2011 – Sitayana: – A Musical Dance Drama
By Meena Jeyakumar
“Thousands of years hence, this story will be told and retold. Many authors will interpret it in plays and ballads. Children will act out skits in languages yet to be born. People of alien races and cultures, clad in strange costumes, speaking stranger tongues, and living in lands far away from here will listen to this tale and admire it.”
So said Brahma when he urged Valmiki to write the tale of Rama, but he may never have predicted that thousands of years hence it is the story of Sita which is being told and retold in a land far away from where it was born. Not the story of virtuous and submissive Sita in subordinate role, but the story of virtuous and strong Sita; ideal, chaste wife who was devoted to her husband till the end of her life, who shared his adversities, and served him untiringly in the forest; married to the perfect man who was virtuous, brave, dutiful, truthful, noble, and kind to all beings.
So why does the virtuous Sita have to prove her purity and innocence to her virtuous husband, King Rama? This is the question which drove Sathyaprya Mandjiny, an International Studies and South Asian studies student at UNC, Chapel Hill, to bring the story of Sita to life in the musical dance drama “Sitayana” staged on August 20, 2011 at Cary Arts Center, Cary, NC for Hum Sub Inc.
Adapted from K.R. Srinivas Iyengar’s “Sitayana-Epic tale of the Earth–Born”, this musical dance drama was a cumulative effort of Sathyaprya, who not only conceived the idea but also portrayed the role of Sita, Ramya Kapadia, a Carnatic vocalist and a Bharatnatyam dancer and teacher who choreographed the dance, and Smitha K. Prasad, also a Carnatic vocalist trained in Bharatnatyam who scored the music.
With a cast of over 20 dancers and a live orchestra consisting of talented artists from the triangle region, it was a treat and an honor to watch this performance. The amazing vocals by Ramya, Smitha and Siri Varadan was supported with Veena by Kalyan Sundhar, Flute by Sindura, Mridangam by Kushal Seetharam, Table by Maressa McCall and with Keyboard, and Ghatam by Anuj Kapadia.
The uniqueness of this production was that the story was told in verse form in English as written by K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, who is a professor of English. This made it so much easier for the non–Indian attendees and the children to understand the essence of each scene and correlate the mudras and bhavas with the story being told.
While portraying the saga of the character Sita, the writers of the production also took effort to address all the seven kandas as depicted in Ramayana and made sure all the important plots of Ramayana was either portrayed or narrated through different characters.
In Bala–Kanda scene, we saw the birth of Sita and her childhood years with her sisters Urmila, Mandavi and Srutakirti. In Ayodhya–Kanda, Rama-Sita story was told from the time of their marriage in Mithila to their exile in forest. In Aranya–Kanda, we were shown the visit of the couple to the ashrams of Rishis Sarabhanga, Sutikshna, and Atri. Also included was the inspiring discourse by Anasuya, wife of Atri, to Sita on the duties of a wife.
The happenings of Kishkindha were summarized retrospectively by Hanuman to Sita when he meets her under the Simsupa tree in the Ashokavan in Lanka, while the Sundara-Kanda and Yuddha-Kanda was narrated to Sita by Trijata, the daughter of Vibheeshana.
The story of Rama normally ends in Uttara-Kanda with the portrayal of Ramarajya. But Sita’s story went beyond and as the last chapter of Sitayana unfolded, the tragedy of Sita’s life, her walk through flames to prove her purity, her subsequent exiled life in Valmiki’s ashram and finally her disappearance to the womb of the earth was so poignantly and artistically portrayed that it brought a grand applause from the audience.
Sitayana was not only the story of the leading woman of the epic “Ramyana”, but it also addressed many strong woman of Ramayan like Gargi, Maitreyi, Katyayini, Arundhati, Ahalya, Lopamudra, Mandodari and Tara, all intellectual strong woman yet helpless in the actions of the men in their life.
This was the first full length musical drama venture for Ramya kapadia and from the response of the audience in Cary Arts Center, it was an very successful attempt. The cast of Sathyaprya as Sita and Teja Yarlagadda as Rama was brilliant. Mrinal Das as Ravana drew lot of applause and kaushik Swaminathan as hanuman was enthralling. Bethanie Mickles as Surpanakha needs special mention for her riveting performance. They were all ably supported by the rest of the cast members.
Also a mention should be given to the amazing auditorium at Cary Arts Center with the state of art equipment for lights, sound and projection, which took the show to a whole new level of sophistication.
Hum Sub is honored to present this feast of visual and musical presentation and provide a platform to bring all talented artists of the local region to come together and showcase their ability to a diverse audience that was present that day.