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Madhumanti Banerjee's 'Ganga: A Myth or Reality?' is fresh and thought provoking
- Vinita Radhakrishnan

April 8, 2024

Madhumanti Varun Banerjee's latest dance production, 'Ganga: A Myth or Reality?' offers a fresh and unique perspective on a theme explored by many dancers before her. Conceptualized and choreographed by Madhumanti herself, this production transcends traditional boundaries to become a captivating multimedia experience. With narratives delicately crafted by Ashwathy P G and expertly voiced by N. Ramnathan and Madhumanti, alongside captivating illustrations by Upasana Govindarajan, the production achieves a mesmerizing synergy.

Madhumanti Varun Banerjee

Under the ingenious direction of Indira Kadambi and set to the evocative music of M.S. Sukhi, the production seamlessly guides the audience through Madhumanti's personal exploration of the river Ganga, mirroring its fluidity and grace. While some stories explored through this production are familiar, many are rare and deeply personal to the dancer, offering a fresh lens through which to view the theme.

The music ensemble, featuring M.S. Sukhi on nattuvangam, Deepu Nair, Madhumanti and Divya Nayar on vocals, S. Ganapathi on mridangam and percussion, Shruti Sagar on flute, and Bhavani Prasad on veena, provided an extraordinary backdrop, supporting Madhumanti in bringing her vision to life. Extensive research combined with creative input from Divya Nayar and scripting by Arjun Bharadwaj and Ashwathy PG, alongside the vision of cinematographer Arjunjith, added depth to the production, making it both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant.

The production commenced with a narration of Rabindranath Tagore's deeply affecting and heart wrenching poem, recounting a mother's agonizing sacrifice of her son to the river to calm a storm in the Ganga. In the narrative, Madhumanti mentioned that Ganga's characterisation as an enigmatic sorcerer in this poem is what served as the catalyst for her exploration of the theme. Delving into the genesis of Ganga, Madhumanti eloquently depicted the river's celestial origins, her graceful evolution through the skies, and her rhythmic descent to earth through graceful movements set to beautifully rendered swaras giving the dancing the flavour of a Pallavi in an Odissi repertoire. Employing charis and karanas, she artfully conveyed the river's dynamic essence, revealing its nuanced temperament solely through physical expression.

Madhumanti's interpretation of Ganga's entwining with Shiva's matted locks portrayed not as an act of submission, but rather as a longing union, injected the narrative with a fresh perspective. From the dark caverns of Gomukh to the convergence of the emerald Bhagirathi and the muddy Alakananda, and the vibrant ghats of Varanasi aglow with celebration, Madhumanti deftly illuminated Ganga's journey through evocative lighting and nuanced movements. Ganga reminiscing the touch of Shiva when met with the ashes on the Manikarnika ghat was beautifully brought about through lights and movement textures. Keerthi Kumar's masterful light design served as a dynamic counterpart to Madhumanti's choreography. The merging of the emerald Bhagirathi with the muddy Alakananda was brought to life as much with Keerthi's lighting as was done with Madhumanti's distinct movements for each of the rivers.

Madhumanti Varun Banerjee

The ritual of floating diyas with a flower basket into the river is a familiar sight for every Indian. Madhumanti very beautifully gave life to the wishes and prayers that were sent into the river in the form of flowers and flames. This part of the production where she as Ganga picked the diya to listen and act upon the devotee's prayer to the words of Ganga Lahari by Jagannath Pandit for me was the most captivating part of the production. Enhanced by the interplay of lights, music, and Madhumanti's captivating presence, this segment exuded an enchanting and magical aura.

Transitioning seamlessly into the modern era, Madhumanti assumed the role of the devotee, navigating the contemporary challenges facing the sacred river. The stark realities of pollution and neglect cast a somber shadow, mirroring the melancholy of Tagore's poem which was narrated at the beginning of the production. The tale of a child's illness borne of polluted waters, and a mother's desperate plea to Ganga in the form of her morbid child as an offering, brought the production to a full circle.

Madhumanti concluded her production with a graceful Thillana, accompanied by the timeless verses of Tagore's "Aji Kamalamukulo," leaving a lasting impression, weaving together tradition, innovation, and timeless wisdom in a mesmerizing tapestry of artistry and devotion.

Vinita Radhakrishnan
Bangalore based Bharatanatyam dancer Vinita Radhakrishnan has a Diploma from the Attakkalari Center for Movement Art with basic training in various contemporary dance techniques, Ballet, Kalari, Chhau and Deverattom. Professionally, she is a Patent Attorney and is currently working as a Senior Partner at BananaIP Counsels.

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