Ramayana Festival

Post was created on March 9th, 2011

The Adishakti Performing Arts Laboratory recently held a Ramayana festival in its beautiful grounds near Pondicherry.  For seven days, we local and visiting culture vultures were exposed to world-class interpretations of this epic.

Curated by Kolkata-based theatre director Rustom Barucha, the festival aimed to explore the pluralist dimensions of the Ramayana, through performance, music, visual traditions and critical dialogue with artists and scholars from India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and USA.

The epic is said to stem from India in approximately the 4th century BCE, before spreading to other parts of Asia. It tells the story of Rama, a king’s son and incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and his wife Sita, who is abducted by the ten-headed demon king of Lanka, Ravana.

 From Indonesian performer Mugiyono Kasido’s contemporary Javanese interpretation of Sita’s inner struggle, to Delhi-based Maya Krishna Rao’s punky, subversive, Kathakali-influenced improvisation on Ravana’s longing, a number of the performances were fresh and provocative. The lively Kattaikkuttu Sangam performed by Tamil teens and directed by Hanne de Bruin was an audience favourite.


The morning lectures spanned  from Ashis Nandy’s take on heroes and anti-heroes representing inner realities of our own selves, to Paula Richman’s entertaining  presentation on how Ravana has been depicted throughout India in advertisements and other visual texts, and to historian Romila Thapar’s perspective on the different versions of the text. Indonesian academic I Wayan Dibia’s suggestion that the Ramayana could be a unifying force in a world increasingly concerned with enforcing notions of regional identity was vigorously debated and occasionally refuted.

A screening of Mani Ratnam’s recent film Raavanan (the Tamil version) provoked avid discussion. Whilst the Tamil version is said to be infinitely superior to the woeful Hindi version, as a fan of some of Ratnam’s earlier work, I found even the Tamil version an excruciating let-down.

Whilst this festival was the last installation of a three-year project, we can look forward to future solo Ramayana-inspired performances currently being developed by the in-house performers at Adishakti, under the direction of the foward-looking artistic director Veenapani Chawla.





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