Artistic traditions that transcend
- Prof. Madhu Madhavan and Veenu Puri Vermani
Photos: Natalie Quinn

October 16, 2010

The San Diego Museum of Art and Shoba Sharma of Naatya celebrated Maestro Ravi Shankar Day in San Diego and the opening of the permanent exhibit: Temple, Palace, Mosque by presenting Shamsa: Light of God. The galleries display the museum's collections from South Asia and Persia. Shamsa, a Persian word, is an ornate sunburst that appears in the beginning of Persian manuscripts. This unique and exciting performance, choreographed and presented by the well known Bharatanatyam performer Shoba Sharma, was attended by over 600 people at the James S Copley Auditorium at The San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park. This performance was enthusiastically received by a standing-room-only audience composed of Iranian, Indian and art lovers from many cultural backgrounds.

Shoba Sharma presented the first piece dedicated to the Temple gallery of the museum set to classical South Indian Carnatic style. It opened with an invocation to Ganesha, the lord of good beginnings and obstacle remover. This was followed by excerpts of two songs of devotion ("Nada Tanumanisam" and "Mokshamu Galada") by composer Saint Thyagaraja (18th century), dedicated to Lord Shiva. They describe Siva as the embodiment of music, which was perfect for the Veenadhara sculpture (Siva as the Divine Musician). This piece was concluded by a devotional hymn composed by Sambandar, the 7th century Tamil child saint, devoted to Shiva with excerpts of music and verse from Acts of Buddha and his attainment of Nirvana, spiritual enlightenment. Shoba's portrayal of Shiva, Parvathi, Sambandhar and Buddha was enacted with great depth and ethos that touched the audience.

The second piece dedicated to the Palace gallery was set to Hindustani classical music with the accompanying verses drawn from the 12th century poet Jayadeva's Gita Govinda as well as a composition of maestro Ravi Shankar. The theme titled 'Shringara' was the display of love of Radha and Krishna. Shoba gave a convincing portrayal of the lovelorn Radha chastising Madhava for flirting with other women.

The third piece dedicated to Mosque gallery was a scene from Shahnama, the Persian Book of Kings by Ferdowsi in 1000AD. This was accompanied by Persian music. This was unusual in that pure classical Bharatanatyam partnered with classical Persian music to create a breathtaking performance. The epic romantic love story of Khosrow and Shirin was enacted by Shoba to the great delight of the audience. In a turquoise blue flowing veil, this performance picked up rhythm and speed, with exquisite footwork. The audience was then treated to Pejman Hadadi, renowned Iranian percussionist and Kourosh Taghavi, Persian Setarist.

The finale was a special composition of Hindustani classical music called Tarana, a confluence of melody, rhythm, lyrics and color and hence called Chaturang. The evening's Tarana was composed by Pt. Ravi Shankar. The joyous and uplifting music and choreography had the audience in raptures. Shoba showed her talent as a choreographer and performer and her ability to create images of sculptures that left an indelible impression. The combined Indian-Iranian-American program transported the audience to a beautiful, harmonious world for a brief time that left one with hope that great artistic traditions would have the power to heal the conflicts of the real world.

Prof. Madhavan is professor emeritus, and founding chairman of the San Diego State University's Asian and Pacific Studies department, and director for both the Center for Research in Economic Development and the Center for Asian Studies. Veenu Puri Vermani is a freelance writer for India Abroad and India West.