An emotion today’s woman knows not

Bowed head and downcast eyes belong to a different world. So how does the artiste connect?

February 22, 2018 05:13 pm | Updated 05:13 pm IST

‘Annai Jaanaki vandale’ is a beautiful composition in Rama Natakam. Arunachala Kavirayar has painted a rich description of Sita walking towards Rama to garland him. “Sparkling gems on her anklets cast myriad patterns on the floor — it is as if her mother, Bhumidevi, has spread out freshly sprouted mango leaves for her to walk on...” is just one of the delicious lines.

The poet goes on to say that as she walks in surrounded by her sakhis, Rama gazed at her as did Indira at the celestial ambrosia while Sita, bearing a garland of fragrant flowers, exulted in the reflection of Rama in her gem encrusted bangles.

Feminine quality

My 15-year-old daughter, whom I was trying to teach this song to sing at a wedding, looked puzzled: “Why did she try to look at Rama’s reflection in her bangles?” I explained: “Well, women were modest and bashful. They would not look directly at their husbands.” Uncomprehending and aghast at the same time, my daughter pointed out: “Between Appa and you, you are the one who glares at him.” At the wedding where we sang this song, the bride, after growling about the injustice of her not being allowed on the Jaanavasam procession, was among the first to receive the groom after the procession and danced with abandon.

Lajja is dead. Today’s generation does not know it.

What about sringara in our dances then?

Lajja as a quality that heightens femininity, is celebrated in our literature — both Sanskrit and regional. Lajja is not coquetry or shyness or simple bashfulness — it is not just fluttering of eyelashes. It includes an entire world of behaviour — an entire culture, an ethos. And, it is a happy surrender with an anticipation of fulfilment in love.

Doubtless it belongs to a patriarchal world and today’s girl and woman, rightly, does not relate to it — at least the urban woman.

Our poets did not only depict weak, timid women with lajja . As in Kumarasambhava , when, a contingent of gods and sages bring a proposal to Himavan for Lord Siva’s marriage with Parvati. We must not forget that Parvati won Siva, the ascetic, through immense penance. She set her heart on him and would not be deterred by anything. But when the contingent puts the proposal before Himavan, Kalidasa describes Parvati as — she, with her head bent, was counting the petals of the toy lotus in her hand. This, the Sanskrit tradition says, is an instance of lajja suggested and therefore more beautiful.

Anyway, this whole world is now inaccessible to the modern emancipated woman. The recent December season saw the mounting of dance conferences on the anachronisms in Bharatanatyam repertoire. “Why should we send the sakhi with a message – an sms is so much quicker!” But the issue with lajja is that the current generation really does not know it. They can make sense of sending a friend to one’s love with a message. But lajja is a cultural construct and that culture is not that of today’s men and women. Can it then be made sense of?

That, one might argue, is the whole purpose of art — it brings within reach unknown depths of human emotions. Few would know distilled depravity like that of Hannibal Lecter and yet, Sir Anthony Hopkins’ performance in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ puts that person within reach of our experience. That kind of intensity, that total absorption in the character or mood, stemming above all from conviction, would surely give no room for any charges of anachronisms, or questions about relevance.

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