Theatre

The heritage of swing

The swing of hope Girls enjoying the Teej festival in Chandigarh   | Photo Credit: AKHILESH KUMAR

The poignant picture of a mother rocking her baby lying in a hammock made from her torn sari in the sweltering heat at a road crossing evokes the all-pervasive idea of the universe of the ‘swing’. One that conveys a map of hidden roots where joy and expectancy enjoin mundane with spirituality. The swing has a tangible presence in visual arts of textiles, crafts, paintings, and architecture; but there is a greater web of the intangible world of the swing comprising poetic songs, dance, rituals, and beliefs. Like a reel, one frame moves into another exposing swinging world of the wonder that is India.

The essence of the heritage of swing comprises largely of the season of the monsoon, the omniscient presence of Lord Krishna as the archetypal lover of Radha as much as the Supreme Being. Swing is a metaphor linked with the themes of expectancy, love, and fertility. For example, a three-day festival of the swing called Rajo Parba in Odisha is celebrated to mark the mensuration of Mother Earth. It corresponds to the astro-climatologic of the spirit marking the start of the wet season. There is a certain pregnancy – there is no breeze under the dark hanging clouds, it is hot and moist, sweat and body odour permeates; the women wearing new dresses ride the swing breaking the stillness and relieving themselves in the breeze.

In several other parts of India, the third day of the monsoon month of shravana is celebrated as Haryali (green) Teej in several parts of North India. Dressed in green attire, women hang swings on trees, the mango tree is the most preferred one to celebrate the fertility festival. While the married women fast and aspire for conjugal bliss, the unmarried girls wish for good husbands. Their desires swaying in nature, alternately touching the sky and saluting the earth.

The canvas shifts, somewhere in the South in Tamil Nadu as part of a ritual in the marriage ceremony, a young newly married couple sat on a swing (Oonjal). Ladies of the house gently rocked the swing singing special songs, “…On the golden swing, she flowered under the warmth of the love of her Lord.” The swing went up and down and the song whispered to the couple of the ups and downs they needed to share as part of their journey together. The women circulated rice balls around the couple and threw them in different directions to ward off evils spirits.

Oscillating back to the North, the gathering monsoon clouds in the bygone days in Banaras saw the elites organising stag parties all through the rainy season. The success of these monsoon stag parties was the performance of the courtesan. She sat on a swing and sang songs. Amidst the rising dark clouds, the melody echoed - (jhoola pada kadam ki daari, jhoole brij ke nar naari) “The swing hangs from the branch of the Kadam tree on which sway the men and women of Braj.”

The wind blows, the moving clouds over Western India, on the one hand, reveal swings in most homes in Gujarat; and on the other hand, inside cave number 2 in the World Heritage site of the Buddhist Ajanta Caves snuggles in a dark corner the painted Vidhurpandita Jataka Tale. The painting of the story depicts the beautiful princess Irandati swinging singing a love song to attract Purnaka, the powerful general of the Yakshas (the benevolent nature spirits in Indian myths or gaathas).

From the West, the swing pulsates to Central India where early Afghan rulers in the 15thc created the monsoon site of Mandav – “City of Joy” in Madhya Pradesh. Amidst the group of the world heritage monuments stands the majestic Hindol Mahal (Swinging palace) comprising a large hall with arched openings and solid inclined buttresses that lend the building its name.

Along the stretch of forest land covering several states, there is among a large number of indigenous communities a variety of swing rituals linked with statues of several goddesses. These images crafted in wood and the lost wax process of the Dhokra metal art have become a popular item for urban homes.

Festival of hearts

Dola bedi textile of Odisha

Dola bedi textile of Odisha  

Of the many Indian Gods, Krishna (from the pastoral community) and his overarching lineage from within Vaishnavism postulates the most vibrant form of celebrations through which a devotee finds himself. Seva or service to Krishna is an important element for the believers to connect with the divine. “We experience Krishna with our eyes, we feel Him through all of our senses. Hari is the desire, the festival of our hearts. To imbibe Krishna’s form is the ultimate reward. “(Venu Gita, Subodhini). The festivals of the Swing – Hindol Utsav remains an important event in the festival calendar of Krishna worship.

In spring, in the season of Holi, the Eastern coastal state Odisha celebrates the Dola (swing) Festival. The statues of the three central Gods (Krishna, his sister Subhadra, and brother Balram) are shifted to pavilions (mandaps) and placed on swings. The motif of the pavilion of swings is replicated as design called Dola vedi in Odisha textiles.

A miniature painting depicting Radha and Krishna on a swing

A miniature painting depicting Radha and Krishna on a swing  

In other parts of India, the monsoons provide relief from the intense summer heat giving way to an exuberant spirit. It is time for lovers to unite, the environment is colored with lush greenery, sweet-smelling flowers, and fruiting trees.

Krishna is believed to be in service of his female principal Radha whom he woos on the swing. For a month, swings are hung in all Krishna temples and every day for an hour in the afternoon, the idols of Krishna-Radha are taken out and placed on a swing. The swings made of silver, gold, mirrors, fruits, vegetables, jasmine, Indian roses, and greenery represent fertility and love in union.

A string pulls the swing to and fro and the devotees in the courtyard bind themselves through the string to the divine couple who are venerated with songs and flowers are showered. The worshippers, in turn, are sprinkled with red dry powder gulal representing love by priests. Soon after, a pool of perfumed water with lotus blooms is prepared. A small boat is floated in the pool of water. The idols of Radha-Krishna is removed from the swings and the divine couple is given a joyous boat ride. The boat ride ends, the divine couple is placed back on the swing, after which bhog (sacred food) is offered to the divine couple.

The elevated swing

Madhusudan Baul roams around the terracotta temples of Bishnupur in West Bengal singing the 400-year-old mystical wisdom, “live your life swinging gently between the two chakras – The Ajna Chakra (psychic centre located between the two eyebrows) and the Vishuddhi Chakra (located in the throat); If you swing higher you become an ascetic, and if you swing lower your animal instincts predominate.” Kabir, the mystic, uses the loom-weaving imagery in a word jhini jhini that mirrors the movement of swaying. In both lyrics, the swinging, says Madhusudan Baul, “is about the spandan or the motion of vibration. Life is nothing but negotiation of swaying vibratory movements.”

Far away, sits Pandit Birju Maharaj recreating the motion of the swinging of the divine couple (Krishna and Radha) in his famed performance of a jhoola “Jhoolat Radhe Naval Kishore”. The realm of his dance communicates the primary sensation of seeing. He mediates through his performance the forces of tension in the ropes and the flowing swaying movement of the swing. He recreates the bending of the monsoon cloud, his hand embraces Radha and then a raindrop falls.

Half evaporates in the motion of the swing, the other half of the rain-drop is soaked in the fold of the scarf that binds the two energies of Radha and Krishna. Such is the power of his performance that the submerged divine forms seem to dissolve leaving an empty swing rocking amidst the monsoon clouds and the undifferentiated space!


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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 10:34:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/the-heritage-of-swing/article28547442.ece

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