Concept - Ramayana in Performing Arts

It is that time of the year again… The annual Marghazhi music and dance season will begin soon in Chennai. Programmes of music and dance by a galaxy of renowned, senior, leading, popular as well as upcoming artistes across the country make this festival a veritable Woodstock of the best in classical Indian performing arts with Sri Krishna Gana Sabha being a much sought after venue for both the performer and art lover.

My theme as convenor for this year’s conference is :
Ramayana in Performing Arts.

The story of Sri Rama, is a story that transcends space and time – an epitome of love, service and sacrifice. Sri Rama and the Ramayana, have inspired seers and scholars across eons and centuries. His story has since been written, interpreted and commented upon by sages with insightful intuition, by poets and musicians through creative imagination, by erudite scholars, with deep analysis and insight, and by the Bhakta with utmost reverence and ecstatic devotion. Telling and retelling the Ramayana has not tired the storyteller, or the listener or the viewer!

The Ramayana has held relevance over the vagaries of time and ages... It is at once a story that continues to invest us with different perspectives every time. It is more than a story, as it has become part of the collective conscious of a whole sub continent, and marks relevance as the ultimate victory of good over evil.

This living story of Asia, has inspired literature, art, music dance, sculpture, iconography ,poetry, and even fashion across the Indian sub continent as well as South East Asia.

The Natya Kala Conference over the week, seeks and attempts to understand the interrelationship and mutual influence of text, folklore, tradition and performing arts of the Ramayana.

In this conference, senior artists and scholars will explore, different facets of the Ramayana through interpretations both traditional and modern ,from different dance traditions, interpretations and understanding, traversing as they do through their own artistic and stylised imagination and creativity.

This one of a kind conference brings on one platform, legendary and iconic performers and choreographers like Rukmini Devi Arundale’s choreography of the Ramayana, Dr Padma Subrahmanyam, Dr Sonal Mansingh, Prof CV Chandrashekar, Swapnasundari, avant-garde and cutting edge contemporary thinkers and performers like Anita Ratnam and Navtej Singh Johar,and younger choreographers and performers like Dr Alekhya, Sharodi Saikia, Rajashree Shirke, Sheejith Krishna Dr Neena Prasad and Margi Madhu, alongside senior scholars like Dr Paula Richman, Dr Sunil Kothari, Leela Venkataraman, Gowri Ramnarayan and Sri K Jayakumar.

The styles being showcased are Bharatanatyam, Bharatanrityam, Odissi Koochipoodi, Kathak , Kudiattam, Mohiniattam, , Sattriya , contemporary dance, dance drama, Neo Bharatam, Cambodian and Far Eastern dance traditions, theatre and poetry.

As a small representation of the Ramayana beyond Indian shores, Ms Sophiline Cheam Shapiro from the Khmer Arts Academy , Cambodia, will speak on Ramayana in Cambodia and Dr Sunil Kothari’s lecture will focus on Ramayana beyond Indian shores.

Natya in its widest scale encompasses all art forms. I have chosen to extend the scope of the conference beyond dance and also look at the innumerable oral traditions that have been inspired by the Ramayana , through both performance and dialogue.

‘God and the Musician’ - The Role of Divine Inspiration in Today's Music - a discussion by leading senior musicians and will be moderated by Anil Srinivasan ,and will explore music, spirituality and the modern musician.

While, Pujya Dr Prema Pandurang speaks on eternal values of the Ramayana, OS Arun, Venumadhav, Manik Borbayan from Assam and Raghunath Khandalkar from Maharashtra share their musical traditions. The Generation Next is treated to a story telling session by VR Devika, besides short performances by young prodigies, Mahati kannan and Vedant Bharadwaj.

A small exhibition and sale of Cherial( scroll) paintings, Kalamkari and Leather puppets based on the Ramayana will be held alongside the conference.

The Conference will also screen award winning animation film ‘Sita sings the blues’, by renowned American film maker Nina Paley.

The canvas is wide and the palette vivid. While I have chosen to go beyond dance and have brought in music, theatre, poetry, paintings, film, there is still so much more that one can present. Such is the emotional and psychological appeal of the Ramayana, seeped as it is in our very sub conscious and unconscious.

The conference is open to all and seating will be on a first come first served basis.

Be there, if you are an art lover or want to catch the best of India’s dancers , musicians and thinkers while they come together on an ancient epic, an age old performing tradition , with a life lived today.

Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant