Thursday, January 3, 2008

Goddess Dances

Business Daily from THE HINDU group of publications Friday, Jan 04, 2008 Batool Aliakbar Lehry It was Sandhya Raman’s chance finding of a wealth of paintings at The Rasaja Foundation thatsparked off her interest in discovering the role of feminine energy in Indian mythology. The artworks, nearly 1,500 of them that were in a dilapidated condition, had been collected by the late artist, historian and critic Jaya Appasamy. The trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (creator, preserver and destroyer) dominate Hindu discourse. But where are the women, wonders Sandhya. “It is almost as if the power of creation, which is so quintessentially female, has been subsumed by a male culture,” says this 40-year-old Delhi-based costume and apparel designer. “It is Ammavara, the goddess who gave birth to the three, who is central to the evolution story.” Her questions led her and research partner Ratna Raman to revisit the Upanishads, Vedas and other texts to discover the latent feminine forces present in them. For instance, says Sandhya, “Everyone only eulogises Agni as the god of fire. But it is only after chanting ‘Swaha’, the name of Agni’s wife, that the offerings will be accepted.” She draws parallels with the subjugation of women in contemporary times and says her effort has been to rediscover the origin and power of feminine forces in the mythologies. The result: ‘Mythologies Retold’ — a 60-minute dance-drama conceptualised, produced and designed by Sandhya and featuring Bharatnatyam dancer Geeta Chandran. Having designed costumes for famous dancers such as Anita Ratnam and Sonal Mansingh, Sandhya was completely familiar with the art form of dance. “Dance is a very communicative art and inspires me. You can say so many things so effectively,” she says. Sandhya also runs a Rs 2.5-crore design company called Desmania, which she jointly set up with her husband. Mythologies Retold, her first such venture, also includes theatrical aspects, influences of Kuchipudi, slide shows and improvisations in costumes, sets, and lights. The paintings, currently in the custody of National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi, also form the backdrop for several scenes. Produced at a cost of Rs 10 lakh, the show celebrates the goddesses of earth, air, fire, space and water as the manifestations of feminine energies. The binding intellect, Buddhi, that guides the five senses is represented as a female. The production then questions what happens when women are removed from society and the feminine energy is alienated through acts like female foeticide, infanticide etc. The one-hour show opened in Delhi in September and is currently touring other parts of the country including Jaipur, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata.

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