Ramayana: Ananda’s dance gives Delhi a Thyagaraja View of Epic


New Delhi, Nov 7: A rhythmically rich ride down the life of a major mythological figure through classical compositions by a mystic musician enriched the aesthetics of a rare portrayal of the Ramayana, unveiling yet again the abilities of Ananda Shankar Jayant as a dancer-choreographer. 

A Bharatanatyam-style Ekaharya (mono drama) the Hyderabad-based exponent presented in the national capital retold the Indian epic by stringing together select kritis of Saint Thayagaraja, getting the curtains up for a three-day cultural festival that began here on Fridayevening. 

At the inaugural show of the Sangeet Samaroh being organized by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Padma Shri awardee clad in orange costume essayed the story of Sri Rama as visualized by the Telugu poet-composer of the 18th-19th-century Cauvery belt down-country. Segmented into two, the first part of ‘Thyagaraja Ramayanam’ essayed the episodes from the lord’s birth to Sita Kalyanam (his wedding), while the latter half narrated the search of Bharata for his elder brother to the final coronation of the lord back in Ayodhya. 

While the Thyagaraja compositions were used to unveil not just the story but depict the lyricist’s reaction to the various episodes in Rama’s life, the production also pieced in certain shlokas of the Ramayana author Valmiki. 

“That was to maintain the continuity,” says Dr. Ananda—also a top bureaucrat, teacher and motivational speaker— about the work, for which her violinist Subhashini Shankar composed the overall music based on the sequence of the book ‘Sri Thayagara Kriti Ramayanam’ by scholar D Seshadri. Debuted way back in 1986 hardly a decade after Ananda completed her training in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi from the famed Kalakshetra in Chennai, ‘Thyagaraja Ramayanam’ has since been widely staged and has travelled to several places across the globe.

At the show in Kamani auditorium here, Dr. Ananda was supported on the vocal by Sathiraju Venumadhav, besides I.V. Renukaprasad (nattuvankam), T.P. Balasubramaniam (mridangam), Sai Kumar (violin) and Prakash Savio (lights).

The programme began with a shloka that describes the birth of Rama as the son of Kousalya. At this came the famous Carnatic piece Sogasuchooda tarama, where Thygaraja asks, ‘Am I worthy enough to see your beauty Sri Rama’?  Your shiny cheeks, beautiful smile and countenance…”

Then, it traversed through Ooyala loogavaiya, where Kausalya plays with the little lord, feeds him and puts him to sleep. Subsequently, sage Vishwamitra takes Rama and Lakshmana to the forest to end the menace of demoness Thataki. “Here again we found shlokas from Valmiki Ramayanam apt,” notes Dr Ananda, who heads Shankarananda Kalakshethra, which she founded in 1979 and has been grooming dance students besides organizing cultural festivals over the 36 years. 

The scenes of Shiva Dhanurbhangam and the wedding of Sita and Rama are then depicted, employing the songs Muni kanu saiga telisi and Sita kalyanam vaibhogame. 

On to part 2, the scene began with Bharata’s receiving Rama’s sandals. On seeing Bharata placing them in reverence on the throne of Ayodhya, a perplexed Thyagaraja asks Rama (Sandehamu teerpavaiya) if it were his feet or the hallowed footwear that was great.
 
The scene of Shurpanakha and her disfigurement followed, described through shlokas—and then Thygaraja saying Oka mata oka banamu (O! Rama you are man of one word, one arrow and one wife).

The tale revealing the devotion of elderly woman ascetic Shabari found representation through Entha Ninne Varninthumu, after which is depicted the parting words of arrow-hit monkey king Vali seeking the lord’s protection: Marukelara O Raghava.

The scenes of Hanuman crossing the Ocean causes wonder to Thygaraja (Apa Rama bhakti), while the Rama-Ravana duel is described through the kriti Sarasa sama dana that pinpoints the four Shastra-dictated means of conquering a foe.

The concluding bit of coronation of the lord found portrayal to the shloka Vaidehi sahitam from Valmiki Ramayanam.

Ananda, a top official with Indian Railway Traffic Service, is also TED speaker, having been ranked in 2009 as one of the 50 Amazingly Motivational talks on Youtube as well as one of the 12 Incredible TED talks on cancer (from which he recovered). 

A Masters holder in Ancient Indian history (where she topped her university), an M.Phil in art history and a PhD in tourism, she has been striving to make performing and visual arts a part of the education policy. 

As a choreographer and performer, she uses dance to talk about gender issues (as in 1999’s What About Me?), mythology and philosophy, setting these dance forms onto a modern stage. Endowed with a natural flair for team playing and organisational acumen for collaborative work, Ananda has presented some of India’s signature festivals and conferences.

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