“Ethereal celebration of lights in the forest of Govardhan.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.
With the setting sun, the light from the Diyas reverberated through space as if to instil upon the blessings of Radha, on her birthplace. Radha is also referred to as the divine counterpart of Krishna. She is the embodiment of devotion, the essence of love for Krishna. To experience the spectacular dance from the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, we met Pavan Goswami and his troupe. The group excels in Charkula nritya. By the time we set everything up for the performance, it’s all dark. In this dance form, veiled women balancing large multi-tiered circular wooden pyramids on their heads lit with 108 oil lamps, dance to the strains of ‘Rasiya’ – songs of Lord Krishna.
Charkula is primarily performed on the third day after Holi to celebrate the birth of Radharani. Some legends have it, on getting the news of Radha’s birth, her grandmother was happy, and that she emphatically rushed out of her house with the Charkula on her head, to announce to the entire village that Radha has come to see the light of the earth, Since then Charkula has been a popular and loved dance form of Braj, performed during various occasions of festivities.
Every cultural aspect of Braj has some of the other connections with Lord Krishna and the beautiful tales of Gopis and Radha, hence how was it possible for a dance form or a song, a story or a legend of Braj to remain unblemished from Krishna’s leelas. Trying to figure out how to work in the dark Govardhan forest and as the team was brainstorming, our eyes suddenly witnessed the other Avatar of Pavan Goswami in Krishna’s attire through the lights generated by the lamps on the Charkula. We had our Eureka moment, and without any further ado, we decided to light the location with candles and earthen lamps. To keep the monkeys away from our equipment, who became more active after sundown, we circled the area of our counsel with light.
Charkula dance is a symbol of happiness as well as joyful bliss. Krishna raised the mount Goverdhan and as if to re-enact the Govardhan Leela, the dancing damsel Braj raises the 50 Kgs Charkula on her head while performing the Charkula dance. Wearing long skirts reaching the toes and a blouse, the dancing damsel covers her body and face with the odhani, and with its lighted lamps on her head and in both the hands, she dances, synchronizing her steps with the beat of the drum. Her movements were limited, because of the heavy load on her head. The group gave a stunning performance and enchanted everyone on the song ‘ Sawayin dekho toh achak chadh aayo Rasiya’-
“Bansi Bare Mohana,
(Oh! Winner of hearts! Flautist Krishna)
Bansi tanak baja,
(Please, play the flute)
Teri Bansi ne mero maan haro,
(Your flute has taken my heart away)
Mohe ghar aangana na sohaye”
(Now I no longer feel good in my place, my home)
She cannot bend her body, nor can she move her neck. Despite these limitations, the slim, sturdy, and courageous dancer dances, gliding, bending, pirouetting to the tune of the song. The climax is reached, when enraptured by the collective merriment of the occasion, the singers also start dancing, and, with the swift beat of music and movement, the onlookers find themselves carried away by the rejoicing.
After experiencing a scintillating performance by Pawan, and the entire Charkhula group as we were coming out of the forest, we saw majestic Kusum Sarobor sparkling in full moonlight. A sight we will carry in our hearts for a long time.