An ode to Devadasi

Updated - November 01, 2016 06:41 pm IST

Published - September 15, 2016 09:12 pm IST

Jyotsna Shourie presented the myriad avatars of a temple dancer in a sensitive manner.

NUANCED PERFORMANCE A scene from the event

NUANCED PERFORMANCE A scene from the event

There was a gradual development of the theme within the dance parameters; constant, continuous adherence to aesthetics; the theatrical element was kept at its minimal with dance taking the lead. The traditional pattern was adhered to, partly ballet yet a la margam – with the story unfolding through the Sutradar technique and the dances thereon to classical Carnatic music repertoire like the varnam, padam and so on. “Devadasi-the eternal dancer” conceptualised and choreographed by Jyotsna Shourie, went straight to the audience’s artistic sensibilities lingering all the way from start to finish.

The Mallari (Purappadu) opened to four dancers bearing the palanquin with Lord Shiva in the centre, a role enacted by Himanshu Srivastava with ardour and aplomb. There was firmness coupled with grace in his footwork which was consistent as long as he was on stage in the garb of the presiding deity doing the Ananda Tandavam.

Jyotsna Shourie in simple devadasi attire is the sutradar who introduces the theme to the audience. Her intermittent entry and mime served as a link bridging the past with the present as also the lives and times of these past custodians of temple rituals. Women who were educated in dance and music along with requisite literature to carry forward a legacy, the Devadasi (temple dancer) generally trained her progeny (girl-child) in the performing arts and inculcated the spirit of dedication to the deity of the temple where she served her inherited duties day and night. A child dancer being initiated into the arts by her own mother was a very impressive beginning to the theme. The Thevaram hymns in the background provided an air of authenticity. From here we pass on to the dancers singing praises of Lord Shiva to whom they consider themselves wedded. They literally feel the presence of their Lord amidst them as they have been conditioned to right from a very tender age.

The mundane element in the form of a sculptor steps in, suggesting the presence of a human being in the life of a devadasi to carry forward the progeny. The subtle waft of romance and attraction between a devadasi and the sculptor was brought out through a padam with utmost finesse. Everything as understated and within artistic limits as it should be- this particular incident was handled with a sensitivity that deserves a mention. The routing of the devadasi system was another piece of artistic innovation where dancers (Divyoshri Chatterjee, Revati Khattar, Tarana Chauhan, Shambhavi Sharma) in black costumes stride across the floor of the stage trying to annihilate the very existence of the temple dancers. The tussle symbolic of social pressure against artistic pursuit (contemporary dance versus traditional) was brought out beautifully.

Uprooted from the precincts of the temple that was once their ancestral home, the devadasis (depicted by Nandita K. Mehra, Aneesha Grover, Amrita Sivakumar, Shreyasi Gopinath and Aadya Jain) find solace in the present day from performing and teaching dance to a more appreciative society . And the tradition of dance goes on! The tillana formed the culmination of the theme plus the end of the misery of devadasis auguring a different but brighter future. The dancers of Jyotsna Shourie’s school carried the theme on their slender shoulders with fine sense of artistry. The presentation was hosted at the India Habitat Centre.

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