GANGA, THE RIVER GODDESS

Première April 2002 Arts Court Theatre, also presented in Montreal, New Delhi

Choreography, concept: Anjali
Photography: Tony and Anne-Marie Gaston
Flute: Peggy Campbell
Masks: Andrée Pouliot
Costumes and design: Andrée Pouliot, Anjali, Alex, Pat Nuell

The Story

The land is gripped by drought. The crops have failed and water is needed to immerse the ashes of the dead. King Bhagiratha performs an ancient ritual to placate the Guardians of the Quarters, which frame the sacred universe. His plea is ignored and the drought intensifies.

Desperate, King Bhagiratha decides to undertake the terrible ordeal of the five fires. He surrounds himself with blazing bonfires and endures the fierce heat of the midday sun. Once again, the Gods are unmoved. He pours oil on the flames and the heat rises.

The Gods relent, the heavens open, and Ganga is released from her home in the milky way. The force of her cascade is so great that the earth is in danger of being swept away. The celestial nymphs intervene and request the god Siva to receive Ganga in his hair so that only a single drop reaches the earth.

From that one drop, emerging from Siva's matted locks and starting high in the Himalayas, grows the great river Ganga, that finally merges with the sea.

"As rivers flowing into the ocean find their final peace even so the wise become free from name and form and enter into the radiance of the spirit which is greater than all greatness".

The theme was inspired by the account of the Descent of Ganga to earth, as recorded in ancient myths and sculptures. The story can be seen as an allegory for the importance of water in sustaining life, beauty and joy. The descent of Ganga represents the untamed forces of nature which must be placated and respected. In the myth, King Bhagiratha performs an extreme penance on behalf of the whole earth. In contrast, for us, we need to understand that it is only through many small individual sacrifices that the wholeness of nature can be preserved.



SHIVA AND HIS WIVES

Premiere: Arts Court Theatre, 28-29 April 2006

Choreography, concept: Anjali
Photography: Tony and Anne-Marie Gaston
Music: Accompanists of the International Kathakali Centre, New Delhi
Masks: Andrée Pouliot
Costumes and design: Anjali, Alex, Pat Nuell

The story:

Siva, at home in the Himalayas with his wife Parvati, wishes to caress his other wife, the Goddess Ganga, who resides in his matted locks. He tricks Parvati into leaving. On her return she surprises him with her rival. Heartbroken, she turns to leave, but at that moment the earth begins to shake. Siva comforts her and suppresses the earthquake, earning reconciliation and forgiveness for his indiscretion. Adapted from the traditional Kathakali repertoire.

Commentary:

In popular mythology, the Gods of Hinduisms are at once supremely powerful and touchingly human. Many of them espouse more than one consort. Siva, widowed after the death of his first wife, Sati, retreats into perpetual meditation. Eventually, he is pursuaded by the other Gods to marry Parvati, daughter of Himalaya, because their issue, the War God, Skanda is necessary to curb the power of an otherwise invincible demon.

Subsequently, Siva intercedes to prevent earth being inundated by the liberation of the Goddess Ganga, trapping her in the tangle of his matted locks, so that only a single drop emerges to form the great river that appears on earth. The beautiful river Goddess remains as an ornament in Siva's hair and becomes his second wife.

The constant presence of a second wife provides Siva with an irresistible temptation. In 'Siva and his wives' we see how this temptation leads to the loss of domestic harmony, restored only by the fortuitous arrival of an earthquake.