One of the most complex and befuddling characters in the Ramayana is Shurpanakha. After reading different versions of the Ramayana, Kolkata based dancer and choreographer, Ashavari Mazumdar is struck by “diverse, competing, even conflicting meanings” in Shurpanakha’s character. This IFA grant will enable Ashavari to create a performance based on Shurpanakha.
Ashavari Mazumdar has trained under the Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj and travelled with his group to perform at various places. She has also assisted Birju Maharaj at his dance institute, Kalashram in Delhi. Side by side, Ashavari has choreographed contemporary dance works like Impulse and City.
Ashavari’s systematic and rigorous training in Kathak allows her to explore pure dance movements and codified gestures of Kathak, which, she says, provide “an immense scope for exploring the multiplicity of meanings”. At the same time, as a contemporary choreographer with wide exposure to the arts, Ashavari has a critical perspective on Kathak performance practices. She observes, firstly, that in a Kathak performance, the dancer has to circumscribe her practice to the ashtanayika bhavas, which dissuades her Earn a large area of exploration into movements. Over and above this, the ashtanayika bhavas are inadequate for presenting the complexities of identities in contemporary times. Secondly, a traditional Kathak performance is Krishna-centric and characters other than Krishna are reduced to performing in support of Krishna’s role. Lastly, the traditional Kathak dance, which is performed to express only certain texts of thumris or bhajans, tends to get monotonous.
The enigmatic character of Shurpanakha is challenging for a traditional Kathak dancer, mainly because the character does not appear to exist within the traditional categories of the ashtanayika bhavas. Shurpanakha cannot be performed like Sita, as an embodiment of perfection, truth, sacrifice or within any heroics that shastrakaras validate as the bhavas. Against this background, Ashavari’s performance of Shurpanakha will contest traditional Kathak dance’s polar understanding of characters as either heroes or non-heroes. Her performance proposes “to refer to the ashtanayikas as a counterpoint to Shurpanakha who is outside classical definitions of a character but also experiences emotions of a heroic character like Sita.” She will create choreography informed by this thinking and incorporate different readings of Shurpanakha in various versions of the Ramayana: a shape shifting rakshari, a beautiful woman, an ugly horrendous rakshasi, and a victim of patriarchal norms.
Ashavari makes it clear that she does not plan to make a complete break from Kathak for the proposed work on Shurpanakhar She believes that “there is a lot of scope for experiments and innovation” with Kathak movements and she will try to extend herself beyond what is traditionally achieved to address contemporary artistic needs. She has begun experimenting with movement ideas based on her own reading of different versions of the Ramayana in South Asia. To begin with, Kathleen M Erndl’s reading of Shurpanakha’s character in The Mulilation of Surpankha has triggered brainstorming sessions Within the team to develop a narrative for die choreography. The team has decided to compose new songs in Braj, a local dialect of Hindi, as an alternative to the existing thumris. Ashavari will not rely on establishing a one-tovone relationship between words and meaning. She will instead focus on exploring the nuances of words through their sound and rhythm to create new movements. Ashavari believes that the Shurpanakha performance will give her an opportunity to address her concern about the limited and reductive definition of abhinaya as “facial expression and rigidly codified set of postures and movements".
Ashavari will first show the performance in an intimate space in Kolkata during September 2011.
This description is part of the institutional records created by IFA at the onset of the grant. The project may have changed in due course as reflected in the deliverables from the Grantee.
Grant No : 2010-0-019
Grantee Name : Ashavari Mazumdar
Programme : New Performance
Grant Status : Completed
Start Date : 01-03-2011
End Date : 01-09-2011
Duration : Six months
Grant Amount : 300,000
Geographical Area of Work : Pan-India
Disciplinary Field of Work : Dance
Language : Hindi