April 15, 2006

Arts for unifying people

He fasts for 40 days. And on seven evenings, he plays the part of Jesus.
He gets whipped, is made to carry a heavy wooden cross and he is finally hung on it, though for about a minute.
The 'Passion of Jesus' is a popular play enacted in many parts of the Christian world.
In Jaffna, Sri Lanka, on a teaching assignment, I got to sit through the Thamizh version of what is called the Passion play.
More than one thousand people, mostly school children, nuns and priests and the laity, fill up this ground around a simple open-air stage and grand sets on Jaffna's Main Street where the well known 'Centre for Performing Arts' is based.
Some one hundred artistes, young and middle-aged, have rehearsed this play for weeks and during the week leading to Palm Sunday, stage this 140-minute-long play on seven evenings. Barring the two dance interludes, the play sticks to the Biblical story of the events leading to Jesus' death on the cross.
The music is live, the acting is from the heart and the audience is disciplined.
And the man who produces this annual Passion play is Father Savari.
For the final shows last Sunday, the crowd did not get discouraged by the spurt in violence in the peninsula and the increased patrolling by armymen in the town's key areas.
Fr. Savari is seen as a controversial priest. Having spent many years in Europe, mostly in Germany, he has grown with new ideas and charted his own course, away from the mainstream Catholic church. For him, the arts is more than just music and dance.
Art is a way of unifying people and living in harmony, he tells me the next morning.
Fr. Savari has many branches of the 'Centre for Performing Arts' - across the island nation. And these have space for Tamils and Sinhalese children and youth.
The arts of both cultures and traditions are employed in the productions and artistes from both communities perform alongside.
It hasn't been easy though for this highly educated scholar and arts activist.
On tours abroad, the migrant Tamils have boycotted his events because the troupe has had the support of the island's diplomat corps and its mission. And Sinhalese have been cold to invitations because the performers are a mix of Tamils and Sinhalese.
And yet, this priest, based in Colombo and a specialist in Saiva Siddhanta, says he will not rest.
Healing divided communities is a thankless and ardous journey.
And there are many others like Fr. Savari who aren't discouraged by the tasks they have undertaken in Sri Lanka.
As I leave Jaffna, the violence escalates. Seventeen are killed in 72 hours. One of them is a staff with a Christian NGO: his house was down the street where I lodged.
And I wonder - can the arts be given a chance to create peace among broken communities?

1 comment:

ada-paavi!!!! said...

vincent nice to find ur jottings online,

pls visit the chennai metblog wen u have the time