A Durga for our Times

From October 15-19, 2018 Nova Dance is bringing Durga Puja to The Theatre Centre. I should say that we are bringing what I think of as ‘the essence’ of Durga Puja to The Theatre Centre. For me, more than a religious ceremony, attending Durga Puja in Toronto was about watching community come together. Swathed in resplendent saris, preparing (and later consuming) offerings to the warrior goddess, catching up with friends and an overwhelming sense of belonging. All these things are also the inspiration for my new work Svāhā. In the same space where we’ll have the Puja, my collaborators and I will dive into its creation.  The Puja is part of our research into the sense of heightened emotion that bring participants together and connect them to something beyond themselves.

Photo by Ed Hanley
Photo of Atin and Nova Bhattacharya by Ed Hanley

In seeking to bring the essence of the ceremony into the space it didn’t seem necessary to go the conventional route of shipping in a clay sculpture from India.  In fact, that option seemed not to fit this Puja at all.  This, after all, is a re-imagined ritual for the diaspora, a re-imagined ritual in a theatrical space.  I didn’t want our Durga to become a set piece.  I wanted our Durga to be connected to this city in a more meaningful way.

My mother suggested I ask an artist friend to draw a Durga and I immediately thought of Syrus Marcus Ware. Syrus’ art has always moved me, his charcoal portraits of people are so much more than mere likenesses, they somehow reach into the heart of the person he is drawing and delivers their essence. 

Syrus was engaged by the invitation, but had an important question: Might some people feel it was an act of appropriation? We talked. I talked about how I was raised, that my parents were Vedantic Hindus who believe there were many paths to God. That sometimes my father (the accidental priest) questioned his own faith. That my sister convinced my dad that absolute faith wasn’t necessary to conduct rituals of community.  That my father had performed interracial and same sex marriages using the rituals of Hindu faith. That Nova Dance values multiple perspectives and building bridges through art. 

Syrus said yes, and the Durga he researched and drew is special. She, like every other Durga that is being worshipped all over the world, is an artist’s interpretation. She, unlike any Durga I have seen, seems pensive - perhaps wanting to assure her children on earth that she is there for them, while facing the truth of the world today. 

A Durga for our times.

Photo by Ballu ThakurPhoto by Ballu Thakur. Durga by Syrus Marcus Ware.