Ekathara Kalari

Sahaj Madhuri

The Power of the Divine Feminine

Tantidhatri is India’s first International Women’s Performing Arts Festival in India. Its first edition was in Pondicherry in 2012, and the second from 17th to 21st February 2016.

That is it’s beginning, or perhaps it is the time that the idea first occurred to Ma when she attended the Transit Festival many many years ago. She was driven then, to bring it back to her land and create a magical space here. It took time and effort, but Ma’s dedication finally brought fruition. So it was that India’s first All-women’s festival came into being, and the thread holder, the Tanti-Dhatri of this festival, was Parvathy Ma. In her rooted presence and with the warmth and laughter that she exudes, Tantidhatri became the warm and loving space that it is.

Ma once told me that there is a certain power to femininity that is very different from masculinity. There is a softness and a strength which is exuded, that is simply different from the linear and structured approach of masculine power. The world we live in is experiencing a deep imbalance because this soft gentle power is missing from most modes of leadership, and the transformation that the balance between masculine and feminine can bring about is phenomenal. The women of my generation are trying to emulate men in a quest for equality, where there is an innate strength to be channelled that is already within us – the strength that is so palpable in the goddess Durga. This is what she wanted all of us to see and absorb.

When Ma first met with all the volunteers, there was an immediate feeling of warmth and camaraderie. She asked everyone about themselves, and shared the spirit of Tantidhatri. She encouraged everyone to take up the work like it was their own. Instead of the hierarchy and treating of people as human ‘resources’ that usually comes with organisation, Tantidhatri created a sense of family, where all volunteers were actively encouraged to rest, take care of themselves and ensure that they were present at all the performances that they would like to experience. Because of this warmth, the energy of the entire festival was that of loving care, and the artists, participants and organisers could all feel that warmth carry them through the festival.

Even before it all began, Ma and Ram gathered everyone and ensured that the force of the divine feminine was holding the space for us, and everything would be taken care of as it was meant to be. And so it was. Through the festival, there were often moments where things felt like they were at the brink of falling apart. There was a cello, but no bow. There was a mix-up in transportation where cars didn’t appear, and someone was not picked up because her flight was late. Every day was a new adventure. And yet, things eased out and the cello got a bow, and cars were booked and she did find her way to the venue safe and sound. It was like being a part of the dance of the divine.

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The performers and performances themselves had a great part to do with this immersion in divine energy. There were stunning performances, that left audiences speechless, and others that elicited active discussion. Seaside, a storytelling by Gilla Cremer, was simply her talking on stage for 90 minutes, and creating such a powerful atmosphere that I have goosebumps on my hand even as I write this. 1, Madhav Baug, was a pertinent story about homosexuality, and offered an interactive format, where the audiences could offer questions and comments. There were many responses from the LGBT community, where they felt supported, spoke out about their own stories, and even brought their parents along for a deeper discussion of their struggles.

Before Tantidhatri began, Ma actively encouraged the team to not engage with the artists as celebrities, but as strong women who were living their way through life. She encouraged us to understand their processes, and find out what kept them going in their practice so that they could reach such advanced levels of discipline and performance. Work demonstrations by Carolina Pizarro, Julia Varley, Pelva Naik and others were very helpful in this process, where they broke their stories into digestible morsels for the audiences.

In Interactions with Social Change with Khushi Kabir, Kamla Bhasin, Vandana Shiva and A. Revathi, there were empowering conversations with women who struggle against power to achieve equality, justice, health and wellbeing on a daily basis for numerous people in the world. There was such a sense of gratitude for their presence and the massive work that they do to balance the powers of the world. When asked how they face the darkness that they engage with so regularly, Khushiji, with her characteristic humility and grace said, “It’s all life. There is no good or bad. You just keep going and look at the next step that you have to take.”

There were also many spontaneous performances and experiments in Tantidhatri. Performances like Rudrayogini, a marriage of the Rudraveena and Baul music, were exhibited for the first time. Sin Cha Hong, a 75-year-old Korean dancer performed absolutely as herself, naked to the audience, and the soul of her laughter brought tears to many eyes.

Some performances were meant as much for the performers as for the audiences. Sandra Pasini was performing for the first time after her tryst with breast cancer, and was able to dance and sing without a mike across the Ranga Shankara auditorium. Arundhati Nag shared the touching tale of what it took to build Ranga Shankara, the theatre that hosted Tantidhatri. Anandavalli, a Bharatanatyam dancer, originally from Sri Lanka, and residing in Australia, was performing on stage for the first time after 11 years. The depth of their experiences and the struggles that they had seen were as much a part of their performances as the skills and nuance of the art forms themselves.

As we look ahead, there is much to do, and the blessing of the last Tantidhatri as an experience to remind us of the great work that it is. The connections formed between the artists, participants and team were truly meaningful and continue to create friendships and spaces for meaningful work. It is a network and a space to remind all of us, especially as women, that we are not alone, and our experiences are the experiences of our sisters. Together, we can hold hands and move forward in carving the world of our dreams, whether beauty, equality, justice and spirit can thrive unbound, and freedom can be free for all.


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By: Arpita Gaidhane

Arpita is a shishya of Parvathy Baul since 2015. She studied Ancient Indian Culture and the Study of Religions: Hinduism, but could not find the joy of the ancient wisdom in books. Her path took her through art, education, facilitation and brought her to her Guru.

Photos By: Aarthi Parthasarthy and Shalaka Pai