“Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara, Mandodari Tatha, Pancha Kanyah Smarennityam Maha Pataka Nasinah” (One should forever remember the “Pancha Kanya”, who are the destroyers of great sins)
Alekhya and Chinta Ravibalakrishna as Mandodari and Ravana. Photos: N Shiva Kumar Meru
While Mandodari, the wife of Ravana Brahma, the ten-headed king of Lanka in Ramayana is touted as one of the noblest women of the Puranas, she hardly finds a detailed mention in any of the mythologies.
A resplendent crown shining in all its glory yet forlorn, fallen in its grace is all you see on the dark stage – a visual that is simple in its rendition yet says so much. The story goes back to the beautiful Mandodari being given away in marriage to the majestic Ravana, his affection for her, their joy during the birth of Meghanatha who brings glory by defeating Indra before Ravana is a bid to revenge his sister Soorpanakha’s disgrace in the hands of Ram’s brother Lakshmana, goes on to abduct Ram’s wife Sita.
From there on Mandodari’s anguish as a wife and her sorrow at losing her son in the battle and finally the heartrending scene where she moans her slain husband – the dance drama ‘Mandodari’ conceptualised and presented by Alekhya Punjala was a riveting extravaganza that left one heady with the experience of a powerful story told in one of the most exquisite manners. Stunning performances, stagecraft that is elegant, seamless presentation, excellent choreography, tastefully done costumes and lights used in a way that elevates the whole experience made ‘Mandodari’ treat to all senses.
The beautifully rendered script needs a special mention. It was poetry at its best; the splendour of Telugu language displayed charmingly well by Dandibothla Vaikunta Narayana Murthy to which DSV Sastry’s music composition added vigour. The dancers showcased poise and proficiency over their craft, especially Chinta Ravibalakrishna who plays Ravana. From the awe-inspiringly executed introduction scene to the last one where Ravana refuses to listen to Mandodari even though he too is anguished over his son’s death, and later succumbs to Ram’s arrow during the battle, Ravibalakrishna captured the audience’s attention with his striking “nritya”.
Alekhya Punjala, the main brain behind the ballet showcased brilliance in her abhinaya moving the audience to tears in the process. She says the idea has been with her since the time she gave a lec-dem on Mandodari at Natyakala Conference in Chennai a few years ago. However, the script took a long time, and meanwhile, she also had presented yet another important dance drama on Rudrama Devi. More so, since so little information was available to her. “Even though I took off from ‘Mandodari Shabdam’, I steered away from using it fearing an increase in the length of the ballet. I had to ruthlessly chop off stanzas and episodes.
There is one scene where Mandodari is believed to have visited Asoka Vanam to see Sita, the woman whom her husband is obsessing over, wondering what it must be that she has to have attracted him so. In fact, Mandodari is supposed to have been very beautiful so much so that Hanuman during his search for Sita, mistakes her to be Ram’s wife until he realises Sita cannot be decked in such finery while being away from Ram.
The concept is based on my thoughts as a woman; what she must have gone through with a husband like Ravana, who was a womaniser, who does not pay heed to her warnings and abducts Sita. She is “Uttama Nayika”. She can’t behave like a regular woman. Hence, the script shows how she must have loved her husband, taken care of him like a wife, lover, and as a mother, her helplessness in influencing him.”