The Kerala capital is set to host a unique Kuchipudi show that passionately retells the Ramayana through the music and vision of saint-poet Thyagaraja, as renowned dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant will perform at the prestigious Nishagandhi Dance festival this Friday.
At the sprawling Kanakakunnu Palace grounds here, the Hyderabad-based exponent will also present ‘Simhanandini’ — another unique solo production based, again, in the classical form from Andhra Pradesh. The 8 pm show on January 24 will be part of the ongoing seven-day Nishagandhi festival being organised by Kerala Tourism annually.
‘Thyagaraja Ramayanam’, as Friday’s opening item by Dr Ananda is called, is a mono drama (ekaharya) that portrays the life of Lord Rama as visualised by iconic Carnatic composer Thyagaraja (1767-1847). “I will be portraying it in two parts. The first is from Rama’s birth to Sita Kalyanam (marriage). The second from Bharata’s search for his elder brother to the final coronation of the Lord in Ayodhya,” reveals Dr Ananda, also a top bureaucrat with the Indian Railways and a TED speaker. “I have used select kritis of Thyagaraja are used to describe the story of Rama, as well as depict the composer’s reaction to the various episodes in the lord’s life. For continuity, we have also used Valmiki Shlokas. The music has been set by Subhashini Shankar.”
As for ‘Simhanandini’, it draws from the traditional and ritual repertoire of Kuchipudi. “The item is dedicated to the Mother Goddess, or the World Mother, who quells all evil, by going to war riding a lion. It celebrates the victory of good over evil, of life giving energy over the dark forces,” says the exponent, who learned dance from the famed Kalakshetra in Chennai and is a Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee. “This form of dance was practised in the 14th and 15th centuries when the ritualistic, religious and cultural aspects of one’s life merged seamlessly.”
In ‘Simhanandini’, the dancer pays the final obeisance to the deity by drawing a picture of a lion, the vehicle of Goddess Durga, while using her feet, to the mnemonic syllables and the melodic fervor of the poetry. The drawing emerges as the dancer moves on a white cloth, over a carpet of coloured powder on the floor. This work is part of a series to revive rituals, taken up by Shankarananda Kalakshetra which Dr Ananda had founded in 1979.
Accompanying Dr Ananda on the live orchestra will I V Renukaprasad, Sweta Prasad, T P Balasubramaniam and K Saikumar. Scholar Hima Devi notes that Dr Ananda is the right artiste if one wants to see Ram or Lakshman, Hanuman or Ravana in dance. “She has accumulated great talent from her past lives,” the critic notes in Femina.
Shankarananda Kalakshetra has, over the four decades, emerged as a pre-eminent institution for performing arts, taking Indian art to audiences across the globe. Its artistic body of work spans mythologies, historical chronicles, gender issues, poetry, abstraction, philosophy and humour. The institution imparts skills to students in Bharatanatyam, music, Yoga, Kalari, Nattuvangam, costume, stage, and sound and light techniques. It has trained a multitude of students and provided opportunities in dance to underprivileged children through its outreach programmes.
In addition, it has been a pioneer of the arts in the digital space by creating a first-of-its-kind Bharatanatyam practice app. Named ‘Natyarambha’ (www.natyarambha.com), this 2017 app has won wide following among students and gurus the world over.