Ballet: The dance was an exercise in perspective.
Ballets on women's causes usually meant showing oppression and grieving women at the receiving end. Breaking from that tradition, a recent ballet at Ravindra Bharati showed women as benefactors of peace and solidarity. Presented under the auspices of Asmita, this ballet took exemplary lives of saints: Esther from the Old Testament; Mary Magdalene from the New Testament; Rabia Basri, the Sufi saint and Akkamaha Devi, harbinger of Bhakti movement, as principal characters.
Rajeswari Sainath was the central figure of the ballet. The Bharatanatyam exponent connected the four themes woven around these women, making an appearance at the break of each saintly character, with Bharatanatyam Jati spells, spacing the episodes, just like a repeating Pallavi spacing the charanas of a kriti.
Written and directed by Vasanth Kannabiran, this brought diverse international cultures into play. Mentored by mridangam maestro Guru Karraikkudi Mani and the music composed by flautist B.V. Balasai, and choreographed by Rajeswari Sainath, this ballet was a laudable attempt in the direction of its objective of promotion of peace. As the characters belonged to different cultures, apt music score and dances gave us the feel of those lands. In fact, this pre-recorded musical element had its magical spell on the audience for its soothing effect and served to elevate the drama to new levels.
Esther from Old Testament, known earlier as Hadassah, is a young Jewish girl, as his queen Vashti refused to join the royal banquet. Her Uncle Mordecei changed his niece name to Esther to hide the fact that she was a Jew. She replaced the Queen in a banquet held by King Ahasuerus. Haman, a high official, plotted to kill all the Jews. Esther exposed the evil mind of Haman to the king and saved the Jews and sent Haman to gallows. A Hollywood film One night with King on this subject was also made on this subject.
Mary Magdalene, from the New Testament, is the only person named by any of the canonical gospels as a witness to Jesus' crucifixion, his burial, and the discovery of his tomb to be empty and also as one who saw his Resurrection. She was a virtuous woman all her life. She led one wing of early Christian movement. The body of Mary Magdalene was venerated and was made a saint.
Rabia lived in 8th century Basra, Iraq, in utter poverty. After her father's death, a famine in Basra separated her from the family. She was taken by robbers and was sold to a cruel master. At night Rabia would turn to meditation. Her master saw, one day, radiance in her face and set her free out of fear. Rabia later went into desert and became Sufi saint. It was she who introduced the idea that God should be loved for God's own sake, not out of fear.
Akka Mahadevi, born in Karnataka, spent her last days at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh. She was a devotee of Chennamallikarjuna (Siva). Her marriage with a Jain king Kausika was resented by people. She ran away from luxurious life, lived as a wandering poet-saint. She refused to wear any clothing like male ascetics did. You can strip the clothes from me, but can you strip the nakedness that covers me she used to ask.
This ballet rightly invoked voices of women of different religions and cultures, in search of salvation and their life sketch came to us from the pre-recorded sound track. Vaishnavi (Rajeswari's daughter) as Esther, Parvathi as Mary Magdelene, Neinitha as Rabia and Ashritha as Akka Mahadevi impressed.