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On the Meaning of Sacred

Open Carry: It's Loaded (NITC, 2018)

Originally published 07 July 2012.

A few months ago, I experienced a sudden epiphany.

As assistant director for an amazing play directed by an equally amazing director with a fabulous 3 member cast, I was called to fill in one day for one of the leads who was unexpectedly detained, and this was two weeks before the show went live. So I did. I had been to every rehearsal, I was following book and so knew every line, and I knew exactly how to deliver them too. But that one rehearsal was a disaster. There was a sluggishness about the space. A chemistry was absent and though the actors knew all their lines and blockings, it just couldn’t come through. I was terribly out of place in spite of knowing precisely what to do. In theaterspeak, we say “the energy was lacking”. I felt like there was something intangible that had been switched off with the absence of one actor, and I eventually put my finger on it.

This ‘energy’ that we speak of, as I understood it, was something that when you gave your all to the performance, it somehow grew in a collective set up to allow actors and the audience to feed off it and carry out the performance. But I wasn’t entirely right. I realized that there is more to theater than meets the eye. In fact, it is more than what the eye sees; it is when the eye is the medium for the meeting of two actors, two individuals, two souls.

As I now see it, eye contact between two rehearsing actors unleashes an energy that holds them together in that space and in that time, and, in essence, is the binding force that comes alive as the ‘magic’ of the performance. It is a force that emanates from deep within yourself and is meant to be shared and distributed as it moves along in the container of space, sometimes flowing, sometimes bursting, but always present, and never static. I’ve known this energy from previous experiences, and I agree with some who describe it as the ‘high’ they get from performing in front of a live audience when the lights come on. And yet this energy, as familiar as it is, has completely fascinated me; the understanding of which is at the root of my epiphany: that no third party can ever take it away from you. It is yours, and yours alone. And yet, it is shared equally with all willing participants. It exists, but only to those who can perceive it, and it is ever so powerful. That is what makes it so sacred.

What is so magical about this sacredness is that to be able to find it, you must surrender to it. Everyday we go about our lives with a layer of walls constructed about ourselves which we find necessary for protection, for self-preservation. Stepping into a rehearsal space, we must bring down these walls to imbibe the energy that you are looking for. But where does it come from? I recall my science lessons at this point:

“Energy is neither created nor destroyed; it is merely passed on from one body to another.”

And this rings true here too. We need look no further than ourselves to find the source. The yogis of thousands of years ago indeed knew what they were talking about.

But this would be an exercise in futility if one were to not be disciplined about it. You need to attend every rehearsal, you need to have your complete attention invested in it. The ‘force’ is not for the frivolous. It is built over time, little by little, and every actor (however significant the role) forms a relationship with it, and becomes an important link. So much so, that the abstract fortress that you hope to build at the end of the day crumbles if you take away any of the links. Come to think of it, this is why my parents never let me do my homework in front of the TV. It is because I needed the space, time and solitude to form a relationship with my books, such that with discipline I was able to generate a similar energy with my school work, which lives within me today as my knowledge!

I look at the world through differently colored glasses now that I have understood the meaning of the word ‘sacred’ in the context of my life. It reminds me of a time, back when I thought I had life figured out, but really I hadn’t. It was in my final year of undergraduation in Chennai. My friend H and I used to take the bus to the Murugan Kovil (temple) in Thiruvanmiyur by the beach every Saturday. I think I did it initially because I was trying to be a ‘good girl’; but I kept visiting every chance I could because I felt incredibly drawn to the place. H and I would sit by the gate of temple after offering our prayers, listening to refrains of Carnatic music in harmony with the distant sound of waves crashing against the eastern coast, mixed in with the perfumes of sea salts, of jasmine flowers being strung outside the temple into garlands for the deities or for young girls who cared to adorn their hair with flowers, of incense burning at the altars; all of this contributing a deep sense of inner peace in spite of the pressure of a thesis upon us.

I think that was my first acquaintance with sanctity.

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