Four powerful women of the Ramayana were portrayed in new light through four classical styles in ‘Tejasa.’

Prolific writer and scholar A.K. Ramanujan had the knowledge and clarity to talk of 300 different versions of the Ramayana. His stand stood vindicated as one watched ‘Tejasa - Women of Ramayana’ at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha’s Yagnaraman July Fest 2013.

It recast the Ramayana within its own canvas. It was conceived and presented and offered a significantly different perspective and stressed on the universality of this epic. ‘Tejasa’ “seamlessly intertwined dance and narration.” The artistic director, concept and production were credited to Odissi exponent Ranjana Gauhar.

To cut a long story short, Sita refuses to go through the “dhobi-provoked-litmus-test-of-fire” and instead addresses a few searching questions to Rama and to the audience as well. “This fire was witness to our wedlock. Does it need to do this to me? Am I to walk into this fire to save someone else’s reputation? To get back to Rama? To Ayodhya… was it ever my home? I am Sita and not Sati,” she yells repeatedly as the curtains come down. She then seeks asylum and enters Mother Earth - a fitting end in honour of the entire women of this world.

The dance itself incorporated four classical styles - Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattom and Odissi. Four Women of the Ramayana, Sita, Kaikeyi, Surpanakha and Mandodari appear in a cameo to present their viewpoints from their individual and deeply personal angles – not skewed but logical. “Each story had its composite nature, conflicts and compulsions of a woman as well as her inherent strength and claim to dignity and respect.”

Ranjana Gauhar as Sita (Odissi) opened the act as the main heroine. She narrated relevant episodes from the Ramayana. Her expressiveness attained its zenith when she depicted Sita as the one pining for Rama and yet shyness personified - contrasting feelings presented in variegated shades. The manner in which she portrayed her wonderment on seeing the kind of strength Rama possessed, was done in inimitable style.

As cruel fate would have it, Rama is denied the throne, courtesy Kaikeyi (Indrani Mukherji in Kathak). Her “cruel arrows of desire” made Ramayana “the epic of self-discovery,” happen. But she has a different story to tell. “Why should fathers always want their sons to succeed them? Doesn’t the mother have a right in the proceedings? Is it because she has been blessed with a single womb? Can’t Dharma be meted out to women?” Indrani had a tough case to argue but did it with bitterness so honest. Therefore, this became a high-end performance.

Gopika Varma as Surpanakha was all ease and grace. Yes, it is a conventionally detestable role and if she had evoked untold sympathy towards the end, it was a sweeping victory for her. Her position had become even comical but she knew where her “lakshman rekha” was, in the day’s performance. (Lakshmana did not draw this for her!) Again when Lakshmana smashes her nose, her apt postures depicted that we were witnessing bloodshed on the stage.

Deepika Reddy as Mandodari (Kuchipudi) spoke highly of her son Indrajit, the invincible. In a quick change of colour, necessitated by the goings-on, she says, “My husband wanted me to be pure and chaste. But why did he go after another woman who had both these qualities? And finally, what has it cost me? I have lost Indrajith (my son) and then Ravana (my husband) in this war. It is a double-tragedy for me.” Differing emotions were captured explicitly.

One dance form merged into the next and there was never any kind of startling transition when the changes occurred. “Sita came flitting in and out often and thus you were able to feel the continuity, the seamless quality in the show”, confessed Ranjana off-stage. Sita truly occupied the role of the non-interfering, chief narrator and weaved the immense struggles of the foursome as they walked in and out of ‘Tejasa.’ Sita became the eternal witness. One could very well understand the research this team should have done and the exacting details they must have gathered before they arrived at the final presentation. Each dancer justified to her roles with aplomb.

Ultimately one had to keep guessing? Was it Drama or Dance? ‘Tejasa’ stands for glory, spiritual power, authority, dignity and honour. Prefix the word ‘woman’ to these and you will get the essence of this performance.

Anuradha, the compere, gave a preface that kindled the interest of the audience. As always, she was her own effervescent self. Few tributes that were paid to Yagnaraman. The event was part of Yagnaraman July Fest, 2013, which had been organized to celebrate the Birth Anniversary of this Founder-Member of KGS.

(sivakumar2004@gmail.com)