Sathyanarayana Raju’s riveting Ramakatha
- Dr. Sunil Kothari

December 13, 2013

It is said that till there are mountains on the earth and rivers will flow, Ramakatha will continue to spread in the universe. Yavatsthyasyanti girayah, sarita scha mahitale…. Ramasya katha lokeshu pracharishyanti. Watching Bengaluru based Bharatanatyam dancer Sathyanarayana Raju’s solo performance of Ramakatha at India International Centre on 12th November, one was reminded of the shloka. Sathyanarayana was in great form. The performance was a tour de force.

And what wonderful teamwork it was. Srivatsa’s soulful singing to the ace nattuvangam by Shakuntala, adroit mridangam by Lingaraju, melodious flute by Delhi based Raghuraman, appropriate mood lighting by Sai Venkatesh and unobtrusive commentary by Usha RK, embellished the performance with such intensity that one was lost in rasanubhava, relish that one enjoys when all elements converge in a seamless manner.

As one watches Sathya from performance to performance, one realizes how he has been scaling great artistic heights. His Ramakatha is his signature performance. So intense is his presentation that each character he etches lingers long in memory. Using props discreetly and suggestively, with a bow and an arrow placed on a stand in one corner with a colorful scarf, suggesting Rama, Sathya managed to enlarge the scope of ekaharya lasyanga concept, a dancer performing in one costume, and using a scarf or a piece of cloth to depict another character, and it worked as an artistic  ploy.

Right from the entry on the stage with a bow and arrow in his hand, and placing them on the stand, Sathya with a devotional mood, renders kriti of waking of Lord Rama and moves on to depicting child Rama taking his first baby steps of walking. Kaushalya’s concern at his attempts and her motherly love all found a felicitous expression in Sathya’s impersonation. The singing of Thumaki chalat Ramachandra saw the audience humming the song with delight. The script, concept in collaboration with Usha RK, Srivatsa and Sathya was well chosen for key characters of Ramayana that flowed easily from sequence to sequence. When Rama was to be crowned as King, Ayodhya was all agog with celebrations. Sathya placed garlands round the stage while dancing with joy, creating visual images of merriment. From there to introducing Manthara, taking pallu of her saree twisting and turning, showing evil thoughts on her face, unable to bear  Rama’s coronation, scheming and poisoning Kaikeyi’s mind, instigating her to ask Dasartha for two boons he had promised and send Rama for fourteen years to a forest and make her own son Bharata as king, Sathya brought alive the evil character of Manthara. In a split second he switched over to Dasaratha, cajoling Kaikeyi and feeling heartbroken at her demands. The audience shared as it were the agony of a helpless father, so moving was the portrayal. Guha, the boatman in Kaivat prasang, ferries across Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. Sathya enacted subtly, doubts the boatman had of Rama touching with his feet a stone, which would turn into a female. Rama assures him that it won’t happen and the boatman ferries the three of them across the river. It was depicted as an excellent narrative.

Shabari offering fruits after testing them saw Sathya enacting Shabari’s frail, bent and aged body in a manner that was completely convincing. When she sees Rama arriving, lights designer Sai Venkatesh lit up that corner of the stage brilliantly. Shabari’s expression of sheer joy on seeing Rama, Rama blessing Shabari and gently touching her body, saw Sathya portray the two characters of Shabari and Rama alternatively. Sathya transforms with such ease that it is no wonder he wins the admiration of the audience and their genuine appreciation of his abhinaya.

But what touched one the most was Hanuman’s single minded devotion. In that familiar song Hanumanta, bending his legs, folding his palms and going around Rama, investing the character of Hanuman with various shades, assuring Rama to bring back Sita, going to Lanka with his ring, turning round on one leg, extending his hands and as it were flying across ocean, cleverly entering into the palace, watching Sita from a tree placing her braid round her neck to hang herself on a tree branch, jumping before her offering Rama’s ring to her et al, Sathya created the scene with deft touches and great economy. Taking Choodamani with him, returning to Rama, Hanuman gets caught and the guards set his tail on fire, which in turn Hanuman uses to burn Lanka. It was performed with great imagination. The movements depicting burning of Lanka, with two palms and stretched out fingers suggesting fire was effective. In the end, Hanuman opens his chest to show how Rama is seated in his heart. It was a brilliant image, evocative and familiar to one and all.

Monkeys build bridge across the ocean, rolling on floor, lifting stones and throwing in the ocean. Rama is satisfied with their endeavors, crosses the ocean and engages in duel with ten headed Ravana, ten heads shown suggestively. The battle sees Ravana being killed. The shooting of arrows by Ravana and Rama with effective war music and red lighting was dramatic. The finale with singing of Pattabhishekam and joyous mood of people of Ayodhya, rendering of tillana and bringing arati lamp offering to the bow and arrow placed on the wooden stand in a corner, showering flower petals on it and bowing to audience, the impact was of such piety. These were touches one would remember for long.

Srivatsa’s specially penned songs for Ramakatha, selected songs of Thyagaraja and exquisite abhinaya by Sathya, interspersed with appropriate Bharatanatyam placed the performance on a high artistic level. So powerful is the impact and aesthetic delight that I feel it should be seen in many cities.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and a renowned dance critic. He is a regular contributor to, is the roving critic for monthly magazine Sruti and a contributing editor of Nartanam for the past 12 years.