,
-bells tied round the knees,
-about five different neckpieces including the tayo or oblong traditional Newari women's piece worn by the Kumari, and
-several strands of fake pearls.

Raju drew a "third eye" on my forehead using a black kajal pencil.

My favourite part is the crown, or muthi, also called kiriti. There are several different crowns meant to be worn for various deities; this time I was wearing the skull-garland crown of VajraYogini. The grinning kapilas look to western eyes very Tibetan, but in fact it's the other way round; Tantric Buddhism with its skull imagery came from India via Nepal before reaching Tibet.

Underneath the crown is a 3-tiered topknot hairpiece; an identical wig is worn by the Tibetan monks when they perform certain lama dances depicting the Dakinis. Then the crown is tied on with black threads in three different places.

The crown looked and felt a lot like a helmet. After donning all this magical bling, I felt like a superhero - cape, implement of power, helmet of invincibility, and shields. I have often mused on the similarity between Hindu deities and the Superheroes. Vishnu particularly seems like Superman (he rests in his Fortress of Solitude when not needed; he incarnates whenever a call for help is heard on Earth, has superhuman strength and takes different forms).

After three false starts (the sound guy couldn't cue the CD right), we finally danced. It is rather un-godly to stand on stage waiting for the music to start.

Somehow I think Kathmandu needs all the cutting-through energy of Vajrayogini to eliminate the corruption that allows a noble institution like Lalit Kala to fall into such decay.

 Related reading:
Gods, Men and Territory: Society and Culture in Kathmandu Valley
 The Glory of Nepal: A Mythological Guidebook to Kathmandu Valley Based on the Nepala-Mahatmya and Himavatkhanda 


Jennifer said...

Tears come to my eyes when I see your photo!! I remember when you first e-mailed me almost 10 years ago saying you wanted to travel around India and learn dance!! You are living your dreams and fantasies!!! Wow! You are an inspiration!

Stirling Davenport said...

This is probably my fovorite of your blog entries lately. The photo of you is great. It really shows your serious entry into the art and you have the powerful face of Vajrayogini. I am so happy that you are living this complete existence there ... it lets me vicariously experience it. More, more of the dance photos, please!

Jimmy said...

Nepal's most art is related to India. Nepal majorly follows Indias lifestyle and culture

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