Healing. Profound. Beautiful.
These were the key words of the group feedback after the Mahabarata Immersion. I am enchanted by the power of the Itihaasa-Purana, the depth of the introspection it evokes and enjoyed every minute of my facilitation of the process.
The Mahabharata Immersion is a dynamic meditation. The week long process can be broadly divided into two parts: The first part introduces participants to an embodied awareness of the navarasas and the inner drama played out by one's many selves; the second part invites the participants to delve deep into their own psyches through an exploration of any of the characters from the Mahabharata.
These characters are Archetypal, and an exploration of the dynamics they create between each other as the saga unfolds reveals the nature and structure of the human psyche. The traditional Therukkoothu (folk theatre) of Tamilnadu explores some of these with great power, beauty and depth. A Koothu group from Salem fostered by Harikrishnan performed the classic episode of Draupadi’s de-robing as part of the encounter that the participants experience in the programme.
My wife Sashi and I had a fascinating conversation with the renowned dancer Meenakshi Cittaranjan a few years ago. She was talking about how modern living was changing the sensibilities of the young people who were learning dance from her.
“Today's youngsters don't know what it means to delicately pluck a jasmine bud and make a garland out of it, they don't understand vetkam (shyness and coyness expressed in a sensuous way).”
I was strongly reminded of this conversation when we were putting the participants through the initial body sensitising exercises. An activity as simple as walking seems to reveal so much of our unconscious! Perhaps because we do not pay much attention to it, the way we walk reflects the body armour we develop.
Ravi Varma (our Theatre expert) started the Immersion with a bang. He got the group to practice the entry of a King through various stylised ways of walking. The participants were very energised by it. Then he introduced the entry of the Queen, evoking the feminine within.
And to the surprise of the whole group, every one, including the women in the group found it difficult to experience the flow of femininity through their bodies! It made us reflect on the ways in which we internalise and embody the “yuga dharma” (the collective unconscious ground of our times).
As the participants became more familiar with the basic alphabets of body awareness and expression of the navarasas, we moved into an intense exploration of some of the characters in the Mahabharata that the participants had identified deeply with. We explored Arjuna, Sahadeva, Draupadi Yudhistra, and Karna in that order.
The exploration of the Arjuna Archetype was done using the famous episode of Arjuna returning home from the swayamvara of Draupadi with his new bride only to be told by his mother Kunti that he ought to share whatever he has brought back with all his brothers. The deep anguish of both Arjuna and Draupadi in having their inner worlds shattered even as they take their first steps into a future they have dreamt of was enacted with great poignancy.
Arjuna is torn between the pulls of his roles as a son, a husband and as a person. He is unable to really resolve this tension, and pleads for a compromise. One cannot flower and celebrate life in the solution that emerged in the theatrical exploration, and the inner tensions did not get resolved.
The group explored the deep hurt that we inflict on each other because of the ways in which we internalise a Patriarchal Social reality. Every one becomes a victim. When the willingness to question the fundamental assumptions of the social construct, and bring in a revolutionary possibility is not entertained, one condemns oneself to live out a compromise.
Two things became apparent, firstly, that the heroic struggle in Indian Mythology is placed in the context of “Dharma Sankatas”: choice making and role playing dilemmas where one has to establish a way of being that is more wholesome and enlivening to the self and others than to existing ways of being. We reflected on how difficult this is and even though we have seen many such Arjunas question societal mores and lead quiet revolutions, we continue to hold on to our heritage and traditions in moribund ways without actively questioning them. The only way for the individual to cope with this state of affairs is “public agreement and private resentment” leading to the inevitable erosion of self and society.
Is this where we are as a nation today? Our religions are far from being dogmatic, but we choose to reinforce the tradition blindly. Where does this lack of vibrant questioning the status quo come from?
Sahadeva was taken up by the next group for their exploration. The “invisibility” Sahadeva was mired in reflected in the difficulty the group experienced in finding a meaningful story to explore. The process by which one ends up sabotaging one’s own gifts and waits for the authority figures to create the context for one’s unfolding became painfully apparent. Our Sahadeva waited for bestowal and even when the space was offered, became very hesitant to assert his insights.
We reflected on the tendency of most Indians to play the game of “come discover me”. And when the time comes to express and allow oneself to be discovered, a great fear of asserting oneself, of taking responsibility and claiming space takes over. Caught in the double bind of “Damned if I wait for bestowal, damned if I claim my space” the Sahadeva Archetype holds us in a space of suspended animation.
In the next post, we shall inquire into Draupadi, Yudhistra, and Karna.
The Mahabharata Immersion 2 was the first event that was conducted at the Ritambhara Ashram. Situated close to Kothagiri in the Nilgiris, nestled in a valley and surrounded by shola forests, the place has a natural serenity and healing energy. Sashi and I were drawn to the place and we have lovingly created a space for contemplation and inner work. We are delighted and immensely grateful that the participants spontaneously opened themselves to the energy of the Ashram and benefited from it.
For a short overview of the approach to the Mahabharata Immersion:
My work revolves around helping individuals, groups and organizations discover their Dhamma, and become “the best they can be”. This aligns with my own personal saadhana. I have restated this question for my self as follows: “how can I be in touch with the well spring of my love for the world and my love for my self simultaneously”