Dravya Kaya (dravya is object and kaya means body) is a work that focuses upon select objects or props from the Ramayana—the Indian epic which could be rightfully called a complete religious/social/aesthetic drama. It is the long and tragic story of the Hindu god Rama who in recent times has been appropriated by the Hindu right and in fact converted into the brand-image of Hindu fundamentalism. Dravya Kaya is an attempt to reclaim, or rather reinvent Rama by entering his story through the neutral agency of objects. The work attempts to imagine the visceral exchange between these objects and their human users! It explores the tenacity of Rama’s Kodanda bow—the dynamics of bow making as well as the bow-ness of the archer’s body; the sensuality of valakala vastra or the bark garment that Sita is ordered to wear when banished into the forest; the inside/outside dialectic as it pertains between the free expanse of the earth and the binding propensity of food/hunger through the episode of Lakshmana Rekha, where Sita chooses to transgress the magical line as she offers alms to the mendicant/kidnapper Ravana; and finally the quality of rock-headedness of a mob, however devotional, be it the innocent vanarasena or the army of monkeys who bridge the ocean to enable Rama to cross over to Lanka, or the deeply communal and vicious swayamsevaks who demolished the Barbari mosque in 1992, rock by rock. Dravya Kaya is an attempt to deliberately shift the focus from the venerated super-human characters of this religious story and instead attend upon the neutral properties which they wield or engage with, in the hope to render their personas more human.

Choreographer’s Note: A section of Dravya Kaya was first made for the Natya Kala Conference at the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, in December 2008; the theme of the conference was "Ramayana." Ever since 1992, when a mob of Hindu rightwing rioters demolished the early 16th century, Barbari Masjid, claiming that the mosque was built upon the historical site of Rama’s birth, I had desisted dancing Rama-centric pieces for fear of being seen to be endorsing the fundamentalists. In fact, one of my teachers from Kalakshetra even exclaimed, "Aiyo! Now how can we dance and sing praises of Rama ever again?"

Apart from the obvious political reasons for which I and millions of others were outraged, the thing that disturbed me deeply about the fundamentalists was their need to pull Rama into the realm of the tangible by pinning down his birth to a physical site. To me, characters like Rama (and even Ranjha whom I explore in my other work, Fana’a: Ranjha Revisited) are fluid entities who lie fully ensconced in their poetic realities that run parallel to ours and which we may freely tap into at will. They are there because of the poetry that they inhabit and which conversely engulfs and constructs them. They and their poetic narrative are one, and in turn their poetic universe significantly informs our sense of self. Rukmini Devi used to say that Rama and Sita belong to every Indian, and even though such a statement might seem politically problematic today, there is truth to it; I can definitely say that they deeply inform the Hindu and Sikh psyche. We may choose to celebrate them, emulate them, or even challenge them, but they remain primary reference points and abiding cultural archetypes for us. Thus, Dravya Kaya is an attempt to reclaim Rama—the cultural archetype—from the clutches of Hindutatva, and this I decided to do through the neutral agency of props and objects found in the Ramayana.  

If I were not a dancer, I would be a designer. I am fascinated by shape and design of objects and am curious of how inanimate objects dictate movement and engagement. I also find it extremely fascinating that objects that surround us help in telling our story. They are not just inanimate things but signifiers in themselves, signifying us and our times, so they are silent repositories of our biographies and the historical contexts that we inhabit. In Dravya Kaya, or quite literally Object-Body, I explore how an object attracts attention, offers direction and elicits movement and engagement. Thus exploring the epic drama one property at a time: bamboo, bark, earth and rock, but with an eye on the social and political reality as it implicates Rama today.

Credits:

Choreography: Navtej Johar
Performed by Navtej Johar & Sudeep Kumar
Music Composition & Vocal by G Elangovan

ALMOST A TOUCH
             for Navtej & Sunil

              kodanda rama, gambhira rama
              
ranadhira rama, mamadhira rama

Moving ever-so gently, diagonally towards each other,
    your lower torsos draped in off-white linen
bear delicate crimson-green borders of matted gold.

Your outstretched hands, the two dancers’ finger-tips
    about to meet, but instead you change tracks
to move in a parallel line, and then in a smooth circle.

You depict the story of Ram’s bow – kodanda,
    
of the strict line of periphery Lakshman rekha
breached its dangers of trespass and longing;

of Sita’s disrobing sari’s endless unwrapping
    
balkalavastra — linen-bandage protecting devotion;
and of stones the monkeys gathered to form a form.

Bamboo, bark, earth, rock elements that construct
    
wave-like arcs, arched snake-hood, the fangs, the tips
always seem to touch each other but do not

stopping just before the nail-tips feather-touch.
    
Looking into each other’s eyes directly and askance
your feet mark another map, a map that love defies.

You swan-swim with a dancer bearing my name,
    
your upper torsos bare and open like your hearts,
deep-felt nerve-ends electricity waiting to spark.



Sudeep Sen

http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth5694A6A40a1c11E78AviO1CF2D4D
Editor, Atlas | Editorial Director, Aark Arts
www.atlasaarkarts.net | www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/index.asp?id=91
Virtues of Materialism

Responses

For Review click: http://www.narthaki.com/info/rev09/rev780.html