As a 20-something Tamil male, who has barely had any exposure to Bharathanatyam or high tea, the recent Ceylon Tea Room event with Ceylon pastries, tea and classical dance was a great way to learn and experience something new.
The 2nd Annual Ceylon Tea Room event was held at the Benares Historic House located in Mississauga, Ontario where the original family possessions of the Harris and Sayers families have been kept for four generations. From 1819 - 1823, Captain Harris traveled to Varanasi, a north Indian city, also known as Benares. It was a custom in the 17th century for the British to name their property based on an experience, whether life, inspiration or spiritual significance. “For Captain Harris, the name Benares refers to his travels in India and could possibly address his curiosity and interest in the spiritual aspect of world religions.”
The only time I came across Bharathanatyam was in Tamil films, but to see it live was astounding. For those without a clear understanding, Bharathanatyam is a classical dance which originated in Tamil Nadu, India. “It is performed mostly by women expressing Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas. Its style includes a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language, based on gestures of hands, feet, eyes and face muscles.”
The hostess, Stephanie Kavita Pathinather, explained to the audience where the concept of high tea emerged. “Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry in the afternoon and the evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o'clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter, sandwich and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her. As time went on, afternoon tea became a fashionable social event.”
The venue was outside in front of the Benares Historic House and it was elegantly set up with a mix of peach and white colours. There was a beautiful photo booth set up for guests to take pictures. As we had a very hot temperature that day, there was also a drink station set up for the guests.
As everyone found their seats, pastries such as patties, cutlet, tuna sandwich and cake were served. Each table was also served with a tray full of sweet coconut milk appam. We then had the option of choosing 2/4 Ceylon tea collections per table. Our table selected Ceylon Black Tea and Ceylon Honey and Ginger Tea. They were freshly brewed and served at our table in tea pots. I can assure you the tea tasted different than the common Tetley’s or Tim Horton’s. As we continued to comfortably eat and drink, the Bharathanatyam performance commenced on the porch of the Benares Historic House facing the audience, which I thought was a fabulous idea.
Stephanie Kavita Pathinather, Dharani Nimal, Thagsiha Wignarajan, Nerushikaa Yasokumar and Sinthuja Maria Antony studied Bharathanatyam from Guru Nirainjana Chandru (who was also present at the event) and graduated from Kalaimanram as dance teachers with a Niruththa Niraignar title. Since then they have created their own Dance Institution, Apsaras. They conceptualize and choreograph their own shows, like the Ceylon Tea Room. My favourite dance performance from this event was “Thikkuth Theriyatha Kaatil” written by the famous Bharathiyar and beautifully sung by Nithyasree Mahadevan, Carnatic musician and playback singer in many Indian languages. It was a beautiful poetic dance about a young woman who ventures into the wild forest to search for her love, Krishna. During her search, a hunter stumbles upon her and falls in love instantly and tries to win her over. The dance was beautifully choreographed.
Prisha Anton, Thaksha Balanathan, Shumiya Vasanthakumar, Sharranya Vasanthakumar, Ranosa Rathichelvan and Prena Varatharajan are students from Sinthu’s Kalaimanram Dance School who performed the “Deepam” dance. It was impressive to see how these young girls were able to express such emotion and enthusiasm while performing. Once the performance ended, the guests were invited for a tour around the Benares Historic House.
I want to thank the Apsaras team for inviting me to this great event. At a low cost ticket price, you surely do get a full experience of a two hour Ceylon taste and feel with top class hospitality from the organizers of this event.
Be sure to check out and contact Apsaras if you are interested in learning Bharathanatyam. I encourage anyone who would like to enjoy a relaxing outdoor event filled with Ceylon history and culture to attend the Ceylon Tea Room next year!