Tuesday, Jul 17, 2018 | Last Update : 11:28 AM IST

Through the medium of dance, confronting ego and anger

Published : Oct 3, 2017, 1:10 am IST
Updated : Oct 3, 2017, 1:11 am IST

Arushi and Purvadhanshree brought a depth of reflection to the impact of attachment to the ego.

The production saw three female dance traditions coming together for the characters of Sita, Mandordari and Soorpanakha to interact.
 The production saw three female dance traditions coming together for the characters of Sita, Mandordari and Soorpanakha to interact.

Theoretically or actually, classical dancers and spiritual gurus have the opportunity to raise awareness, reflection and action to subdue negative emotions and egotism within themselves, and those they serve, given that this is a fundamental aspiration of the texts and metaphors they interact with daily. Some make more of an effort than others; some are more skilled in communicating to others and some may achieve personal spiritual growth. Being human, some do much and some do little.

These thoughts crossed my mind at an interesting production scripted by theatre director-writer Mohan Maharishi for a classical dance interaction between Sita, Mandordari and Soorpanakha. We all enjoy the cornucopia of thought provoking dance and theatre productions that reinterpret the women of history and mythology. This Sita Sambhashan certainly fits this bill with three female dance traditions of Kerala coming together with Sita portrayed in Mohiniattam by Bharati Shivaji, Mandodari represented in Kathakali Stree Vesham by Kalamandalam Anil Kumar and Soorpanakha brought to life in Nangiar Koothu by Kalamandalam Girija Devi.

Even more intriguing to me was the premise of Sita bringing Soorpanakha to realise the utter destruction her anger is bringing to Lanka.  She is furious with Mandodari for being kind to Sita and is initially unmoved by Sita’s advice that her anger is unseemly in a woman. Her reasoning that women should be more compassionate and behave gracefully is less than convincing, as I would think controlling temper and self-centred attitudes are gender-neutral attitudes. However, when Sita’s words enable Soorpanakha to comprehend the negative impact of her fury, the result is a self-awareness leading to transformation and spiritual cleansing.

During the recent Prastaar festival of young dancers organised by Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi, all the dancers were asked to create a choreography on the same Sanskrit text as part of their presentation. The evocative words from Vallabhadeva’s 15th century compilation of the Subhasthitalvali 1049 conveyed a dilemma. What should I say when you leave, ‘Do not go’ is inauspicious, ‘all right, go’ is loveless, ‘Stay’ is imperious, etc.

One would expect appealing interpretations of separated heroes and heroines, however both Arushi Mudgal and Purvadhanshree brought a greater depth of reflection to the ultimate impact of attachment to the ego. Arushi explored the nuances of separation of soul from body as it transmigrates from this samsara. It was an elegant reminder of wisdom of being aware of the temporal nature of the body we call self.

Purvadhanashree shown a floodlight on the folly of  anger through the love of Mandodari as her husband Ravana leaves for his final battle with Rama. Her monodrama began from her origins, as a frog princess to the heartbreak as she touches his feet in what she knows is her last farewell.

Ravana is a great metaphor for the destructive impact of anger and egotism, especially since he was a most favoured disciple of Shiva, erudite, intelligent, and wealthy beyond measure with an unparalleled queen.  Anuradha Venkataraman brought this out superbly in an interpretation of a strong Vaidehi from the Adbhuta Ramayan ascribed to Valmilki. When Rama felt he was done and could rest after vanquishing Ravana, Sita becomes like a Durga exhorting to be ready to fight many more and even more powerful Ravanas, even a 1000 headed son of Kashyapa. Subduing importunate arrogance within as well as at our gates is an unending battle.

In this brilliant Ramayana version, Rama is found awestruck by the power and wisdom of Sita and recites her 1000 names along with a request to return to her gentle nature again.  The egotistical abuse of power personified by Ravana was the theme of Sharmila Biswas’s Aparakaya interpretation of Ravana’s rape of Vadavati, the apsara.

Sharon Lowen is a respected exponent of Odissi, Manipuri and Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chau whose four-decade career in India was preceded by 17 years of modern dance and ballet in the US and an MA in dance from the University of Michigan. She can be  contacted at sharonlowen.workshop@gmail.com

Tags: theatre, classical dancers, spiritual gurus