Ravan and Sita converse in Kathakali and Kuchipudi
On 9 February 2023, ‘Sita Ravan Vaadam: The War of Words’ was presented at the IHC in Delhi by T. Lakshmi Reddy under the direction of her guru, Jayarama Rao ji. Her Nritya Vahini Academy does a lot of work for dance. They collaborated with the Kathakali Institute for the nritya natya production. Lakshmi portrayed Sita while B. Jagadeesan Thiruvattar portrayed Ravan.
The production was about the conversation that Ravan and Sita have in the Ashok vatika, to which Hanuman was a witness. There was a life-size tree on the stage. The characters of Ram and Sita were essayed by Kuchipudi dancers and those of Ravan and Hanuman by Kathakali dancers. The rest of the dancers were all Kuchipudi dancers. Hanuman is the protagonist here, who narrates what he witnessed when he went to Lanka as Ram’s messenger to assure Sita, carrying Ram’s ring as his token. Lord Hanuman was played by a Kathakali dancer dressed in an elaborate costume with white hairy apparition and long nails on one hand.
The performance began with chants of shlokas from the Hanuman stava and dohas from Manas: ‘Yatra nari pujayante…’ Ram and Sita were shown to reside in the forests during the period of their exile dressed as vanavasis. Hanuman sings Ram’s praises, calling him lokabhiramam and Sitapate while moving his hands and fingers to express himself.
Sita collects flowers to make a mala for Ram. They play hide and seek, with Sita blindfolded, and Ram throws a flower at her. Both enjoy their time together. Ram praises Sita for her beauty. Her eyes are like fish and her face is like a lotus. The two hang a swing on a tree and together, they enjoy swinging and talking. They reminisce about how, as a child, she had lifted the Shivdhanush without any effort while playing with her friends. And thus, it was announced that whoever could lift the dhanush and string it would be married to Sita in her swayamvar. Ram was present at the swayamvar with Rishi Vashishth and without any hesitation, picked up the dhanush, strung it and broke it into two.
The next depiction was of the incident when Sita goes to fetch water in the jungle during the vanavas and Mareech appears as the golden deer. Sita asks Ram to capture it for her. Lakshman draws the Lakshman rekha to keep her safe. Ravan sees his chance and comes to get her. Ravan, portrayed by a Kathakali dancer B. Jagadeesan Thiruvattar, was tall and well-built in an elaborate costume.
Sita goes out to fetch water and is enamoured by the golden deer. She persuades Ram to go and get the golden deer for her. The episode of drawing the Lakshman rekha and Ravan appearing in disguise follows. Telling the story of his yagya to gain powers, Ravan emits war cries-like sounds. He abducts Sita by tricking her into coming out of the Lakshman rekha. She is forcibly taken away as she cries for help. She is taken to Lanka and seated under the Ashok tree on the stage.
The next day, Ravan arrives, accompanied by his queen Mandodari and carrying a sword in his hand. Mandodari’s costume was very elaborate, particularly her headgear. Using eye movements and shouts, Ravan conveys to Sita that either she yield to him or he would harm her with his sword. Sita shuns him in anger and he runs with his sword towards her, but his wife stops him from doing her any harm.
The narrative shows the pain both Ram and Sita are going through at this juncture. Sita, sitting under the tree, trembles and falls to the ground. Ram is totally broken emotionally.
They both appeal to the trees, birds, lotuses, fish and all nature surrounding them to tell the whereabouts of the other and to carry their message to the other. It was an emotionally very well done piece. She asks the Ashok vriksha to give her an angaar so that she can die.
Ravan comes again with his offer to make her his patrani and give her wealth and material comforts. He calls her a durbal murkh stree, a weak, foolish woman. She does not even look at him, holding a straw in her hand to show him that is what he means to her.
She forcefully reiterates the fact that she is the swamini of Brahmand Swami, and that either he ask for forgiveness or face the consequences. He is boastful and in lewd language, describes her beauty and calls Ram a kangaal or bankrupt. An enraged Sita challenges him to even come and touch her, saying that he does not even have an inkling of her powers and had brought her by deceit. She curses him and says that his tongue would rot dare he speak badly about Ram. As a retort, he mocks her by telling her that she is a fool to stick by her husband, who has nothing and has brought her to the forest.
This dialogue was very well-enacted since both forms, Kathakali and Kuchipudi, have a lot of natya element as their main forte and extravagantly expressed emotions are foremost. The expressions on the face of T. Lakshmi Reddy as she challenges Ravan were of disgust and Thiruvattar, as a Kathakali dancer, made movements with his hands and emitted loud sounds from his mouth as the commentary for the dialogue went on.
After this strongly worded vaadam or conversation between Sita and Ravan, to which Hanuman stood witness, hiding in the Ashoka tree, Sita breaks down again and sits under the Ashoka tree, crying in despair. She is weeping and asking the birds, the river or anybody or anything else to take her message to Ram.
At this juncture, Hanuman presents himself amid chants of ‘Ram Ram Jai Ram Ram Jai Ram Ram Jai Sita Ram’. He offers Sita Lord Ram’s ring as a token of authenticity. She touches the ring to her eyes as she recognizes it. The presentation then depicts that Ram and Sita, though physically apart, are one in spirit. As a conclusion, the Kuchipudi and Kathakali dancers come together on stage wearing patkas and dance together to the bols of a thillana to show the nari shakti.
The entire production was flawless. The dancers of both forms were excellent. The tale was not extended much beyond the episode of Ravan and Sita’s conversation in the Ashok vatika, to which Hanuman stood witness, hiding in the tree, waiting to present Ram’s ring to Sita. The costuming was very appropriate and the Kathakali costumes were always very interesting to watch, what with the dancers wearing long steel nails on one of their hands. The hand gestures of the dancers and the cries emanating were used to convey what they were trying to say. T. Lakshmi Reddy needs no introduction. She is one of the senior disciples of Guru Jayarama Rao and has been on stage for a long time now. To make it more relevant socially, the focus was on nari shakti or the power of women.
The concept of Ravan Sita Vaadam was by Lakshmi, with the Kuchipudi choreography by her guru Jayarama Rao ji and the Kathakali choreography by Jagadeesan ji. The music was by Venkateshwaran Kuppuswamy, who also sang some of it along with Kottakkal Jayan and Ananya Venkatesan. The mridangam and nattuvangam were by Tanjavore R. Kesavan, chenda by Kalamandalam Sumesh, flute by Rajat Prasanna, maddalam by Parassinikkadav Manoj and violin by Raghavendra Prasath. The recording was done at Neelam Recording Studio.
Sushant Maharana portrayed Ram in Kuchipudi to Lakshmi's Sita, Kalyana Krishnan depicted Hanuman in Kathakali and Rohit Lal Kanojia played the deer. Sanghita Das, Tanya Goswami, Resham Suresh and Gokul C.R. were the other dancers in the production. The make-up was by Naresh Khare and chutty by Kalanilayam Nitheesh, with Sadanam Kumar Sathyanarayan assisting in the green room. The Kuchipudi lyrics were by Vaikunta Narayana Murty. The voice for Ravan was provided by Anil Sharma and for Sita by Sushma Sharma. The lights were by Rishabh Srivastav and design by Shibi Creations. Shoby Michael shot the video.
Pics: Anoop Arora