Krishna, soul of Indian classical dance and music: What if without You ?

Dr Ksh Imokanta Singh *

 Basanta Raas performance at Shree Shree Govindajee Temple, Imphal :: 15th April 2022
Basanta Raas performance at Shree Shree Govindajee Temple, Imphal on 15th April 2022 :: Pix - Garebeer Ch

My name is Kshetrimyum Imokanta Singh (not Imokanta Singh Kshetrimayum), a syncretic blend of Meitei and Hindu ways. Name says it all, the macro identity ofa person, micro has many layers of identities. Y., by religion, I am a born Hindu, a MEITEI HINDU, to be precise and true to my self like many Tangkhuls being born as Christians.

My name may absolutely sound old fashion to the `Neo-revivalist' crop who prefer to name themselves and their children as something like Laibakchaobi Laishram or Laibakchaobi Chanu Laishram. I follow Meitei Hinduism, as localised for generations, not North or South or East or West or Bengali or ISKCON or Nepali Hinduism, though it follows most of the Hindu gods and goddesses, with its own ways to do so.

I worship Krishna as well as Sanamahi with equal devotion and seriousness. If I celebrate Kang (Dol Yatra) I also give my heart and soul to Imoinu Iratpa. Some fanatics may brand me as `mixture'. If that is so then most of our ancestors were that too. Yes, I may be Kangla bhujia rather than Haldiram bhujia.

Hinduism as such, and as most of us know, is not a homogenous religion but a cultural religion with so much of diversity within itself depending on where it is positioned. There is beauty and also creation of beauty in syncretism.

Today, I celebrate Krishna Janmasthami with our own ways, though the fervour and celebration seem to have been waning over the years. (I have been toying with this idea of writing on Krishna and Indian classical dance forms. This Krishna Janmasthami gives me the perfect time.)

When I was a little boy and the youngest brother of six grown up sisters, I used to see my sisters going for pineapple parties in our western mountains where the fruit was abound, probably with boys of their choices, I believe. And also they went to the Loktak Lake in boats to enjoy tharo (lily), thambal (lotus) and heikak yelli (water chestnut), by themselves or with boys of their choices, I again believe.

Those were the days when my sisters might be thinking that I did not know what they did, but I did know, I being a wise boy, you see. I also remember the older people of my village singing and rejoicing the whole night in the Mandop (mandap) of our local Bamon (Brahman) waiting for Krishna to be symbolically born at the stroke of the night.

Krishna, you are ever a mischievous child, at least to me, either with a butter (makhan) pot or a flute in your hand and peacock feather on your headgear or as a cowherd, not as someone with shankh (conch shell) and chakra (spinning disc) in your hands. (Some painters really worked hard to thrust these images in me).

Krishna, you are also Neela Megha Shyama, your skin as dark as dark cloud, though this part of the world does not allow you to be that but milky white, at least in TV serials. Thus, your this remains dark in our imagination. I also see you as a dear lover of Radha and Gopis who long for sweet rain of love from you, the dark cloud.

Your flirtatious character even rejoices our senses for humans secretly dream to be as good as you. You do not get offended when I take your name and call my wild friend as lam Krishna, You are never referred to with respectable pronouns. You are not adom but nang or ibungo as we are just Mongoloid buddies speaking Meiteilon.

To my imagination you are never that shrewd grown up strategist of Mahabharata. This is the image, I believe, most of the Indian Classical dances and music, and also what they call `folk' cultures celebrate in their repertoires (who decides what is to be classical and folk is a different realm of consideration).

The empire of literature, especially poetry, is not to be discounted The love play between him, Radha and Gopis. Because, all the qualities of him are already there in him even in his childhood, for He is a god and omniscient and lives across ages including chronological one.

He is, was and will be, projections differing only where He is worshipped and performed. Hinduism with an uncountable number of Gods and God-desses and divergent ways of worship gave booming cultures wherever it went, especially performance culture, blending with the local cultures, I believe.

Such liberality and fertility are not seen in other religions, I may be wrong with my limited knowledge of other religions. But the sheer beauty and wide ranges of tandav, lasya, bhava and rasa weaken me to be opinionated. Of all the Hindu gods and goddesses, Krishna and Radha are the most revered and preferred subjects of Hindu performances, having all the indispensable and crucial elements of a script of a play.

Sometimes, I wonder if Krishna and Radha were not there what would be the tastes and fate of Indian Classical and 'folk' dance and music. Barren, devoid of mischief, spirituality, love (both divine and human), flirt, betrayal, intrigue, devotion, romance, laughter, entertainment, melancholy and as a whole, life?

I am not questioning and doubting the ingenuity of human cultures but just a thought on the quality of culture, if I am allowed to be judgemental. Sangeet Natak Alcademi recognises eight clance forms as Indian classical dances - Manipuri (Manipur), Bharatanatyam (Tamil Nadu), Kathakali (Kerala), Kathak (Uttar Pradesh), Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), Odissi (Odisha), Mobiniyattam (Kerala) and Sattriya (Assam).

All these are dedicated to Krishna or other incarnations of Vishnu, either as main story or just as a small story. However, Manipuri Raas Lila, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi and Sattriya take Krishna and Radha as their favourite main protagonists apart from others. In Kerala, Krisbnanattam, the precursor of Kathakali is based on the life stories of Krishna.

Krishna as a darling of mothers, lovers of Radha and Gopis, a great strategist, path finder and scholar are the favourite themes of these dance forms. Equally true is the case in Indian Classical music, both Hindustani and Camatic. Even classical singers of other religions sing his praise with equal devotion as any Hindu artistes. That is the charisma of Krishna.

Krishna, the ageless and boundary-less. He is the most sportive and colourful personality of all time. When Yaosang (Holi) comes Hindus (and others) play with colour till they drop like he did with Radha and Gopis.

Can Basanta Raas be complete without the play with colour?
Will it not be a hard work for Manipur to introduce its dances to the world without our own Raas Lila?
Can Raas Lila survive without Krishna and Radha?
And can a Meitei Hindu be a true one without our own Krishna and Radha?

I know many are readying themselves to counter my statements in the opposite.

* Dr Ksh Imokanta Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 03 2022.

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