East Meets West at Ponte’s Milòn Mela

Milon Mela means ‘a coming together’ from the Hindu word to meet, ‘milna,’ and ‘mela’, fair or feast. It’s also the name of a remarkable group of dancers, singers and acrobats who together represent the finest aspects of Indian traditional culture.

We were meant to have Milon Mela’s show at Baba’s ashram near Guzzano but unfortunately uncertainty about the weather mean that the Baba was left alone and that I had to make a quick dash to Villa Demidoff where the performance would take place under cover.

In fact the God Indra did not bless our parched earth with his life-giving rain until this morning so I’m truly sorry that not only Baba but four friends of mine were unable to make it to the amazing spectacle witnessed at the Demidoff Global Village, a centre for holistic and alternative therapy.

Milon Mela had the backing of Baul musicians from Bengal. Bauls do not recognize caste divisions and originate from wandering mystical singers who embody the oneness of all faiths and believe that (quite rightly) God is within one’s heart.

The musicians accompanied a group of Gotipua dancers from Orissa who are linked to the great temples of Bhubaneshwar and the Devadasi, or female temple dancing, tradition.

This was a type of dancing style I had not been used to mainly, accustomed as I am to Bharatanatyam, and was amazed at the astonishing acrobat quality of this type of Orissan offshoot. Every hand movement or mudra, indeed the whole movement of body arms and legs, were a language which could well express the most transcendental ideas.

I’m sure that the tripartite plasticity of some of the tableaux vivants was fully expressive of the Shaivite origins of this dance which was accompanied by a lot of rhythmical foot stamping and reminded me not a little of kathakali dances from Kerala which we’d witnessed in 2000.

The tantric Sadhu Visajit Giri from north-east India gave an awesome display of asana or postures based on Hatha Yoga and climaxed with that most difficult of exercises: a horizontal belly-down asana on a bed of knives. We may sometimes think our life is like a bed of nails but this metaphor was literally realised before our eyes!

The arrival of two Chhau dancers from Bihar, clearly representing manifestations of Ganesh, brought some relief to the contortioned asana of the fakir. With magnificent headdresses and costumes Chhau dancers are used to invoke the divinity of Shiva to grant them rain and a plentiful harvest. They also relate tales from the two great Hindu epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Chhau dancing was punctuated by astonishing twirling where the performers almost took to the air like birds. Certainly, the dance has its effect for this morning it’s raining cats and dogs, or rather मूसलाधार बारिश , (torrential rains), as they say in Hindi, for the first time since June .

It was a magical show which transported me back to a sub-continent I have a great affection for.

As I once wrote when at Shivraatri at Mount Girnar in Gujarat when the sadhus come out of their caves in the middle of the night:

GIRNAR

In darkness the holy mountain unfolds

its viscera: from hidden caves naked

saints stream into a flame-lit cortège that holds

Shiva’s night devotees in pious dread.

 

In the day’s heat I’d climbed to the summit

and slept alone at a pilgrim’s rest house,

withdrawing from press of crowds to submit

to music I recognised as my nous.

 

Intangible contact with the beyond

and communal meals under the large tents:

faces of joy sing bright chants that respond

to Lord Shiva and the time’s great events.

 

The mountain transmits like the internet;

god-like contact I can never forget.

 

 

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