The Joy of Being Alive
"I do not obey any master or order. Man-made distinctions don’t affect me. Love knows no separation, but only the meeting of hearts forever. That is why, brother, I have become a crazy Baul."
This is an extract of a traditional poem, sung by Bauls from the Bengali region in India. Bauls are a community of wandering singers whose roots are reaching back as far as the Middle Ages. Although they refer to Hinduism, they do not accept caste divisions and believe in equality and freedom of faith. The joy of being alive appears to be the main motive of their mystical art and that is what makes them ‘God’s fools’ – the meaning of their name in English. Music is also very important for them; they make their own instruments and love to improvise.
There are only a few artists who are still keeping the traditions of the Bauls of Bengal alive, and some of them are taking part in a theatre project called The Source’s Research. It was founded in 1986 by Abani Biswas who has been directing the group since then. The project is based in India and it combines workshops, performances, parades and festival activities. It developed out of the Theatre of Sources, a group that used to be lead by the famous Polish director Jerzy Grotowski. Abani Biswas’ new project gathers artists of some of the most ancient Indian performing disciplines, in addition to the Bauls of Bengal, there are the Kalaripayattu martial art masters and the Chhau dancers, whose trademark are colorful wooden masks. Besides, there is the Gotipua dance, performed by young boys dressed in women’s clothes. Their performance consists of very precise steps, hand gestures, special facial expressions but also yoga-like acrobatic movements. All these different art forms are combined in the Milón Méla group, a theatre activity that presents these traditional performative techniques to the public.
Milón Méla, meaning ‘The Fair of Coming Together’, is having its home base at Abani Biswas’ Theatre House in Shantiniketan in West Bengal, India. Over a period of several years, the performing activity of Milón Méla has evolved into a stable part of the Source’s Research project. Today, 15 to 20 traditional artists participate in residential workshops in India and Italy and in annual tours through Europe. Up to now, the group was already presented at theatre festivals in Italy, Switzerland, Poland and Austria.
One of their major activities is the conduction of workshops at schools and universities, with theatre groups, cultural associations or even psychotherapists. During the work sessions, the different disciplines of the Milón Méla group are presented and afterwards the participants are involved in a combination of physical work and Marma, techniques of attention and observation. Usually, these workshops take several days and are really intensive. The members of Milón Méla are very careful teachers, they definitely take their time. There is no need to explain things, they rather perform certain steps and then the workshop participants can join in, trying to imitate what they see. Besides, the Bauls are playing and singing contemplative music and that creates a nice and relaxed atmosphere.
Another essential element of Milón Méla is performance, either on a stage or outdoors on the streets in the form of a parade. The Chhau dancers are probably the most spectacular part of it, catching people’s attention with their exotic and also very heavy wooden masks. Their energetic dance is composed of an explosion of movement, daredevil somersaults and wild jumps. Musicians with big drums are setting the tempo and the rhythm of the dance; the performers are basically following the sounds. They are all very professional and seem to do their job with great pleasure. The whole show can do without any superlatives, it works very well with quite simple means. These ancient Indian traditions are still able to catch people’s attention even in their original way. Both performance and parade are adapted to the surroundings and staged like a theatre play. Finally, when the sun goes down and it gets dark, an impressive fire dance illuminates the night, marking the grand finale of the parade.
Milón Méla and The Source’s Research are projects that vigilantly try to keep the traditional art forms of the ancient India alive. In doing so, it gives artists a unique chance to live and practice an important part of their long-established way of life. However, the aim is not only to conserve these traditions, but also to work with them within the context of today’s theatre and to introduce them to people from other cultural backgrounds. And the most suitable way to do this is with a magnificent show.
Author: Stefan Mühlenhoff
Milón Méla is part of a project called The Sources Research that was founded by Abani Biswas in 1986. From 1979 to 1983, Biswas had participated in the Theatre of Sources, a project directed by the famous Polish theatre master Jerzy Grotowsky. The work with him has been a very significant experience for Biswas and so he based his own project, The Sources Research, on the structures he had learned from Jerzy Grotowsky. Its main purpose is research in traditional artistic communities and since 1990, the project is based in the Theatre House near Santiniketan (West Bengal), a work centre created by Abani Biswas.
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
"Window onto the World"
(07 September 06 - 10 September 06)