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Mahasati – Celebrating Womanhood and Peace

Whilst centuries have passed, the story of ‘Mahasati’ has stood the test of time as a source of inspiration for all. Her life portrays a complex mix of hardships and struggles that would challenge even the most noble of people. It is full of all the emotions or Rasa’s that we as humans have capacity to experience. Mahasati’s life imparted the message of people having potential to elevate themselves and for the betterment of mankind.

Conceived and choreographed by the award winning Kathak Exponent Shila Mehta, this production is best described as a vibrant and colourful unfolding of the episodes from Mahasati’s life and in doing so bringing the principles of Jainism into focus in an amalgamation of dialogues, melodies, classical, and semi classical dances based on Kathak, Creative and Folk arts. The production carries morale meaning embedded within an explosion of shapes, colours and emotions. This unique show is a presentation by Nupur Zankar Academy of Performing Arts and Research Centre.

The credit for the entire concept and direction of this magnificent production goes to Shila ji. Let me tell you a few accomplishments of this super talented dancer. I have known her to be an internationally acclaimed choreographer, a Kathak exponent, educator, and composer but a fantastic human being. Her work has been met by a number of awards recognising her distinctive style that was groomed under the guidance of eminent gurus – Pt Prahalad Das, Pt Vijai Shankar, Pt Birju Maharaj, and Pt Suresh Talwalkar within the field. Having achieved Masters in Fine Arts, Gold Medallist Shila Ji has been successful in combining her artistic creativity with academic enquiry, leading to the conception of ‘Charani Kathak’ and ‘Chaitanya Yoga’. She has been working with academics based at York University, Toronto Canada, to explore concepts site-specific dance and dance therapy.

Shila Mehta is on the panel of Indian Council of Cultural Relations. She was selected to perform on multiple occasions at its invitations. Shila Ji regularly tours and teaches internationally at esteemed festivals and venues including in India, Europe, Middle East, Australia and North America. She has been commissioned regularly by national and international cultural and social organisations to choreograph and present solo, medium and large ensembles.

Her passion for preserving and developing Indian Classical Arts has also been realised in the founding of Nupur Zankar Academy of Performing Arts and Research Centre, Mumbai, which has been established for over 30 years and is recognised as a leading cultural arts institute in India. The success of Nupur Zankar has been further realised in its establishment in the USA, UK and Belgium.

I would like to inform you about a few selected awards which Shila Mehta has been bestowed with: The Nrtiya Praveen Award, Outstanding Group of Young Persons’ Award, Senior Fellowship Award, Kala Gurjari Award and The Overseas Natya Award, Texas, USA.

Let’s know her more in-depth.

How did the idea of Mahasati come along?

When I first heard this story, the character of Mahasati or Chandanbala, as she is also referred to, resonated with me. I felt a deep connection to my own life and started practising Chandanbala’s attitude towards facing challenges. I would say that adopting such an approach helped to transform me – awakening ATMABALA – an energy to do focused deeds and for the betterment of society at large.

What realisations did you go through during the making of Mahasati?   

I realised that the fundamental principles on which Jainism is based are in fact captured in Chandanbala‘s life story. What a woman she was! She became my inspiration and motivation thus leading me to conceive this production through my medium i.e. Dance. In my creative work, I do not seek to promote Jainism or merely recite history. As a choreographer, the portrayal of the universal message of peace, and a strong female character with all the attributes needed to transform from a gorgeous and Laukik Nayika to the highest spiritual being, was most important. I have taken artistic liberty in making this production accessible to all audiences so that Chandanbala’s character can reach out to as many people as possible.

Many renowned dancers and dance lovers attend the show and could not stop praising it. Dance critic and scholar Padmashree Dr Sunil Kothari appreciated Mahasati in his own unique style, ‘Mahasati is one of those inspiring stories replete with principles of higher life, tolerance, forgiveness, sadhana and shows without preaching religion or Jainism how one can elevate the soul to higher realm. Very few dancers have undertaken unusual themes for dance dramas. The lavish production has narrative which smoothly flows and keeps audience engaged from the beginning .The Kathak technique is used with imagination and the choreography, music, lighting and teamwork are praiseworthy.’

Legendary Manipuri exponent Padmashree Darshana Jhaveri too was highly impressed with this one of its kind production, she said, ‘I personally feel the strong need of staging of such productions that highlights the longing of individual soul to merge with supreme and helps to uplift the values of life in the midst of adversities. Shila Mehta’s Mahasati is successful in bringing out the spiritual aspect of the inspiring story of Mahasati Chandanbala through Kathak and contemporary dance movements. The synchronisation of music, dance, narration, visuals, lighting were of high standard and faultless.’

When dance veterans say such amazing things you can well imagine what high standards Mahasati has achieved. So in case you hear of this spell bounding show in your town or a city close to yours don’t even think twice and rush to see what magic Shila Mehta has created on stage.

Sandip Soparrkar

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