Very few dancers in America are both emotionally and technically prepared to present authentic Hindu dance forms. However, Bhupesh Guha and Sushila, have been favorably known to New York audiences for a number of years. The New York Sun termed them "skilled in their idiom and deft in their treatment of the technic," and other newspapers and magazines were equally complimentary.
Therefore, Paramhansa Yogananda-who has known Mr. Guha for a number of years-was pleased when the dancers decided to headquarter in Hollywood, and offered to sponsor their western debut by organizing two performances at the Church of All Religions and presenting them with the proceeds.
Dancing has always been woven into Hindu religious ceremonials, and since many of the numbers in the repertoire of Bhupesh Guha and Sushila are based upon religious themes, he felt that their appearance in a place dedicated to the dissemination of religious truths would be most appropriate. In addition, it would be one more opportunity for interested Westerners to familiarize themselves with one aspect of Eastern culture.
Sound And Color
The performances of Bhupesh Guha and Sushila are rich in variety and color. The graceful lines of richly colored costumes, the glitter of armlets and headpieces, the tinkling of anklets, the ecstatic counterplay of flute, cymbals and drum complementing the poetry of glance and gesture, heighten the appeal of this exotic art form.
The subtle nuances of Hindu music are difficult for the Western ear to detect at first, since quarter notes-so important in its construction-are not used in Western music. Even the language of gestures employed in these classical Kathakali dances is strange to most of us. Each has a definite meaning.
Mr. Guha says that the head alone has nine separate movements, one hand has forty-seven gestures, and the combined hands 500 basic gestures to which the artist must bring the infinite variety of his own interpretations. There are even thirteen glances in which facial expression and eyebrows are involved.
Because of this intricate symbology the appreciation of the onlooker for such dances usually grows in accordance with the number of times they are seen, although the theme of each is easy enough to follow even on the first viewing. Capacity audiences at both performances were enthusiastic, and their acclaim was echoed by the critics. "Bhupesh Guha proved himself master of many moods and of intricate symbolical pantomime," according to one of them, and "Each movement of Sushila's graceful hands illustrated the poignant beauty of motion inherent in this art form."
Ruth St. Denis -usually considered the most outstanding Western exponent of Eastern dance techniques, as well as a loyal and intelligent friend to India and her people, was invited to speak at the first performance. After complimenting the dancers, who had formerly been neighbors of hers in New York, she congratulated Paramhansa Yogananda upon having presented them in the Church of All Religions.
"To see a group of dancers appearing in the church means much more to me than it could possibly mean to you," she told the audience. "I have been 'a soldier in the Lord's vineyard' on this kind of thing for many years, and have made some progress despite many discouragements. And now that I see this charming audience and this entirely successful and spiritually important performance it encourages me to pick up my knapsack and go forth again.
"I believe-and have said again and again - that the Christian church has made one of its greatest mistakes, in the last 1500 to 1800 years, in divorcing itself from the dance; and the Protestant section -of which I am a member-in the last 500 or so years in divorcing itself from the intimate vitality of the arts. For the Church, as a whole, now has little relation to the arts...
India Shows the Way
"I wish you would regard this evening as of really great significance. Artists are natural ambassadors, and dancers like these can acquaint us with the religion and the mood of an India of three or four thousand years ago. . . . Her greatest gift to the entire world is her spiritual consciousness, and the thinking which she has done practically encompasses the world, for every book written on philosophy owes something to her. That being the case, the manifestations of beauty which she has given the world are the tools or modes of penetration into the arts of all.
"I would like to believe, and many Indians say it is true, that for some thirty-five years I have been a thin thread in the great weave of the civilization of America, trying to tell the people that their greatest revelation of true civilization will ultimately come from Indian thought.
"And I congratulate Yogananda because as responsible head of this church -a church standing for the highest spirituality -he has had the courage to put a living and vital art on his altar, pointing to the future in which a combination of artist and saint will show the way to a greater civilization."
COMPARATIVE RELIGION STRESSED
Proponents of unity in religion have repeatedly stated that doctrinal differences decrease in importance whenever and wherever the study of comparative religions reduces them to their true proportions. The majestic harmony of basic principles dwarfs the conflicting interpretations which have sprung up around them.
Because of this, it has been urged that colleges present courses in Comparative Religion as a regular part of the curriculum. Often the excuse given for refusal to include the subject is, "Students have no interest in it. Their religious beliefs are formed, and thus such a course would be of no practical benefit."
That students do respond to the opportunity to broaden their outlook is evidenced whenever such courses are offered. A recent instance was reported by a Sunday edition of the New York Times on the half page devoted to news of the educational field:
"In response to demand by students, expressed through the student government committee on curriculum, the division of philosophy, psychology and education at Simmons College is offering in the second semester a course on comparative religion. In previous years informal courses on comparative religions have been given, but not as a part of the regular credit program of the college."
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