Natya Kala Conference: Dec 23, 2008 
- Pratima Sagar, Hyderabad 
Photos: Lalitha Venkat  

December 24, 2008 
Yogis on stage 
The fitting finale came from the much awaited dance choreography of Navtej Singh Johar and his disciple Sudeep. Titled 'Objects /signifiers in the Ramayana,' the thinking dancer took the audience from a meta-physical sphere to a psycho-physical experience. An object is not just a thing but has its own story. The yogic sequences inspired by Chandralekha's work, was an extension of meditative music and dance. Navtej explored the very form of the Kodanda of Lord Rama through a string of flexible body movements that were both esoteric and gravitational. "Kodanda Rama, Gambira Rama..." this touching music composition of Ilango further enhanced the mood. In fact, this was the only dance number in the whole conference that suggested Rama's delicate physical form and his accessories of bow and arrows. In like manner, Sita's presence was suggested when the dancing duo appeared, one with rice in his palms and the other with sand, symbolizing Sita’s 'dhaanam' (offering) and her crossing the 'Lakshman Rekha.'  The pensive choreography showed Sita being obliged to give the offering and crossing the 'line of control' almost consciously. The presentation summed up the NKC based on Ramayana in performing arts, on a philosophical note.  


When musicians had a dialogue... 
This was another facet of the Natya Kala Conference, which dealt in depth the spiritual significance of music in the lives of both artistes and connoisseurs. Moderated by composer/pianist Anil Srinivasan, the discussion session titled 'God and the Musician' was both enlightening as well as entertaining.  

Ravi Kiran, Neyveli Santanagopalan, Sriram Parasuram, Anil Srinivasan
Excerpts from their dialogue:  
"A musician is privileged to be in the company of Saraswati...Kalidas, Dikshitar, Thyagaraja and more. He is indeed blessed for being in a 'spiritual space,' and yet on another level he is human like every one of us with similar needs! It's a continual process of self actualization to become the realized souls," said Dr. Sriram Parasuram about a musician in contemporary political and economical climate.  

"Art is supreme and everything else is incidental...and music being most abstract of all arts, traverses over language and emotional walls to reach those magical moments... when the soul communicates with the supreme in silence," stated chitraveena maestro Ravi Kiran on a discussion that extended to medieval composers and their individualistic expressions in melodic compositions and language of preference. 

"A composer of monumental magnitude manifests once in hundreds of years... it's not important to compare and contrast based on their scholarships, inspirations and poetic contents... yes, yesteryear music composers and poets have set a tremendous standard and seem to have challenged generations to come to their level of proficiency," said vocalist Neyveli Santanagopalan on being asked about contributions of contemporary composers who sympathetically follow the medieval century composers.  

Anil Srinivasan summed up this stimulating conversation on music, and the fact that we are never divorced from religion, spirituality and entertainment which are an extension of 'god-music-man' as the three corners of a triangle. 

Anthem of the Natya Kala Conference 
Leela Venkataraman, dance critic/writer, lucidly articulated her observations on the week long presentations in the 2008 Natya Kala Conference. Describing it as one of the most diverse and thought provoking conferences, she said "so many art expressions have been featured for us that explored different facets of the Ramayana... where Rama seemed to have been present discreetly throughout the conference which revolved around the various characters of the Ramayana."  She elaborated on each presenter's views and the upshots. She specially appreciated Swapnasundari's portrayal of Surpanakha, also Anita Ratnam and Navtej Johar's abstract and contemporary expressions of the epic. She congratulated convener Ananda Shankar Jayant for staging a comprehensive conference which surprisingly included programs for children in the form of multi-media story telling sessions - a gesture which she suggested be included every year so as to inculcate interest among the next generation into the classical art forms and knowledge of epics. 

Ananda Shankar Jayant, Paula Richman, Leela Venkataraman
Dr. Paula Richman, Ramayana expert, presented the valedictory address, which threw newer light to the whole conference. The symposium did explore every facet of the epic and inspired art across Asia. And here was Paula, who told us how Ramayana has not only penetrated into the masses from times immemorial but also that which evolved and molded itself as a metaphor in contemporary cultural spaces.  Her extended study and research across the world show how the epic becomes witty and localized, filling in parts where originally there was silence. Here was a dialogue between Surpanakha and Sita who recognize each other during the latter’s exile in the forest and that Sita is known as the world’s first single parent! Ravana’s multiple heads replaced by present day political villains, Urmila symbolized with the contemporary working woman away from her husband and the like, which was at once funny but also thought provoking. "People perceived Rama according to their situation and perceptions of dharma, and found ways to connect to it. It’s heartening to see Ramayana living in the lives of people."  

Scholar VAK Ranga Rao introduced some books - both rare publications and contemporary interpretations on Ramayana.  

Y Prabhu, Secretary, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, expressed his happiness on the success of the week long conference. 

What they said... 
"The combined synergy of the narthaki team for the RAMAYANA dance conference has been spectacular. Lalitha, Pratima and Sumathi have produced an informative and engaging daily that set a benchmark for dance events in India. I am privileged to be a part of this pioneering effort. The NKC Daily is an archival gem to read and treasure." 
- Anita Ratnam, Founder and Managing Editor,  

"A most enjoyable and creative conference, which took us into the real realms of the Ramayana."  
- S Janaki, Executive Editor, Sruti  

"NKC 2008, the best ever in recent times! Kudos to Ananda and her helpers. Anita Ratnam's Ahalya, with Hari Krishnan's choreography has reached the summit of Neo-Bharatam and contemporary dance. Suggestion for next NKC - Please try something spectacular such as DIMA in dance.  See what wonders will emerge." 
- Jaya Subramaniam, Lumbini Arts Society, Canada 

"Throughout the conference, I have admired the painted backdrops which seem to have complemented and remained the spine of the week long programs. In simple brush strokes, Rama stood there with his bow... and outside the hall we see a painting of the monkey military building the bridge!!  Symbolic and simply appealing." 
Pavitra Srinivasan, dancer  

"I've been attending NKC for the past 15 years. A few male dancers, who passed out with me, attended the conference for maybe a couple of years. For the last 5 years, I see next to no male dancers coming to the conference. Some are too busy teaching. They should come here and further their knowledge." 
- Deepak Venkateswaran, dancer teacher (Kumbakonam) 

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