(Clockwise From top left) Meena Gamal performing the ‘Vajrayogini’ dance; Rajendra Shrestha during the ‘Mahamanjushri’ dance; Local dance and theatre activists at the workshop held at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
If in the Ananda, or bliss, one dances for the sake of salvation, let it be performed with the songs of Vajra in the company of yogis.
-- Hevajratantram (6.10)
Last week, Shadhona -- A Center for Advancement of South Asian Dance & Music -- presented 'Charyapada', also known as 'Vajrapada' or songs of Vajra, as a living Nepalese performative tradition within Vajrayana tantric rituals.
Bengal has been familiar with the medieval Buddhist text of 'Charyapada' since 1907, when Sri Haraprasad Shastri discovered a manuscript of the 'Charyacharchavinischaya', the earliest example of written Bangla, in the Royal Archive of Nepal. Linguistic analysis by scholars tells us that many of the authors of the poems of 'Charya' were from medieval Bengal. In 1960, Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah published translations of 50 poems from this text in his book 'Buddhist Mystic Songs'. Ever since, there has been ample debate on 'Charyapada', viewed mainly as a literary text. Shadhona's presentation, for the first time, added dimensions of dance and ritual to these ancient Buddhist writings.
That ancient Bengal had deep-rooted ties with Buddhism, and regions adherent to the Buddhist way of life, including Nepal, is evident from various archaeological and literary sources. Unfortunately, not only have these ties been severed, even the memory of these contacts have been erased from our collective history.
Shadhona's initiative to invite a seven-member dance troupe, led by Rajendra Shrestha from Kalamandapa of Kathmandu, to present and teach ritualistic Vajrayana Buddhist tantric dances, is an effort to re-establish spiritual linkages with Nepal based on a shared cultural history. The team members included Sarbagya Ratna Bajrachary, a Vajrayana tantric priest.
It is important to preserve the cultural history of a region, as that provides its people with important clues to their identity, through the history of ideas and thoughts that culminate in present day ideologies shaping the nation. Shadhona hopes that this cultural exchange with Nepal will provide some important details about the history of philosophy, particularly 'tantricism', in Bengal, giving us clues to the extant practices of esoteric rites within present day Bauls and Fakirs.
During their stay in Bangladesh from October 12 to 21, the troupe conducted a workshop on 'Charya Nritya' for 25 dance and theatre activists at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy; presented a Vajrayana ritual, including 'Charya Nritya' at the Dharmarajika Buddhist Temple in Kamlapur, Dhaka on October 19 and participated in a scholarly seminar on 'Charyagiti-nritya', jointly organised by Shadhona and the Bangla Academy on October 20. In his presentation, during the Seminar, Sarbagya Bajracharya, stressed the fact that the goal of 'Charya Geeti', singing and dancing, is to reach 'ananda', or bliss, of realising 'sunyata' or absolute reality, which is the aim of Vajrayana Buddhism.
After the seminar 'Charya' dances, based on 'Charyapada', were presented by the dancers. To emphasise the connection with Bengal, the troupe performed the dance of Vajrayogini on a 'Charya Geeti' written by Shantikara Acharya, the pseudonym of King Prachanda Deb of Gaur (ancient Bengal) and one of the 'Charya' songs included in Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah's translated text.
The writer is a noted dancer and general secretary of Shadhona