The folk music of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus touched on bitter-sweet emotions.

Every country treasures its precious links with the past. Amid the daily grind that enervates, individuals, associations and dedicated communities seek to reconnect with and sustain forms of artistic and cultural expression that energise and define identity. Folk traditions play a significant role in the past-present continuum and find powerful articulation in song, dance and mime, which twine the bitter-sweet emotions and experiences of the adventure called life.

Celebrating Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian folk traditions on Easter Sunday, the United Russian Pavilion and the Russian speaking people of Auroville presented an evening of music and camaraderie under the auspices of the Russian Centre of Science and Culture.

Verdant township

Founded in 1968 by The Mother as a project of the Sri Aurobindo Society, Auroville evolved from a vision to reality, from a nascent concept in a dry scrubland to a verdant township that continues to inspire people the world over to savour the serenity of being, in tandem with purposeful, eco-friendly living.

With different countries hosting their respective national pavilions, the foundation stone for the Russian Pavilion was laid in 2002. The ongoing project aims at being a centre for educational and cultural activities related to the motherland. A display of traditional dolls made by children of different nationalities and a photo exhibition capturing the ambience and landmark events in Auroville complemented the programme.

Comprising vocalists and instrumentalists, the ‘Soulflower’ ensemble aired a repertoire of folk songs. The timeless, universal themes spoke of peace and love, the beauty of the homeland, the yearning of a lover for the beloved. Highlighted by the soulful notes of violin, a Belorussian song sketched the beauty of a verdant landscape. A Ukrainian ditty that began with a catchy chorus, soon swelled, both in volume and emotional breadth. Laced with melancholy, a Russian ballad described a woman, much-loved, to be cherished as enchantress, mother, sister and wife. When a clarinet solo took centre stage in the languorous Moonlight song, a hint of the Blues shimmered briefly in the air.

The accompanists on guitar, violin, clarinet and xylophone, who played their roles with ease and involvement, also participated in the sprightly dance which brought the programme to a foot-tapping close.

Meditative bells

Next up, the much awaited Russian Bells did not disappoint. If you had to choose a single word to describe the experience, it would be meditative. Years of communing with nature through music have fine-tuned artist Vera Lipen’s instincts to the most delicate frissons and the ebb and flow of sound in space. Although the bells are meant to be played in open spaces, Vera’s sensitive handling ensured aural comfort in the confines of the compact hall. To Vera, the bells communicate “the soul of Russia” and it was only with concerted effort that she succeeded in bringing them into India. The bells are rectangular brass plates of varying sizes suspended from wooden frames. Once struck, they resonate, filling the senses and lifting the spirit. As the vibrations traverse frequencies ranging from sonorous to silvery, they segue in a soothing stream, waves of depth and intensity alternating with those of lightness and buoyancy. Within the space of about 20 minutes, you became gradually attuned to a quietude, a convergence of sound with inner silence, a sense of harmony with self and the universe. The entire experience stood testimony to a line from the end-of-ceremony speech, “Russians are mystics at heart!”