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Saswat Joshi’s Nabakalebara: Experience The Bhakti Rasa

Saswat Joshi, the boy from Titlagarh in Odisha has emerged to be a famed Odissi dancer and mentor. At a young age, he has been globetrotting with Odissi presentations as well as showcasing the rich heritage folk dances of Odisha.

Recently in an informal discussion, he answered a few of my queries. I present an excerpt from it.

My question: What is the concept of rasa in Indian aesthetics?

Without batting an eyelid, he referred to his latest production Nabakalebara and related an interesting story.

The story:

He and his team had visited Swargadwar -cremation ground in Puri, Odisha to internalize on the one and only reality of human existence-death.

The wailing of a woman, who was there for the last rites of her son,  loudly asking Jagannath-the lord of the universe- that if he changes his body at intervals and is reinstated once more on his ‘Simhasan’-throne, with his reincarnated soul, could he not do the same to her son and bring him back to life. The team and Saswat were overwhelmed. The woman’s emotion of sorrow roused Karuna rasa in them. They were moved to tears and set on their search to find out the purpose of life.

Rasa is a flavor created from bhava/feeling of a person that is transmitted to others.

As we got to speak more and more, he said that, in his latest production Nabakalebara, he and his team experienced bhakti rasa, a rasa which makes Indian aesthetics unique. In fact, it was the feeling of devotional love, that made him delve deep into the concept of Lord Jagannath who changes his body after every 12 or 19 years, followed by the ritual of infusing his soul from the old body into the new body.

Saswat’s question was if the lord can be happy with this change, why can’t human beings be happy too, when death comes to them and their soul leaves the body only to be born in a new body. The answer came to him, with the realization that change is inevitable and so the wise accept it.

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Unquestioning faith is the highest form of worship. The perfect example of this unquestioning mindset is known as Bhakti Yoga and this is exemplified by the devotional love of the gopis for their ipsita/desired lord Krishna. One of the many roots that help mortals to gain salvation, according to Indian philosophy, is through Bhakti Yoga- unmitigated bhakti.

The Lord of the world-Jagannath-resides in Puri. And Saswat has left no stone unturned to find out the antecedents of the lord through the help of history.

A still from Nabakalebara

I asked the Artistic Director of Lasyakala, what part of his dance drama Nabakalebara was actual history and what part was a legend.

He said that his search has made him stumble on the fact that king Yayati with those knowledgeable about the whereabouts of the deity after its desecration by Kalapahad. His retrieved the deity, but as it was in shambles, he got a new one made from a very special neem tree designated for the purpose and offered it a new lease of life, placed him venerably on his throne and started his worship along with his subjects.

What, I asked, are the myths that connect with the story of Jagannath?

There are many myths connected with Lord Jagannath of Puri, that defy logic and reason. Among the many myths connected with the lord of Puri is that his soul is implanted in the new deity after his body is changed. Then there is the faith, which is why Rathayatra is held, to fulfil the desire of the faithful, to offer them a darshan.

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Saswat Joshi was ecstatic about the miracles his lord God,  has been performing which has augured well for him. In his production, he told the story of the Lord and how he was helped by a spiritual force to complete it in record time, with no hassles. He recreated the story of the Lord taking a new body, with his team in the pristine genre of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra style of Odissi.

Saswat Joshi has premiered this production in the 50th Golden Jubilee OSA Convention Atlantic City, New Jersy and in ten states in the US. After this, it was premiered for the first time at GKCM ORC, Utkal Rangamancha, Bhubaneswar in Odisha, to a ticketed show, which ran the full house.

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