Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reliving the saga of Ahalya Devi - Usha Nangiar

For Usha Nangiar, controversies always take a back seat when it comes to art. The front line exponent of Nangiar Koothu has performed in the Kochi- Muziris biennale twice and with other two performances remaining, Usha says that she has a memorable experience performing in the biennale. Primarily for the reason that her performance could attract a lot of people irrespective of the technical intricacies involved in the particular art form and secondly, she performed for the first time, the known but less explored character of Ramayana, ‘Ahalya Devi’.

Speaking about the controversies surrounding the biennale, she says, “I was aware of it but my thoughts hardly linger on it. And I think this is the first time a biennale has ever incorporated traditional art forms under its ambit which should be appreciated.”

For biennale, she first performed in Mathilakam and later at Changampuzha park where she says that a packed audience saw her performance.“In Mathilakam, people are not much aware of Nangiarkoothu, but yet they enjoyed throughout the performance. It might be because of the myth associated with the place. There is a reference that Ilankovadikal wrote Chilappathikaram there. But in Changampuzha park, I felt altogether a different experience  while performing ‘Ahalyamokshma Nangiarkoothu’. It is much more personal. The tempo of my emotions at that point of time was at its zenith. I felt as though lady-luck was constantly smiling at me on that day,” says a jubilant Usha.

She says that she is greatly thankful for whoever who have actually suggested this particular theme.  Though there were initial apprehensions about it, later it was proved that all anxieties were for naught.
“It opened an arena which I have never explored before. Since I did not have sufficient reference material to know more about the character, I relied completely on Ramayana.

Immersed in deep thought, Usha Nangiar says that Ahalya, the wife of celibate sage Gauthama was living the life of an obedient wife until the amorous eyes of Indra fell on her.Her life turns topsy- turvy when Indra deceives her by approaching her in the guise of her husband. Discovering the truth, sage Gauthama not only curse her but also turns her into a stone. “I want to portray the emotions and angst of a woman who is trapped in a stone,” she says.

Usha says that though inside a stone, Ahalya is aware of the world around her. Seasons change, hunger, thirst, scorching sun, parching cold engulfs her. But she could not do anything to help herself. Her travails slowly become a silent but strong prayer of utter faith.“Her redeemer Rama feels the divinity of the place when he reaches where Ahalya lies as a stone. When he knows the truth, the great lord bows before her and says she is redeemed. Till that portion, she is addressed as Ahalya but then as ‘Ahalya Devi’ which says that she commands respect,” says Usha. 

She points out that throughout the whole performance, there are four special points which presents the mental-scape of Ahalya. I believe that I could portray the mental angst of Ahalya Devi and above all, it was a day when everything fell into places,” she says.

Usha Nangiar says that the character of Ahalya Devi assumes significance as hers is a life that has overcome all the hurdles with her sheer perseverance and sacrifice.“Now-a-days, we believe in extremes. If we can’t take anymore, we cull out that portion from our life mercilessly or else we suffer tremendously. But we tend to forget that there lies a midway. Hence the life of Ahalya Devi is of paramount significance in this scenario,” she says with a satisfied smile.

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