The Centre for Women’s study in collaboration with Mythili & Raman Arts, organised a Dance festival, Raas, 2018, Being Woman, on 5th May at 6.00 p.m. at DST, the Savitribhai Phule Auditorium. Mythili & Raman Arts is an initiative to promote the arts by organizing unique festivals that will engage with performers and audiences in a novel way. This organization attempts to make a positive difference in the dance world in their own little way with the best interests of artists and art in mind, by providing opportunities for dancers and for expressing their own creative unrest through novel productions. These two dancers, Mythili and Raman, are not limited by the goal of self-promotion. Like many other dancers, they have struggled for good opportunities to perform, and swept their savings clean in the pursuit of dance and been disillusioned by pay and perform festivals. They are not happy with several corrupt practices (such as organizers who charge money from artists for a stage) and a system, which expects the dancer to bear the cost at every step. They wish to restore some dignity and value to the artist, even if she is a novice. For long, dance has been the preserve, primarily of the elite and there is an absence of a level dancing field. In their our little way, they wish to make a change – a miniscule, but meaningful one, not a sprawling, superficial one. If dance ceases to be about the joy of life, love and humanity, and gets entangled in petty and narrow self-interests, then, it is time to re-think.

Prof. Rekha Pande, the Head of the CWS, introduced the concept of Being Woman. Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex (1949) had said, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. The woman is treated as a woman because of her physical sex, which is different from her emotional and social gender. She had written that , if her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question “what is a woman”? Now, what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that she – a free and autonomous being like all human creatures – nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilize her as object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed and forever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and sovereign. The drama of woman lies in this conflict between the fundamental aspirations of every subject (ego) – who always regards the self as the essential and the compulsions of a situation in which she is the inessential. every woman needs to know to discover the amazing, powerful woman she is. Filled with insightful wisdom and love, the Essence of Being a Woman will take you on your own inner journey to discover the power you possess at your core essence, to live an amazing life full of everything your heart desires! An understanding of the ‘woman’s self’, hence, calls for a discussion of the concepts of self, identity, individual, and freedom contextualized in her existence as a member of her society.

The performances of social order require the faithful performance of daily rituals, roles over and over gain in one’s life time. Complex networks of cultural reproduction are dedicated to this sole purpose This is done in order to locate identities in a hierarchy of domination and subordination which are produced in different times and spaces and are as a result of the process of gendering. Being a woman and a feminist at that is recognizing that apart from gender-based injustices there are multiple structural inequalities that underlie the social order and to believe that change is possible and to work for it at which ever level possible.

She pointed out that in her own work on the Women Bhaktas , she finds many of these women were beyond gender. In the ‘bhakti’ tradition, the differentiating lines between men and women come under erasure. One of the renowned Veerashaiva bhaktas from Karnataka, Dasimayya, belonging to a lower-caste exclaims:
If they see Breasts and long hair coming
They call it woman,

If beard and whiskers they call it man:

But, look, the self that hovers In between Is neither man nor woman O Ramanatha.

The self, the spirit, is beyond the confines of male or female. Thus women in the bhakti movements “take on” all the qualities traditionally attributed to men. Some of them live outdoors all by themselves, have choice in sex – “refuse sex to (their) husband(s)”, or even abandon the husband, children and family.

Mythili Anoop, then introduced the concept, that at a time, when multiple conceptualizations of womanhood inspire and occupy the distinct spheres of our contemporary reality, when being a woman can be both empowering and devastating, we engage with the notion of womanhood as articulated in the classical Indian dances. Between the two extremes of the naayika, whose shades vary from the lady adorning herself and waiting for her lover and lord to the experienced woman who has total power over her lord, or the omnipotent Devi who in her multiple forms embody motherhood, kindness, fury and sexuality, the classical dances portray a wide range of womanhood. Although criticized for reconfirming patriarchal notions of womanhood, it is our belief that classical dances provide us the vocabulary to articulate distinct and nuanced portrayals of identity that negotiate with the dominant or prescribed norms for femininity. In this performance, we bring different possibilities that the classical dances offer to portray womanhood- from the traditional depictions of womanhood, to an epic retold from a woman character’s perspective, to the lesser known characters from mythology who have exercised their agency and the more universal realities of a woman’s life.

After a welcome song by Ms. Urvijya a Ph.d. scholar from CWS, Students of Dr Mythili Maratt Anoop from Arun’s Rainbow Home for Girls, presented Mukhachalam, a dance composition in Mohiniyattam. The indigenous rhythms of Sopana Sangeetham was showcased in the composition written by Kavalam Narayana Panikker. The young girls presented the swaying, graceful and lilting movements of the dance form. Their performance was sponsored by W Design Studio.

After this was the performance in Kuchipudi by, Sindhuja S and Sampreeti Malladi. These are both architects who have pursued their master’s degree in Dance (Kuchipudi) and are now working on their doctoral research (recipients of JRF by HRD Ministry) in dance from University of Hyderabad. As students who have explored the allied fields of arts, they endeavour to translate their learning through readings to dance. They have performed extensively all over the country and abroad, both as soloists and as part of their teacher Dr. Yashoda Thakore’s dance ensemble. In their dance Item: Samajna; they conceived the creation, the gender, the women. Chudala, a women character from mythology with whom we find resonance till date. Though she obtains self-­‐realization, she had to transform herself as a man to make her husband, king Sikidhwaja understand the path to enlightenment. The husband treats (or rather assumes to) her as equal in the mundane and spiritual realms. Then why wouldn’t he, the husband, the man not willing to listen to her in her female manifestation? This story probably talks about the little ego even the best of men possess that hinders him from understanding the true spirit of universe. The composition was set to instrumental music and used dialogues in English making it easy for the audience to relate to the story.

This was followed by a performance of Bharatnatyam by Mandara B.S. Mandara Sreenath from Bangalore has been a very active danceuse with 10 years of dancing experience. She has vast experience of performance including Hampi Utshava, Bala tripura sundari festival, Sri sharada kuchipudi fest , Shantala nrityotsav, World dance day performance by avs, Ardhanaarishwara fest,Delhi and mount Abu brahmakumaris. Krishna janmashtami vidyapeetha, she has been DD chandana grade artist kuchipudi . She has completed her Kuchipudi senior Rangapravesha and she won the 2nd prize at Yuvotsava state level competition. Her dance Item was , Trishakti in a women: One modern women= Three goddesses.Classical dances have several compositions dedicated to the different forms of Devi. In this particular piece, Mandara explores how ordinary women in their day-today lives assume the qualities ascribed to Devi- as a knowledge giver, as one who provides food and comfort, and as one who, when put in challenging and dangerous situations fights ruthlessly.

Next was, Priyanka Bharde in Kuchipudi style. Priyanka Bharde is a Senior System Architect in Capgemini, & a Professional Kuchipudi Dancer having done her official Rangapravesham by her Guru, Dr. P. Rama Devi. She has been honoured with the titles, NRITHYA VILASINI and NRITHYA KALA SAMPOORNA in Kuchipudi & Popular choice Award in several Intercorporate Solo dance championships. Her dance Item was , Shambho Mahaveda, showing the Tandava aspects of kuchipudi. Priyanka Bharde presented Shambho Mahadeva, a composition in which there are three male characters, Lord Shiva, Yama, and Markandeya. The story of the young Brahmin boy, Markandeya, who was saved from Yama, by Lord Shiva was presented. Priyanka showed that, Kuchipudi which was originally performed only by men, now is dominated by women dancers, who also don all the male character roles.

The last item was, on Kathak by Mitha Vinay. Mitha Vinay is one of the young and talented Kathak dancers from Hyderabad. She has been trained in Kathak for more than 15 years, under the tutelage of Guru Nandini Mehta and Guru K Murali Mohan of NADAM, Bangalore. She has given innumerable performances in the most prestigious places across India and abroad along with the NADAM ensemble and also as a Soloist. Her performances are a combination of grace and rhythm. She marks her performances with high energy and a youthful charm, winning appreciations and encomiums from the audience and critics alike. Her dance item was, “Naari-A women” stages in a women’s life. This song emphasizes on the various roles played by a women. Sometimes she is a Mother and sometimes a daughter. She is a lover and she knows to balance the entire family as a wife. When all of her life is being offered to someone else and where she should be looked upon highly and worshiped for doing so, it is so unfortunate that she is being exploited and put in gruesome situations even today. Mitha’s dance was composed to the song Dhanye Dhanye Naari Jeevan written by Ajay Jhingran and sung by Sonu Nigam. Mitha depicted several social ills such as female infanticide and bride burning through the melodious piece.

Interaction with artists and Chief Guest’s remarks: The performances were followed by an interaction with artists, wherein each artist described her inspiration behind the pieces they presented. The Chief guest, Col Prakash Tiwari commented that, he was able to relate to each and every dance piece that was presented, because of the talent of the artists in switching from one character and situation to another effortlessly. Furthermore, he also remarked that many of the dance pieces presented contemporary realities which were easier for an audience to identify with. Among the audiences were also nearly 50 girls from Arun’s Rainbow Home, their visit to the University being sponsored by W Design Studio. The performers gave them a message to be strong, brave and self-confident during their interaction with others and feel proud of the fact that they are girls and would be women.

– Report prepared by, Centre for Women’s Studies, Rekha Pande, Mythili Anoop and Gullapi Raman Kumari.