Awakening the Performer Within – Unlocking Life through Natya

By Brij Masand

When I first heard of the workshop, I didn’t take notice – not for me I thought.

However, I went, and participated, and was pleasantly surprised to experience both profound wisdom and practical instruction, informing one’s life with the true meaning of the performing arts – not just for performers and artists but for everyone who is curious about living an awake and examined life. The best aspect was that we could take it’s brilliance back into our respective lives to lighten, enliven, and glow in the natural presence of the Self.

natya-2Held at the Lexington Community Center, The 5-evening immersive, experiential course, “Awaken the Performer Within: Secrets from Natyashastra”, provided unprecedented and brilliant access to a relatively unknown dimension of Indian culture: performing arts and their intimate connection with bringing a sacred context to day-to-day living, not just for me, but all the attentive and motivated attendees of this workshop series recently organized by Meru Education Foundation in Lexington.

Each session of the workshop began with an invocation and devotion to the lineage of Gurus, setting the tone for receiving this precious knowledge with humility and gratitude, making one a worthy vessel to absorb and practice this profound wisdom

In ancient India, the science behind the practice of performance was called “Natyashastra“, which is a deep body of knowledge, relevant for all kinds of artists and also for the discerning lovers of the arts. It is intended to be practiced, not just learnt conceptually. Natya, as a context or view, refers to a broad range of performing arts – theatre, music, dance, sculpture and poetics, where the entertainment aspect of the performance is incidental, or subservient to creating a sacred context, where both the performer and the audience are transported into a transcendental realm.

The course was led by poet-scholar-musician, Shekhar Shastri who with the help of dancers, musicians and actors generated an unforgettable learning experience.

natya-3To be in the presence of Shekhar leading these workshops is to directly experience what invocation is and to see him demonstrating what his words are communicating.  Again and again he reached deep within and with ease; in a  light hearted manner he worked  with the audience through exercises and coaching so they could each get a taste of what it means to perform –  to intentionally communicate or cause a “rasa” (an emotional experience)  to arise in another, the audience.

Storytelling, demonstrations and exercises vividly brought to life what would otherwise be merely academic instruction and systematically but gently led us through an enthralling journey where at each stage there was an opportunity to discover something within oneself, a new sense of who one is, as performer or audience in the play that is one’s own life – as an enjoyable adventure. Ultimately one learns experientially through reinventing for oneself what is being taught but Shekhar was the perfect catalyst to facilitate such learning.

Classical musician Shuchita Rao, who has been associated with Meru for many years, added her expected melodious presence through her memorable elucidations, along with Aditya Rohit, the young Hindustani Classical singer who added excitement though his  impromptu demonstrations. Well-known Bharatanatyam dance teacher, Meena Subramanyam, led some of the Abhinaya segments, and remarked as to “what a wonderful journey, extremely enjoyable”, this course had been.

Dancer and course coordinator Pallavi Nagesha said, “the level of engagement we see from more than 75 participants is unprecedented.”

Musician Armando Dicciano, remarked, “… it turned out to be a surprising opening into the mystery of life.”

“One must also acknowledge the very discerning, erudite and accomplished   attendees, who with insightful questions brought out subtle perspectives“, observed Vanita Shastri of Meru Education Foundation.

It was indeed an active collaboration between an inspired teacher and the eager students.

I hope Meru continues to bring such teachings, and perhaps train others to lead it, to allow a broader audience to taste this exquisite knowledge and to rekindle our connection to and celebrate this ancient wisdom from India.

Like one participant remarked, “… if this is who I can be, life is beautiful.”

At the end I saw myself standing there in silence, thinking, “It’ll will be hard to explain what happened here – can only be experienced.”

(Brij Masand is the managing partner of Actionable Analytics Corp. )

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