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Uproar over ruling against prayer, statue

Uproar over ruling against prayer, statue

Publication: Malaysia Today
Date: June 5, 2008
URL: http://www.malaysia-today.net/2008/content/view/8420/1/

At the beginning of every Bharatanatyam performance, artistes of this famous South Indian classical dance pay obeisance on stage to a statue of Lord Nadaraja.

The Bharatanatyam was performed at the Taman Budaya on condition prayers to Lord Nadarajah were not carried out on stage as is the common practice at the start of the performance. - NST picture by Ikhwan Munir

This common practice is also carried out to invoke the deity's blessings so that the dancers perform well without any obstacle.

However, on Monday night, a group of Bharatanatyam dancers performed before a full gallery at the Taman Budaya public auditorium without the customary on-stage pooja (prayer) to Lord Nadaraja.

This was because the owner of the venue, the state Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Department, permitted the dance on condition they did not install a statue or portrait of the deity and offer their prayers on stage.

For the record, this is not the first time that dancers from the three Bharatanatyam schools of Nrityakalanjali, Natyakalamandir and Anandanarthana Choodamani in the state had performed at the venue.

In the past, the dancers were allowed to offer their prayers on stage, said P. Sasikumar, who acted as the spokesman for the three dance schools.

"This time we were not allowed because the department imposed this condition.

"This is ridiculous. The pooja is an integral part of the performance and has been practised for hundreds of years," he said before the start of the Bharatanatyam performance at Taman Budaya.

He said the practice of paying obeisance to Lord Nadaraja was important because the deity was worshipped as the king of dance.

In defence, the department said the organisers were informed beforehand of the conditions and chose to go ahead with the performance.

The department's public relations officer, Shaliza Azlin, said the organisers had agreed that the prayers would be performed backstage to respect the sensitivities of the audience, who also comprised Chinese and Malays.

"We did not stop them from doing the pooja. We did not want them to do it in public."

Shaliza said the same conditions had been imposed on other cultural groups.

Perak state assembly speaker V. Sivakumar, who was at the performance, said: "The prayer is very much part of the cultural performance and should have been allowed on the stage."

He said he would bring the matter up with the state government as well as his party so that such "intolerant behaviour" could be nipped in the bud before it became widespread.

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