Brave heart dancer of our time

Divinity has no gender circumscription. With this spirit ecstatic dancer, with a kin interest in arts journalism Akramul Momen personates the character of Iravan who has been highlighted as hermaphrodite god in South Indian version of Mahabharata in the dance drama Iravanatyam. Shoeb Karim talks to dancer Akramul Momen and writes about his unique journey

 

Dancer and arts journalist Akramul Momen broke all stereotypes and braved the path against the wind. In a society where dancing is considered not so masculine profession for a man, he dedicated his youth to become a classical dancer. He has been practicing Indian classical dance throughout his student life. He also performs in theatres.

Iravan-2Akramul graduated from Jahangirnagar University in Bengali literature. Interweaving his interest in art and literature he chose dance form to express himself. During his studies in university, he got extensive training in many traditional dance forms including his eight year long training in bharatnatyam. He was trained under the guidance of many trainers from Bangladesh and India. After all this years of learning, he is now performing as an artist with Shadhona Cultural Centre. Personally, he is experimenting with classical bharatnatyam to give it a contemporary form.

Akramul has performed in the Classical Dance Festival organised by Bengal Foundation in 2016.  He has also developed keen interest in choreography and working as a choreographer in multiple films. From the beginning of 2017, he has been performing the dance drama Iravanatyam. Though he played many roles, for him the most challenging role that he plays so far in his career is the story of Iravan.

When asked about the play, what is so particularly unique and inspiring about the play? Akramul replied, ‘The story of Iravanatyam is inspired by Indian myth but the play that emerged from it is an independent narrative. It is primarily strung in area of revisiting mythology and re-interpreting our past. Sexual freedom of transgender recognised as a taboo in our society. Iravan is an essentially transsexual character from Mahabharata, but in Mahabharata the treatment of the character is symbolic which mutes the character’s inner intimate voice. Our representation unveils the character’s essence, zir vitality. The theater thus deals with the social taboo on gender identity.’

Iravan is the representative of a part of the society that has similar identity crisis as he himself going through. Today, Iravan becomes an idea, a concept beyond the myth, beyond religion.

According to Tamil edition of Mahabharata, Iravan was the son of Arjun and Ulupi.

Iravan-3The Mahabharata portrays Iravan as dying a heroic death in the 18-day Kurukshetra War. However, the South Indian version has a supplementary tradition of honouring Iravan’s self-sacrifice to the goddess Kali to ensure her favour and the victory of the Pandavas in the war. The Kuttantavar cult focuses on one of the three boons granted to Iravan by the god Krishna in honour of this self-sacrifice. Iravan requested that he be married before his death. Krishna satisfied this boon in disguise of Mohini. This marriage could be possible on condition of sacrificing zer life. It has been considered that Iravan decides to sacrifice zer life, absorbed in love of Krishna.

This dance drama was first performed in countryside in Norshingdi, in that vary place where Akramul was born. Akram thinks Iravanatyam is a struggle of traversing identity crisis, so he chooses his own village to overcome all the fear and confusion.

 

In April 25, they were invited by a foreign embassy to perform their second show of this dance drama. The dance drama underpins the artist’s long journey into the arena of dance and the present state of a hermaphrodite life.

He thinks the love of the audience and their inspiration is the only thing that energies him. The drama will be staged in the middle of this year again. There is also an effort to bring it in the movie screen besides this theatrical representation. They made Iravanatyam to reach the unknown story of a hermaphrodite god in the international level.

IravanAlong with the exhibition, ‘Iravan: At 21st Century’, on April 25, with the same makeup and get up ‘Plan chat on 25 April’ was filmed under direction of Dipa Mahbuba Yeasmin. In this film, in memory of a friend killed last year on the same day, a latter written by the friend’s beloved was read in a plan chat. Akramul says, ‘That latter was too important for us. So incidentally after coming across the latter the director decided to film it.’

Akramul works for many organisations like Nrittyanchal Performing Art’s Academy, Mumtaz Academy of Dance, Nritynandan. In the last year, he was appraised for his first solo performance in memory of the journalist couple Shagor-Runi at Drik Gallery.

At present he is working as a performing artist. Dance, which was once a hobby for him is now a commitment. He wants to be professional dancer now. He thinks no idea can be materialised within a short span of time. On the other hand working for the hermaphrodite people is not so easy in our present culture but it’s an artist’s duty to work for the deprived and the oppressed of the society.

Divinity has no gender circumscription. With this spirit ecstatic dancer, with a kin interest in arts journalism Akramul Momen personates the character of Iravan and pledge to take the story to all corners of the country.

 

Shoeb Karim is a student of Chittagong University.

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