Tips from ancient Tamil literature for troubled times

Our health and well-being are interdependent, says Karunasagari, and we need to come together to get through this period

Our health and well-being are interdependent, says Karunasagari, and we need to come together to get through this period   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Danseuse V Karunasgari talks about the solace she draws from Sangam literature and about teaching dance online

Ancient Tamil poets show us the way to cope with the situation we find ourselves in with Covid-19 and the lockdown, says Coimbatore-based Bharatanatyam danseuse Karunasagari V. The founder-director of Bhakti Natya Niketan (BNN) quotes mystic philosopher Tirumoolar to show how one can move from “being a self-centred consumer to an active contributor”: If not anything else just offer but a blade of leaf to the Lord/If not anything else, just hand a tuft of hay to a hungry cow/If not anything else, share a morsel when you eat/If not anything else, just have a nice word to say to the others.

Karuna calls this period “a recalibration of sorts. We now slowly understand how a normal life can be something different from what we’re used to. Also how ‘our normal’ is a luxury for so many others.” Our health and well-being are interdependent, she says. A poem by Vanparanar in the Purananuru, which she recently used in an article, makes a forceful point about giving. “An old poet in tattered clothes is resting against a tree on a hot day. A warrior walks up to him with a deer across his shoulders. He cooks the meat, serves the poet, and asks him to take the rest home. Then he chides himself, ‘How stupid of me not to carry anything.’ He gives the poet a pearl string and bracelet and leaves without identifying himself. Later he finds that his benefactor was King Nalli.” Karuna says that many of these kings of Sangam poetry were either chieftains of villages or tribal heads. “But no one is too small to give. We are kings the moment we give. No contribution is too small.”

Another aspect she brings up is poverty of the mind. “This is not the time to trivialise what’s happening by making it about oneself,” she says forcefully. “It’s important to be aware of what’s going on yet not get bogged down by the daily depressing news.”

A glimpse of online resource for students

A glimpse of online resource for students   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When asked if her dance classes at BNN have gone online, Karuna says she’d prefer to call it “blended learning”. This involves creating online resources for students apart from having interactive sessions with the teachers. “Dance is a very physical art and I did not want the students to stop dancing for two or three months. So we decided to maintain the number of hours of dancing per week.” Along with Sandhya V, BNN’s principal teacher, Karuna worked out a plan which involves a pre-recorded practice session, which will then be monitored on a group video call by teachers and finally an interactive online session. Sandhya and she have created over 20 instruction videos and over 40 dance demos apart from around 140 audio recordings.

Asked how her students reacted, she laughs, “Most parents were relieved that we had a plan to keep their children active and out of their neck for those three to four hours a week.” Addressing other uncertainties regarding Internet speed and the availability of gadgets at home, she says, “Since, in most homes, work from home is the new normal, not everyone has a laptop for him/herself. So they need to share their screen time. But we’ve rolled it out and hope the process will be seamless.”

Karuna is devoting what free time she has in memorising Arunagirinathar’s Seerpaada Vaguppu, a long poem with 16 parts each of which has four lines. “It allows me to revisit old recordings of my grandmother and guru Swarna Somasundaram. Of course I listen to my musical favourites: TM Krishna, Kishori Amonkar, Abida Parveen and others too.”

Finally she finishes our conversation with her belief that to get through the current period, “we have to trust in our ability to stay strong as a giant family.”

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 10:49:31 PM |

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