Brahmotsavam : a soul cleansing journey

Engrained in the rich tapestry of the opulent heritage and culture of Hinduism, Brahmotsavam is one of the most revered festivals to grace Hindu devotees.   According to Hindu text, it is said that Lord Brahma performed the celebration of Brahmotsavam to Lord Balaji at Tirupati for Lord Venkateshwara.  The celebrations are also a cleansing ceremony where several devotees cleanse themselves of materialism, aesthetics and ego. Prior to the celebrations, Ankurarpana is performed where this is the sowing of seeds that symbolise abundance, prosperity and fertility.  It is followed by a prayer for Sri Vishvaksena who is said to protect worshipping devotees.  Therefore Brahmotsavam, is an annual celebration of Lord Balaji during the month long fast of Purtassi, where Hindu devotees attend in throngs to Thirupati to deliver their much anticipated prayers and wishes to their merciful Lord.   

Amongst these devotees was Srimati Verushka Pather who was invited by Shri Narshimha Rao, the CEO of Tirumala Tirupati Devastanams, to inaugurate the first day of the ten day celebrations.  Srimati Verushka Pather is a disciple of her Gurus, the Dhananjayans, and has dedicated her life to the preservation of Bharatanatyam.  Being well travelled and performing in several countries, Brahmotsavam is considered to be a life changing experience for the seasoned dancer.  She describes the news of her invitation as “a boon from her Lord Balaji.”  Her preparations to undertake this journey was one of self-discipline, prayer and focus, where she stated that removing ego and material attachment was imperative to attain divine connection to God.  

The invitation is said to be the first for South Africa and all foreign artists and was received by Srimati Verushka with all humility. Accompanying her was stalwart to the classical music and arts fraternity, Shri Karthiegasen Pillay, accomplished musicians Kirthan Pillay and Sreelakshmi Venketraman and professional Bharatanatyam exponent, Srimati Shobana Bhalchandra from Chennai.  Collectively this team provided a resounding performance and offering to Lord Balaji.  Srimati Verushka describes her preparations for her offering as one of mixed emotions.  She states that, “the journey was tough with rehearsals and my main focus was to use my gift of Natyam as an offering for my beloved Lord Balaji.” Srimati Verushka and accompanying musicians and dancers made their pilgrimage to Tirupati after being graciously sponsored by the Cycle Pure Agarbathie Family, the leading brand nationally and internationally of the finest Agarabathies and Fragrances. And a Family company focused on their Social Responsibility to Society, Sport and the Classical Arts.

Upon arriving at Thirumala, there was a cavernous sense of spiritual upliftment, where if one was unable to undertake darshan, being in the presence of Lord Balaji was deeply moving and soul satisfying.  Being the first day of the Brahmotsavam celebrations, Srimati Verushka took to the open air stage to deliver an exceptional performance.  The open air theatre was filled with the collective combined energies of prayers from all devotees that created an ethereal experience.  This was not simply a performance but an anticipated submission of soul to Lord Balaji.  Although the temple was bustling with activity of prayer, the music and emergence of Srimati Verushka onto stage was simply hypnotic.  It was as though the cosmic energies shifted and attention was drawn to the narration of this offering to Lord Balaji.  Each item was performed with the amalgamation of Bhava and Rasa, all of which danced to the glory and service of Lord Balaji. It sent a mesmerising and pulsing course of divine energy to thousands of devotees in attendance. Srimati Verushka used the ancient art of dance to depict the omniscient and omnipotent universal force of Lord Balaji and through His devotion had brought thousands of devotees together, where caste, materialism and ego dissipated in basking in His universal love.  The orchestral emergence of dance and music provided a brilliant edge to the atmosphere and provided the audience with a transcendent experience of pure devotion.  Through apt and precise theermanams and intricate footwork, her margam was delivered with a sense of conviction and devotion.  The synchronism of musicians and dancers was fluid, moving together in ebbs and flows creating lyrical and dancing mastery.  Thousands were drawn to the magnetic attention of Lord Balaji in performance and the expression of art brought forth the gravitas of  the entire celebration.  

 

Srimati Verushka declared that it was her love and devotion for Lord Balaji that had brought her to His abode.  She expressed that, “the program was highly steeped in devotion and humility as I knew the Lord had personally invited me to His abode and this was not on merit but because of my heart and devotion to Him. I felt so privileged to raise my hands in reverence to our Lord and His golden Gopuram  and Sanctum Sanctorum was in front of me.”

This pilgrimage to Lord Balaji’s abode had prompted Srimati Verushka to fulfil her lifelong desire to offer her hair.  In the past she admitted that she prayed for Lord Balaji’s forgiveness because she did not offer her hair due to her programmes.  However, it was this divine experience that seemed to be kismet for Srimati Verushka, where she knew it was through Lord Balaji’s grace and infinite love that He has brought her to His abode due to her persistent and unwavering devotion upon Him. It is said that during Brahmotsavam, Lord Balaji has a purpose for each of His devotees and through this realisation Srimati Verushka decided to offer her hair as it became distinct to her that her gift of Natyam is beyond aesthetics and materialism.  She expressed, “after my program on the Saturday, it became so clear to me. The art is beyond me, greater than all of us. These material bodies are only instruments and when the art takes over, it makes anything beautiful and opulent. The beauty is not me. I am just the paraphenalia.”  Every devotee comes to Lord Balaji to atone for their sins, to rid themselves of ego and materialism and for Srimati Verushka it was enough to dance for Lord Venkateshwara and offer her hair as detachment from ego and aesthetics of being on stage.  She states that this was a freeing experience because being unattached to materialism makes her fully committed to serving her Lord and offering her gift of Natyam. Srimati Verushka describes her journey as both personal and professional as this experience has given her a new found love and commitment for the arts as well as finding herself in this journey and being comfortable to offer your soul in dance rather than the material visual aspects of performance.  She states that her journey has provided her with a reaffirmed sense of faith and her unconditional devotion to her Lord Balaji.  

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Review of SHAKTI: AN EPIC DANCE

“Adi Parashakti., You, who are the remover of distress of those who take refuge in you; we, who have no other saviour, protect us who are eternally being swallowed by the python of endless anxiety, in the insurmountable difficulties of life.” —Tripura Rahasya

I was privileged to be in attendance of one of the most amazing and epic performances to be seen, SHAKTI.  This dance drama was a collaboration between two accomplished and established dance academies in the field of Classical Arts, Natya Ananda (South Africa) and Kala Bhaskara (Reunion Island).  Under the tutelage of Smt Verushka Pather and Smt Logambal Sobrayan Cavery and accomplished musicians, Shri Karthiegasen Pillay,  talented dancers brought to the stage the cosmic energies of our Mother Divine.  Shakti was performed with the aspects of Nritta, Natya and theatrical narration.
Set in narration, poetry and dance the performance unfolded the power of our Divine Mother Adi Parashakti and the various forms to which we revere and adore Her.  It set in motion a tirade of emotions, watching the amalgamation of Bhava and Rasa, all of which danced to the glory and service of Shakti, a mother of all forms.  Each part of the performance was specific to the divinities of the female form, a Mother that has the ability to love so unconditionally.  Shakti brought to audiences the experience of feeling the Eternal limitless power of the Divine Mother and her power that extend beyond this realm or universe.  It showed us the possibilities SHE holds in HER hands, the ability to create universes and dissolve our doubts, selfishness and vanity.  The dance depicting Yashoda and Devaki was mesmerizing, sending a pulsing beat into my veins, running a course of both heartache and joy, I found myself within and without. 

Depicting the omniscient and omnipotent universal force of Shakti, this dance performance provided the audience with a magnetic interpretation of the various forms of Shakti, and how SHE has been present in our pages of history, through the forms of Ganga, MahaLuxmi, Draupati, Kanagi, Devaki and Yashoda.  The orchestral emergence of dance and music provided a brilliant edge to the narration and provided the audience with a transcendent experience of pure devotion.  The entire margam was performed with the energies of Adi Parashakti, one could feel the presence of divinity.  Apt theermanams and defined precise foot work enhanced the narration of the stories that unfolded, like a silken thread unraveling a potent universal truth and awareness of Shakti .  Each performance escalated myriad shades of devotion and spirituality which further gave the audience a sense of conviction and purpose to understanding the infinite compassion of Adi Parashakti. The distinctive clarity of movements of the Varnam astounded the audience, the synchronism of each dancer’s steps in accordance to the thalam was like experiencing a musical adventure, and each dancer’s contribution was fluid, ebbing and flowing to a crescendo of lyrical mastery. The vision of this compilation with the eyes of Adi Parashakti watching ALL was both hypnotic and visionary; it was like meditation in motion.

The complete naturalness of the dancers and musicians elucidated each composition into a masterpiece.  This dance drama was definitely danced with heart and soul, and performed with the blessings and graces of our Divine Mother Saraswathi.  Shakti brought tears to eyes, a warmth to hearts and a long lasting spirituality that would not be easily forgotten.  Imprinted into the hearts of many, Shakti left an indelible mark in the niche of Classical Arts. 

Dancers: Smt. Verushka Pather, Smt. Logambal Souprayen Cavery, Nithiakalaiyani Iyapian, Kriyakshia Govender, Naryegvi Ringvinveleyen and Sita Marianne

Musicians: Shri Karthiegasen Pillay, Sivanathan Pillay, Pooven Pillay, Kirthan Pillay, Kuben Pillay, Rajive Mohan, Bhisham Bridglall and Nila Souprayen Cavery

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Titan in history: Giant for humanity

Today was no ordinary day. Despite the same routine of getting up in the morning, dressing and probably going to work, today was a different day for an entire nation. December 5th, marked the day of the loss of an International hero. Today despite waking to the same routines of our lives, we South Africans woke up to the mourning of a legend, an icon in our midst. Today we woke up to the realisation that Africa and the world has lost a stalwart of peace and humanity.

Upon hearing the morose news, I found myself in an atmosphere of silence, that suddenly everything around me slowed down, the noises dimming to an almost faint hum that I could hear and feel my heart beating in my ears, a pressure instilled from shock. Surely we knew that Tata Madiba was unwell but what we had was hope, for his recovery, infact that very same characteristic we have learned from Tata himself, the hope of better days. Going to work, listening to the radio, I surely surprised myself when tears began falling uncontrollably down my face, to the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron who described today as “A great light has gone out in the world.” I could not fathom the impact that Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela has made on the world. The immense amount of sadness pouring out from countries across the world, each heart beating a melancholy farewell to the world’s icon. 

My own experience, and this day has brought me, was a memory of meeting Tata for the very first time. I was seven years old wearing an already oversized Mandela shirt, sitting on my father’s shoulders amongst masses of people at Groutville, a small township near the North Coast of KZN. Awaiting the arrival of Mandela, in a helicopter after his release from prison. I can still picture the scene, the hordes of people frenzied in excitement and comradeship, awaiting this Titan amongst us ordinary people, those ordinary people that he had sacrificed his freedom for, so we may have ours. I remember screaming in the excitement only to touch the very fingertips of his great hands. My father was very much into the political freedom and expression and never failed to introduce me to the inner workings of craving the humanity and freedom for others. I may have not been part of the definite struggle at its peak but I have witnessed the resilience of people in it. My very first experience of watching this legendary man, address a community with such sincerity and promise, the hatred left behind in a prison cell. This iconic man was truly free.

Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela never failed to teach the world the true purpose of humanity. He never failed to show kindness and compassion unto others and he most of all never backed down from his convictions. He truly believed in the potential of South Africa, leading this great nation into democracy and freedom, helping to liberate women from oppression, and making people see further than the colour of skin. Tata Madiba mostly believed in the potential of humans, that if we could learn to hate, we could definitely learn to love. He envisioned a nation bigger and brighter than those who doubted it, before its time. He envisioned the greatness of the human soul, putting kindness and integrity before one’s own selfish needs. Tata Madiba has and will always be a Titan in history and through the pages of our own country’s history and the rest of the world, he has left a footprint of love, hope and faith in all of us. Today I am truly proud to say that I am South African, it is Tata Madiba that has made our country a beautiful place to live in. We should only hope to emulate his dignified and disciplined character, also instilling into others to be good and do good.

Farewell Tata Madiba, you have given us more than just freedom, you have given us something much more valuable, it is hope, in ourselves and in a country we love so much. Peace be upon you, your memory will be timeless, never fading through the course of history.

“When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in Peace.” Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela.

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Road less travelled

From time of birth, it is assumed each and everyone of us have a preordained destiny, a path created through experience. Things are put together and things fall apart. We go through most of our years questioning the purpose of our existence. Coming across cross roads, sometimes more often than once, decisions creating panic, anxiety, deftness, surety, conflict, resolution. Life, this complex restitution of an air thick with questions, some probably never to be answered in a single lifetime. We go through that phase of who are we? What are we doing? Never to get that one sure resolution to our own personal conflict.

Humans are inherently never happy with what we have, always desire more or less. Once our desires have been granted we start upon a different path of self reasoning or wishful thinking. We fail to understand that our biggest problem is the roads we create for ourselves. Sometimes these roads are spilled with the pain of others, the race to success, the self inflicting sort. Our destination is unknown, never knowing where we going to end up or why. Yet we still question, wasting time on the end result rather than the journey getting there. The road less travelled is always the better of the journey, less interrogation and more going ahead blindly. Whichever path chosen, you don’t have to be a definite somebody yet, maybe the road less travelled picks up pieces of who you are yet to be.

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Fictional friends: a girl’s best friend

I grew up being the awkward kid, never too sociable and never too alone at the same time. Equipped with less than normal social skills and predisposition for shyness, making friends or keeping existing ones was never my forte. I’m sure many people would agree that the raging teenage hormones and growing into your own skin makes every child and the process of growing up uncomfortable. I would disagree because most parts of my childhood, teen years and adulthood followed a very similar pattern, one of self questioning, searching or complete avoidance.

The most uncomfortable parts of my life was and still is meeting new people, I never know how to act or what to say, my first impression of myself is to make believe believe I’m either deaf or mute, only to surprise them later with a few utterances of random useless information. Being in crowds feels like being naked in an auditorium with a spotlight on, most weird and anxiety stricken. People may try to diagnose me and say that I have the fear of crowded spaces or meeting new people. I am awkward but also very observant. I tend to focus more on the way people behave and place emphasis on what they say, their choice of words and what they say about others. It’s probably a coping mechanism to avoid or forget about the uncomfortable space of reality I’m in.

I was one of those girls that never really had a BFF. Sure I had friends that were girls and somehow even through years of knowing one another managed to experience the anguish and tragedy of deceit and heart ache of breaking a friendship. I resented being on the receiving end of bullshit but knowing fully I was not assertive enough, generally allowed myself in the way of girls nastiness and petty gossip. You would think that with age, the wisdom of learning from past mistakes makes one wiser. NOT ME! I continued to place myself in the desperate need to acquire at least one female friend that I could consider a best friend. Nevertheless I don’t need to reiterate how that ended.

Then one morning, lo and behold I realised I always had reliable friends that have been a part of my life throughout my entire life. The one consistent friend that never bails, the one that has been there through the best and worst of times, that has kept my over thinking mind at bay and allowed me to exercise what was once considered an over active imagination. Yes dear people, books were my friends. Keeping me company in the times I was not invited to sleepovers and dress up parties, I read the adventures of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. These characters taught me to be imaginative and that being different was not such a terrible thing at all. It taught me to question what exactly is considered socially acceptable. During the time of female friends pretending to be friends with me, I cried myself into the words of The velveteen rabbit and Hardy Boys, the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Oliver Twist. These fictional characters became my friends. When I experienced my first heartbreak I found solace in and new found promise of love in the works of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice. In my times of weakness I found strength in works of Sylvia Plath and Arundati Roy.

I simply love the smell of the new pages of a new book, the way the paper feels as you flip a page and the way the words create a whole new adventure waiting to be discovered. I am sure many people share my appreciation and love for books, that have kept us lonely and misunderstood souls company for many a day. I love the feeling of starting a story but feel a pang of anguish when it ends, like a part of your own history has come to and end. I have a new found respect for the many authors that brought these fictional characters to life, so that many of us socially awkward misfits could have ‘ friends’. A book will always welcome me with open arms, doesn’t judge my past, present or my ideology of a future. I always believe that we do not choose books, they choose us. Walking into a bookstore is like waking up on Christmas morning. It truly fills my heart with such a radiance that no words could describe the immense attraction I have for those words bound in hardcover or paperback.

My world of fictional friends have surpassed the friendship test, they will stand true through the pages of history and somehow has shaped me into who I am. Books have given me the patience when I have asked for none. They have created for me a world so safe that no socially or politically correct mannerisms could inflict a dent into my misfit awkwardness. Fictional friends have truly been this girl’s best friend.

“I read, therefore I Am.”

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How to train your dragon

I wasn’t clearly aware that my life was the epitome of trial and error testing until I realised there were so many people and factors trying to control it. Worst part is, I allowed it for so long, something like Stockholm syndrome. In the society we live in, it seems to be the trend to control the lives of others, fix something that doesn’t need fixing or even remotely broken.

I see that it is also a common mistake that most people generally underestimate me, confuse the quiet to be trained. I cannot be trained to behave, think or act other than what I am. Any disclosure thereafter will infinitely be a tantamount mistake. Trying to control me especially my very opinionated mind doesn’t bode well for anyone. To the general public out there, do NOT mistake a lack of tenacity as a lack of strength. Most women, especially myself have superlative strength, with a minute amount of secret suffering, the mind is never idle. Training me will never work, I cannot be broken down, I love fiercely through tragedy and anguish and still have the strength to give more of myself, a self sacrifice that no man could ever bear to undertake.

I am not one through circumstances or fear, to give in, back down or endure. I will fight a challenge, in fact I am a challenge. Not easy to handle, not easy to break down. Life has taught me one thing, that it is ok for people to un estimate my capacity as a woman, it just gives me more reasons to prove the narrow minded and prejudiced wrong. I will never be one of those people in throes of anguish that I won’t put a smile upon my face. My life is NOT a democracy, it is something I am selfishly possessive of, I do not aspire to live it in a manner to please others. Strong woman cannot be trained, we cannot be “Step Ford” wives, we cannot be the homemakers of a perfect little world. The real world has cracks, the glue that holds reality in place is the fact that we live as unpretentious as possible. Most people don’t even live life, they merely exist.

So next time, the thought or inclination crosses your mind to exert your unwarranted prejudiced and loathed opinions about my life or the way I choose to live, take a long hard look at yours. No one is perfect, and in my.persuit to happiness, I make mistakes, I learn and I live. You can never train me because you can never train a dragon. Women with true conviction and principle are strong and will never break.

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The reality of fear

Fear is a powerful emotion that captures hearts, confines dreams and break homes. It is sometimes set by those you care the most, the inflictions of pain you wish to cast unfortunately to those you love the most. Fear comes in all forms, faces and forms. The fear of being a victim of crime, paranoid and living beneath the reality of life, creating a self non forming bubble where inside everything is just the way you want it. However this fear pulls you away from possibilities, friends, family and love, opportunity, dreams and faith. Fear of life itself, that terrible sinking feeling of fearing the unknown, always wanting to be calculated and precise in the step forward. The fear of not being able to love, for the fear of the wounds already inflicted. The fear of falling without someone to catch you, that irreplaceable drifting into nothingness. We let our minds accept fear, it becomes a part of us, a parasite growing with our every need for paranoia and longing. Two things control us, the need and the fear. The fear of being forgotten, or replaced. The contingency of not knowing what comes next with no helping hand to guide you. It makes you stronger, independent but you lose your hope in humanity thereafter. You lose your faith and hope that there will ever be someone to help you. When your walls you have created cannot withstand the storms for much longer there would never be someone to help you float, to keep your head above water. Fear makes every man for themselves…

                                              

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