An Odyssey of Odissi

By Chandani Jayatilleke
Odissi is the traditional dance style of the religious and artistic state of Orissa of north-east India. Tradition has it that Odissi is a style of temple dancing. It was originally performed by the temple dancers as a ritualistic dance in many kinds of temples. Since medieval times, Orissa has been rich in culture, architecture and traditions. Therefore, the dance performances aligned with the temple culture gradually evolved in Orissa. The marvellous and classical temple complexes in present-day Orissa are a unique example of this concept. Visitors to Orissa will certainly find the true sense of this concept- when they come across the architectural styles and the dancing pavilions reserved for temple dancers in these complexes.

From its small but rich beginnings as a style of temple dancing- Odissi has come a long way and strengthened its position as a powerful, sensuous and graceful dance form in India. The present Odissi dance integrates many art forms ranging from temple dance, folk dance, marital art, sculptures and palm leaf paintings to ancient texts.

To mark India’s 63rd anniversary of Independence, a renowned Odissi danseuse Sharmila Biswas, and her ensemble from Orissa, presented a brilliant show of Odissi in front of an appreciative audience at the Ananda College hall on August 15. This dance performance is a combination of story-telling and dancing in lyrical movements. The dancers presented beautiful and dazzling poses similar to that of the sculptured figures in the temples of Orissa. The rhythms, vivid expressions and lyrical movements of the dancers perfectly blended with the composition of music of Vina, flute, drum (Mridanga) and symbol.

Odissi consists of two broad divisions; Nritta- which is pure dance without symbolism or story- usually performed to music without words, and the second division is called Nritya. This is the expressional dance in which the dancer, through symbolic gestures, poses and facial expressions, interprets the poem sung. Odissi is characterised by the ‘Triple Bend’ pose called ‘Tribhangi’, requiring three bends at the neck, waist and the knee. This reflects the exquisite charm and grace of the dancer. Prior to the main performance, the media got the opportunity to watch some of these techniques demonstrated by the dancers themselves, when they were introduced to the media by Counsellor- Press, Information & Culture, Indian High Commission, Birender S. Yadav.

Speaking to the media, Ms. Biswas said, “Odissi is performed as a solo item as well as a group dance, and both men and women can take part in the same performance”.
Although Odissi is not a popular dance style in Sri Lanka yet, unlike other Indian dance styles such as Bharata Natyam and Kathak, Yadav said they are now exploring the possibility of introducing Odissi in Sri Lanka in the future. The visit of the troupe was organised under the Programme of Cultural Cooperation (PCC) for 2010-2013, signed between the two countries during the June 2010 visit of Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The shared cultural and civilisational heritage of India and Sri Lanka, and extensive people-to-people interaction, provides the foundation to build a vibrant and multifaceted partnership. PCC 2010-2013 seeks to enhance the level of cooperation between the peoples of the two countries in a wide variety of fields.


Trade boom: Silk route and ancient China

By R. Jinith de Silva
We all know that the East and West of Asia were divided by mountain ranges and rivers.
In addition to that, travelling was much difficult and risky due to deserts such as Gobi and Taklimakan.
Even with such hardships, trade prevailed between these two parts of Asia even before second century B.C, with the assistance of nomads. Chinese silk reached West Asia via this ‘silk route’.

King Wudi of the Han dynasty (206–BC220 AD) was the first to initiate a programme to broaden this trade link.
This king sent his emissary Zhang Qian in 139 BC to countries in west Asia to clear the obstacles to this trade route, so he could expand trade activities between these two parts of Asia.
His efforts were successful and horses were introduced, so the trade activities could be expedited and the volume of trade also could be increased.

As a result, products such as silk, Chinaware, lacker, tea, arrived in West Asian countries and products of Persia, India, Arabia and far away places such as Greece, Rome, Africa started arriving at Chinese markets.
Among this merchandise, silk was the most sought after commodity.
Romans were very fond of Chinese silk and it is said that even Julius Ceasar too loved the said commodity.
At one stage, the Roman rulers had banned the importation Chinese silks as it drained the countries wealth.
But the Nobles of Rome had mounted pressure on rulers to lift the ban and to send emissaries to Chinese court and arrange direct trade without buying from third parties.
Traders found that sending goods through ships was much profitable and fast.
With the passing of time, the sea route also came to be known as the silk route.
They found that they could send their merchandise to far away places in East Africa and to Red Sea ports through the sea route.

As Chinese silk and porcelain became more accessible to European markets, the demand for the said goods increased and China had to create more factories that manufacture the said items.
They manufactured goods to satisfy the specific tastes of these customers such as porcelain with golden coloured rings for European markets and with Buddhist emblems to Buddhist countries.
In addition to this, Chinese main four inventions such as paper, printing machine and gun powder were exported to West through this sea route. Sea travelling was made easy with the magnetic compass which was another Chinese invention.
Several new cities sprung up in China as a result of the silk route.
Cities such as Xian, Loyang and Urumqi and ports like Canton became important trade centres of China along the silk route.

Products of the Western and Southern Asian countries and African countries became very popular in China.
People started using spices to make their food tastier.
Sesame that was introduced from South Africa was also a popular commodity in China.
Gold, silver, gems and ivory were some of the precious material that China received from Asian and African countries.
They have even brought animals such as horses, ostriches and peacocks to be sold in China.
China employed much bigger ships at later stages along the silk route. This increased the volume of trade.
There was a marked increase in the navel activities during the reign of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) navigator Admiral Zheng.

He had travelled seven times along the silk route, in the 15th century. with a fleet of 200 ships for trade activities.
He had visited Sri Lanka six times during these voyages.
Trade activities helped China to forge alliances with many countries which led to social and cultural connections.
Many Chinese went and settled down in these countries. China towns are found in many South Asian countries.
A substantial number of Chinese are found even today in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Chinese food items such as noodles are a delicacy among most Asian countries.
Many varieties of vegetables were introduced to China through the silk route. Vegetables such as snake gourd were introduced from India.

Grapes grown in the Mediterranean countries and wine arrived in China through the silk route.
Wine became somewhat a popular drink during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) and pretty waitresses had served wine at night clubs in Xian.

Flat bread, introduced from the Arab world, also became a popular food among the Chinese, especially in Xian.
It was through the silk route that world came to know about the hospitality of the Chinese, especially of the kings of Tang Dynasty (618-907) and Song Dynasty (960-1279).
They have invited academics, writers and poets from other countries to China to enrich their literature.
About 5,000 such foreign academics, poets and writers have lived in Xian at times. Even foreign students have studied as residential students at the Guozijian imperial college in Xian.
The most precious and important gift that China received through the Silk route was Buddhism.
Among those who helped to introduce and propagate Buddhism to China through this route were emperor Mingdi of the eastern Han dynasty (AD25-220) Buddhist monks such as Kasyapa Matanga and Gobharana in A D -64 , monk Faxian of the eastern Jin dynasty (A D 317- 420) and monk Xuan Zang of the Tang dynasty (A D 618 -907)

Along with Buddhism, religious sculpture and painting too arrived in China.
This is confirmed by the statues and paintings found in the grottoes, situated along the silk route.
Most important of these are Dunhuang’s Mogao grottoes in Gansu province, Longmen grottoes at Luoyang city in Henan province and Yungang grottoes at Datong city in Shanxi province.
It is reported in Chinese sources that sculptors from Sri Lanka had taken part in the construction of Yungang grottoes.

It is believed that rich merchants contributed to build these Buddhist shrines along the silk route.
Trading by silk route along, land routes was a very risky business.
The real heroes of the silk route were the pioneers who ventured to cross the deserts, rivers, mountains, mostly on foot and animal backs transporting their merchandise from East to West and vice versa before sea routes were found.
But the most famous of them was Admiral Chang He who crisscrossed the South Asian Seas in a fortilla of over 200 ships.
He was not only a navigator but also an ambassador at large representing the interests of the emperor of the Ming Dynasty.

In one of his visits to Sri Lanka, he had made an offering to Sri Pada and erected a trilingual inscription at Galle harbour. (Chinese, Tamil and Arabic languages).
The Silk Route in fact not only contributed to trade links among the nations of the region but also facilitated friendly relations and religious and cultural ties.
(The writer is the former Secretary of the Sri Lanka China Society)


Impressions of Down Under

By M. S. Abeysinghe
When the Qantas flight from Singapore to Sydney touched the Sydney airport little did I realise that I am visiting a well-organised country – Australia, a continent in the Southern Hemisphere.
In a nutshell, Australia is a land of trees, flowers, beaches, parks, nature reserves and forests.
Australia’s discovery and explanation is like a romantic epic. In ancient times the geographers invented a very big Southern continent. Marco Polo visiting from China in 1292 AD via Malaysia and Sumatra described that there is a great and rich country plenty of gold and small white sea shells probably the pearls. He based his story from hearsay.

Portuguese and Spanish navigators discovered Australia-Dutch mapped Western and Northern coastline in the 17th century. But none of them decided to colonise such desolate looking land. French and British interests flickered at the same period but British took decisive moves. The British Admiralty sent James Cook to explore this Continent. Cook’s discovery of Australia’s eastern coastline gave a complete picture of the true shape of the continent. His reports paved the way for British colonisation programme.

The present status of Australia is as follows. There are nationals from almost all countries of the world now living in Australia. They all contribute to the development of the country in various ways. This is a country devoid of internal wars. It is a land of forests and bushes. About 30,000 different plant species and about 90% of them are found nowhere else on earth. Majority of the trees are gum trees and eucalyptus trees. It is observed that trees are cut down and used as electrical posts instead of concrete posts.
The land is rich in fruits. Apples, peaches, nectarine, oranges, plums, apricots, pears, grapes, raspberry and strawberries etc.

As regards the fauna, there are kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, ostrich, emu, rabbits, possums, platypus, alpacas, wombats etc. Some of these are not found elsewhere in the world.
Birds – most common are penguin, water fowl, geese, swans, sea gulls, cockatoos, parrots, fishes, scrub birds, magpies, humming birds, mynahs. There are about 68 kinds of birds.
Flowers – Aussie land is full of flowers. There are about 1,713 kinds of wild flowers. Hence, bees honey is available in plenty.

Natural wealth consists of coal mines, steel and gold mines.
Vegetables – All tropical vegetables grow in the country. The soil is rich in volcanic ashes and hence vegetables grow nicely. Mushrooms and asparagus are the favourites.
The educational system comprises public schools and private schools. There are universities for undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Sports are compulsory for every student. The system is to make a complete man or woman.

Medical system – There are public and private hospitals. All citizens enjoy medical benefits.
Senior citizens are well looked after by the State. Some live independently and enjoy Superannuation benefits. Travelling is made easy by charging nominal fees in trains. Concessionary fares are levied for viewing places of interests like zoos and aquariums.

Children over 16 years of age are considered as teenagers and are allowed to drive and drink beer. Children of single parents are looked after by the state. Their mothers receive financial support from the state.
Road system is well-organised with traffic lights, speed cameras, freeways and highways for vehicles, lanes for cyclists, walkways for pedestrians, road crossings for pedestrians and with aerial surveillance on highways.
Generally, all citizens obey the law. Privacy of life is maintained.
The beaches are well-maintained with rock pools, changing rooms and car parks. In certain beaches naked bathing is also allowed.

There are rest rooms for males, females, parents and disabled.
The residents are friendly with salutations like “Good Day”, “How are you, mate?” etc.
The rocks are dark rocks of volcanic origin called basalt or bluestone.
Drivers of vehicles are categorised into three kinds; with L boards, P boards and ordinary.
The weather forecasts are very accurate and predictions are made throughout the day and night on TV weather channel is giving day and night temperature of the cities, the rain, storms, winds, sunshine, dam capacity and pollens.

The cyclists must wear helmets including small children to prevent head injuries.
Parks for recreation – flower gardens, long terraces for cycling, playgrounds and barbeque points. The toilet facilities are also there.
The national parks are mainly forests and with directions for bush walks.
Garbage bins are found all over and well-maintained. Garbage is removed by the Councils and as a result the cities are clean.

UV rays are a problem in the country and all citizens wear hats or caps when they are outdoor. Schoolchildren must wear hats instead of caps to school and back home.
This is a country full of bays, ferries and boats. The residents enjoy outing in boats on rivers during weekends and holidays.

Hence, this is a country to be visited and enjoyed though it has a history of only 200 years.
Some important facts about Australia
The first European sighting of Australia was in March 1606 by William Jansz, the skipper vessel Duyfken (Little Dove)

Dutch map-makers named Australia as “Hollandin Nova” meaning new Holland.
William Dampier was the first Englishman set foot in Australian soil in 1688.
Captain James Cook landed at botany bay (Sydney) in 1770 and declared he had found “terra australis incognita” meaning the fabled unknown Southern land at last.
Captain Cook’s reports to the British Admiralty on the fertility of Australia paved the way for British colonisation of Australia.


Couture comes to Colombo

Couture, the art of handmade garments, is reserved only for the most discerning. This world of high fashion will be opened to Asia when Georges Hobeika introduces his prestigious couture label to Asia from Colombo on October 27 during a special charity event. All proceeds from the event will benefit First Lady Shiranthi Wickramasinghe Rajapaksa’s cancer charity Carlron Suwa Sevana.

This exclusive, invitees only Red Carpet event at the Oak room of the Cinnamon Grand hotel will be hosted by Dinesh Chandrasena who is in charge of business development - Asia region for Georges Hobeika,
The fashion show which will be produced by Event concepts will be presented in two segments : the first half dedicated to Georges’ favourite pieces from his past collections, and the second half showcasing his Fall-Winter 2010/11 MASAI collection, which was shown at the Louvre Museum in Paris on July 5th 2010 during couture Fashion Week.

Georges Hobeika has always been an artist, and a perfectionist, whose inspiration is making a woman look absolutely spectacular. His harmonious marriage of fabric, his manipulations of drapes and his dazzling use of beading and intricate embroidery make Georges Hobeika one of the most respected and sought after couture designers in the world. His celebrity client list includes Hilary Swank, Diane Kruger, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Rihanna, to name a few.