Mohiniyattam dancer Methil Devika brings her popular production, Sarpatatwam, to Hyderabad
Mohiniyattam is all grace and poetry as most of us know, but Dr Methil Devika, the renowned Mohini-yattam exponent, adds convincing drama to the dance form. Noted for her exceptionally arresting abhinaya and sinuous movements, she has carved a niche for herself as a performer, choreographer, dance research scholar, and educator. Propagating Mohiniyattam and Malayalam literature, music, and poetry through her art, while exploring universal human emotions, Devika redefined Mohiniyattam with her interpretations. The latest feather in her cap is Sarpatatwam or The Serpent Wisdom, a short dance documentary that she created, based on her quest of the serpent mystique. Premiered in Los Angeles, it is one-of-a-kind in performance filming and was voted into the contention list of the Academy Awards 2018.
The serpent has enchanted many a civilisation and become a part of its ethos. In several ancient cultures, especially in their religion and mythology, snakes are seen as entities of strength and renewal. In Kerala, sarpakavus — groves specially meant for snakes — had been, for ages, an integral part of most Hindu traditional dwellings. It was customary to set apart some land, not too far from the house, exclusively for snakes. The gigantic trees and thickly grown shrubs and vines that harboured a variety of poisonous and harmless snakes used to give the groves a foreboding appearance. Inside the grove, a snake shrine would be built for the serpent god who, it was believed, would bring prosperity to the family. Apart from the occasional prayers and ritualistic feeding of milk to the snakes to please the serpent gods, human interventions in these ecosystems were practically none. Thus, religious beliefs indirectly promoted the conservation of natural resources. These groves played a significant part in preserving the biodiversity and ecological balance of the neighbouring areas.
Sarpatatwam, is a 28- minute film that delves into the myth of the serpent and the insights behind the serpent cult. It is an internalised journey of the dancer, based on the 11th-century mystic Pambatti Siddhar’s composition. Supported by visuals that are aesthetic and sensuous, the rich music and exceptional cinematography elevate the film through the symbolical implications.
Pambatti Siddhar was a prominent mystic physician, a poet, a snake charmer and a spiritual philosopher who used the serpent as a motif in his many writings about the awakening of self and in his verses to explain the philosophy behind this process. Methil’s unique and subtle choreography reflects this philosophy as the dancer shifts between the physical and the spiritual. Devika explains how the serpent’s relationship to our consciousness is understood in Yogic Kundalini, a form of Indian philosophy, “ I was struck by the statement that the serpent is seen as one who both confines (the physical being) and one that releases (the spiritual being). I am presenting to the audiences the philosophy of the Siddhars through music and movement indigenous to Kerala, and I understand the serpent power as one that has connected us through time and beyond.”
January 27, 5 pm.
At Prasad’s Film Club.