The Mirror : Darpana

The darpana pose is seen everywhere in odissi. The woman looking at her reflection in the mirror. It represents many things. With a modern superficial lens, we might see vanity. But if we look a little deeper, it unfolds. To see the beauty in yourself, to recognise the divinity in your own eyes, and to take pleasure in that experience.

Somehow in this moment, in this picture, something clicked. But actually in my dance journey, this is a pose I have had trouble with. How to find that internal state to be able to hold this feeling for more than a fleeting moment. I had to really look at myself (metaphorically!) to deconstruct what was going on. And to put myself back together believing what I saw. .

It’s all such a process. There’s a movement around embodiment yoga growing, and to me this dance hits the absolute bullseye of what embodied yoga is. The mental, emotional and physical deconstruction you experience, and the sublime and solid framework you are put back together in. Oh and you get to dance while doing it!

Photo taken @ncpamumbai during a dance photography workshop 😊 #odissi#darpana #indianclassicaldance #maryamshakiba #embodiedyoga#yogaofdance #reflections#metaphorsforlife #indiandance#indianclassicaldance #incredibleindia


Dancing into liberation and fulfilment

This is one of my favourite quotes, and it really captures everything I feel about dance and my practice.

"In the Indian tradition, dance is a means of gaining liberation through sadhana or the discipline required to perfect it. And it is in this constant attempt to express the core of all human emotion. from joy and passion to anger and fury, through the gestures and movements of the human body, that offers the path to creative and spiritual fulfilment."

- Shringara, by Alka Pande

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A Month in Churches

I've been spending a lot of time in churches this advent. It's been really special.


Evensong at Southwark Cathedral. Sitting quietly in a cavernous medieval church in Gloucestershire, lit only by a handful of candles. Finding myself through synchronicity and positive interactions, kneeling on the floor at the very front of an evening mass at the epic St Patrick's church in Soho Square (do go in if you are ever passing by, it is jaw dropping, like being in Rome, not even kidding). Staring in awe at the ceiling of Hampton Court Palace's Chapel Royal. State carol service at the Chapel Royal in the Tower of London. Evening carol service at St Martin's in the Fields off Trafalgar Square.  Passing a church on a walk, peeking in and hearing an orchestra rehearsing New World Symphony (Hovis song) for a concert that evening (hair-raising). 

It's given me a lot to reflect on. 

Chapel Royal, Tower of London

Chapel Royal, Tower of London

I've thought about the role that churches have played historically in our society. I heard a great quote that the history of England is found in its churches.

I've thought about how in all that London gets ripped up and modernised with new developments of flats, churches are often all that is left of the past. One of the few things that seem to have withstood raging capitalism.

St Patricks Church, Soho Square

St Patricks Church, Soho Square

I've thought about Christmas. Going to these carol and advent services, it has been amazing to actually experience and feel what Christmas is really all about. It's been a bit of a nostalgia train as well, singing carols that I loved when I was a child, hearing the stories again that I already know so well.

St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square

St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square

I've thought about stories. And how when we hear these stories growing up, linked with certain times of year, year after year, it generates a feeling of connection. To yourself, to history, to others. A sense of sharing an experience. Creating a ritual through retelling. And the Christmas story is such a rich one with such heady imagery! Taking you to pastures, deserts, the stars, the innocence of a baby, the love of parents, a straw filled stable, angels, gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is something to feel that this story is part of me and my culture and my growing up.  

Southwark Cathedral

Southwark Cathedral

I've thought about how much I love when sacred and historic spaces are alive and active with their original purpose. Going to the carol service at the Tower of London really brought that to life. While the rest of the fortress is now a museum, with barely a shadow left of what various parts would actually have been used for, the chapel is still alive as a place of worship. A full congregation singing, sermons, an angelic choir, the organist filling the space with music. This is where people have been coming to pray for hundreds and hundreds of years, and here we were doing the same for real. The thread of history still being spun.

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I've thought about how as much as I am starting to understand and appreciate certain aspects of Christianity, certain fundamental elements I disagree with. But that is ok, because at an even more fundamental level, I know that we are on the same page. I also could understand why devoted Christians/followers of other religions worry that the lack of spiritual life in society today is leading to a breakdown of values. A really sacred space was being created and shared and I could see how the idea of people not having that in their lives was sad and scary. 

Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace

Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace

I've thought about how much I love Christmas carols and choirs. And how when you go to a service and sing your heart out, and the choir sings the more complex harmonies alongside you, inviting you into a magnificent auditory and sensory experience, you really feel like you are part of something beautiful. 

It's been a December to remember. It's felt like a real blessing to spend so much of it in sacred spaces and ceremonies. Giving thanks!


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Jayadeva & Radha

Setting the scene...

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I've been reading the most wonderful book over the last few months; Radha, from Gopi to Goddess. It's part of my morning reading ritual, where, when I can stay at home and not have to rush anywhere first thing, I enjoy sitting down with a tankard of herbal tea and reading on the sofa.

The book is a collection of essays compiled (and some written) by Harsha V. Dehejia, exploring the concept of Radha through history. Be it through poetry, painting, historical research, dance etc. Super interesting!

My morning reading books are always ones that require a bit more concentration and contemplation, so ones that aren't well suited to a commute on the tube. Also books that are a bit too big to carry in my bag make it into my morning reading :P  They take a bit of time to finish these days... as for various reasons my quiet mornings have fallen in number a little. But it's been a haven of a ritual I've developed over the last couple of years, and every time I'm able to enter it, I feel like I'm entering a space where I can be quiet and absorb new knowledge and savour the nourishment that peaceful mornings and learning brings.

Also I'll happily confess that I'm not a super early morning person and sometimes morning reading time doesn't start till after 10am :P

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The main man - Jayadeva!

So while I've been learning soooo many things in this book, one of the things that hit home recently is how instrumental Jayadeva was in the creation of Radha. As in, he essentially wrote her into existence.

Bit of a nutshell background for those not familiar - Jayadeva was a 12th century Indian poet, who is best known for writing the epic love song about Radha & Krishna - the Gita Govinda.

Krishna is considered to be a form of Lord Vishnu (sustaining force of the universe - part of the core 'creator-sustainer-destroyer' trinity of Hinduism made up of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). In the stories, Vishnu in his godly form never enters our physical realm, but he does enter our world in the form of a number of avatars, of which Krishna is one.

Radha in comparison, is a mere mortal. A gopi (milkmaid) in the village of Vrindavan, where Krishna also spends his youthful years. And yes, Vrindavan is an actual place in India :) 

While Vrindavan is full of gopis who all love Krishna (who can blame them - his beauty and charm and skill with which he plays the bansuri (Indian flute) are stuff of legend), and while Krishna enjoys engaging in amorous games of love with them... there is also one gopi who he loves the most - Radha. And it is their relationship that the Gita Govinda explores. The passion, the longing, the jealousy, the betrayal, the ecstasy of union. She represents every woman, every stage of love on the one hand, and represents the relationship between us as mortals and the divine on the other.

There's a whole world of themes and topics to explore and discuss here, hence it has inspired centuries worth of art, poetry, music, dance, contemplation and devotional practice. I'm not going to even try and get any deeper than I have just done! But it was so fascinating to think about how actually before Jayadeva wrote his poem, the idea of Radha as a standalone and developed character did not exist. There is mention in part of an older text of a favoured gopi, but she isn't afforded more than one line of text really.

So for me it was wonderful to take a moment to give thanks to Jayadeva for bringing Radha to life through his writing. For creating the space for such a rich world of love, devotion and beauty to grow. For giving us an embodiment through which we could discover our hearts and souls. 

~ Jai Jayadeva! ~

Artwork by Vekkas M

Artwork by Vekkas M

Fertile Carriers

Over the weekend I had a period where I was thinking about what it really means to be a fertile woman in this current age and culture. One in which more women are choosing not to have children, or not have children till later.

So I was pondering this question.

How to be fertile carriers of this earth without physically giving birth.

How to cultivate and embody the earth, and the gifts and lessons it gives us.

How to experience a sense of fulfilment and completion in that.

I feel like a lot of my own practices have been leading me to this point. I feel like yoga has given me super effective tools to develop this connection to the earth and life force energy that we are all bearers of. And I feel like odissi has given me further super effective tools to shape and fill this connection into one which is powerful, luscious and exquisite. It’s amazing to be able to create the space to feel all those colours within ourselves. 

I feel sometimes in the broader sense, stepping back from my own specific practices, that that is what my life work is building (slowly). Not to say I will never have children (be at ease, womb!), but to be finding a sense of love, enjoyment, fulfilment and peace in my body and, by proxy, the earth. And to communicate that sense to others in the best way I can. Embodying the lessons I have learnt, if not in another human being, in myself. 

Not All Practice Makes Perfect

This article is an important read:

I can often be heard saying "practice makes perfect", or "it's just practice" when people compliment me on Odissi or my yoga practice. I feel like it's important to get across that it is no 'natural' or innate talent; I have worked hard at these things for years, and if you practice as well there is no reason you can't also do these things. The meritocratic nature of developing skills is something I'm a big advocate of.

But actually perhaps I'm not giving the full story of my development and experience. Because practice is not just repeating the same thing over and over again expecting that it will get better. There is definitely something a bit deeper you have to pull out. There is that inner drive to constantly improve, and understanding the smaller steps you have to break down and through along the way to ensure you get there.

If you are practising and not improving, it is not a case of 'I just can't do it'; it is a case of taking the time to understand exactly where your barrier is. Exactly what element are you stuck at, and exploring different ways to get around the barrier. That depth of understanding of yourself and your craft will take you deep and true.

The article also makes a valuable point about feedback. We need feedback to identify where we are falling short. If we can't see why we are not succeeding, no doubt someone else who has been there before us can.

Purposeful practice
Push beyond your comfort zone
Find ways around barriers
Use feedback

The impossible is just the next breakthrough.

‪#‎practice‬ ‪#‎practicemakesperfect‬

Kamatala Festival 2015 Odissi Workshop

This is an adapted choreography I taught as part of my Divinity of Dance workshop at Kamatala Festival, July 2015, Exeter, UK.

It is a simplified excerpt from Hari Riha Mughda, a storytelling item, exploring the play between Krishna and the Gopis (milkmaids). In the workshop we were exploring various themes, one of which is the idea that through devotion to Krishna and the acting out of his past-times, we experience liberation of the soul.

Thank you to Namrata Dhawan for sharing this video she took of me! It is a bit shadowy... I forgot to take into account the light behind me! <3 

Music: Water Girl by Zakir Hussain