ONLINE: A year of watching Divya Ravi’s magic on a screen

Divya Ravi in 2019 (Pic: Anoop Arora)

Divya Ravi is an exponent of Bharatanatyam from Bengaluru currently based in the UK. She received her formative training under Kiran Subramanyam and Sandhya Kiran, and was further trained by Dr. Soundarya Srivathsa. She has received mentoring in abhinaya under Bragha Bessel and has trained intensively in the Navarasa Sadhana actor training module under G. Venu. In the UK, she continues to train with Mavin Khoo.

I have been watching her videos since March last year and felt like writing about her work for various reasons (she has not requested this article). Her stage/video presence is very impressive: her face is enchanting and her eyes are endlessly expressive. Her eyes can emote all kinds of emotions. Her technique in nritta comes across as flawless. Her dancing lines are exact. Her abhinaya is very finely tuned to just the required sensitivity, neither overdone nor under. Her performances are intelligently conceptualized and the music is melodious (which her Carnatic vocalist husband Dr. Sharan Subramaniam enhances with his vocals). The use of videography is put to optimum use to produce an aesthetic effect.


Arpanam: Annamacharya sringara sankeertana – Divya’s piece begins at 15:50

Her video dated 19 March for Arpanam is based on an Annamacharya sringara sankeertana in raga Amritvarshini. Here, the sakhi is talking about the state of mind of her friend Alamelumanga, who, in the ritu of basant, is separated from her beloved. The fading smile shows the pain inside. The sakhi is chiding Manmatha, who has come with his army to wage a war on the nayika. The wind races like a chariot, oceans roar like kettle drums and the night approaches like an elephant. At certain points, the piece has one frame of hers in the foreground and another in the background, in which she performs gestures which enhance the import of the main piece. She shoos away the bees. The moon was eclipsed by the snake and now it wants the maiden’s glances for warmth, but she mocks it for being Manmatha’s umbrella. Madana is still around and has not got the hint. He is further insulted when reminded that he was turned to ashes by somebody’s third eye. She is asking the bird to stop aiding Madana in his endeavour. Are they also like the parrot, who narrated the washerman’s words to Rama and separated him and Sita? Lord Venkateshwara is already preparing his bed for the union with his beloved, so away with your army, Madana, it is of no use, she says. The final emotion is of insulting Madana greatly by asking him to leave, which has been brought out very well with appropriate expressions. A treat to watch.


Kashmiri poetry by Lal Ded

Another scintillating video performance by Divya is based on a Kashmiri composition by Lalleshwari, or Lal Ded. The choreography is heart-warming and Sharan’s aalap enhances the mood of the poetry. It says, ‘Who is the male florist and who is the female florist?’ while Divya depicts one plucking and the other stringing flowers. ‘Which flowers should he be worshipped with, which water should be poured on him, which mantra chanted to appease the Shiva within?’ All this is spoken by Sharan while Divya emotes through abhinaya. Then Divya articulates the answers and the gestures, and finishes with chakkars. The video can give you goosebumps. The aalap is sublime, the voices gentle and soothing, the Kashmiri dialect touches your heart. It is not a work of art only but that of sublime devotion.

Another of my favourite pieces by Divya is an abhinaya piece which is almost viscerally romantic, as if you get whiffs of romance in the air. The nayika opens the door and sees her lord standing there, his nasagre moti like the moon, as if the winter night moon was fanning her desire. Divya portrayed the nayika’s brief glance towards the moon before her eyes are riveted again by her lord’s face as he walks into her chamber. She turns around and quickly seizes the opportunity to bolt the door. She sits, beckons him to come sit with her and again follows him with her gaze as he comes around to sit beside her: ‘ambuj lochan, kambu kanth griva’. It was a very sensuous depiction of the admiration of his countenance and the embrace. There is a depiction of the hand sensuously moving down from the forehead to the beads dangling on the lips.

Divya in 2016 (Pic: Anoop Arora)


Kanhopatra is Divya’s latest work, performed for the Guru Vandana Arts Academy. It was available for limited viewership only, though a short extract remains on Facebook. Kanhopatra was a 10th century Marathi saint-poet venerated by the Varkari sect. By most accounts, she was a courtesan and dancing girl to the badshah of Bidar and surrendered herself to Vithoba rather than become his concubine. Her mausoleum is within the precincts of the Pandharpur temple. She wrote ovis and abhangas.

Divya shot her video in a very stark setting. She wore a typical Maharashtrian nose ring and the tilak of the Varkari sect. Her rendering of the abhanga was done very expressively. She started with the abhanga ‘I offer my body’. She is holding herself and cringing. ‘Still up for grabs is my body that I salvaged for you. Please do not betray me. I cannot go back to singing, dancing and entertaining these wile men,’ she says. Divya showed Kanhopatra dancing through nritta and superimposed images of her face with only aalaap and bols in the background. Her abhinaya as she resists men pulling her up is very powerful. The vachik abhinaya depicted hypocrites who abused her behind closed doors and ostracized her from society. All her material desires bring ruin. Again, very poignant abhinaya as she depicts picking up the flower, opening its petals and then discarding it without a hint of regret. As Kanhopatra, she again recites the lines ‘I had no choice’. To her, what was important was the ocean of the dark eyes of her lord and the gentle waves of his compassion. With the sound of a bell or a gong, she surrenders to the dark forces.

The lyrics used for this from Kanhopatra’s compositions was ‘Sanvre doda se karuna de kahi yeshu’ – please look at me with your compassionate eyes. She is telling Krishna that he is her life, her breath, her mother and Kanhai. The laukik sambandh, i.e., worldly attachments, were depicted by Divya with her hands sticking to various parts of her body and she trying to pull them off. She does not desire these; He is bigger than all of that. As she lays down to sleep, she asks Krishna, why are you standing so far away? She asks him to come to her and then she tells Krishna that she fled Mangalwedha since he is her mai and baap. She flees to Pandharpur where she surrenders completely to Vitthala. She expresses her desire that in her next birth, she would prefer to do his charan seva. Finally, it is a total surrender of her body, mind and soul, where she is singing and dancing for her lord. She reminds Krishna that he has salvaged Ganika, Ajameel and Valmiki, and that he should now consider it her turn to be saved. Divya’s abhinaya was moving.

Every name — Vishnu, Vitthala, Panduranga — becomes a flower as it slips from her lips; she gently grabs it in the air and starts to string it into a naam mala. That naam mala she wears on her neck. Suddenly, there is the beating of drums and Kanhopatra comes to know that another man has sent for her. Immediately, she is annoyed and fretting that if He is the patit pavana, then why does He not come to protect her? It’s a shame that He calls himself the saviour if he is allowing another man to come and get her. As her body is again being pulled away, she pleads to the lord to protect her body and suddenly, her body and hands are lifted. This was a riveting performance.

The compositions of these saints are an experience as they are. Experiencing not only those words, but also watching a dancer like Divya translating them into dance, becomes a visceral experience: all the emotions that she feels, of anger, helplessness, despondency at always serving the men with her body, and how she is pleading with the lord to save her from this. The act of showing that her hands stick to her body wherever she puts them makes one feel that it is not only the external forces but even the internal forces that are keeping the bhakta’s body bound and preventing her or him from surrender to the lord. And finally, the act of the naam mala and what she is experiencing as she puts it around her neck was poignantly shown. 


Most of the pieces exhibit not only Divya’s proficiency in nritta, but also her skill at abhinaya. These and many more videos by the dancer are online, and watching them can give immense sukha anubhava.

I have been following the work of this very proficient dancer all throughout the pandemic; she has worked to keep up her sadhana and advance her skill all throughout, whether it is nritta and playing with lights and shadows or shooting her abhinaya pieces, in which she has used videography to give a touching performance with superimposed images of her face. Hats off.