With “The Manganiyar Seduction,” which arrived belatedly at the Rose Theatre recently after a visa-related delay, came still another facet of spirituality: communion with God achieved in a manner embracing the sensual and the ecstatic.
This rapturous approach to the eternal has touched many a Western lay person through the fervour and delight involved in its expression. “The Manganiyar Seduction,” a 70-minute theatrical presentation, conceived by Indian director Roysten Abel, appeals partly for similar reasons.
The soul of Abel’s presentation is traditional music preserved and performed by the Manganiyars, a caste of hereditary singers and instrumentalists based in Rajasthan. Though the community is Muslim, it embraces Hindu deities and festivals. Accordingly, in Abel’s work, two shorter songs — Halariya, a Hindu celebration of Krishna’s birth, and Neendarli, a traditional expression of a wife’s love for her husband — are woven into the fabric of Alfat Un Bin In Bin, a Sufi devotional based on poetry by Bulleshah.
The 38 musicians, all men in turbans and robes, and all Muslim apart from one Hindu, sat or kneeled in red-draped cubicles, stacked in four tiers and illuminated when their occupants performed. Opening with a lonely wail and drone played on a throaty bowed kamancheh, the music flowed in waves of melismatic singing, shimmering bowed sarangi, fluttering murli, pulsating dhols, a brilliantly twangy morchang and other instruments, surging to powerful climaxes before subsiding to build anew.
The more elaborate portions of “The Manganiyar Seduction” were co-ordinated by Daevo Khan, who served as a conductor, a dancer, and a soloist on castanets.
Though many audience members around me were frozen in rapt attention during the performance, I found it impossible to sit still. So buoyant and compelling were the work’s lively rhythmic currents. And after a thunderous finale, the instantaneous ovation that followed was as tumultuous as what had come just before.
For all its noble intent in bringing the Manganiyars’ eloquent music to a global audience, Abel’s show is potentially just as much a populist spectacle. Despite its elevated source material, you could imagine “The Manganiyar Seduction” settling comfortably into some Off Broadway house.
Seriously, think of it: 38 musicians, enchanting audiences with devotional sounds nightly. Now that is a seductive idea.