Sivakami and feminine empowerment | Sunday Observer

Sivakami and feminine empowerment

‘Sivakamyin Sabatham’ is an epic Tamil novel written by the award winning author Kalki Krishnamurthy in 1944. Kalki was the recipient of India’s highest literary honour- the Sahitya Academy. It was originally serialised in the weekly Kalki magazine for about 12 years and was later published as a novel. This is widely regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written in the Tamil language.

At the time of writing, the novel created widespread interest in historical fiction writing for its contribution to the Tamil language and as a tribute to the glorious Tamil culture at its zenith that celebrated classical bharathanatyam, art of divine stone sculptures and medieval devotional poetry.

Sri Lanka Tamil Women’s Union (SLTWU) has taken on the challenging task of adapting the storyline of Sivakamyin Sabatham into a dance drama to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Kalalaya School of Dance and Music which functions under the aegis of the SLTWU.

The novel is based on the actual historical events that took place in 700 AD in South India which is considered to be the golden period for the burst of a Tamil Renaissance wave. The Pallava dynasty that ruled from Kanchi has to its credit many noteworthy kings and princes who have left a legacy which has made indelible marks in the annals of history. Their influence on art, literature, music, dance, sculpture, architecture, painting and spiritual wellbeing has been inextricably linked to their growth and progress.

The Pallava dynasty produced Bodhidharma, the third son of a King who in the fifth century departed South India and established the Shaolin order of monks who were masters at Kungfu in China. King Mahendravarman and Prince Narasimhavarman in the eighth century created the city of Mamallapuram with architectural and sculptural marvels. The city of Kanchi with its beautiful temples and marvels of architecture was the envy of many contemporary kings who were constantly engaged in political and military machinations for supremacy of power. Pallava kings were patrons and protectors of the stone artists, musicians, poets and danseuse. Princesses of the Pallava dynasty were married into Chola royal families. The Cholas took the zeal of building temples and patronage of Tamil literature to greater levels in the ninth and tenth centuries in great enhancement of Tamil architecture and literature. Even today, Chola capital, Thanjavur boasts of the finest and grandest temples ever built in South India.

Sivakamiyin Sabatham

The plot revolves around the historical events of the Chalukya king Pulakesi II laying siege of Kanchi and Prince Narasimhavarman avenging this by attacking Vatapi the capital of the Chalukyas, nine years later. The dramatised version of the novel centres on fictitious characters, like the beautiful and talented danseuse Sivakami, daughter of the land’s foremost sculptor Aayanar, and the political intrigue and machinations of the monk Naganandi, a spy from Vatabi and his all-encompassing love for Sivakami’s dance. The social upheavals of war, love, and passion for art are the mainstay of the emotional weave of the narrative.

The story begins, portraying the love between Sivakami and Prince Narasimhavarman and her Arangetram in the court being rudely interrupted due to Pulikesi’s unanticipated invasion of the capital Kanchi. War ensues and Sivakami is captured by enemy forces and taken prisoner to Vatabi.

Empowerment of Sivakami

As a demure maiden and a dutiful daughter to her father she is the typical role model of female obedience and conformity. She was escorted when travelling, kept her own company, sustained only by her love and affection that was converging towards the Prince. Her other distractions were her pets the Parrot and the Deer and her trusted friend Kamali whom she met when she travelled into the city. Her prestigious position as the most acclaimed dancer in the country did not give her the independence or the empowerment that one would expect from that status. Although she had widespread recognition, appreciation and accolades due to her extraordinary talent she was still not the master of her own destiny.

However, the capture by enemy soldiers and the trek back to Vatabi had flung her into a larger arena of action. She saw herself in the midst of an evolving situation in which she had the power to change the destiny of many prisoners of war. The unfolding events brought to light that the prevention of the suffering they had to endure, and the torture inflicted on them could be reversed by her, single handedly: So they depended on her for preventing the suffering they were going through and ultimately for their liberation and to return to their own homes back in Kanchi. She rose up to the occasion and relentlessly danced on the streets to stop the soldiers tormenting their victims. Her social conscience and moral responsibility surpassed her romantic love and she refused to go back with the Prince when he came incognito to help her escape unless the prisoners were liberated first.

In Vatabi, she became a woman in her own right, decided her destiny and the destiny of other prisoners who depended on her. This is in striking contrast to the women in Mahabharatham in which men’s stories took centre stage while most of the women could only suffer the consequences of the decisions men had taken. Sri Lanka Tamil Women’s Union will stage the dance drama Sivakamiyin Sabatham at the Bishop’s College Auditorium, on September 30 at 6.30pm.