Sandhya Manoj’s Odissi performance in Thiruvananthapuram combined brisk footwork and evocative expressions.

Serious practitioners of Odissi among Malayalis are few and far between. Sandhya Manoj, a Malayali based in Malaysia, proved to be the exception to the rule with her performance at the Natyolsavam in Thiruvananthapuram.

Sandhya had been trained in Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam and had staged several performances as well, before she settled down in Kuala Lampur, post marriage. There, she joined the Temple of Fine Arts to learn Odissi and has been totally dedicated to the dance form ever since. Teaching Odissi at the Temple of Fine Arts, Sandhya continues to keep alive her learning process by training under senior teachers at the institute. She has also fine-tuned her skills under gurus Durga Charan Ranbir and Ratikant Mohapatra.

It was her first performance in Kerala and she presented two numbers – ‘Navarasa’ and ‘Dasha Maha Vidya’ for her short recital at the Nishagandhi auditorium. The first piece was based on the Navarasa Ramayana sloka and the nine rasas or moods were depicted through episodes from the Ramayana. This number is a composition of Guru Debaprasad Das and Sandhya presented it without any deviations from the original.

Shringaram was shown as Sita’s experience of her love for Rama. Sita sees her romantic mood reflected in everything around her – in the romance of the lotus and the bee, and the pair of birds in her garden. The episode of breaking the bow to win Sita’s hand in marriage was delineated and Rama emerging victorious presented a dignified version of veeram (valour).

Karunya is depicted as Sita brims over with compassion for the dying bird (who, in fact, is the demon Kakasura in disguise). Rama watches in wonderment (adbhutham) as the army of monkeys build the bridge across the ocean, while bhayam (fear) comes into full play as a terrified Ravana panics over his imminent death at the hands of Rama. The atrocities committed by Ravana arouse roudram (anger) in Rama. Bheebatsam is disgust at the sight of the dead bodies in the battlefield and the stench that arises from it.

Some of the rasas such as hasyam and shantham were not elaborated, but rendered through mukhaabhinaya and angikaabhinaya. For hasyam, the suggestion was of the onlooker’s mirth at the humorous sight of Shurpanakha with her nose cut. Shantham was portrayed as the peace and calmness experienced in the company of sages.

Sandhya’s brisk footwork, agility in movements and animated expressions made ‘Dasha Maha Vidya’ a vibrant and wholesome performance. ‘Dasha Maha Vidya’ depicts the 10 aspects of Sakthi or the Supreme energy, represented as 10 Goddesses – Kali, Tara, Tripura Sundari, Bhairavi, Bhuvaneswari, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Mathangi and Kamala.

This composition by Guru Durga Charan Ranbir had some inputs from Sandhya as well. The choreography was tailored to bring out the nature of the goddesses – as the fierce Kali, the beautiful Mathangi, as the inauspicious Dhumavati who also contains the force to transform adversity into advantage.

A power point presentation explaining the theme and the philosophy of the Maha Vidyas preceded the recital. Sandhya and her husband, Manoj Kaimal, run the Manasa Yoga School in Malaysia. Sandhya strives to combine yoga and dance through her work and performances. Her performance was under the auspices of Guru Gopinath Natanagramam in Thiruvananthapuram.

Keywords: Sandhya ManojOdissi