Women in Ramayana get a new voice

Dancers Anita Ratnam, Sharmila Biswas and Geeta Chandran open this year’s heritage festival

The message of the #MeToo movement, a social media campaign where thousands of women shared their stories of sexual harassment, reverberated in the Gratitude Heritage Home as the curtains for the Pondicherry Heritage Festival 2018 went up on Saturday.

Reframing the narratives of masculinity, challenging the patriarchal hegemony by retelling characters through feminist lens, noted dancers Anita Ratnam, Sharmila Biswas and Geeta Chandran performed ‘Ahsura – a Ramayana Triptych.’

Through an amalgamation of classical and contemporary dance forms, they performed at the curtain-raiser event for the Pondicherry Heritage Festival organised by People for Pondicherry Heritage.

Ms. Ratnam as Ahalya, who was created by Brahma as an experiment in perfection in the epic Ramayana, begins the show. Through contemporary dance, she depicts how Ahalya’s body grieves and throbs imprisoned in a stone from the curse of her husband. From the lifeless stone, Ms. Ratnam’s Ahalya, changes to the contours of the new womanhood — no longer silent, she finds her voice and questions the injustice forced upon her.

In the performance, Ahalya calls out to all women to rise and join the chorus of Ramayana’s sisters — Sita, Kaikeyi, Mantra and Urmila — and every imprisoned woman through time, collapsing their bodies into the global women’s resistance movement of today, women who are speaking out and demanding to be heard.

Odissi dancer Sharmila Biswas presented Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana. The princess of Lanka, Surpanakha is widowed by her brother and gifted Dhandaka as a nature palace. Her performance showed how to acknowledge the feminine power and confidence. “According to the story, the price of being bold is to be silenced by violence. Surpanakha is an important catalyst in the story of Ramayana and we know very little about her,” says Ms. Biswas.

Can we move beyond stereotypes, questioned Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran through her abhinaya of Ravana. “The king of Lanka was known in all three worlds as the exemplar Shiv bhakt. He is condemned as contemptible and a monstrous king. Yet, within Valmiki Ramayana there is evidence that he was so much more.”

Ms. Chandran chose to recreate the incident where Ravana after his ritual bath and Shiv pooja, adorns himself and goes to meet Sita, whom he is holding captive.

What’s in store?

Sunaina Mandeen of People for Pondicherry Heritage said that the heart of Puducherry’s heritage is not in monumental buildings but rather in the striking assemblage of the entire town. “This is a living testament to the confluence of cultures which has continued to coexist in the seaside settlement. This is going to be the primary theme of the heritage festival,” she said.

She added that with the support from INTACH, PondyCAN and the Puducherry government, the first Pondicherry Heritage Festival was held in 2015, a few months after the collapse of Marie building. “This year, the festival will begin on January 18 and will continue till February 18. Like last year, we have identified Thirubuvanai – a heritage site which has three of the four chola temples in Puducherry,” she said.

Ms. Mandeen added that they have scheduled programmes to explore wetland ecosystem, understand the significance of Ossudu lake and bird watching.

This year, children will also play a big role in the festival. “We have a project to make a children’s heritage colouring book which will be distributed free to all the schools,” she said.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 6:40:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/women-in-ramayana-get-a-new-voice/article22353802.ece

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