Monday, October 20, 2014

Jerzy Grotowski's Journey to Arunachala

Recently Viktor Adorján emailed me requesting permission to use a number of Arunachala photographs from my website Arunachala Samudra for a book he is writing in Hungarian about the famed Polish Theatre Director Jerzy Grotowski. I was happy to give the required permission but was interested in how Arunachala related to the Director’s life. It was then that Viktor Adorján explained the special connection Jerzy Grotowski had with India and in particular with Arunachala. So much so that on his death, his ashes were brought to this place and scattered on the Arunachala Hill. 

Viktor Adorján kindly supplied biographical information on Jerzy Grotowski, tracing the development of his theatre work with his search for a deeper understanding of human values. 

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Jerzy Grotowski was a Polish theatre director and a leading figure of theatrical avant garde of the 20th century. He was born on August 11 1933 in Rzeszów, Poland. When the war came in 1939 his father enlisted and his mother, brother and himself moved to the small village of Nienadówka. 

His mother was of of great influence in shaping the personality of the child with her strong opinions on unity and community. She was a Catholic but she thought of herself as “the most ecumenical amongst Catholics”. She sometimes brought books to the boys and it was amongst them that Grotowski found two favourites: “The life of Jesus” by Ernst Renan, and “Search in Secret India” by Paul Brunton. This was to develop in him an interest in different religions and he went on to read “The Old Testament”, the “Book of Zohar” and the “Koran”. But he wasn’t as interested in the religious contents of the books as much as in the personalities of the protagonists of the stories. 

In 1955 Grotowski graduated from the State Higher School of Theatre in Krakow with a degree in acting. After graduation Grotowski began his work in the development of experimental theatre. One of his central ideas was the notion of the 'poor' theatre. 'Poor' means the stripping away of all that was unnecessary and leaving a 'stripped' and vulnerable actor. To this concept of 'poor theatre' Jerzy Grotowski added the concept of the 'priesthood' or sacredness of the actor. When the actor enters the sanctity of the performance space, then a special event occurs, much like Mass in the Catholic Church. It was in this space, in the holy relationship between the actor and the audience, that an audience is challenged to think and be transformed by theatre. 

Jerzy Grotowski

In 1970 Grotowski finished his work and went and lived in India for some time. He travelled anonymously, not keeping in touch with his theatrical ensemble or friends. On his return he was unrecognisable as he had lost 40 kg in weight, and his body and face had been transformed. During his time overseas he had compiled notes developing ideas for a new work on the road to para-theatrical activity. This was to lead him to further experimental work concentrating on: “let us touch the state of the human being where one is not divided into body and soul, thoughts and feelings, active creator and passive receptor thereby giving the possibility for all to drop the masks of everyday life.” 

In the period of his life often termed, “Theatre of Sources,” Grotowski traveled extensively through India, Mexico, Haiti and elsewhere, seeking to identify elements of technique in the traditional practices of various cultures that could have a precise and discernible effect on participants. In 1980 he worked in Khardataka (near Calcuatta) and in village called Kendali with Baul Gaur Khep and Dibyendu Gangali and the actors Prabir Guh, Ramakrisna Dhar and Abani Biswart. 

In 1983 Grotowski was invited by Professor Robert Cohen to the University of California Irvine, where he began a course of work known as 'Objective Drama'. Which defined a search for something above “subjective art” (the art mirroring the world by a human subject), a kind of art having its point of view in objective (transcendent) perspectives. This search led into his last programme known as “Ritual Arts” or “Art as Vehicle”. This type of art is not for an audience but is a method, a tool for the “doer” to lift themself into a higher spiritual region and make contact with one’s elevated being. 

The work of Jerzy Grotowski in experimental theatre continued at Pontadera, Italy from 1986 until his death in 1999. 


“So, you can see his work as a theatre director became step-by-step a search for higher human values or – we can say – a search for different methods: 

(1) viewing a theatre performance 
(2) making a theatre performance as an actor, not giving any other person a role but giving pure myself without any “daily masks” 
(3) handling the act as a form of human exchanges 
(4) searching for something common, something that is ancient and “universal” 
(5) searching for something higher and, finally 
(6) searching for a method to make “myself” more spiritual and better by art 

The road leading from the book of his childhood “In Search of Secret India,” to his “Art as Vehicle” program shows that Grotowski’s connection to India was not only by events (lectures and visits) but it was also pivotal in the develoment of his personality. 

So it is understandable, I think, that his last wish and will was that his ashes should be scattered on Arunachala, where the old man (in the book “In Search of Secret India” -- Ramana Maharshi) was wandering and asking himself: “Who am I?” 

And it was done.” [Adorján Viktor] 

For more information about Jerzy Grotowski please visit the official website at this link here.


  1. Thanks Meenakshi for an excellent and fascinating report on Jerzy Grotowski.

  2. Think his work with theatre expression, especially as it relates with masks, and its connection with spiritual unfolding, to be very thought provoking.

  3. Thank you for this post, Meenakshi. He also visited CHITRABANI at kolkata in february 1980; ;