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Vol. XXIX No. 14, November 1-15, 2019

Capturing the spirit of Navarathri

– Sudha Umashanker 

Like everything else that is in the throes of a change, festivities and traditions around festivals too have undergone a sea change. From homes and temples, the Navarathri celebrations have in recent times spread to hotels, libraries and not to forget social media!!! .With the current trend of young families getting away from the city whenever there is a long weekend and some others being too busy to follow some or all of the old traditions which are getting short shrift, it was indeed heartening that GRT Grand Hotels Chennai not only organised a grand kolu on all nine days of Navarathri but also offered story-telling sessions centred around it, besides providing a platform for young musicians, vocalists and dancers, in the real spirit of the season.

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Curating a word portrait for each avatar celebrated on that particular day of Navarathri and narrating stories about the dolls on display whether it is the Dasavatharam or Meenakshi Sundareswar kalyanam or the Govardhana Giri episode was what I tasked myself with as a Storyteller.This was pretty much like a free supper theatre experience and the challenge was to draw in a not-quite captive audience but one that happened to be there, incidentally found surprise elements on offer and generously lent their ears

Telling stories about Durga Devi lends itself to many different interpretations. For one: it is a perfect way to hold her up as an example of a Woman empowered. After all the demon she vanquished – Mahishasura – first asked Brahma for a boon of immortality and subsequently brought down the specs to that he should be killed only by a woman as he felt that none of that sex could accomplish this. Two: it allows one to talk about the dharma of war and weaponry and the triumph of good over evil besides the conquest of the demons within us. And like Devdutt Pattanaik points out writers like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee saw the Universal Mother herself manifest as Bharat Mata and capture the imagination of Indians in the days of the freedom struggle.

That stories are great teachers is a given. As I recounted the story of Muruga being born from the six sparks that emanated from Lord Shiva which were deposited in the Saravana lake and Parvathi changing herself into a water body to nurture the babies I thought to myself – what a lovely way to introduce children to the facts of life ever so gently in times past !!!

For the senior members in the audience it was a trip down memory lane. As septugenarian Rangaswami said “I was reminded of the old days. I really enjoyed your stories and they must be told to the younger generation as otherwise they will be forgotten.”

There was plenty of talent on display. Students from the Raja Shyamala School of Music with their superb and in-complete-unison rendition of some evergreen Carnatic numbers regaled the audience after the storytelling. Talented flautist Arathi and mridangam player Shreyas Venkatesh as also students of Vidya Nagi and the T.V. Gopalakrishnan Academy besides young Bharatha Natyam dancers took to the stage at GRT Grand on different days of Navarathri.
Cut to the story-telling session exclusively for children at Story Corner at Bookmine. Children were amused no end to hear that Mahishasura was half buffalo and half demon.

It was a show and tell session in parts when they got to see a kamandalam and a betel leaf for the first time and the different pulses used to make sundal. Traditions seem to be going out of the window as some of the children said they were learning music but no musical instruments were kept in the pooja (while money was).

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