In a world that seems to be growing more intolerant, I still have hope that things will change. History shows us they always do – whenever oppression, bigotry and prejudice became common, arts, music and poetry survived and flourished.
In these times, the stories of some saint-composers from South India should give us heart. Their works transformed society, altered the way it viewed itself, caused upheaval and broke caste prejudices – even if temporarily, until the cycle repeated itself.
Gopalakrishna Bharati, a 19th century scholar, composer and musician, is best known for his Nandanar Charitram, a musical ode to an extraordinary 8th century Shaivite saint called Nandanar. Born a Dalit, Nandanar was a labourer, town crier and handyman who was prohibited from worshipping in the temples he was so drawn to. Legend has it that his faith moved stone (the Nandi at Tirupunkur temple) and caused the temple doors to open to him, challenging the caste beliefs of the time.
His absolution – by walking into a pyre by a mystical divine decree – is viewed as “upper caste appropriation” or as “purification of a true devotee”. Either way, it has played a major part in the Dalit narrative against upper caste oppression. For many, though, the story carries the message of breaking free from the shackles of social differences.
Bharati’s magnum opus Nandanar Charitram turned this story into beautiful compositions that are still the mainstay on the Carnatic platform. Bharati himself had an unusual life. Orphaned at an early age, he became a temple cook, but providential meetings with teachers of scriptures and patrons made him a legendary musician and storyteller. A story goes that the French governor of Karaikal was so moved by Bharati’s artistic prowess that he helped publish the composer’s works.
Another narrative that exists both in the mystical and in the mundane is the story of Thiruppaan Azhwar, a Vaishnavite saint or Azhwar born in late 2700 BCE. Brought up by a childless couple from the Paanar community of village singers, he was marked an untouchable.
Though a gifted musician and a devotee of the deity at the Srirangam temple, he was prevented from worshipping before it – until, according to legend, the deity ordered the head priest to carry Thiruppaan Azhwar into the temple on his shoulders. His Amalanadhipiran, consisting of 10 verses, is performed till date, a run of nearly 4,000 years.
This article was not about saints and their teachings. It was about hope that inspires devotion through art – and such art can introduce great change, transform lives, and break political and social shackles.
Anil Srinivasan is a classical pianist and music educator. His work in music education reaches over 100,000 children in South India.
It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday
Here are some great destinations for you to consider.
Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:
March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto
For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.
Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.
If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.
June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago
Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.
Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.
If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.
August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival
Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.
The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.
October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas
About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.
It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.