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Sundara Kandam – The Signet Of Hope Was An Enchanting Experience!

Jeyanthi R. Ghatraju

(This article is sponsored by Masala Art)

The All India Movement (AIM) for Seva is a front runner in the list of Boston area charities, having won the coveted 4-Star rating in 2015 by Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management, accountability and transparency. Their mission lies in transforming the lives of thousands of rural and tribal children in India by hosting them in Free Student Homes (FSH) and enabling them to complete high school education. FSHs provide them a safe, caring and nurturing home-away-from-home environment for learning and self-development. 

AIM for Seva staged the dance drama production Sundara Kandam - The Signet of Hope, on Friday, September 18 at Regis College in Weston to celebrate this year’s fund raising campaign. It was an enormous success and an excellent production that kept the audience enthralled for the entire duration of the show.  If the first staging of this dance, at the Music Academy in Chennai last month, got a standing ovation and rounds of thunderous applause, the presentation in Boston out-beat the original show!   The collaborative effort by youthful and energetic dancers from India, predominantly disciples of the eminent guru Smt. Anita Guha of Bharatanjali, along with students of guru Padmini Ramachandran, and guru Sathyanarayanaraju resulted in a well-choreographed and beautifully executed dance ballet. What was striking was their synergy and the great conviction they all had for the cause at a young age (school age to young adult dancers) to travel out of their comfort zones and put in their fullest to become the main characters of the Ramayana. 

Sundara Kandam literally means “beautiful episode”, and is the fifth chapter in the epic Ramayana, composed by sage Valmiki. It is the only section in Ramayana wherein the hero is Hanuman, rather than Lord Rama. Hanuman is said to have been called Sundara by his mother Anjana and rishi Valmiki chose this name over others as this episode deals mainly with Hanuman’s journey to Sri Lanka in search of devi Sita.

The production opened with a grief-stricken Rama and Lakshmana whose efforts to find Sita are in vain – Rama questioning the river, birds and the trees if they have seen his beloved, and Lakshmana wailing in agony trying to console his brother. The first piece, in a traditional varnam style, was effectively portrayed thanks to the choice of jathis, ragams and the verses. Dancers Mithun and Pavitra did ample justice to the fine choreography with restrained expressions and synchronized jathis. 

Meanwhile, Hanuman, as a friend and counselor of Sugreeva, the younger brother of the vanara (monkey) king, Vali, listens patiently to his laments of losing his wife and kingdom. Spotting two strangers, and astounded by their charisma, Hanuman disguises as a sage to find out about them. A polite Hanuman asks the brothers if they were the holy trinity, great rulers or demi gods. Quite impressed by Hanuman’s pleasant demeanor, Rama asks Lakshmana to narrate the chain of events that had brought them to where they were. On hearing the narration, Hanuman happily seats the brothers on his strong shoulders and takes them to Sugreeva to form a pact and help each other. This would help Sugreeva regain his kingdom and he in turn should summon his vanara army in search of mother Sita.

The mighty Vali is intercepted by Sugreeva and his new friends and challenged for a duel. A major scuffle ensues; Rama is confused by the similar looks of the brothers and garlands Sugreeva with a string of flowers. This time around, Rama could easily identify Vali and kills him eventually. Sathvika as Hanuman and Yogesh and Tiruchelwam as Sugreeva and Vali, respectively were awesome. The fighting scene choreographed by Tiruchelwam deserves a special mention. Medha Hari, who played Vali’s wife Tara, was a splendid dancer with enormous energy and showed contrasting emotions of romance and sorrow in this scene quite vividly.

Lost in his new-found pleasures, Sugreeva needs to be reminded of his promise to Rama. Sugreeva apologizes for his lapse and immediately gets into action. The vanaras, along with Hanuman and Jambhavan (a bear), soon come to a dead-end looking over the ocean. Jambhavan quickly realizes that only Hanuman is capable of crossing over the vast expanse of the ocean. Rama hands over his signet ring to Hanuman and blesses him. With one single and stupendous leap Hanuman crosses over to Lanka! The initial apprehension and the faith in Ram’s name were ably expressed by Sathvika.

Every noble task has its hurdles and Hanuman is no exception. He encounters and overcomes several she-demons – Sursa, Simhika and Mainaka. Then he meets Lankini, the most powerful and loyal guardian of Lanka, who at first brushes him off.  Smrithi as Lankini was so adorable that the audience enjoyed and repeated her hand movements on the hallway even after the show! Hanuman eventually humbles her and breezes into the city. The other vanara roles played by Nivedita, Priyanka and Shruthipriya were also very supportive and original in their portrayal, with many amusing moments that were enjoyed by the youth in the audience.

The wickedly beautiful damsels who are talented musicians, the brawny men with their spells and actions, and other such sights and sounds of Lanka were a bit perplexing to Hanuman. Ashoka vanam, the grove, was still and silent with mother Sita in captivation. Lakshita as Sita did an impressive job for such a heavy role. The pompous Ravana, played by Pavitra Bhatt, showing a myriad of emotions such as undue desire, the rage in not achieving it and the insult caused by Sita’s words, was regal and powerful. After being tormented by she-demons on Ravana’s orders, a completely shattered Sita tries to end her life by hanging herself with her tresses. Hanuman who was quietly watching it all jumps to her rescue and faithfully hands over the signet ring that Rama had given him. In return, Sita gives her jewel, the choodamani, filled with tender joy at the sign of the ring from her beloved Rama and the hope for rescue that it signifies to her. 

On leaving the Ashoka vanam, Hanuman is caught and insulted in various ways and finally his tail is set on fire. But he frees himself, sets the entire city of Lanka on fire and leaves the island. As soon as he arrives in Kishkindha, exclaiming “kandaen Sithaiyai!” (Saw Sita!”) to everyone’s joy, he hands over the choodamani to Rama. Rama hugs Hanuman warmly and expresses his deep gratitude for a fine job done. Hanuman then counsels every one on the arduous task ahead. Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman and the entire Vanara army proceed towards Lanka, with all the vanaras chanting Rama’s name.

Overall, it was an immensely gratifying evening, thanks to several volunteers who had executed a well organized and seamless program that started promptly at 8 pm, after a delicious complimentary dinner for all guests catered by Minerva of Norwood, with a short invocation sung by children, a video on AIM for Seva and a brief introduction, followed by the dance and a brief vote of thanks.  It was a spectacular presentation with subtle supporting props, almost all with lights, excellent choice of music by Sri Neyveli Santhanagopalan and Guru Anita Guha’s choicest jathis at appropriate places. The crew for the pre-recorded music consisted of Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Sriranjani Santhanagopalan, Gayathri Venkataraghavan and Nisha Rajagopal on vocal, Suresh on percussion, Ranjani Ramakrishnan on the violin, Sruti Sagar on the flute, Bhargavi Balasubramanian on veena, and English compering by Revathy Sankaran. The ultimate message of the show was to enable us to support AIM for Seva’s efforts and be the messengers to bring the “Signet of Hope” to those children in under-privileged conditions.  

This is the third year that AIM for Seva has been bringing superlative dance productions to Boston area art lovers, having presented Prabhavati in 2013 and Meghadootam in 2014 to highly appreciative audiences. The Boston Chapter of AIM for Seva wishes to thank all donors, who generously contributed over $100,000 to help tribal and rural children in India finish high school education. Please visit www.aimforseva.org for more information.

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