Dancer Karuna Sagari talks about her latest production Chittam Azhagiyar

Beyond physical beauty Karuna Sagari

Beyond physical beauty Karuna Sagari   | Photo Credit: Michael Pravin


The need for plurality: V Karuna Sagari’s Chittam Azhagiyar is about diversity, courage, and identity

Chittam Azhagiyar is a term from the Tiruvasagam that means beauty of the spirit.” Coimbatore-based Bharatanatyam dancer V Karuna Sagari is explaining the theme of her forthcoming performance on January 3. The tagline is “beauty lies elsewhere” and Karuna adds, “In dance, we lay a lot of emphasis on appearance. Literature has reams of lines extolling women’s beauty and most of it is physical. So the minute I decided on this theme, I had to look beyond physical beauty.”

Since she firmly believes that Subramaniya Bharati’s ‘Pudumai Penn’ is not just an idealistic picture, Karuna began to look for women who have broken the mould over the centuries. Her final selections range from Andal to an unnamed fisherwoman.

Kadambari Music Festival by PSG
  • From January 3 to January 6. All are welcome
  • Each day begins with a performance by students of PSG Institutions at 5.30 pm
  • Chittam Azhagiyar by Karuna Sagari V on January 3 at 7.30 pm.
  • Blend of Classical and Film Songs by Kalaimamani Rajhesh Vaidya on January 4 at 6.00 pm.
  • Isai Kadambam by Kalaimamani Nithyashree Mahadevan on January 5 at 6.30 pm.
  • At PSG IMS&R Auditorium, Off Avinashi Road, Peelamedu
  • Call 9894759940 (Uma Chengkathir) for more details

While she has used the Nachiyar Thirumozhi earlier, Karuna says that this time she will focus on Andal, the poet. “I have selected four poems that bring out her ability to portray women — of different age groups, mental states and more.”

For motherhood, she chose Bharathi’s ‘Chinanchiru Kiliye’, “an over-performed piece, I know,” she says wryly “but I’d like to present a different take on motherhood.” She wants to talk about the moments of pain and how a mother “creates the right mix of sunshine, water and space for the sapling to grow and waits patiently for the little one to stand firm and take root. Another aspect I want to touch upon is ageing and the art of letting go.”

She is very thrilled to have found an anonymous poem from Sangam literature. “In Sangam writing, there is an equality among the landscapes. They don’t say that organised or urban terrains are better or superior. People of cities have more wealth and, since their lives are more settled, they have time for quarrels, affairs and a lot more,” she laughs, adding, “Just like today. But take neydhal. It’s such a busy landscape. The men go to sea and the women have to clean, process, sell and market the fish. Again just like today.”

Women have been breaking the mould over many centuries, says Karuna Sagari

Women have been breaking the mould over many centuries, says Karuna Sagari   | Photo Credit: Michael Pravin

The poem she has chosen is set in a meeting of the two. “A wealthy merchant from the city is attracted to a fisherwoman. So he asks her friend for an introduction. The girl laughs and asks him, ‘Do you know who she is? She is the daughter of fishermen who go deep into the sea to catch sharks; her father is the headman of a valorous tribe? Do you know what we do? We take the fish, cut them up, lay them out to dry, make sure they are not stolen by birds and animals. Can’t you see the disparity? You’re not of the same world. Tell me how how your wealth and lifestyle will do her any good. You may have wealth but we have the sea. We have very good men in our tribe. You can’t give her what she wants’.” As she talks, Karuna’s hands trace movements in the air and her face reflects the pride and confidence of the fisherwoman’s words.

When justice was reformative
  • Karuna had also wanted to feature the heroine of Sittalai Sattanar’s epic poem Manimekalai, a dancer who becomes a Buddhist nun, but had to drop this segment due to time constraints. “I will use it sometime later.”
  • Karuna’s focus was on the reformative justice aspect. “It seems appropriate now when we are discussing whether justice should be reformative or retributive,” she shrugs. “In the epic, Manimekalai is clear that the first is more important. First feed them, she says, give them love and care. Then educate them. She turns a prison into a centre for education.”
  • To Karuna, Manimekalai is an example of how to think in a more reflective manner; “to respond to undercurrents rather than react. Though she renounces the world, Manimekalai is not a single-note character. She speaks about her attraction to the prince who is pursuing her and how she decides to throw lust out of the door. It makes her so human, so relatable.”

With all these pieces, Karuna wanted to stay away from clichés of the perfect woman. “One way is to observe people but not slot them,” she muses. The other trigger for her was the need to talk about plurality, “so important now,” she rolls her eyes expressively. “Everything is being homogenised but we should move away from ‘it should be this way’, whatever that it is.”

The idea for this presentation has been simmering within her; three to four years, she says, when pressed for a time frame. “I named the production four years ago and then put it on the backburner.Then PSG decided to bestow the Yuva Kala Ratna Award on me this year. And they asked for a thematic presentation on women. The time was right to bring this out.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 10:33:54 AM |

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