If the temples of Khajuraho can be said to have a theme, it is that of woman—innocent, coquettish, smiling; infinitely seductive, infinitely beautiful, depicted in a wealth of detail, sharply etched and sculpted with consummate artistry. Fascinated by this, Sarala Kumari—founder of Natyasthal Kuchipudi Dance Studio and one of the senior Kuchipudi artistes—conceptualised a ballet called Mukthi Silpam. “Nowhere else one can find such artistry other than in the erotic temple carvings of Khajuraho where spirituality and sensuality, playfulness and profundity meet in a joyous celebration of life, energy and passion,” says Sarala. And for this latest work, she travelled to Khajuraho several times to discover a wonder-filled attitude towards woman, the goddess, body and sexuality. “Such refreshing attitudes are not reflected in modern Indian society,” says the dancer who has been enthralling the aficionados for over 30 years.
The ballet depicts the origins of the temples in Khajuraho and the reason for their carvings on the art of making love. In this presentation, attempt has been made to capture and portray the sentiment with which the sculpting of these temple was undertaken. With her beautiful lines, deeply convincing mime, and exquisite taste in music, costume and presentation, Sarala transports even the uninitiated to Indian dance, into a world of beauty, sensuality and timeless human emotions that have been richly infused with a sense of the sacred. Sarala pays homage to the temple as the sacred site of the origin of classical dance. The concept was put in song and Sanskrit slokas. The script is by Haripriya Rangarajan, while lyricist Koochi too added to the text. Music is composed and conducted by film music director Sashi Preetam.
“People often cite the Khajuraho temples for nudity and sex, but Khajuraho doesn’t have sexual themes inside the temple premises or near the deity, just on the external carvings. Gods such as Vishnu and Shiva reside at the upper reaches of the building and are always modestly clad. Erotic scenes represent a relatively small part of the carvings, but sensuous eroticism prevails throughout,” she says. In accordance with the ancient treaties on architecture, only parts of temple dealt with erotic depictions while other parts elaborately dealt with life, secular and spiritual. “So you will see carvings of tradesmen going about their business, women applying kohl to their eyes and putting on jewellery, or playing with their children”.
“These temples were built between 9th and 11th centuries during the rule of Chandela Kings. These 80-odd temples were a stunning artistic creation based on epic themes, but susceptible to various interpretations, either sacred or profane. The dance against the backdrop of sacred shrine of Lord Siva appeared to be the genesis of this basic theme of Mukthi Silpam. The lyrical element of the ballet explained that society then depicted male as a ‘potential form’ and female as ‘energy’ that exist together, never alone, in the manifestation of universe,” she says. She believes that society of those times dealt frankly and openly with all aspects of life. Men and women enjoyed the delights of life while performing their usual duties. And that gets manifested in all the aspects of the universe. So, life was not only about eroticism, but also about other spheres, as is visible from the depictions at the temple. Sarala, therefore, feels that ancient scriptures from which most of the ballets are drawn should be studied for getting greater depth in expressions.
What inspired her to come up with this ballet? “The powerful combination of the visual and sensual pleasures, combined with the duty of worshipping the deities bring about a powerful transformation of the body and the soul. This inspired me to create this ballet,” claims the danseuse. “What Khajuraho made me experience can’t be conveyed in mere words. So, I shall give my words the crutches of pictures clicked on my camera,” informs Sarala. “The contrasting kinetic values between the dancer and the projected moving images of Khajuraho will provide the viewer with a particular type of aesthetic experience. The multimedia can be used to the full advantage to change the background scenes. Besides, it will provide a continuity of the programme.”
A LIFE IN DANCE
■ Sarala, who had her arangetram in 1977, stole the limelight with her 24-hour non-stop marathon dance performance at Hyderabad in 1985.
■ Sarala was adjudged a ‘beauty queen’ four times and crowned Miss Andhra in 1983.
■ She earned a number of titles, including the Natya Mayuri, Natya Kala Bharathi, Natya Ratna and Natya Rani. The AP State Cultural Council presented her the Hamsa Award for her achievements in the field of dance.