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Simon Barrow

Responding to the earth and ourselves as gifts

By Simon Barrow
August 18, 2013

What does it mean to speak of a 'sacred earth'? For some, it is a statement about the world as some kind of embodiment of the divine or of ultimate spiritual value. For others it is an expression of the disposition towards seeing the earth as gift rather than possession.

Those are the differing perspectives of some Easter and Western religious traditions, respectively - ones in which the world we inhabit and the relations it embodies are hugely precious, either in their own right, or as expressions of giftedness 'beyond'.

Depending on your philosophy or theology, those viewpoints may finally differ or finally elide. For non-religious people, the emphasis will be on human regard rather than the ontology of the world or the divine.

But irrespective of metaphysical differences, the one thing we can and should agree on is that the earth should be treated with reverence. For when it is not, as the current ecological threat illustrates, we are all endangered.

The performance Sacred Earth at Just Festival this year explores the interconnectedness between human emotions and the environments that shape them.

Inspired by the philosophies behind the ephemeral arts of Kolam and Warli and the Tamil Sangam literature of India, the captivating performance is accompanied by evocative live music.

The Ragamala company's artistic directors Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, who are mother and daughter, create visceral, universally recognisable experiences that use Indian art forms to express their contemporary point of view.

"We can't wait to have Ragamala Dance back at Just," says director Katherine Newbigging, who is enjoying another record-breaking year with Edinburgh's most innovative festival.

Indeed it is an image from this production which has been used for the front of the 2013 Just Festival programme catalogue.

Sacred Earth offers a singular vision of the beautiful, fragile relationship between nature and humanity - one that is under pressure or even threat in many parts of the globe at the moment.

The emphasis on relations rather than things or products is spiritual at its core, but appreciation of Sacred Earth does not depend upon any one religious or non-religious outlook.

Importantly, the show has drawn deep appreciation from Christians, humanists and people from a variety of Western and Eastern belief backgrounds.

"Rapturous and profound... an excellent company", enthused the prestigious New York Times not so long ago.

The music, an important part of the performance, is provided by Alison Kirwin (nattuvangam), Resmi Kunjun Saraswathy (vocals), Rajna Swaminathan (mridangam, south Indian drum), and Anjna Swaminathan (violin).

Just Festival, also known simply as Just, runs from 2-26 August 2013. It is based at St John's Church, Edinburgh, and some 27 other occasional venues, and combines artistic and performance style events with conversations, talks, films, exhibits and other ways of exploring how to live together creatively in a mixed-belief society.

Sacred earth runs from 19-24 August, and again on 26th, running from 18:00 – 19:15. On 25 August it is two hours earlier, 16:00 – 17:15. Prices are £12 (£10 concessions).

* Full details and booking here: http://tinyurl.com/n7terkg

* For more information on Just Festival, visit http://www.justjust.org and http://justfestivalnews.blogspot.com

* Ekklesia is a sponsor of Just Festival. Our news, reporting and comment is aggregated at: www.ekklesia.co.uk/justfestival

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia and a media adviser for Just Festival.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.