RAAMANAATAKAM (Tamizh) (1976)
is the story of Rama through the compositions of Arunachala Kavirayar.
Music by Turaiyur Rajagopala Sarma. It was done first in 1976, for the
Tamizh Isai Sangam ‘Pann Aaraichi’ program. Raamanaatakam was presented
at the Singapore Festival of Arts in 1984 and later in the USA and Canada
Isai Sangam asked the Dhananjayans to do a program using songs from Ramayana
naatakam, they visualized a full dance drama, based totally on the Tamizh
literature of Arunachala Kavirayar and taking the link scenes from Ramayana,
made it a comprehensive whole running for a duration of 2 ½ hours.
of the production lies in the simplicity of its execution. The aharya abhinaya
has been discarded and for such a grand subject, the epic story is presented
with no props and neutral costumes for all characters, with emphasis on
just body and facial expression. Hanuman and other characters are
not dressed for representative characterization, but are instead portrayed
only by the movements and expressions of the actors. Dhananjayan had been
toying with this idea of using body line to project characters even from
his Kalakshetra days but nobody had attempted such a thing. They were very
apprehensive about how it would be received, but it was such a great success
that they consider it one of their best productions to date.
of the dancers comes forth, each dancer sometimes portrays as many as 4
or 5 different characters, or different dancers do the role of Rama. In
economically constructed scenes, the dance drama is in 5 sequences: Invocation
to Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam; Sita Kalyanam; Manthara and Kaikeyi bringing
about Rama's exile; The killing of Jatayu; Sethubandhanam, Battle and Coronation.
of this production is the building of the bridge across the ocean, which
show the concern for time and space and always draws a spontaneous applause
from the audience.
This made people
realize that the idiom of Bharatanaatyam is so rich, that anything can
be done, that there is no need for grand costumes, no paraphernalia on
stage, no grand settings to denote a sea, bridge or battlefield. Raamanaatakam
was indeed a big revelation to the dance world and it was performed all
over India to critical acclaim. Many dancers took inspiration from that
and presented their dance dramas, with simple Bharatanaatyam costumes.
is an epic story of India, steeped in mythology highlighting the eternal
struggle between good and evil. Raamanaatakam is a selection of scenes set
in the form of dance drama.
scene is an invocation to the deity Sriranganathan at the Srirangam Temple.
This is followed by the meeting of Sita and Rama. Rama wins a contest by
breaking a bow to win the hand of Sita, and the scene ends in a wedding
But then a
jealous hunchback named Manthara visits Kaikeyi, one of the queens of King
Dasaratha, Rama’s father. She poisons Kaikeyi’s mind against Rama, and
Kaikeyi agrees to persuade Dasaratha to give the throne to Bharatha, Rama’s
brother. Dasaratha accedes to her request, but he is heartbroken. Rama
is exiled to the forest.
While in the
forest, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka, who slays the great
bird Jatayu who attempts to rescue her. With the help of the Monkey God,
Hanuman, and his army, Rama builds a great bridge across the ocean: there
is a mighty battle, in which Ravana is killed. Finally, Rama returns to
Ayodhya with Sita and is crowned.
itself, we have used the body so well, each character had a particular
stance, so the minute the person entered the stage, the audience could
immediately recognize the character portrayed, be it Hanuman, Dasaratha
or Ravana. We did not have many male dancers in the company then,
so I actually did 4 roles! Thus, Raamanaatakam had the drama element as
well as emoting through body line."
RAAMANAATAKAM - Reviews
Sethubandanam, a whole bridge was created by the human bodies. In those
days, people could not visualize how such a thing could be done in Bharatanaatyam.
I had not thought of introducing the little squirrel who is supposed to
have helped Rama, since the production did not warrant it. Suddenly, during
the rehearsal, a squirrel fell into the studio. I felt Rama was sending
me a message of the little creature’s service to him. So, I made my niece
play the role. My son Sanjay adopted the squirrel and called it Ram. Though
it was an insignificant role, that scene always drew the most applause.
after returning from our first performance, we found that the squirrel
had died, almost as if it’s mission was over"
Ravana yuddham, only 2 people were involved instead of a customary group
for the battle scene. Arunachala Kavirayar has written a beautiful descriptive
piece and Rajagopala Sarma set the music in such a way that the whole battle
scene can be portrayed with only 2 characters. I proved in 1976 that one
could make a minimalist presentation of a traditional grandiose theme.
I made it more elaborate later on by using Tulsidas’ Ramayan, Ezhuttachan’s
Malayalam work… the same thing made more accessible to a wider audience
and we called it Sita Rama Katha."
"In a performance
of Raamanaatakam in Delhi, I did the roles of both Dasaratha and Manthara.
Subbudu criticised me, that a robust, male dancer imitating an old lady
like Manthara was absolutely gross. When I met him face to face, I asked
Subbudu, "Maama, you are a stage actor. If a man can evoke the rasanubhuti
in you as the old, crooked Manthara, that itself is a compliment and not
at all detrimental to the character". After a little contemplation, Subbudu
agreed with my reasoning."
This is just
one such interesting encounter between dancer and critic!!