The slithering Mohini on screen!

The slithering Mohini on screen!

Something unique is appealing more so when its rooted in tradition yet shown freshly, in the realm of Indian dances Sarpatatwam or The Serpent Wisdom,...

Something unique is appealing… more so when its rooted in tradition yet shown freshly, in the realm of Indian dances. ‘Sarpatatwam’ or The Serpent Wisdom, a documentary culminating insight into the serpent world and Mohiniattam was one such offering screened at Prasad Film Labs recently. Methil Devika, the conceptualiser, researcher, music composer, choreographer, and dancer, is the creative powerhouse behind Sarpatatwam. She has also co-directed it with Rajesh Kadamba.

The documentary begins with the lens taking us through the forest along with the danseuse by a snake’s eye view, tracing the motifs of snakes deciphered in the vines, stems, branches and the foliage gradually entering the realm – that the creators want us to. The danseuse’s commentary explains how she encountered the poetry of Pambatti Siddhar – a seer physician of the 11th century and how she envisioned, interpreted it through her chosen art form – Mohinattam.

What we then perceive is a beautiful exposition of words translating into movement and the transcendence the dancer experiences – the dancer disappears into the poetry. Brilliant abhinaya takes us through the esoteric, numinous aspects of the serpent lore – that is both revered and feared. Particularly impressive were the depiction of how the snake perceives and strikes, by Devika who appeared and glided like a snake! The captivating music – sometimes familiar and sometimes intriguing and the excellent cinematography added to the performance in creating an aura of mysticism.

On her ideas behind the concept, Devika mentioned the symbolism of the serpent in Western religious mythology too drawing parallels to the ancient pagan times, the caduceus staff of the Greek God Hermes being made up of snakes intertwined around a rod; Kundalini physiology; the coiled snakes crossing each other seven times, a possible reference to the seven energy centers, the chakras. This makes the concept universal while the depiction is rooted in Kerala art forms. From a dancer’s perspective, this was a novel production delving into the depths of serpent universe rather than a passing reference to the nature or physicality of a snake as commonly seen.

The finale of the performance is a frenzied circular movement on the Kalamezhuthu (a ritualistic pattern on the floor using five colours denoting five elements of nature), erasing the serpent pattern, denoting the impermanence of life. The elements and the being are in unison and it is but imperative to raise beyond the fixed form and the cycle of destruction and evolution. The film ends with a short interview about the ideas and her involvement with the art and theme, which more or less satisfies the queries that cross the viewer’s mind while watching the documentary.

Little wonder that the brilliantly made one-of-its-kind work was selected as a contender for the Oscars in 2018! The audience comprising mostly of dancers and scholars expressed more such features would enrich our culture and propel the Indian art further into the global sphere.

- Sindhuja

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