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Silappadhikaram - A Visual Treat

Ranjani Saigal

Silappadhikaaram (authority of the anklets) is considered by many scholars of Indian literature and history to be the gem of the literature of the Sangam era. It is one of the five major tamil epics which are clubbed together as the “Ayimperumkappiyum”.

Cleveland Cultural Alliance under the direction of G. Narendra produced a spectacular dance drama based on this epic. The lyrics for the production were penned by Kanimozhi Karunanidhi and set to music by Bombay Jayashri Ramnath.

The presentation in the Boston area was held on Nov. 21 at the Sorenson Arts Center at Babson College. The presentation was sponsored by the Academy of Indian Performing Arts which is the brainchild of local Bharatanatyam dancer Jothi Raghavan.

The drama tells the story of two women in love with the hero - Kovalan. His wife, Kannagi, remains steadfast and loyal despite her husband's lengthy affair with Madhavi, a beautiful and sophisticated courtesan.

During the grand Indra Vizha a famous festival when the streets are filled with dance, music and gaiety that draw Madhavi attention Kovalan wrongly suspects her of  infidelity. He leaves her and returns to his wife. When Kovalan  returns home, penniless, his wife gives him her precious ankle bracelet to sell. Accused of stealing the anklet from the queen, he immediately is executed. Kannagi, enraged, confronts the royal couple, proves her husband's innocence and burns down the ancient city of Madurai.

The drama opened with a “Kuravas (gypsies)” dance in front of a Kannagi temple where through dance and music the Kuravas tell the story of Kannagi to a passer-by.  The drama then moved to Puhar in Chozha Nadu home to Kannagi and Kovalan. The drama brilliantly established the place with dances that described the greatness of Chozha Nadu. A sensitive portrayal of the marriage of Kannagi (Mahalakshmi)and Kovalan (Shijith Kumar)  followed. It clearly established the youth and innocence of the two major characters of the play.

The play then moved to the Arangetram hall where Madhavi is introduced. The depiction of the Arangetram was beautiful. Including the names of the advaus “Thatti Mettu, Nattu, Kuthu” etc in the sollukattu gave a unique touch to the presentation.  Kovalan is mesmerized by Madhavi (Krishankshi Sharma) and leaves his wife for this elegant courtesan. 

The next scene – The Indra Vizha was the piece-de-resistance of the whole show. The festival theme offered ample scope for the showcasing of various dance forms. Peacock Dance, Tiger Dance and other forms of folk dances were presented. Kudos to the composer for seamlessly blending classical and folk tunes in a manner that was very pleasing to the ear. Madhavi plays a prominent role in festivities which depresses Kovalan. He leaves Madhavi and returns to Kannagi who accepts him without reproach. The play the moves to Pandya Nadu and the Marketplace scene beautifully established a city atmosphere. The meeting of Kovalan with the jeweler and the wrongful accusation and killing of Kovalan followed. The play ends in a grand finale with the burning of Madurai.

The play was very creatively choreographed by G.Narendra and brilliantly executed by the very talented dancers.  The costumes were aesthetically done as were the props and the lighting. The only negative aspect was that the focus of the presentation was more on the Indra Vizha and other scenes that describe the land rather than on Kannagi and Madhavi. While it was billed as “A story of Women of Substance” the character, particularly of Madhavi was not well developed. The male dancers overshadowed the presentation. The female dancers were excellent artists and given the right opportunity could have delivered better characterizations. This criticism not withstanding the production was certainly a visual treat for the Boston audience who went home quite satisfied after witnessing a stellar dance performance.


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