Monday, October 01, 2012

Guest Post: Face to Face

... very proud to post this evocative pieces by writer friend, the feisty, Aarttee Kaul, who is currently perusing her doctoral from the Rajasthan University, and as you would have guessed, her subject it Sita. You can say hello to her on her Facebook page HERE.

Face to Face: Sita & Draupadi

By Aarttee Kaul,
Research scholar who has been working on representation of Sita in Indian cultural ethos

A Bharatnatyam dance-drama choreographed by Jyotsna Shourie enacted at the Chinmaya auditorium in Delhi on May 19, 2012 changed the way people will look at Sita and Draupadi in future.

Based on the two epic heroines — Draupadi, the chief female figure of the Mahabharata and Sita of the Ramayana, the dance brought both face to face in dialogue with each other. Significant is, both lived in a different age, Sita in Treta Yug and Draupadi in Dwapar. Beginning from their unusual birth, Sita’s from the furrow and Draupadi’s from fire, the performance questioned the very idea most people have about Draupadi being fiery, combative and vindictive and Sita submissive and sublime.

There was more to them both is what the performance was all about with some most impressive dancing in Bharatnatyam style popularised in the north by Yamini krishnamurthy and Swapna Sundari, also with a fair share of drama thrown in. What made it memorable was the fog effect on the stage in different colours as red, purple, orange and green as the scenes demanded, the play of light and sound, the dialogues in English, the music, vocal and instrumental that added their bit to synergise with the dance presentation with grace, perfect choreography and a lot of conviction.

Nandita Kalan played Sita and Aneesha Grover Draupadi, emoting extremely well, bringing to life the myriad range and shades the two epic women experienced. Ishita Matharu and Supriya Malik played their mothers. The myths were interwoven, intertwined and projected with Sita wearing green (originating from Earth) and Draupadi (orange) originating from Fire. Many dancers one behind the other with the help of classical poses and hand gestures suggested the Adishakti or the Mother Goddess being basically present in both women who are a manifestation of her, also foregrounding the Avatar Theory Indians so happily and lovingly like to embrace.

Sita Mantra sung with just the right pitch built up the tempo and added to the ambience, four different dancers sitting back to back doing their own thing presented the many facets of Sita as Janaki, Maithili, Vaidehi and Rama. The commonality of birth and swayamvar shared by both women showed them as bystanders as Ram breaks the bow and Arjun shoots at the eye of the revolving fish. Underscoring the two epic tales as Katha or telling the announcements time to time contributed to it substituting for a Sootradhar.

Draupadi informs the audience how a younger man could not marry till the elder brother did hence Draupadi was shared by five brothers though she only loved Arjun, how because of the fact she belonged to all she actually belonged to no one. Sita tells Draupadi her story incorporating Kumudini’s text, The Letters of Lady Sita. The novel idea of the dance drama is that Sita knows in advance what is to happen with Ram, both women cry on each other’s shoulder discussing ‘love’ spontaneous as it is and ‘scrutinising it is to demean it’.

Both women share the same fate, their men Arjun and Ram lack passion, do not reciprocate love, and are ineffectual husbands. Hence it is a common grief they share as wives. Krishna’s presence is indicated by a melodious recital of the flute, projection of Ravana is offbeat as he is portrayed as Sita’s lover, dying with Sita’s name on his lips.

The Parashakti concept is not novel as it exists in the Adbhut Ramayana overtly and in Tulsi Ramayana covertly. Definition of a hero and heroism is dynamic and keeps changing; some presentation in future may probably present Ravana as hero of the tale as per the demands of the time and age. Red and orange ribbons daunting music and light effects portray the fire test as a purification process of Sita to wash away an year’s dust. Ram shown in blue is gripped with a dark rage played by Abhimanyu; Sita defends his weakness as a husband saying he did want to be like his father Dashrath. Both women decide the time is right to seek their own peace and that is the message. A woman’s destiny is not man; it is what she decides to be. Draupadi perishes with her head buried in dust and Sita into the earth.

Both women, though extremely loving and caring led a life devoid of love and care for men who were indifferent to them. They shared pain, died alone but emerged victors exercising great power presence and influence on every Indian psyche. They cannot retrieve what is lost but the text of the show was self reflexive and makes an attempt to amend whatever is possible. It makes the two women travel to each other making connections and bridges to touch each other though placed in different time frames and engage in a dialogue that leads them to find meaningfulness ultimately.

The performance could be inspired from Jatinder Verma’s A Ramayana Odyssey of Tara Arts in 2001 where Ram and Odysseus come face to face in a similar presentation. What is new for the Indian audience is the concept and the reworking of certain ideas mentioned earlier but what is stereotypical is both women are made responsible for their own fate, Sita by crossing the Lakshman Rekha and Draupadi by asking for many qualities in her future husband, hence given many husbands.

Why is it impossible for one man/prince to be brave, knowledgeable, good looking, talented and just when the princesses embodied many rare qualities in their person, it may happen once in a century but it is possible, why are men absolved of all the blame placing the onus on women whether it is Manthra, Kaikeyi or Kunti in this case? The concept is a bridge two extraordinary royal women make to reach out to and connect with each other in sameness of life experiences and sisterhood of suffering.

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