OUR CELEBRATIONS IN SONG AND DANCE
Indianapolis, Indiana USA, August 15, 2010
Kanwal Prakash Singh
We pray to God in many languages and in many unique and diverse ways. Music is a familiar presence in life and beyond. The Sikhs in evening prayer recite: “In Your Court, from where Lord, You govern all Creation, many saintly and learned souls, musicians playing uncommon instruments in fascinating Ragas (distinct patterns and measures of music), the gods of Air, Water, and Fire, and righteous braves, celestial beauties, and countless others are singing Your Praise.” We hear of the cosmic dance of heavenly bodies, stars, and galaxies, and learn about the continuous mysterious Naad (celestial music) reverberating throughout the heavens. We find images of Natraj, the Lord of Dance in Indian homes, and we see images of angels carrying musical instruments adorning great cathedrals. Dance and music seem to have a fabled connection in temporal and celestial realms.
Perhaps inspired by such spiritual knowledge enshrined deep within, music, song, and dance are an intrinsic part of worship in many faiths. Ancient Hindu temples had a special place called Nritya Mundpa where the temple dancers venerated the Temple Deity with dance offerings. We see dance as an important element in church re-enactments of major faith events. The entire Sikh scriptures, nearly 5,894 compositions in exalted poetry and enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Holy Book) are keyed to various Ragas (distinct patterns and measures of music) in which each is designated to be sung. The inner stirrings of our soul call us to song and dance, as a spontaneous response to visual images of awesome beauty; experience the wonder and sense of joy at undreamed-of blessings, celebrate landmark events: birth-death, marriage, sacred holidays, and other significant times in the lives of those we love.
Dance and music in Nature and Creation are as old as the origin of Creation itself. Music and dance in myriad forms and expressions are a primordial anchor and expression of life itself. In our daily lives and festivities, at worship and sacred rituals, multicultual events and interfaith gatherings, dance and music lend meaning, mystery, and a sense of joy to our celebrations. The arts: music, song, dance, in various art forms: folk, traditional, modern, or other innovative contemporary adaptations are the universal language of humanity. Dance and music, architecture and sculpture, in sacred and classical styles remain the crowning glory of our artistic achievements. They connect us with the universe around us and the realm of the Divine that thrive in our imagination.
Today, celebrated and colorful ethnic and classical dances, some in danger of extinction, are seen across once unimagined frontiers and making a gradual comeback as national and international cultural treasures. It is not unusual to find Indian classical dances like Bharat Natyam and Kathak (story telling in dance) performances in Indianapolis or at The Kennedy Center in Washington; enjoy the folk dances of the Punjab, like Bhangra and Gidda, or of Gujarat, like Dandya Raas, at weddings, in movies, and at fundraising events in the West. We can see contemporary genres of dance and music in giant stadiums, international dance competitions, and at major cultural celebrations.
There are dance performances, such as Arangetram, in major cities showcasing the successful completions of classical dance training by aspiring young dancers at one of the many dance and music academies in America. This is an amazing turn in our cultural offerings, an incredible gift by the immigrant or visiting talented teachers of classical dances introducing such celebrated artforms in new settings, connecting us to the rich treasures of the distant and ancient lands and making a place for them in welcome landscapes. Technology and YouTube have brought the distant near, taken us magically to their cultural origin and spirit, and created multi-dimensional forums for their survival at new crossroads. Art exchanges and diplomacy has the potential to be major asset for the greater good of humanity as never before in human history.
This is cause for optimism. This is also a powerful reminder that arts are at new fragile thresholds, and unless needed support by way of opportunities and financial help are extended to the endangered artforms, their survival and continuity may not be possible. These arts need a secure and an honored place in the cultural fabric of our nations. We must find ways to integrate the finest and designated cultural treasures into our international heritage. We must work with institutions mandated for the preservation and advancement of the unique classical dances and music traditions, seek and inspire new audiences, and adapt to the contemporary realities of our time and place. We owe this pledge to ourselves and to the future generations that: we will not permit the irreplaceable artistic treasures of the past to become a footnote in the cultural history of our civilization; they must remain a living legacy in new cultural frontiers for future generations.
Arts are a key to understanding the people and cultures of our neighbors and those across the global village; they are a bridge to our past and offer direction and lessons for our future. Arts greatly contribute to the quality of our lives and carry the potential of unimagined financial and cultural rewards. It is entirely up to us to enjoy cultural assets that have the power to thread and unites all humanity, offer a window to human civilization and a rare glimpse of the undiscovered and changing universe before us. The arts are life; life is a dance; and music is the soul of dance. Imagine a world without dance or music, and then imagine the exciting rhythms of a dance transporting our mind and spirit to uplifting thoughts and feelings of immense joy. The performances of Sarod Maestro, Amjad Ali Khan, an Arangetram (classical dance recital) of a young artist, a moving peace concert by devotional musician Snatam Kaur, and the folk dances at festive celebrations just do that, take us on a pleasureable cultural journey. We admire the skills, discipline, and devotion of the performers. Our senses dance in ecstacy as if traveling through time and space graced with thousand images, our eyes witnessing the wonder and splendor of a sacred pilgrimage of spirit that often defies simple description.
We can only hope that our shared cultural heritage: the classical, traditional, or contemporary music and dance remain and flourish as a precious human legacy. The arts mirror our humanity; they give us hope, faith, and reassurance, especially amidst incredible human challenges. The arts offer us a timeless global anchor, a universal cultural bridge to travel in friendship towards diverse cultures and communities. May we recognize the true place of arts and see to it that the boundless joy, excitement, soul-stirring creativity, and the story of our civilization enshrined in our celebrated arts continue to serve and enrich humanity at new crossroads in myriad ways. For that to happen, each of us must make our own commitment that the arts and culture are everyone’s business, our collective responsibility to enjoy and nurture them.