I thought it would be a wonderful experience to see Nritya Shila, Odissi dance performed in the open on a hilltop. I had heard this performance by Our Sacred Space, Secunderabad was in support of Society To Save Rocks (or Save Rocks in short). But frankly, I did not realize that what I was going to see was an ancient dance performed over some 2.5 billion year old granite rocks. Rocks, more ancient than any human culture, bearing witness to Earth’s journey and the many upheavals, standing now pristine and elegant in a city that sometimes does not remember that they exist.
I did not realize then that I was witnessing a unique collaboration of two socially-minded groups – both artistic, both environmentally-oriented, to pool together a love for art, Earth and heritage. There they came — Nayantara, founder-head of Our Sacred Space and her disciples, to step and dance an ancient rock at dusk as monsoon clouds billowed behind.
It was something surreal for us, the audience, to watch as sacred music blew and echoed off those rocks, that the dancers didn’t seem to flinch or worry about the uneven surface, that somehow I could hear the footsteps and the twirls were magically executed without a stumble. One of the dancers, Bhavani, later said that she didn’t need an audience. To be able to dance on those ancient rocks was fulfilling in itself.
The performance was blended with a Taichi routine by Master Babu Rao on a diametrically opposite rock, egging the audience to connect with the entirety of space, performing not just a martial arts routine, but performing the rock’s unsaid stories of strength and endurance.
I then realized that I was now witnessing a dwindling ancient landscape, a Heritage Precinct site, the Venkateshwaragutta that almost ceased to exist, and might still cease to exist, to make way for a 7.5 acres and 10m deep Godavari Water Project. I hadn’t known so far because the rocks did not have signage and fencing denoting that it was an Heritage site. The departments didn’t talk to each other and the city knew and forgot at the same time. In fact, many of the beautiful boulder formations are already gone. This performance was aimed to remind the public that we have amongst us rocks more ancient than all of our cultural memories, more ancient than the oldest existing dinosaur fossil bone. Does heritage count only when it is man-made? Doesn’t Earth’s memory constitute as heritage?
Society To Save Rocks is an almost two-decade-old volunteer-driven group that “aims to preserve and protect the spectacular ancient granite formations of the Deccan Plateau – a natural wonder of stony ridges and hillocks shaped into picturesque balancing forms.” Frauke Quader, the current secretary for the society and a volunteer from the 1990s, says that they conduct rock walks and cultural programs like the one I attended to bring public awareness that “rocks are not just building materials.” They work with various Governmental departments to survey, mark and protect the heritage rocks. In 2004, the group organized an Indian Ocean concert in the Durgam Chevuru amphitheatre with these ancient rocks as the backdrop. Later this year, Save Rocks will be collaborating with Greater Hyderabad Adventure Club (GHAC) to conduct their annual Rockathon where participants will learn bouldering, rock shotput, rock balancing, and long rock walks.
There are many beautiful rock formations that dot the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad and the outskirts like below. (Insert: United We stand Rock pic and Mushroom rock pic)
The Jubilee Hills area of Hyderabad has quite an interesting set of rock formations like the Obelisk rock, the Toadstool rock and the Hamburger rock. Some of the citizens have constructed their homes around the rock formation like Mr Narendra Luther below. A Coffee Table Book on the “Rockscapes of Andhra Pradesh” full of photos of extraordinary rock formations, is available with the Society to Save Rocks. (Insert Obelisk, Toadstool, Hamburger, Narendra Luther pics)
Several of these rocks formations have now been identified and protected either under Regulation 13 of the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority Zoning Regulations 1981 or under Heritage Precincts by the Government of AP due to the persistent work of the Save Rocks volunteers. However, several sites, like the Venkateshwaragutta still remain without appropriate heritage signage and therefore vulnerable to destruction.
Says, Nayantara, founder-head of Our Sacred Space: “I felt something good will come out of this performance…their cause speaks to me and to the values of our centre.” (An article on the work of Our Sacred Space was published earlier on The Better India. You can read it here)
Maybe something good will come out of it.