The second annual U.S. tour by Indradyumna Swami and company has made people feel more connected to themselves and each other, inspired spiritual awakenings, and moved audiences to tears.
The epic show of dance, theater, martial arts and live music has been touring Poland for 29 years to great success, and came to the U.S. for the first time last year under the name “Discover India.”
“Because it was a pioneer experience – new country, new audience – it was blissful,” says tour organizer Nandini Dasi. “But it was also a big adventure for us, because everything works differently here.
“One thing we learned was that calling ourselves ‘Discover India’ made people think it was a classical Indian cultural show of Bharatanatyam, Kathakali etc. Some avoided it because they thought it was only for people with Indian roots.
Vrindavani Dasi, from Russia Saratov. Sincere, graceful and highly talented she has been dancing since the age of four, graduating from the College of Arts, as well as The Art Institute, with a specialization in choreography. Here she depicts a 'forest nymph' one of the characters from the production "Sita and Rama".
“This time we wanted to reach a more general audience, because our message and our show is universal. So we changed our name to Viva Kultura, as we’ve always been called in Poland, which means Long Live Culture.”
The tour, which features a fifty-person cast and crew from all over the world and encompasses hip hop, modern jazz, ballet, and acrobatics as well as traditional Indian dance, began on September 7thin Houston, Texas.
Extended to six weeks from last year’s four, its nearly three-hour show was performed at twenty-seven different theaters and universities in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Washington D.C.
“We didn’t have any free days,” Nandini says. “We just traveled constantly, and did a show every night.”
Hip-hop, jazz, and contemporary are some of the many dance styles that the performers have backgrounds in. This moment from "The Divine Troubadour" a piece about Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, captures the passion and love the devotees have for sharing Krsna consciousness with others through their talents.
Audiences from seventy all the way up to 800 people packed the venues. They were of all ages from 18 to 70 years old, and of all ethnicities, truly representing America. They also included dignitaries and politicians such as the Mayor of D.C. and the Polish Consul.
Welcoming people to Viva Kultura, Nandini asked them to give their smartphones a rest for the duration, to ensure complete focus and immersion.
The show kicked off with Divine Troubador, a mesmerizing combination of spoken word poetry, contemporary dance, and live music. Other dances included Mirror of the Soul and Exploring Nine by Mumbai’s Sankhya Dance Company, about the nine different rhythms and how sound vibrations are potent enough to liberate an individual or keep them in this material world.
Meanwhile martial arts master Dina Dayal Das, back after student Padma Lochana took his place last year, demonstrated fighting techniques inspired by Kalaripayattu, originating in Kerala, South India and considered to be one of the oldest surviving fighting systems in the world.
A still from 'The Light of the Bhagavatam', a performance done in a modern 'poor mans theater' style with minimal props and costumes, focusing instead on the beautiful poetic words spoken, encouraging the audience to become thoughtful and introspective.
Next came the main production of the evening, “Sita Rama.” Comic, adventurous and thrilling, it told the epic story of the Ramayana through dance, martial arts, acrobatics, aerial ring acts and live musical performances.
During the Intermission after Sita Rama, cast members entered the audience so that people could interact with the artists, chatting with them, thanking them and taking photos with them.
Afterwards in a more contemplative second half, Indradyumna Swami spoke for 15 minutes on how the Bhagavad-gita, an ancient book of wisdom, is still relevant to our lives today.
The show concluded with Light of the Bhagavatam, a minimalist piece of contemporary theater that told the story of King Pariksit hearing the Bhagavatam, and both started and ended with the question, “What would you do if you had just seven days left to live?”
Hanuman surrounded by his monkey associates.
With the show constantly evolving and peppered with new surprises, Viva Kultura was enjoyable even for people who had already seen it last year. It also deeply moved people and awakened their subtle side.
“Sometimes we are so distant from everyone, even from ourselves,” Nandini says. “This event is meant to help us connect more with ourselves and our loved ones, and to interact with people face to face instead of through Facebook and Instagram relationships only.”
Audiences in general don’t see Viva Kultura as religious, rather as spiritually awakening and inspiring – fulfilling some deep need of the soul. Many are eager to stay in touch with the performers afterwards. The tour is filled with special moments and connections.
For instance Scranton, a small city with one of the smallest audiences, turned out to be one of the most impactful shows. During the Sankhya Dance Company’s very first dance, a lady in the first row started to cry. Another approached Nandini in tears after the show, saying, “I’ve never in my life experienced such an amazing feeling of artists connecting to my heart.”
Live music is an integral part of the show. Shown here are two talented musicians, Purusartha das a disciple of Srila Prabhupada on base guitar and Premananda Kirtan das who graduated with a degree in music from the University of Cape Town, on the piano.
Even the venue manager wrote to the team afterwards, “I am blessed to have had the opportunity to meet each and every one of you. In all my life I have never met such a welcoming, friendly, humble, talented, and amazing group of people. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
In Knoxville, Tennessee, a local grocer from whom devotees bought fruit and vegetables for Food For Life came with his whole family. Later he wrote to Nandini, “It can be hard to talk about one’s spirituality to others, especially here in the Southern United States unless you conform to the western traditions, and Indradyumna Swami found a common ground that everyone could understand and value. I especially appreciate the openness to all beliefs as being part of the same spirituality - we are all trying to be better people no matter how we believe.”
He added, “We are all related here in our lives one way or another and as the song says if you want a better world, be a better person. Your message makes me realize that I need to be more of service to my community. If there is anything I can do to help ensure that Viva Kultura continues, please let me know. Thank you for making this wonderful show a reality. It was an experience that I will never forget.”
Over the past twenty years, Viva Kultura’s shows have drawn some people instantly to spiritual life. On a larger scale, it is changing the way a broad group of people think.
The hearts of the devotees are always satisfied after each show as many of the audience leave with several of Srila Prabhupada's books and other books on spiritual life.
“The same crowd is coming every year to our events and asking more and more deep and meaningful questions,” Nandini says. “Twenty years back, they were asking, ‘Why are you people in these robes?’ ‘What is that mark on your forehead?’ Now they ask, ‘How do you pray?’ ‘How do you keep yourselves so enthused and happy inside?’” So it’s a great opportunity for us to share our secrets of how to improve ourselves and the world.”
The Viva Kultura team with Indradyumna Swami hope to return to the U.S. every year, if people come forward to financially support the project.
“Besides donations, what we need is to feel that people want us back and are happy to help us succeed,” Nandini says. “If you feel inspired by reading this and see the meaning in what we do, you can of course contribute. But if you can’t afford to do that, we need teams of local Americans to help organize our event in your city, or even just help us distribute flyers or cook for our performers. This kind of help is the mostamazing and welcome act. Thank you!”
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To offer help for Viva Kultura’s next U.S. tour, contact Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org
To donate to Friends Forever, the U.S.-based non-profit that supports Viva Kultura through Paypal (so that U.S. donors can get tax exemption), please click here: https://narottam.com/donate/[ festival ] [ indradyumna ] [ kultura ] [ swami ] [ viva ]