Ramayana, in dance

By Aruna. S / Chennai

It was a weeklong celebration of 'Ramayana' in Chennai.

Natyarangam, the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha which hosts a thematic Bharatanatyam festival every year, decided to showcase the epic 'Ramayana' to celebrate its tenth anniversary this year.

This year's fest was held from September 5 to 11, 2005 at the sabha's auditorium in Chennai. Various episodes in the epic were presented in five different languages, by two dancers each day.

Featured at the fest were 'Bhavayami Raghuramam' by dancer Rhadha, 'Balakandam' (Sanskrit) by M.S. Hariharan and Lavanya Ananth, 'Ayodhya Kandam' (Telugu) by Priya Murle and Roja Kannan, 'Aranya Kandam' (Hindi) by Gayatri Balagurunathan and A. Lakshman, 'Kishkinda Kandam' (Malayalam) by Lakshmi Ramaswamy and Uma B. Ramesh,'Sundara Kandam' (Tamil) by Narthaki Nataraj and Sangeeta Isvaran and 'Yuddha Kandam' (Tamil) by Aadith Narayan and Ganga Thampi.

ramayanaSays S. Janaki, Committee Member, Natyarangam, "Since this was our 10th year, we wanted to present something very popular and very special. And the Ramayana is an evergreen epic that appeals to all."

She adds, "We wanted to keep the story progressing each day and at the same time we wanted the people to have a glimpse of the different Ramayanas."

The fest had dancers of different schools presenting the show each day. Says Janaki, "We felt a duet presentation would be better for characterisation and it also gives a unique experience for dancers of different styles in Bharatanatyam to work together." And it was not just a dance festival. The dance performance each day was preceded by a discourse on the scenes to be presented that evening. This was presented by resource persons K. Aravamudan, M. Narasimhachary, Kamakshi Subramanian, K.S. Latha, Sudha Seshayan and Sarada Nambi Arooran.

The stage decor too had a beautiful suggestion of the core scene of the day. On the right corner of the stage, was a tableau of idols of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman and others. Each day, the idols were specially created by artiste Mariappan and his team from Tirunelveli. The idols were made from banana stems, covered with sandal-paste and attired in beautiful costumes and jewellery. And they almost brought alive the characters, be it Rama with his calm looks or the 10 feet high Hanuman.

Says A. Lakshman who performed the Tulsidas Ramayan alongwith dancer Gayatri, "It is very interesting and very tough too. I may have danced before on these stories taken from Tamil texts, but the same find a different interpretation in Hindi."

Adds dancer Priya Murle, "It is very challenging. We know the story very well, but our research forced us to read books we may have never read before. It also helped us familiarise with a language we may not know. It is like doing a dance-drama all by yourself."

On the inaugural day of the festival, senior dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai was honoured. Endowment awards were presented to Sai Shankar (Dance musician), Trio Sisters – Radhika, Gayatri, Shobana (Senior dancers) and Uma V. Nambudripad (talent promotion).