Natya Kala Conference: Dec 20, 2008 
- Pratima Sagar, Hyderabad 
Photos: Lalitha Venkat  

December 20, 2008 
Tulsidas, in his heart... 
Guru C V Chandrashekar describes his intimate sojourn with Tulsidas' Ramayana, which has actually showed him the way to spiritual enlightenment. With a special fondness, the guru sang the verses and elucidated the passion with which the poet developed the epic. Illustrating examples, his daughter Manjari, staged the scene of Manthara maneuvering the mind of Kaikeyi. Chandrashekar uses Bharatanatyam idiom that tenderly embraces the Avadi poetry of Tulsi. The maestro and his daughter concluded by cutting yet another episode from Ramcharitamanas. In tune to the gentle verses, the duo with a simple yet emotive choreography, dramatized "Mareecha Vadha." 


The classical Cambodia and lessons for the masses  
As an extension of yesterday's introduction into the dancing of Reamker (Ramayana) in Cambodian classical dance, Sophiline Shapiro shed deeper light into the artistic journey taken by the challenged few in an ever changing political scenario of Cambodia. The dancing bastion brought in footage from a 1965 film shot in France. Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, dressed dazzlingly in the typical classical dance costume, set into the forest. The dancing style was almost gliding with minimal hand gestures and gentle swirls. This effect of underwater like performance got heightened as the monkey military entered the stage with a rhythmic battle scene against the army of Ravana. The choreography had its comic moments where Ravana in disguise comes to abduct Sita. 

Sophiline furthered her lecture by introducing more such evil/comical characters which are akin to our mythologies. For instance, Basmasura who begets a boon gets consumed by Vishnu. In Cambodian mythology, Basmasura takes rebirth with multiple heads and arms to avenge Vishnu once again!! The dancer, in fact, compares the age old Ramayana legends to the present day political scenarios in her country and its consequences - when power is given to ineligible characters (establishing the fact that Ramayana or Reamker is not only an art form in Cambodia but also a treatise to look into real life experience!).  


Hanuman in Kudiyattam is the best!  
The seasoned performer Margi Madhu won over the hearts of the audience with his expressive dramatization of the monkey god Hanuman. This is the best example of the blending of Loka Dharmi (the natural expressions) and Natya Dharmi (stylized depictions). The creative genius in the artist lies in the observation of nature and stylizing the same in an art form. The age old Kudiyattam carries this very simple mantra in their innumerable narratives that are traditionally carried forward as choreographic gems.  

Margi Madhu brought us one such gem in dramatizing Hanuman. He established the monkey graces on stage as a prelude before actually donning the role of Hanuman. It's all Hasya Rasa, when the monkey god wanders into the alluring landscape of Lanka, searching for Sita. Hanuman's reactions at seeing an ongoing musical concert at the palace was simply splendid! Wish we could see a full length show of Ramayana in Kudiyattam. "It will take 365 days for a complete staging of this great epic!" pat says Madhu! 

Bhakthi all the way... 
Led by Raghunath Khandelker, the Abhang vocalists from Maharashtra staged a bhajan session for the delight of the devout in the audience, as part of the fourth day of Natya Kala Conference. 


Recommended for every modern Indian 
You will laugh, you will celebrate and cry in this very version of 'Sitaayanam.' In her animation film 'Sita Sings the Blues,' Nina Paley surprised the audience with her witty interpretations of the much revered Ramayana and yet nowhere does it hurt your sentiments. In fact, you will commiserate with her metaphorical adaptation of Ramayana into her own life story. She amazingly blends popular Hindu Ramayana images (from miniature paintings to calendar art) with newer animated images of the characters. The blues almost haunt you, as Sita adapts them into her experiences. She's in love, she loses her love, she's pure and yet put to test once and again. She remains eternal in every woman till today. 


What they said... 
"Here we see many dancers interpreting various characters from Valmiki Ramayana and other versions in their dance. I would like to point out Padma Subrahmanyam's quote that 'Rama is Sthitha Pragnya' while she herself depicted Rama weeping around the forests in search of Sita and also when Lakshmana is in coma and the like. Sthitha Pragnya is not Rama but Krishna - the one who is static emotionally and is equanimous... I wonder why dancers and preachers try once and again to sanitize their favourite gods in their interpretations and performances..."  
- V A K Ranga Rao, Dance scholar 

"This is the best of Natya Kala Conferences ever..."  
- Jaya Teacher 

Pratima Sagar is a cultural commentator and critic based in Hyderabad.