The Ramayana effect

Lakshmi Vishwanathan  

(Lakshmi Viswanathan, dancer and author, will present ‘Navarasa Sita’, a one-hour flow of moods of Sita strung together by poems of various composers. The schedules: December 30, 6 p.m., at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for Kartik Fine Arts; January 2, 2012, 7.30 p.m., at Sivagami Pethachi auditorium, for Brahma Gana Sabha. )

“Sage Valmiki had a mind beyond the poetic. He predicted that as long as mankind has a place on earth, the Ramayana will be read and revered. How true!

While millions of versions of the core story may exist, and other some may be relegated to the dustbin for daring to be original (as it has recently happened in the instance of Ramanujan), nothing stops people from interpreting their favourite story again and again.

Spiritual messages abound in the telling of the Ramayana. Those that tell the message in song are more avidly consumed by millions in different languages. However it is the visual representation of the epic in dance and drama, and even a tele-serial, that is most bewitching. But here we must look at the stage, where live performances attempt to grip the viewer in unforgettable visual treats.

No other story in the world is enacted or recited every night somewhere… in a glade, at a temple, on the banks of sacred rivers, in palaces, amidst ruins, in village squares and star hotels, from the Arabian Sea to the Pacific Ocean…. from Kerala to the island of Bali in Indonesia. Each country where the epic is popular, adds its own local flavour to a performance. It is not only language, but also the texts which have been localised, with the characters assuming original dimensions un-thought of by sage Valmiki!

Our own bard Tyagaraja melts with devotion in his songs on Rama. His use of the story is minimal, with pithy references in beautiful Telugu phrases. When I took up a selection of Tyagaraja kritis for dance, I used my imagination to expand on minute phrases to narrate a situation or a dramatic turn of events.

In my view, the Ramayana is the most fertile canvas for artists to express their imaginative ideas. No two characters in the epic are similar, and no situation is bereft of dramatic elements. Therefore, whether it is a slow unfolding of emotion or elaborate statements of action, the Ramayana affords immense scope for artists.

The various Ramayanas are responsible for keeping it evergreen in the psyche of peoples everywhere. In Kerala, every worthy poet has written his perspective of Ramayana episodes. When a Kathakali actor plays a stunning portrayal of Ravana, the character assumes majestic proportions. Do we object to the presentation of the ‘villain’ in such splendid stage-craft? In Yakshagana, the late Shambu Hegde tore our hearts as the devastated Vaali. So much so, Rama almost seemed like the ‘wrong-doer.’Can we object to such artistry?

In South East Asia, Hanuman is the most beloved hero. With deft martial-arts movements, his face covered with a lovely mask, Hanuman leaps in the night air to the joyous claps of village children gathered amidst flickering oil lamps. He, not Rama, is their hero!

A Ramayana troupe was rehearsing in a Kraton (palace) of the Sultan of Jogjakarta for a tour of Japan. The leader of the group who was supervising the rehearsal was a chubby prince in the Sultan’s household. I asked the character playing Hanuman, a Muslim boy, what he felt about his role. He said, with a quiet smile: “Yes I am a Muslim….my ID card says so too…but my culture is the Ramayana”. Who can object to that!

I think Sita is the predominant force in the story. She may not be as exalted in the words of the poets (all men!) but for sheer dramatic denouement she is indispensible.

The universal appeal of the Ramayana is undiminished. Every generation has the right to make it its own in literature, song and dance. Valmiki was right. The Ramayana will never die!

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2021 11:27:05 PM |

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