Sthree - The woman down the millennia  
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur 
March 7, 2008 

Sivaratri, perhaps, is the most fitting occasion to think of the status of the woman in Bharath; to think of the concept of ardhanariswara in today's context. Sponsored by Thalam, a cultural club in Thrissur, the Siva temple at Punkunnam showcased Sthree.  Conceptualized and choreographed by Anjana Anand, Priya Krishnadas and Radhika Vairavelavan, Sthree was a dance presentation with introductory pieces set in between.  Jisha, recalling the role of a Sutradhar in Sanskrit dramas, explored the woman's plight from a feminist perspective. The entire recital was a re-reading of the story of the woman in Bharath, down the ages. 
The woman in Vedic times was Ushas, Pritvi and river Saraswathi: personifications of nature, and water, the source of life. Indian culture began paying tribute to the feminine principle. "STHREE is a presentation of Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam choreographed within the framework of a traditional margam," says Priya.  
As in the theme, it was a step above tradition in costume as well. In the very first scene itself, the Bharatanatyam costume was enhanced to showcase shades of the ancient tradition in dress and it blended with the Mohiniattam attire. In the background, verses from the Rig Veda gave authenticity (ragam Gambeeranattai, thalam Adi). 
When the gods failed, they harnessed the female force to create Durga to kill the demon that intrigued them. Durga is strength personified: astride on her lion, she fights; kills; returns, her mission accomplished. Durga, the power of Shakti is the product of bhakti movement. The second scene was choreographed from a varnam composed by Muthaiah Bhagavathar, "Shri Rajarajeswari" in ragam Kapi.   
The introduction set the tone of re-reading the story of Durga. It was a sarcastic inquiry into how the creator became a killer. Was it a plot and a trap for the persona of the woman? She was sent to kill when the male gods failed. Thence began this attitude to venerate. Whenever the impossible is attained, Sthree is worshiped. 
Is it a pointer to Sati-Ma of later times in Indian history? Or did it generate the male ethos of either enslave or idolize which is evident even today? Well, this is problematic stance embedded in the performance. It is a reminder that we are the product of the 21st century surrounded with social problems. 
The third scene presented Draupathi from our epic times. The facade of modern woman inherits her genes from this icon of the Mahabharata fame. Draupathi, born from fire, goes through fire. She marries the man she wants. Yet finds herself as the slave of five men: wife, lover, sister and cook to the men in her life. They play their political chess-game with her life. In front of everyone, she is abused. In utter helplessness, she falls at the feet of Krishna…No man, only God can save her even today. The dance showed the other side of her persona too. Born of fire, she manipulates Krishna to kindle a war…tragedy is writ into her personality.  
Draupathi was a captivating picture in Mohiniattam format that focused on her beauty and strength. The solo performance by Priya was a Padam, "Pari Pahi…." (Navarasa- Adi). The accompaniment of edakka by Ajith gave a realistic touch. 
With the Radha-Krishna cult came the Dark Age for the women of India. Woman in love was given a philosophical dimension with the jeevatma yearning for and merging in the paramatma. The lovelorn maiden came to the center stage. Religion and sensuality was juxtaposed. Radha and Krishna became the archetypes of love, betrayal and disappointment, an eternal human situation. It was a beautiful rendering of the Swathi Thirunal composition "Chaliye…" (ragam Desh - Adi thalam). With the sringara nayika, the music changed: Hindustani music reverberated, reminding us of Geeta Govindam that has influenced all dance forms to our own times. 
It is true that love has imprisoned her. Passion blinds her. Swinging in joy, she is unaware of the realities of life. Confined to the walls of her home there is just one bright streak, motherhood.  
Motherhood remains a mystery. The darling blue-boy, cherished by tradition, is replaced by Kannamma, the girl-child, the apple of her eyes. The essence of Krishna is in the female form. Lullabies echo as she is bathing her daughter, feeding her, playing with her, putting her to sleep:  a sweet rendering of the pangs of motherhood. Tamil songs from Bharatiyar rang in the solo performance in Bharatanatyam, "Chinnanjiru kiliye" (Ragamalika). Somewhere at the back of our minds, female infanticide in modern India cast a gloom. 

Frail of body and strong of mind, the mother is a contradiction and a mystery like nature.  Back to nature, the theme was rounded off.  The recital ended with a tableau of the woman stretching out her hands as if her soul and spirit yearn for help, a touching gesture.  The sense of liberation was reinforced by Tamil song from Bharatiyar, "Shakti Koothe" (Adi). When "Vande Mataram" echoed as the background score, one could not, but feel the ironic edge!!  

"We have chosen compositions from literature which reflect the multi-persona of women through the ages. It is based on a traditional repertoire and blends the two classical styles of Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam.  We realized that the woman plays a central role in most dance compositions and she reflects diverse attributes! So we selected compositions, which brought out a different shade of the woman - right from her personification as Nature in the Vedic period to her qualities as mother/lover etc…" 
So here is a unique theme in exceptional form. They were supported by a team of able musicians - vocal- Balakrishnan; nattuvangam - Ambika Buch; mridangam - Baba Prasad; violin - Veeramani; flute - Murali. 

More practice would have made the rendering much more graceful. This young group deserves encouragement to come out with more productions to carve a space for themselves.  

Padma Jayaraj is a regular contributor to