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Film Interview Music Podcast

Nakul Krishnamurthy

Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram ലളിതം വർണ്ണം അസുരം

Composer/singer Nakul Krishnamurthy presents a new project that undertakes a contemporary reimagination of the tale of Śoorpan̩akha, a mythological figure from the Indian epic Rāmāyan̩a.

Working closely with dancer Nrithya Pillai, the music/dance piece radically reimagines Carnatic music and Bharathanat̩yam to explore new possibilities for the art forms while being sensitive to their histories of marginalisation and oppression. The accompanying podcast delves into the issues they face while navigating complex caste- and class-based structures in the making of the work, and explores how projects like these can play a prominent role in challenging and dismantling hegemonic structures of caste within Indian society.

Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram ലളിതം വർണ്ണം അസുരം

Verse and Translations

കാമാതുരാ മധുര കോമള വാക്കിനാലെ
Kāmāturā Madhura Kōmal̩a Vākkināle
With lustfully sweet and tender words

കാമം സ്തുതിച്ചു തരസാ തമുവാച ധീരം
Kāmam Stuticcu Tarasā Tamuvāca Dhīram
(She) praised lust (itself) and spoke boldly thus:

വല്ലഭയിലും അധികം നല്ലവൾ ഞാനല്ലയോ?
Vallabhayilum Adhikam Nallaval̩ Ñānallayo?
Am I not better than your wife (Sīta)?

Kāmātura: Filled with lust
Madhura: Sweet
Kōmal̩a: Soft, tender
Vākkināle: With words

Kāmam: Lust
Stuticcu: Praised
Tarasā: Boldly
Tamuvāca: Spoke thus
Dhīram: Bravely
Vallabha: Wife, ideal woman, referring to Sīta in this context
Vallabhayilum: Than the wife
Adhikam: More
Nallaval̩: A better person
Ñānallayo?: Am I not?

Verses from Kharavadham by Kottarakkara Thampuran (1653–1694).

Reimagining Ramayana

“I am from a Brahminical background. Nrithya comes from a marginalised community. So, how do we work out those politics?”. Composer/singer Nakul Krishnamurthy embarks on an ambitious project with dancer/activist Nrithya Pillai. Can they successfully navigate caste politics and class-based structures, reimagine an Indian epic, and subvert “classical” art forms – at a physical distance of over six thousand miles? This podcast goes behind-the-scenes of their remarkable collaboration for Counterflows At Home, Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram.

The podcast was produced by: Steve Urquhart & Alannah Chance

Writing

About Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram

Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram undertakes a contemporary reimagination of the tale of Śoorpan̩akha, a mythological figure from Indian epic Rāmāyan̩a, who was portrayed as a demoness for her dark skin, and violently dismembered for professing her love to the upper caste protagonists Rāma and Laks̩man̩a. The music takes three lines from the verse of Kharavadham, a […]

Writing

The Story of Śoorpan̩akha

Rāmāyan̩a, magnum opus of Hindu mythology, narrates the story of prince Rāma’s quest to rescue his wife Sīta from the clutches of ‘demon’ king Rāvan̩a. The story, popularly portrayed as the battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, embodies the Hindu idea of dharma—the duty of behaving according to one’s position and role in the society—and continues […]

Conversation with Mrudula Devi S – Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram

Mrudula Devi S is an activist from Kerala and an editorial board member of Pat̩habhedam magazine. She was a teacher by profession, but retired to focus on and engage with Dalit-Adivasi-Bahujan issues. Here Mrudula talks about the invisibilisation, marginalisation, and exclusion of certain communities in India and talks about the relevance of projects like Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram, commissioned for Counterflows at Home 2021, and the importance of alternative readings of Indian epics for the emancipation of oppressed classes.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Conversation with Dr. Davesh Soneji – Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram

Dr. Davesh Soneji is an Associate Professor of South Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, who is trained as a historian of religion. His work focusses on the history of interface between religion, performance, and forms of cultural nationalism that developed in India in the late 19th century to the middle of 20th century. Specifically, he explores the histories of music and dance is modern south India, and Tamil theatre.

Here Dr. Soneji is in conversation with Nakul Krishnamurthy, Nrithya Pillai, and Steve Urquhart about the histories of Bharatanaty̩ am and Carnatic music, the history of resistance to the Indian epic Rāmāyana̩ and the Rāma narrative, and the significance of the project Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram commissioned for Counterflows at Home 2021.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Conversation with Pushpavathy – Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram

Pushpavathy is a singer and songwriter from Kerala who has been associated with Carnatic music for over 34 years. Apart from being a successful playback singer in Malayalam movie industry, she composes, releases, and performs her own music that talk about the plight of marginalised communities in an attempt to create wider awareness around the issues they face in contemporary India. She regularly performs at conventions, meetings, and public gatherings organised by the leadership of Marxist Communist Party of India (CPI(M)), which forms the current elected government in the state of Kerala.

Following are excerpts from an interview with Pushpavathy conducted by Nakul Krishnamurthy for the project Lal̩itam Varn̩n̩am Asuram, commissioned for Counterflows at Home 2021. She talks about how caste manifests in music, her experiences of having been discriminated against, and how music can be an effective tool in raising awareness and questioning dominant modes of thought.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nakul Krishnamurthy

Nakul Krishnamurthy is an Indian artist who works with Indian Classical music and explores new ways of conceiving it at the intersection of Western Classical, experimental and electronic music traditions. Read more

Commission Credits

Poet and Podcast contributor
Mrudula Devi S
Playback singer and podcast contributor
Pushpavathy
Academic, writer and podcast contributor
Dr. Davesh Soneji
Mastering
Oliver Barret
Video
Iyyapan Arumugam (A4Medias)
Producer, Podcast
Steve Urquhart
Interview Translator
Shilpa B
Gutter Synth
Tom Mudd
Special Thanks
Sreepriya Balakrishnan, Santhosh Chirackal, Balakrishnan C., Rohini Rajan, Oliver Pitt, Mark Fell, Fayez Fazil.

Commission supported by: