Reviews by Pratima Sagar  

E-mail: pratima_sagar@yahoo.com
Photos: Lalitha Venkat

December 17, 2008

Ramayana, one more time …and times to come!

Rama pervaded in the hearts... as the curtains rose for Ramayana in Performing Arts at this season's Natya Kala Conference.  

Diamond studded nose pins, jasmines strung on tresses, the Kanchivaram clad dancers, connoisseurs and cultural commentators gathered once again to add yet another milestone to the two decade old Natya Kala Conference. The festive occasion was powered with a theme offered for the presenters to explore... and yes, they did... sharing their intimate sojourn with themes of Ramayana in their lives and art forms.  

Even in the keynote address, Mr. K Jayakumar, cultural commentator and writer (Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Kerala) who expressed himself being "Ramayana conscious," bowed to the countless artists and performers who have quietly kept the tradition alive for generations together - a tradition of unparalleled creations behind a shining new India.  Convener of the Natya Kala Conference, Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant states, "Rama has drawn me often- and He seems to have done it again," before she introduced the raison d'être for choosing a particular theme, which has traversed across the Pan Asia for thousands of years and more! Y Prabhu, Secretary, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha furthered the thought of Ramayana - to delve on this stage, which has been a melting pot for artists and connoisseurs, young and old alike for many years now. 

Magical moments 
Then came the maestro... once again to leave some magical moments in history. Padma Subrahmanyam, fondly called Paddu Akka, said, "What would India be without Ramayana..."?! There was a chilling silence and a collective shiver among the audience!!  Until she broke the ice by lucidly narrating the spiritual culture and beauty of Ramayana that India embraces.  Giving plentiful examples from real life instances to what the great poets said of Rama Katha, Paddu Akka mesmerized the listeners.... "When Kamban, the great Ramayana interpreter and writer says of Valmiki Ramayana - I feel like a small kitten wanting to drink the milky ocean of Rama Katha... in such a case we are but a speck fortunate to probe into the essence of Ramayana..."  Padma Subrahmanyam further interpreted the essence of some characters who make the epic so complete. Like different forms of reverence these characters depict- Hanuman, Sita Bharata, Sabari Vibheeshana, Lakshmana, Sugreeva and Jatayu in a brief revealing dance.  
 

The zenith of the inaugural day presentation came from Padma Subrahmanyam herself when she brought to the fore, a hitherto unseen film excerpt from her archives, which was shot over three decades ago. Here we see a young Padma vividly dancing and innately dramatizing the scene of 'Jatayu Moksham' to the monumental Western classical composition of Tchaikovsky that saw some onlookers with tears in their eyes!!  

Spiritual sojourn 
Prema Pandurang followed, matching the power of Paddu Akka on stage. In her unique approach to story telling, Prema preaches the essence of Dharma in Ramayana. An oral tradition of Valmiki Ramayana- story telling – completely reloaded with a blend of Sanskrit verses, English interpretations and varied illustrations from contemporary occurrences- which make us ponder on the path of Dharma that Rama personifies. And for the dancers and dance aficionados, Prema's presentation was like understanding a different form of performance which is equally emotive and dramatic. 
 

What they said...   
 
"This year's conference is a kind that is thoroughly professional, international and that, which sets a standard for others to follow. I appreciate the convener Dr. Ananda who not only lets a stimulating theme flow for the presenters but also stages a complete expertise in bringing out a festive atmosphere, what with exhibitions on Ramayana folk art paintings, puppet shows and book exhibitions. I also congratulate Ananda for bringing out an excellent compilation of articles in the 2008 Natya Kala Conference catalogue. The beautifully designed book makes for a collector's item!! It's time the new generation conveners like Ananda took over the reins."  
- Sunil Kothari, dance critic and commentator 

 
"Over the years, in any kind of endeavor, a time comes for magic to happen... and today we saw these moments at the much famed Natya Kala Conference. The conference began auspiciously and we saw two distilled and intrinsic art forms. If Prema Pandurang stands for absolute Vachika Abhinaya, Padma Subrahmanyam's art form evokes unparalleled beauty in Satvika Abhinaya. Encasing these two great presenters together so handsomely is in itself an art! I congratulate Ananda for her committed efforts in designing the whole programme. I am sure there will be more such magical moments in the following days of the conference..."  
- Ashish Khokar, scholar and dance historian. 
  

Pratima Sagar is a cultural commentator and critic based in Hyderabad.