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  • Writer's pictureFarah Yasmeen Shaikh

Why Sunehra Noor?

I was asked recently why we are focusing our upcoming production for Noorani Dance on this story and why this name Sunehra Noor?

Since I started training in Kathak, almost 30 years ago, I was introduced to the notion that this was one of the only dance forms of South Asia that is an outcome of both Hindu and Muslim cultures. I believe the latter is incorrect, and that it is not Islam, but rather Mughal culture. I was intrigued by this.

To me, this period - especially during Emperor Akbar’s time - reflected a convergence of different religions and cultures, the languages, the “tehzeeb” that the Mughals brought, the customs coming from Persia, the undeniable influence that Persian music and dance had on the music and dance (Kathak specifically) that already existed in India, and that we now recognize as stitched into the fabric of the sub continent. Emperor Akbar’s time was referred to as the “Golden Age” as it celebrated a time where holidays, festivals and traditions of the various subcultures and religions of his kingdom were embraced and celebrated.

I certainly don’t mean to romanticize any of this as I know there was plenty of turmoil, and much of that is what we still witness today in modern day South Asia. (More on this in the future)

Back to my artistic journey…

I was originally inspired by own Guru’s dance drama, Darbar. As my own curiosity developed, I found myself increasingly drawn to the idea of creating work like this, and began dissecting this a little bit further. This eventually led to my first full length solo project in 2014 - The Forgotten Empress - an exploration into the life of a Mughal Empress with a fictional twist, utilizing Kathak to amplify her story, and enact not just her many facets, but also through 10 other “characters” in Empress Noor Jahan’s life that I performed as a soloist.

In 2016, I came to know of the story of Akbar’s court composer, Miyan Tansen. Tansen was one of Akbar’s nine gems or “Navratnas”, or the nine extraordinary members in Akbar’s court that each had a specialized skill that the Emperor held in high regard. The story unfolds in a way that Tansen is so deeply favored by the Emperor that others begin to turn on him, and his unique skills are used against him, which ironically creates a destructive and almost deadly scenario for everyone - even for those who were most jealous of Tansen. Ultimately, it is the power of music, and the particularity of singing in Raag Deepak, of which Tansen is asked to do the Emperor is innocently enamored by all that he is told that Miyan Tansen can do, but the fear is, and Tansen warns, of the raag’s destructive nature by igniting fire when sung or played. Without giving too much away in one post, the story unfolds in a way that I feel reinforces the same powerful message - art is so inextricably tied to nature and the environment that it can be both destructive and healing. Fortunately our story will end on the latter.

So why the name for our show? With a little play on the “Golden Age” we had to bring our own take on this which was to call it Sunehra Noor - A Golden Light. To us this is not only the obvious incorporation of Noorani, but our continued commitment to enlightening minds and hearts through the arts. This story, the time period - there is so much to learn from and reflect on, and we hope that all who witness are blinded by the golden light in all the best ways possible.

Sunehra Noor - A Golden Light Sat, May 13, 2023 at 3pm & 7pm JCC, Palo Alto Purchase Tickets

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