a bharatanatyam ballet for chamber orchestra
premiered by the Albany Symphony Orchestra, Dogs of Desire
David Alan Miller, conductor
Sisira Gorthala, bharatanatyam dancer
May 16, 2014
The word vishwas (विशवास) expresses the concept of fervent belief, or faith, in Hindi. Meera Bai, a celebrated saint-poet from 15th century India, is the quintessential embodiment of vishwas. She believes she is married to the Lord Krishna, a Hindu deity, and the events of her life are shaped around her devotion to this intangible but omnipresent figure. My work, Vishwas, picks up the story of Meera as a young adult, and explores her struggle to maintain her spiritual marriage in the context of a mortal one. As the daughter in a royal Rajput family, her but Meera’s devotion to Krishna.
I. Devotion/Duty: Opening with three images of the deity Krishna, this movement provides a unique insight into the love between Meera and her Lord. However, as the daughter in a royal Rajput family, her duty to her father mandates her strategic marriage to create an alliance with a neighboring kingdom. As this earthly duty family encroaches upon her in the form of typical Indian wedding band music (the tune used here is based on the popular Bollywood song “Aaj Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai” – tr. ‘today is my good friend’s wedding’), Meera is torn away from her true love to marry a mortal prince.
II. Interlude: Meera’s worldly marriage does not stop her from honoring her spiritual one. She consistently violates social norms in order to honor her role as Krishna’s wife, and in the process brings increasing shame on her mortal husband’s family. In an attempt to stop her from wandering freely outside the royal palace, the Krishna temple, to which she makes regular pilgrimage, is locked.
III. Testament: In Meera’s stubbornness, she stages a hunger strike outside the temple, refusing to eat until the doors are opened. One night, after days of fasting, she is extremely weak and lays down to rest. A storm brews, and the high winds begin to swing the lamp outside the temple’s wooden door, causing the door to catch fire. As the storm builds, the door burns, eventually causing the entrance to the temple to reopen. Krishna has used the forces of nature to show himself, and to honor Meera’s faithfulness to him. Even as the flames surround her, Meera walks calmly into the temple to honor her Lord.
Vishwas makes use of traditional Hindustani raags, which are woven through the fabric of the composition. The last movement incorporates of one of Meera’s own bhajans (devotional songs), in Raag Malhar, the raag that beckons rain. It is fitting that all the information we know about Meera Bai and her struggles for self-expression are through her own songs.