Dance: Uma Thapasyananda's ‘Aranyakam' reflects Sita's life in the forest.

‘Aranyakam,'(Forest), a Mohiniyattam piece performed by Uma Thapasyananda at Vyloppilli Samskriti Bhavan, Thiruvananthapuram, underscored the artiste's marked preference for thematic presentations to a repertoire-oriented one.

Based on the ‘Valmiki Ramayana,' with lyrics in Malayalam penned by Uma herself, it is Sita's reflection on her life in the forest with Rama during the exile and later with her children at the hermitage of Valmiki, after her banishment from Ayodhya.

Life in the forest

For Sita, life with Rama in the forest was never the torture that it was made out to be. She revels in the beauty and glory of Chitrakootam, where the swaying trees fan her like her maidens in the palace, and bird song resembles the the voices of loved ones. At the menacing atmosphere of Dandakaranyam, she sees the perfect camaraderie even among the animals that are natural foes –“janma vairyam vedinju vasikkum janthu samooham.”

The episode of Soorpanakha who tries to woo her husband leaves no bitterness in Sita – rather it is empathy that she has for the woman in Soorpanakha.

However for Sita, rescued from Lanka, it is rejection that awaits her. Thus, ultimately, it is to the forest that she returns. It is only then that Sita experiences true ‘vanavaasam' – the exile – physically and emotionally.

The narrative cajoles one to contemplate and conclude that the real ‘forest' indeed lies in the minds of humans. Here one can draw parallels with the ‘Arayanakams' of the Vedas that is meditative in mood and reflect a transition in philosophy.

Uma Thapasyananda's performance was a straightforward depiction of the theme. Communicating with a general audience has been her watchword and her success in achieving this seemingly simple goal tells the story of hard work and rigorous training in the art under Kalamandalam Leelamma.

In ‘Aranyakam,' Uma adopted the narrative technique, laying stress on nritya, with a few appealing adavus in between. The abhinaya aspect too was explored to the fullest extent. The range of emotions varying from shock, disbelief, sadness, hope and denial flash across Uma's face, while depicting Sita faced with the unexpected rejection from Rama.

‘Nethrabhinaya' technique

The ‘nethrabhinaya' technique of Koodiyattam that Uma imbibed under the tutelage of Margi Narayanan seems to have stood her in good stead in enhancing the communicative capacity of her art.

“I may have deviated a little from tradition by using lokadharmi mudras” says Uma, “but ultimately if I have reached out to a lay audience, I would say that I have accomplished my purpose.” Uma runs an institute called ‘Nrithyamandalam Mohiniyatta Kalari' through which she “aspires to create a generation of dancers dedicated totally to their art … being representatives and heirs to a grand and ancient tradition.”