Gods dance with mortals
Dr Chitra Krishnakumar
Art and Culture / Singapore
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Photo Courtesy : Niya Krishna
She spoke a strange tongue, she sang in a strange tongue, she smoked, she dressed elaborately and she danced and sang amidst the dancers and singers. She was He Xian Gu (Immortal Woman), the female deity of the Eight Immortals. The Eight Immortals is a group of deities in the Taoist pantheon. As musicians sang and as the dancers performed she too performed along with them. A unique cultural integration wherein the Taoist spirituality and Hindu traditions of classical music and dance came together on stage. It seemed more of a fusion programme of two cultures.
Xian Gu Tian the Taoist Temple at Tampines celebrates the presence of the Hindu Goddess of Sree Lakshmi Devi idol present in their Temple. The dancers and musicians from the various prominent classical dance and musicschools of Singapore put up their performances all in praise of Goddess Lakshmi, the programme titled ‘Sree Lakshmi Vandanam’.
Madam Chua the caretaker, ‘The Heavenly Medium’ or ‘Temple Medium’ of the Temple is also the medium for the 45 deities of the Temple. Addressed as "Xian Gu" or "GuGu", Madam Chua is the medium for He Xian Gu(the female deity of the Eight Immortals,carryinga lotus flower) for 24/7, 365 days unless and until the other Spirits want to come.
So Madam Chua, the Heavenly Medium, the connection to the mortal world danced in rhythm to the music and fell into step with dancers as each group of vocalists, dancers and flautists took the stage.
The previous day to the Sree Lakshmi Vandanam programme, the Temple also celebrated the presence of the Malay God at the Temple, Datuk Gong with Malay dancing and singing. Xian Gu or Madam Chua joined the joyous dancing dressed in Malay costume.
Tan Ling Fong who has been with the Temple for around 10 years considers Xian Guas her godmother. She added that, “Normally during celebrations and stage performances, Xian Gu will dance and sing and some of the singing parts are actually prayers for the deities and spirits”.
The Temple which was started in aHDB flat in 1992, later moved to GeylangLor 25, and finally moved to No 1, Tampines Ave in 2002 its present location. And the honouring of the Indian and Malay Gods is done once in 3 years.
Dr Bhagya Murthy aprominent classical vocalist of Singapore who sang songs on the day with her group of students shared her experience stating, “It was a unique, enlivening concert at XianGu Tian temple. Our pleasant experience was accentuated when we were accompanied by the chief priestess of the temple, with her admirable attention to details in her attire and her graceful dance steps that fell in perfect rhythm with our renditions. In short, it was a well-spent, blessed evening.”
Ms Awal'liyahJa'afar organiser and performer of the Malay group, 'KiranaSeni' said it was a first time for her and it was an interesting experience and was looking forward when the three groups can come on stage together.
And Uma Kalyani, IBDPYear 2 student of GIIS, student of Guru Maalika GirishPanickker of Aakash Ganga Dance Academy, whose group put up the performance of Trisakthi (power of three Goddess) enthusiastically said, "Dancing an Indian classical item in a Chinese temple was the best kind of cultural integration that I have ever been a part of and I enjoyed the different atmosphere and experience."
Sree LakshmiVandanam: Salutations to Goddess Lakshmi organised by Soorya (Singapore) was held on Jan 10th at Xian Gu Tian Temple at Tampines.