Surpanakha in Muharram

Project 88 is going to be a converging point for religions today. Two of the India Foundation for the Arts’ grant winners will be showcasing a duo of eye-opening acts — an audio-visual presentation on the study of Muharram tradition in West Bengal, and a lecture-demonstration on Surpanakha (Ramayana) through Kathak.

Ashavari Majumdar performing her dance piece, Surpanakha

Epsita Haldar, who has studied Muharram traditions, speaks of how her interest began, “Years ago, I was drawn to a story that my father would tell me, the story of the defeat of the righteous, and a thirsty band of soldiers in the desert. Later, I discovered the story in the history of Islam — the battle of Karbala.” She adds that for a section of Muslims, Imam Husayn’s martyrdom forms an important part of their identity. The Shias, who are the biggest minorities within the Muslim community, grieve for this young man with passion.

The well-known Bangla poet further relates, “The community’s piety is formed through the acts of listening and performing the sacred texts — the marsiyas and nohas,” as she remarks how after attending many majlises, she found it to be “like theatre where expressions and bodily functions during the performance are as important as the actual words.” Explaining this unique presentation, she remarks, “This is perhaps the first visual documentation of a traditional religious practice.”

While Halder asserts the Shia tradition, Ashavari Majumdar, who also hails from Kolkata like Halder, subverts Hinduism. “I read Paula Richmon’s Many Ramayanas — an anthology of essays on different versions of the Ramayana. With versions where Hanuman is not a celibate Brahmachari but a ‘playboy’, Sita is not the powerless female — I found it amazing that as far as the ‘public’ is concerned there is only one official version of the Ramayana,” says Majumdar

While reading Kathleen Erndl’s essay, Mutiliation of Surpankha, the sympathetic portrayal struck a chord with her. She is seen “as a single woman who roams free in the forest, unprotected by any man — a rebel almost,” which Majumdar takes as the focal point and divided her production into three sections.

“The first focuses on the brother-sister relationship, the second her relationship with Sita — a rival but also fellow victim of patriarchy and thirdly, where Surpanakha is a forest dweller, an erotic figure who at the same time is in search of spirituality.”

ON Today, 7 pm onwards
AT Project 88, Colaba.
CALL 22810066 / 99

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