By IndiaGBnews special correspondent Aline Dobbie
Let me tell you about the Bishnoi People. I first had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting them in one of their villages in 1997 when staying at the lovely Rohet Garh quite near to Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Rajasthan is the state with the Thar Desert taking up most of its western reaches and thus these wonderful people live in a largely inhospitable semi-desert and thus treasure and preserve all forms of trees, bushes and greenery. Since 1997 I have been back to meet them in 2008 and 2015.
That dedication to tree preservation then led to their absolute dedication to the local wildlife and it is a superb precious experience to be amongst them and observe the peacocks, parakeets, black buck and nilgai that abound around them along with camels who are used for transport.
Last evening, I was the guest of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies known as ScoTs at Edinburgh Napier University. They hosted the wonderful and inspiring Dancers’ Guild from Kolkata in India. Dancers’ Guild was formed in 1983 by Dr Manjusri Chai Sircar and Ranjabati Sircar. The primary objective was to form a contemporary dance form. Thus was born Navanritya a new approach to Indian Dance. It is a synthesis of traditional Indian dance forms, yoga and martial arts. It is a contemporary way of looking at dance as well as a search for a contemporary dance language. Navanritya now absorbs the wonderful Indian classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Manipur, Odissi, folk dances like Mayurbhanj Chhau and international styles like the Kandyan dance of Sri Lanka; as well it incorporates martial arts like Manipur Thang-ta and Yoga.
Navanritya is distinctive as it is eclectic, compelling, captivating and spectacular. The dance we watched is called Aranya Amrita. That means in Hindi the immortalization and continuum of nature and it is based on the legend of the Bishnoi Community of Rajasthan….so now you see why I was so entranced!
The narrative piece explored the healthy communion between man and nature. The intimacy between the trees of the forest and the Bishnoi Community of men is emphasized through subtle dance sequences in which the humans move to blend and merge with the trees. This sort of Indian Arcadian Idyll is then brutally interrupted by the arrival of the wood-cutters. The masked wood-cutters in their menacing black symbolise universal evil. The piece becomes frenetic with the females all imploring the woodcutters not to cut the trees, but they do and they indeed kill all the humans too. However, the piece ends with the regeneration and reincarnation of the forest with the promise incarnated in even the Upanishads…’Let the Earth we dig become greener and greener every day’.
One uses the word legend, but in fact this is a true story set in the first half of the 18th century. The fearless Bishnoi woman called Amrita tried to stop the felling of tree in her village of Khejarli by woodcutters who were intent on destroying their habitat – there are so few trees in that area as I well know that it must have been viewed as an act of cruel greed and vandalism. The name of Amrita’s tribe The Bishnoi is bish+noi which means 20+9 = 29 which symbolises the 29 ethics by which this tribe has live through time. Under the trees Amrita and her husband meet and love, their children are born and play amongst the cool shade, the village women pluck flowers while their menfolk gather the fruits of the forest. Then it ends in brutal tragedy inspired by expedient greed. Well my friends, on a large scale that might have been the cause of the end of the great Harappan Civilisation in what is now Pakistan but the two great cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa though very sophisticated for their time were then abandoned…. a theory is that the people kept cutting down the forests and that affected the water table and every other local environmental consideration.
This legend and story inspired the famous Chipko Movement in India in 1973, campaigning against deforestation and inspired the environmental sustenance programmes worldwide at a time when environmental consciousness was not as prevalent as it is today.
Now globally we are all fighting to maintain the Rain Forests of Indonesia and Borneo, the Amazon and parts of Africa; still greed, expedient needs and man’s incapacity to think ahead are the cause of so much deforestation and we need to stand up to those ruthless people.
Dancers’ Guild are a delight and I wish them well in their dancing and their capacity to spread a good message. They will be appearing at The Nehru Centre in London