At a time when social media is vitiated by insensitive remarks over women, the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala and Kerala floods, Bharatnatyam dance maestro – Mithun Shyam - bats for women’s rights and insists that they be allowed to on their own free will decide for themselves. He believes that "entry into a temple cannot be the yardstick for a measure of empowerment of women".
Some tasteless remarks by a section of the people suggesting that nature’s fury in Kerala was the result of demands by women to enter the inner sanctorum of the Lord Ayyappa’s abode have been strongly condemned. It was a remark by RSS ideologue and chartered accountant S Gurumurthy, recently appointed as RBI director, that sparked off a major row.
Amid this backdrop, Mithun Shyam paid homage to Lord Ayyappa in a dance recital titled “The 18 Golden Steps” to mark the 20th anniversary of his dance school Vaishnavi Natyashala. In a nutshell, the one-hour long dance recital is the depiction of Lord Ayyappa’s life story told through Bharatnatyam. The performance itself – by the dance guru and his 25 shishyas aged nine years to 51 years, girls, boys, men and women – was breathtakingly beautiful when it was hosted in Bangalore on Sunday evening.
It is the topicality of the subject picked up by dancer Mithun Shyam, an acclaimed national and international Bharatnatyam exponent, that raises a few eyebrows. He admitted as much to the News Nation that he, as a citizen, is both inspired and moved by current day developments in the society and the country.
“Although the intention was not to create any controversy, I thought it was my duty to raise the issue, using dance to express my opinion,” Mithun Shyam said a day before the performance.
“I like women to have more power and feel that the nation can make progress only when women are empowered. But entry into a temple cannot be the yardstick for a measure of empowerment of women,” he said, adding that a decision whether to enter the temple should be best left to individual women.
“All I am saying to women is that it is your individual decision,” the dance maestro said and appealed to them not to be goaded by activists who claim to represent all women. Let it be totally democratic, is his argument.
When pointed out that the Supreme Court has already reserved the judgment in the case, Mithun Shyam said that “any decision of the Supreme Court will be acceptable as it has heard all sides and give justice. I have firm belief and faith in the Supreme Court.”
Incidentally, Mithun Shyam has in the past too known to have flirted with topics that brought him into a brush with controversy.
His use of Bharatnatyam to tell the story of Jesus Christ to a Christian audience had both the Hindus and Christians agitated. But after the performance, the Christian audience was surprised that the life and times of Jesus Christ could be conveyed through dance poses, mudras and expressions.
“Art is beyond religion and faith,” Mithun Shyam said.
About the latest offering, “The 18 Golden Steps” to other cities as also perform at Sabarimala temple, the temple authorities are aware of this recital, he said, and are open to the performance, he said.
Attired in brilliant colours and their bodies moving in a rhythmic grace, 26 trained dancers dazzled the audience with an immaculate presentation - retelling the story of Swamy Ayyappa and dwelling upon the concepts of 41 days of rigorous fasting and purity, the tiring journey, the spiritual essence of the ancient temple and why only men go to Sabarimala. Lord Ayyappa is an Ajanma Bhramachari and refuses to marry – and traditionally women have not gone there (to inner sanctorum), he said, adding “I wanted to tell the story of Lord Ayyappa and why is he sitting there.”
‘The 18 Golden Steps’ revolves round the Avatara Udesha of Lord Ayyappa, which sprouts from the misdeeds of the revengeful demoness Mahishi, and the subsequent destruction of evil and restoration of peace by the slaying of Mahishi.