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A celebration of feminism

A celebration of feminism
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Everything starts with nothing. Zero, or shunya as we call it, is the beginning. To life, to creation, to work. Interestingly, it also is the symbol of the egg from which life emerges. It represents the circle of emotions, the feminine principle, the evocation of orgasm, the water element, the primordial universe and the Divine absolute.  

Katyayani's O, a multimedia, dance theatre production that was staged in the city on Friday, is the story of two women from two different religions. Funded by the Ministry of Culture, the 90-minute play was directed by Sohaila Kapur and choreographed by Gilles Chuyen and Shilpika Bordoloi.

One is Rabia and the other is Karaikkal Ammaiyar. Both of their lives encompass the concept of shunya. They didn't live their lives on the basis of norms created by the society. They changed the rules of the game, were ostracised and in a complete turnaround, finally revered by the same society. Rabia was the first woman Sufi saint from Iran and Karaikkal was a Shaivite from Tamil Nadu. They were both essentially different people but had to fight similar battles to obtain spiritual goals.

Take the story of Rabia, who was born into a poverty-stricken family in Basra, Iraq. She was responsible for introducing the concept of divine love into Sufism. She lost her family in a great drought and famine and was taken into captivity by a slave owner. Later, awed by her miraculous power, he released her and she decided to make a trip to Mecca. En route, her donkey died and she was left alone to fend for herself. Yet she refused help. According to legends, the Ka'aba came to meet her in the desert, which angered several devotees who had taken years to complete the trip and found the Ka'aba missing.

Rabia was against ritualistic worship and debated with Islamic scholars and clergy vigorously, for which she was castigated. Ultimately, the very men who criticised her, became her students. Though she had wealthy followers and even suitors, Rabia remained single and lived frugally.

Unlike Rabia, Karaikkal was married into a wealthy family and her husband was a diamond merchant. She was born as Punithavathi who was a disciple of Shiva. Her relationship with her husband was loving and sensual. But that was until the day another merchant, said to be Shiva in disguise gave the husband a divine mango. The fruit became the bone of contention between the couple and led to Punithavathi being abandoned.  

Thereafter she became the victim of lascivious men who approached her with all sorts of proposals. Fed up, she renounced her householder's life and undertook a tapasya in the cremation ground to appease Shiva and to ask him for the boon of great ugliness, so that she could be left alone to follow her chosen path. In the end, Shiva relented.

Despite the cultural differences, both lives were similar.
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