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The Kalakshetra Foundation performs in Chennai, India, in 2011
The Kalakshetra Foundation performs in Chennai, India, in 2011. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on the far left. AFP

Indian festival honours shared culture with Ramayana dance

The Ramayana, which arrived in Cambodia along with Hinduism hundreds of years ago, will be brought to life once again this evening in a performance by an Indian dance company at the Chaktomuk Theatre.

The Kalakshetra Foundation, a cultural academy based in Chennai, India, will tell the story of Rama, Sita and the evil Ravan through traditional dance.

The show, performed nightly until Wednesday, is part of this week’s Festival of India, organised by the Ministry of Culture in India and the country’s embassy in Phnom Penh.

According to Priyadarsini Govind, the director at the Kalakshetra Foundation, the Ramayana dance series was created by the Foundation’s founder, Rukmini Devi Arundale, when it was created in 1936.

She said the Foundation will perform the last three of the six chapters in the story: the Jatayu Moksham, which tells the story of Ravan’s abduction of Sita; the Choodamani Pradanam (Lanka Dahanam), which consists of Rama’s search for Sita; and the Mahapattabhishekam, which tells of the final battle between Rama and Ravan.

She added: “Cambodia has a very strong connection to the Ramayana tradition, and we’re very proud to present the Ramayana from India here because we know that it will strike a chord with the Cambodian audience.”

The Hindu epic poem has been adapted to fit with Buddhist themes and is known by most Cambodians as the much-loved Reamker.

It is expressed through multiple art forms across the country, including murals on the walls of the ancient temples as well as traditional Khmer dance.

The Festival of India also features a Buddhist Festival at Wat Ounalom that has welcomed Himalayan monks creating sand mandalas, butter sculptures and performing lama chanting, a specialised form of chanting that produces multiple distinct pitches simultaneously.

Dinesh Patnaik, the Indian ambassador to Cambodia, said the Festival of India aims to celebrate the shared culture of the two countries. The embassy is hoping to build an Indian cultural centre in Phnom Penh, he added, although it is still looking for funding.

He said: “Cultural relations started long back – when you see Angkor Wat you know when cultural relations started – but in modern times they haven’t been as close as in the past.

“There’s a big interest in Indian cultural relations here, from dance, to film, to Buddhist heritage, so we decided to show what we can do.”

The Ramayana Dance Festival will begin this evening at 6pm at the Chaktomuk Theatre. Free tickets can be collected in advance from Java Cafe, Cambodian Living Arts and the theatre itself.

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