An Afternoon with Andal

Held on a rare sunny day in Sydney this winter, I rushed into the newly built Macquarie University Art Gallery. It was to attend the Creative Practice Research Symposium held by the Macquarie University India Research Centre developing wings under the leadership of Ethnomusicologist Adrian McNeil.

Well thought out the Creative Practice Research Symposium included discussions about traditionality and interculturality and the politics and challenges of sustainability faced by those in the creative arena in a global world.

Participants were Dr Anita Ratnam a leading international practitioner and Yuddhishthir Raj Isar a leading international cultural theorist, and a well educated audience whose participating zeal added spice to the discussion in the confines of the cosy and intimate hall of the Gallery.

The discussion was preceded by some exquisite choreographic work by Anita Ratnam who presented her ‘powerful women’ with a twist, a part of her production work from Ma3ka. Footsteps resounded the wooden floors of the Gallery when Anita introduced her Vishalakshi, to the poetry of Muthuswamy Dikshidhar in ‘Annapurni Vishalakshi’ in Raagam Shyama. Simply yet elegantly dressed in black and gold Anita Ratnam danced the story of Brahma who after being cursed is released by Annapoorni Devi from it.

After a brief introduction of the ancient tamil poet as the only female poet in her time, Anita brought Andal to life. Andal sits on a wooden chair in the middle of the wooden floor and the modern room and its audience are transformed into the inner sanctum sanctorum of a 12th century temple in the deep recesses of Southern India to the sounds of chanting of male domineering vocals depicting the male dominant world from which arises Andal.

Andal’s desperation, youthful and innocent expectations, desire and more to become one with her Lord as she Anita, raises her voice to speak to the conch held by Vishnu wondering why she, Andal, could not take its place and says “Karpuram Naarumo ? Kamalapoo Narumo? ”. What was this portrayal? A dance, a drama, a theatrical work, or sheer poetry and should we care to define it?

From the exquisite mind and sanctuary of Andal, Anita drew her audience into the challenging portrayal of Mahalakshmi. Adorning her beautiful jewels and her long braid of hair, today’s Mahalakshmi comes armed with other modern effects, asking yet again, what does modern civilization value more? What does Mahalakshmi represent in today’s world?

The unsettling ugly schizophrenic frenzy of Tara depicting the melee in a woman’s world today, came in movements that were very visually and emotionally challenging until Tara embraces a stillness as the resonance of the tanpura fill the hall, the end comes as a relief.

There is much to learn from Anita Ratnam, whose take on any thing has a well balanced inclusion of multi media, lighting and sound effects, very finely put together, it was a delight to get to meet both Anita and her Women.

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