Ramp Walking to Shlokas: Everyday Goddesses

Posted on March 19, 2010

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It was an evening in which our goddesses powerful and regal became alive on stage through the narratives of women: some known and some unknown. Where glimpses of Saraswati shone in the wisdom of a grandmother and the defiance of a daughter in not following her mother’s footsteps, in which Lakshmi assumed the high life of the movie stars and super models. Durga with the unfailing eye of the hunter and Meera in search of her own bliss.

About her and Bliss: in Seven Chapters, a theatre-dance performance by eminent artist  Anita Ratnam and her troupe, the Arangham  Dance Theatre was presented here at the University of Hyderabad on February 18, 2010.  For those unfamiliar with her ( like me until last night), Anita Ratnam is an accomplished Indian classical and contemporary dancer and choreographer based in Chennai. She has also done cameos in films like Kandukondain Kandukondain and Boys.

Exploring the concept of womanhood and bliss, the performance stringed together seven different pieces.  Anita’s solo performances drew from the mythical repository of Hindu goddesses and saints as she weaved in contemporary narratives into the images of Saraswati, Durga, Lakshmi and Meera Bai. Saraswati is embodied in the spirit of her grandmother and daughter one wise while the other fiercely independent. In Durga,  Anita enacts Mahishasura Mardini.  Her  Lakshmi comes through in the feminine aspect of modern- day consumerism whereas Meerabai, she forsakes that very material world in search of more.    

Interspersed between the major chapters were group performances by the troupe, starting with paying homage to the dancing God, Nataraja which incorporated movements from Bharatnatyam, Kalari and Yoga. The second piece went onto explore the world of ‘tweens’ while the last piece was a more traditional performance. Elements of dialogue, music and sounds were fused together to form the soundtrack of the performance.

 The part the struck me the most in from the whole performance was the chapter on Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity which Anita chose to explore through the female icons from the worlds of film and fashion. Using an interesting play of popular culture of Helen’s cabaret songs with Tamil shlokas, Anita did her own tongue in cheek portrayal of the glitterati.

 Though all of the performances were very well conceptualized, this piece resonated with me the best. It got me thinking about who our modern-day Lakshmis were. Are they not is some way our icons of popular culture?  The capricious nature of their wealth, fame, and beauty, so like the goddesses’ fickle bounty: to be given and taken away at will and without reason.

 It also makes me think that despite all the problematic elements of women in Hindu mythology, (and boys are there several: Anyone ever cringe at the sight of Lakshmi pressing Vishnu’s feet), our goddesses are awesome. The things they embody: knowledge, spirit, strength, courage and well-being are amazing qualities for any woman to aspire towards.

 It makes me think of the pedestals that my parents put me and my sister on. To them we are goddess and more…

 It makes me think yet again of Acchi, the lambadaa woman I met last week who told me that if the baby she was carrying turned out to be a girl she would either sell her or kill her.

It makes me think and that’s a good thing.

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