What are you up to this Spring? Is it inspiring or does it leave you indifferent?

Since eons, I have been enamoured with something I associate with this season – Shringar Ras – the sensuous mood in Indian art, and life. Shringar Ras is flirtation, playfulness, dalliance, adornment, artistry, refinement, exploration, enchantment; teasing, tasting, wooing, enjoying, indulging. There is love, romance and erotica involved, but Shringar Ras goes way beyond these, and is not directed towards an individual. It’s a mood that can inform your perception of the world and, like incense, permeate your daily life. What really pleases me about Shringar Ras is its inherent light hearted and light-headedness.

It all started, I think, while watching those “Mogul” romances on celluloid, as a child. Set in beautiful, marble palaces, with fountains and well laid out gardens, mosaics, flowers, pigeon messengers, and poisoned chalices, they depicted the lives of suave young men and beautiful women in swirling, silken skirts and diaphanous chunnis and scarves, who cast sideward glances from behind fans, screens and latticed windows. These images drove me into a dreamy, light-footed state where I felt myself floating above the pleasure palaces, not unlike a figure in a Chagall painting!

How gracefully they could sing and dance and move, those seductresses! My favourite is the actress Madhubala to whom Shringar Ras comes naturally, and Rekha too cultivates it with particular charm. I also found Shringar Ras in Ingrid Bergman. I take my many hats off to these enthralling ladies!

When one speaks of Shringar, can Krishna-Radha be far behind? Eternal lovers, both earthy and divine, they have given Indian music, dance, poetry and art an endlessly fascinating subject. Krishna, with his magic flute and peacock feather, his ability to dance with a 1000 gopis (milkmaids) at once, is a welcome addition to the Hindu pantheon. In fact, there’s evidence that subsequent poets in ancient India added human traits to this once remote God, possibly because they needed an icon around which they could weave the spell of Shringar Ras? The same goes for Radha, who only appears in later stories as a well-rounded nayika (heroine).

What’s wonderful about these ancient poems and paintings is that nature is fully integrated in them, and dark, billowing clouds, prancing peacocks, branches laden with blossoms, writhing snakes and curving rivulets are as lovingly portrayed as the human figures.

It has been a pleasure to develop a workshop around Shringar Ras, which I recently presented to a small but enthusiastic group, in Montreal. The format is half the time devoted to a presentation of the various facets of Shringar Ras through poetry, film clips and slides of miniature paintings. Voice work, music and perfumes have also been employed in the past. In the second half, the participants reflect on the role of Shringar Ras in their own lives and how they can enhance it. I have given other versions of this workshop in Toronto and Ottawa.

Having stayed with this theme over many years, I find that I have evolved with it and vice versa. For example, I can see a direct connection now between the idea of being embodied and fully there in the present moment (Buddhism) and connecting intimately to the world through our senses. I can also see clearly the role of breathing, physical flexibility and good health and posture (yoga) as central to the experience of Shringar Ras. Would a wilting flower attract a bee? Could a forgetful lover ever arouse true passion in his beloved? Could an absence of relaxation allow a real appreciation of the colour of the sky?

With Spring here in some parts of the world, or round the corner (a longish one for us Canadians!), nature is springing to its senses and so should we humans, which is to say: be present, be sensitive, get out of your cocoon and look around you with keen eyes, ears, nose, tongue and touch.

Here’s my little contribution to the wakeful appreciation of Spring! It’s a paragraph from my poem “Seasons”, which was published in Indian Voices, An anthology of prose and poetry by emerging Indian writers around the world.

The poem is a humble tribute to Kalidasa, an eminent, ancient Indian poet-playwright, whose words are infused with Shringar Ras:

The sun peeps
through billowing clouds
sending showers; secret epistles
To buds slowly awakening
under dwindling snows
As girls reach for swishy skirts
And men tilt their hats, rakishly

Earth turns to meet the thaw