Singapore-based Gayatri Sriram’s thematic solo ‘Sita Swagatham’ presented at the RCF auditorium, Fine Arts Society, Chembur, travelled back and forth in time.
“My guru Minal Prabhu and I wanted to present the Ramayana from a different perspective. That’s when the concept of flashbacks in a non-chronological order came about. We worked on the choreography together,” informed Gayatri.
After the premier at Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore for Ramayana Revisited exhibition in 2011, ‘Sita Swagatham’ has evolved over the years, incorporating additional sequences from the epic.
“The sequencing took a long time to plan and has seen so many changes. My guru and musicians gave me many inputs for this,” added Gayatri.
The music is by Balasubramanya Sharma and G. Gurumurthy, who earlier accompanied the production on vocals and percussion. Essentially, ‘Sita Swagatham’ is some episodes of the Ramayana retold through Sita’s point of view, her reflections of her past life. The recital began with a pushpanjali offering prayers to Sita, who emerged from the Earth, embodiment of Goddess Mahalakshmi.
The first of the three acts showed a pregnant Sita and Rama in their chamber. The couple are much in love. Rama leaves for the court and Sita begins to reflect on their first meeting.
The first flashback began with Sita playing in the rains with her friends. The garden setting with peacocks and deer allowed scope for nritta interludes and Rama was shown walking through the garden. Popular swayamvara segment, the breaking of Siva’s mighty bow was followed by fast forward to the forest where the young couple enjoy togetherness.
Sita awakens to the present, and is worried that Rama has not returned form the court. Once he returns, Sita is banished to the forest. The journey to the forest lulls her and she dreams of the time in the forest when Soorpanaka demolished their peace and paved way for Mareecha’s entry. Sita apaharan sequence followed. Sita is still in her dream state recalling her loneliness in the Ashoka Vatika.
Act 3 began with Lakshmana bringing the chariot to a halt and waking Sita. She advises Lakshmana to place duty to Rama above all. Banished from the kingdom, she wanders in the forest and stumbles upon Sage Valmiki’s ashram. There she finds herself finally coming to terms with her loneliness and her motherly duty to bring up Luv and Kush, her twin sons.
They learn archery and war skills under Valmiki. They capture the Ashwamedha horse and bring Hanuman as captive. Seeing Hanuman, Sita begins to reflect upon meeting him in Ashoka vatika and choodamani pradanam is enacted.
Her recollection of the agnipariksha jolts her to the present and she then sees Rama who comes to take her back. She hands over the boys to their father and tells Rama that he alone resides in her heart but she cannot return to Ayodhya to subject herself to another agnipariksha. She goes into Mother Earth, accosting ‘bhoomi rupena devi.’
Gayatri’s tall stature, minimalistic costume in single colour and jewellery were comforting. Special effects like rain, bow breaking, bird sounds, dynamic jati movements like in the deer segment, appealing music, fluid expressions of the dancer all added to the quality of the recital.
Guru Minal Prabhu was on nattuvangam, Rohit Bhatt on vocals, Harsha Samaga on mridangam, Prasanna Kumar on rhythm pads and morsing, Pradesh Achar on violin and Rakesh Sudhir on flute made for a full-fledged orchestra.
Murugan Krishnan for lighting design and operation had come from Chennai and created amazing visual graphics, like red lights shrouding Sita in fire.
“Initially my friend Gauri Gupta accompanied me, the explanation script was originally hers but as the production developed I have reworked the script,” says Gayatri, who now handles the voice-over between segments.
The guests of honour veteran guru N.S. Jayalakshmi, disciple of Rukmini Devi and Deepak Mazumdar were felicitated.
“Ramayana has been mesmerising Indian psyche for centuries. Many dancers have looked at Rama from different perspectives but rarely taken up Sita’s point of view,” said Ganesh Kumar, chairman, Board of Trustees, Fine Arts Society.
The following day Ritika Shanker, Swarali Parasnis, Srinidhi Venkatesh and Mallika Shanker, senior disciples of Gayatri and her guru , presented Chatur Shakti. Here chatur stood for swift movements of the choreography.
It was a margam that began with a Ganesha alarippu in chatushram followed by a mallari in Gambeera Nattai and a ‘swaraguchha’ incorporating the five jathis. ‘Maate’, the Dharu varnam, was the central piece with intelligent choreography executed with commitment.
The four girls went on to present Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Maa Ramanan’ followed by four solos. An abhang on Rama, ‘Valli kanavan’, ‘Mani Noopura Dhari’ and ‘Ananda Natana Prakasam’. They concluded with Lalgudi’s Tillana in Desh