On April 12, Isha Samskriti commemorated the Tamil New Year with a Bharatanatyam dance recital of the Ramayana, based on “Bhavayami Raghuramam”, a composition of the 17th century Carnatic composer Maharaja Swati Tirunal. This composition is well known for its concise depiction of the epic in seven sections, each set to a different Raga.
The performance lasted an entire hour. As one of the dancers shared, “We have never danced for one hour at a stretch. So, initially we were unsure about whether we could do this or not. But, with incessant practice and much encouragement from our teachers, things started falling into place. We initially got exhausted in barely 10-15 minutes, but now, one hour had passed before we knew it.”
The Day of the Performance
On the day of the performance, the performers , dancers and musicians alike, were going through mixed feelings of tension, anxiety, excitement and eagerness. Make-up was a challenge of its own: painting the faces of the young boys who were playing vanaras and dressing the other dancers. Various other activities such as lighting and audio, which the students had taken up, amounted to a lot of preparation before the program.
At 5pm, Sadhguru walked in and the performance began. Unlike previous dance dramas where each student played a specific role in each scene, the dancer who played Rama in the first scene played Sita in the next, maybe a creeper or a Vanara in the third scene, or perhaps the demon king Ravana in another scene.
The Story Begins
The story begins in Rama’s youth, when he breaks the bow of Shiva and wins Sita’s hand. In the next scene, he is exiled to the forest for 14 long years during which he encounters the rakshasi Surpanakha. The fiery Surpanakha, the fast-paced music and Lakshmana’s swift movements as he chops of her nose and ears, held the audience awestruck. Infuriated, her brother – the ten-headed Ravana – comes disguised as a pious Brahmin and abducts Sita, while the veena and violin play furiously.
Rama and his brother Lakshmana set out in search of Sita and befriend Sugriva. When the little vanaras, no taller than three-and-a-half feet, came onto the stage, scratching, quarreling and tumbling over one another, the audience couldn’t contain their laughter. Rama, with his vanara army, builds a bridge to Lanka.
The crux of the performance was the final battle between Rama and Ravana. A brilliant blend of percussion, mridangam and kanjira playing alternatively, raised the intensity of the fight to a completely new pitch. Finally, as a pair of clangs sounded the death blow, Ravana fell. Rama and Sita re-unite in a glorious Pattabhishekam ceremony to the sounds of bells and conches echoing victory. The audience looked on as the dais was transformed into a splendid court.
At the end of the performance, the thunderous applause went on and on, sounding like the rain on the Adiyogi Alayam roof.
“I never knew it would come out so well, I didn’t expect such a wonderful response,” shares one of the dancers.
Kumari Aishwarya Pillai, who recently joined Isha Samskriti as the dance teacher, shared: “I felt so happy after the performance. This has been a wondrous experience for me as well as for my students. This is a beautiful beginning for my journey as a dance teacher.”
The festive evening came to a close, leaving the audience delighted and touched at seeing the epic come to life.