“Possession” by Shilpa Agarwal, Sheetal Gandhi, Jas Ahluwalia and Kamaljeet Ahluwalia is adapted from Shilpa’s forthcoming novel, At Her Divine Breast, set in the Kingdom of Travancore in 1811. Told through the interplay of voice, dance, and music, “Possession” is a story of the divine invasion and transformation of a high-caste Brahmin wife as she negotiates her destiny within the cruel conventions of her society.


Goddess Kali, known as Bhadrakali in Travancore, is revered as both Mother and Destroyer, thus linking the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. The Namboothiris occupied the uppermost stratum of the priestly Brahmin caste in Travancore (modern-day Kerala, India). The quote: “For a Namboothiri woman who feels the heat of emotion, who feels proud to be alive, there is only one of two ways: she must go mad, or fall from grace,” is attributed to Lalithambika Antherjanam (1909-1985). The dance is choreographed as a merging of classical Kathak, traditional mudras (hand and finger gestures), and contemporary dance and dramaturgy. The music, played on tabla and santoor, is composed in Indian Classical Ragas with a modern twist to enhance specific emotions. Raga Bairagi Bhairav sets a somber and tragic mood; Raga Brindabani Sarang creates a tone of mysticism; Raga Madhuvanti conveys a devotional mood; and Raga Mishra Pahadi transmits joy, happiness, and love. Rhythmic cycles of 4,7, 9, and 16 are used throughout the piece.

Shilpa Agarwal – Author/ Narrator
Sheetal Gandhi – Dancer/ Choreographer
Jas Ahluwalia – Tabla (Disciple of Ustad Tari Khan)
Kamaljeet Ahluwalia – Santoor (Disciple of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma)

Possesion is part of ‘evoke,’ put on by East West Players and is directed by Alison M. De La Cruz.

Video footage by East West Players. Edited by Sheetal Gandhi.



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