By Radha Rajan
A bunch of individuals with dubious motives has mounted an online petition seeking Leela Samson's reinstatement as Director, Kalakshetra. Irrespective of whether this will happen or not, the country's intrepid investigative journalists, pulpit thumpers in the electronic media and self-righteous preachers in the orint media must tell the country how they allowed Sonia Gandhi to appoint Leela Samson to hold three very important positions in the country simultaneously.
There was convergence of intent across ministries, in thjis case Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. in deepening the roots of politics of minority-ism.Thus Leela Samson was Director Kalakshetra, Chairperson Central Censor Board, and Chairperson Sangeet Natak Academy simultaneously. Sonia Gandhi's UPA thumbed its nose at the one-man/one-post precedent and the same lady occupied three chairs at the same time.
We do not know what what Leela Samson did as Censor Board big boss or as big lady at Sangeet Natak Academy. But she left her grubby non-Hindu fingers all over Kalashetra. Such was Leela Samson's determination to offend Hindu sensibilities that she invited Romila Thapar in 2010 to Kalakshetra to speak at the launch of the wonderful book on Vaikunta Perumal Temple.
This was my comment the same evening after I attended the function. Thapar did not deliver a scholarly talk - she mocked, she made fun of and she ridiculed Hindu understanding of Time. Leela Samson has been accused by students and faculty members who wish to remain annonymous about carrying out radical changes within Kalakshetra which violated the spirit of the school dedicated to Hindu classical dance and music forms from across India.
We are reproducing here scanned copies of certificates issued before and after the advent of Leela Samson into Kalakshetra as Director of the institution. Below is the report written by Radha Rajan on January 7, 2010, immediately after Romila Thapar delivered a lecture in Kalakshetra on the occasion of the release of a magnificent book Vaikuntha Perumal Temple by (late) Dennis Hudson. The report is a grateful tribute and a scathing indictment of Leela Samson and Romila Thapar] Editor
Slice of history
Talk @ Kalakshetra Koothambalam
When: Jan 7
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Dr. Romila Thapar will deliver the Third D. Dennis Hudson Memorial Annual Lecture on “Cyclical and Linear time in Ancient India” organised by Prakriti Foundation.
After a very long while I made the time yesterday to go back to Kalakshetra to listen to one of my dearly beloveds at a book launch ceremony.
The book was 'Vaikunta Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram' by D Dennis Hudson. Dennis Hudson deserved better than Prakriti Foundation and Thapar. A remarkable book which testifies to Hudson's immense and passionate involvement with the temple, its history and above all the sculpture of the temple and a burning desire to plumb the depth of history in each panel.
A truly remarkable book which everyone of us who makes a pilgrimage to Kanchipuram can use as a guide to inform ourselves about the breathtaking beauty and meaning of this temple.
The Prakriti Foundation did Dennis Hudson's magnum opus unforgivable injustice by getting Thapar to release the book and deliver the third Dennis Hudson Memorial lecture in Kalakshetra. Dennis Hudson's wife for reasons best known to her allowed Prakriti Foundation to take charge of publishing this magnificent book.
This critique of Kalakshetra, Prakriti and Thapar is interlinked and perforce personal because all three violated something fundamental to classicism - the essential Hinduness that inspired classicism and inspires continuing adherence to the tenets of classicism in our Sanskrit and Tamil literature, and classicism in our arts and performing arts - Carnatic Music, Bharatanatyam, Kucchipudi, Odissi, Mohiniyattam and Manipuri - namely bhakti or worship.
The building of our temples and the sculptures enriching them are also infused with classicism and therefore infused with bhakti. It follows therefore that if one has to understand Carnatic Music, our classical dance forms, our temples and temple architecture and sculpture, either with a sense of creativity or intellectually, the person must understand bhakti - not superficially and not as a practioner of the abrahamic faiths, but as a Hindu.
The person may be an Indian or a non-Indian Hindu but he or she must be infused with bhakti and respect for bhakti to understand classicism. I have to be worshipful if I have to express the classicism inherent in our performing arts and in our classical literature. An irreverend mind which is incapable of worship or bhakti, can only produce sterile and soulless creations of Hindu themes.
Classicism is also God-centric and does not touch upon mundane human themes except as bhaktas. Keeping them God-centric has helped to protect them from the defilement and diminishing which would be more realistic perhaps but not elevating. The objective of classicism is to elevate the Hindu mind to God through bhakti. We must not lose sight of this to understand why I find this synergy between Prakriti, Kalakshetra and Thapar both natural and distasteful.
Without the Hinduness, without the bhakti, merely learning the notes of classical music or the steps in classical dance forms, reading Hindu sacred literature just because one can read and understand Tamil or Sanskrit, and performing it or critiquing it, makes the rendition, the product, sterile. There is no atma in the rendition, in the words.
If the Prakriti Foundation had a sense of classicism inherent in Hindu tradition, if it had felt bhakti, it would not have sung paens of praise to Leela Samson the incumbent director of Kalakshetra nor would it have imported Thapar to Chennai for the book launch.
Let me take all three one by one.
Kalakshetra was founded by Rukmini Devi and her theosophist husband George Arundale. Kalakshetra is a product of the theosophists who set up shop in Chennai in the second half of the nineteenth century - courtesy Olcott and Madam Blavatskaya.
Rukmini Devi's father Neelakanta Sastri, like hundreds of Tamil Brahmins who took to english education and migrated to cities abandoning their ancestral villages, was entranced by the new cult, Theosophy. Theosophy was a white race hotch-potch brewed by those who were disenchanted by Christianity's inability to accomodate metaphysical and spiritual experiences not in line with the Talmud or the Bible.
We therefore had the American HS Olcott, the Russian Madam Blavatskaya and the British Annie Besant seeking refuge in theosophy while Madeline Slade sought refuge in Gandhi and the Turkish-Egyptian Jew Mirra Alfassa sought refuge in Aurobindo. This writer believes that neither Aurobindo nor Gandhi exemplified Hindu dharma in its totality or essence; at best they embodied a small aspect of our religious legacy.
The most important thing for idiot Hindus to know and understand is that all of them HAD TO SEEK PHYSICAL REFUGE from their native countries and from their disenchantment only in Hindu bhumi. They were all heretics and they could not live the religious lives they desired in their own countries. At least not in the nineteenth century. Their countries would have tolerated atheism of the Abrahamic variety but not a spirituality rooted in some other religion. That is why they burned men and women in the stakes and that is why they had the inquisitions.
The most striking thing about this confluence of upper caste, English-educated Hindus and the white disenchanted Christians and Jews was that while the white Christians could forsake Christianity, they could not take to the difficult road to becoming a Hindu where there is no refuge in faith in a prophet or a messiah. You and you alone were responsible for your acts and you had to bear the result or karma of your acts.
Sometimes your children and their children also had to bear the fruits of your actions depending how great was your punya or paapa. Accepting total responsibility for your actions was a difficult alternate to expression of blind faith in the Messiah or Prophet, confession and absolution of sins offered by the abrahamic religions.
Buddhism was the half-way mark in this transition because while it derived from sanatana dharma it had aspects of organized religions in its religious structures or clerical hierarchy. It also had a human being who could be fixed in time around whom the cult was built. And that is why Buddhism is the prefered religion of disenchanted white Christians and Jews. Buddhism is also today the half-way mark for those seeking to de-hinduise this nation. Chrsitian missionaries, the church and historically Islam has penetrated the Buddhists everywhere as the beginning towards Islamising it or Christianising it.
Theosophy was no religion; it was an escapist way of life within a closed commune. Rukmini Devi married the theosophist George Arundale much before she re-discovered Bharatanatyam for india. She also met and was inspired by the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who inspired and motivated her to rediscover Bharatanatyam also known as Sadirattam.
Bharatanatyam rooted in Bharatamuni's natyasastra, was preserved in our temples by our devadasis. Hindus owe our devadais a great debt of gratitude that notwithstanding their difficult lives, they nurtured and preserved this great art form. And because this was nurtured by our devadasis and because this was performed in our temples, Bharatanatyam and the music that gave the dance form its soul and rhythm retained its bhakti and religious fervor even in difficult times.
Theosophy like the Arya Samaj, semiticised Hindu religion. The intelliegent Hindu does not need explanations here. The most demanding was that their adherents should give up worship of the murti, give up rituals. Abstraction is erroneously considered the ultimate in intellectual conception or the perfection of ascetism. Maybe so; but it is also the most susceptible to perversion and subversion. Leela Samson who took over Kalakshetra claims she is a Jew. The complete de-Hinduising of Kalakshetra has been achieved.
Adi Sankara realised the dangers of emphasising abstraction over worship of murtis and privileging ascetism over sringara (the worship and celebration of the beautiful) in Advaita and that is why he composed the Saundarya Lahiri. That is Bhagwan Adi Sankara sang the most exhilerating songs of worship and adoration to Sarada and Annapurna and Shiva. Abstraction is breathtaking but murti worship is elevating. Abstraction is best reached through bhakti and not through the intellect.
Rukmini Devi may have rediscovered bharatanatyam for us but she also introduced elements of theosophy into her school Kalakshetra. The Besant School started and run by George Arundale and the KFI school started by J Krishnamurti also with theosophist roots all suffer from the same malaise - the abstraction and eventual erasing of Hinduness in their thinking, in the institutions they create, in their writings and in their speech.
They are not anti-Hindu in the beginning; they are merely the abstract expression of Theosophy and perhaps Buddhism and even some esoteric aspects of Hinduism. But they eventually become anti-Hindu because they partner the explicitly anti-Hindus and non-Hindus, and despise those who are angered by the gradual de-hinduisation of their understanding and interpretation of Hindu arts, literature and texts.
It is this perversion which has given rise to Yoga is not Hindu, Meditation is not Hindu, Om is not Hindu, Ayurveda is not Hindu and now Bharatanatyam is not swaroopa Hindu but aroopa Hindu. It is also the beginning of Deepavalli is secular, Navaratri is secular, Pongal is secular and other idiocies. They all want the hindu frills without the hindu content, the Hindu fruit without the Hindu tree.
Leela Samson when she stated that she only removed the 'swarupa' symbols of hinduism from Kalakshetra in the true spirit of Rukmini Devi's theosophist spirit, was only stating a fact. The abstraction and diminishing of worship of Hindu murtis began in Rukmini Devi's mind. You see this in the children coming out of Krishnamurti schools, you see it in the composition of students learning the performing arts in Kalakshetra now under Leela samson. What Jiddu krishnamurti spoke was the essence of Vedanta and he invoked the enquiring mind so typical of the best methods of Hindu learning in our guru-sishya parampara and gurukulams of our rishis, but he disdained to call his thoughts or its articulation Hindu and he frequently decried the Guru-Shishya parampara in his talks.
The Prakriti Foundation in its introduction yesterday to the book launch function sang an ode to Samson when it said Leela Samson has opened the Kalakshetra to new dimensions. Thapar echoed the sentiment when she said the task of historians today (what she meant was historians like her) was to push the frontiers of history. Now what in Thapar's name does it mean? But being a bear with little brain I didnt understand such high funda oratory except to know that Leela Samson is pushing the frontiers of Rukmini Devi's Kalakshetra as she conceived it in 1939.
But when Thapar mocked Hindu understanding of Time as being cyclical and thererfore ahistorical and only a fantasy (yes she used the word fantasy to describe cyclical time), when she mocked at our yugas and kalpa, when she mocked at our history, when she declared confidently that all vedic hymns were composed by brahmins, when she spoke of something called vedic hinduism and then puranic hinduism, when she said cyclical time was invented by 'Hindu bards and mythmakers' and when the idiots in raw silk and long ear-rings laughed in appreciation then I knew that the poison injected by Jiddu krishnamurti, Olcott and Blavatsky, Arundale and now Samson is still coursing in the veins of Hindu society but also that the poison was beginning to lose its potency.
Because when I walked out precisely 8 minutes after Thapar began her drivel, a dozen others walked out behind me. They were probably waiting for someone to start the exodus. I came back and found great peace of mind in doing what Hinduism exhorts me to do - feed the hungry. I came back to my street animals and knew that Samson and Thapar and the captive idiot audience which laughed, were yugas and Kalpas away from understanding hindu dharma or its traditions. Hindus must know and understand the causes for their degeneration if they have to put these people in their places.
It is not enough to wear the mayilkann veshti and angavastram when you sing an ode to Leela Samson; it is not enough to wear elegant silk and diamond earirings as expressions of refined brahminical culture while simultaneously expressing disdain for brahmins and all that they represent; it is not enough to wear long thin red bindi like the Srivasihnava women simply as a fashion statement if your heart does not melt when you worship that murti.
If you cannot bring tears to my eyes when you dance or sing, then you have to be reborn again and again and again if you have to attain the fulness of MS Subbalakshmi or Palaghat Raghu.
All their sartorial elegance is soulless and sterile. What I saw yesterday in Kalakshetra was the Chennai counterpart of the Delhi IIC chatterati. There was so scholarship, no mastery, no wisdom in that gathering. It was all snobbery and no soul. Kalakshetra, Prakriti and Thapar deserve each other. But Dennis Hudson's book deserved better.
Radha Rajan, 7-1-2010
Before Leela Samson
After Leela Samson