Dedicated to Bharatanatyam 
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
November 22, 2007 

Dance is the fifth veda. Indian art and thought are inseparably bound with spirituality in its very existence. Devotion is its quintessence. Essentially, it is devotion to what one believes in, the values that shine like beacon lights. The Bharatanatyam recital by artistes
Shridhar and Anuradha staged in Thrissur, Kerala, under the aegis of Thalam cultural trust, as part of their week-long program in October, was an exposition of a devotion quite singular in our troubled times.

A rare chemistry makes this married dancer- couple, remain devoted to traditional format in the face of challenges that changing perceptions pose. At a time when feministic thoughts surface, here is poise: prakriti and purusha, the female and the male, blending in perfect union. Such wonderful chemistry in harmonious synchronization unfolds the core of Indian philosophy told in umpteen forms on our temple walls. Indeed the couple transforms the theater into a temple as they dance sacred themes to people fed on the saga of legends from the epics. The recital proves one point that beauty is born when opposites merge, that truth lives in the heart of contradictions. And abhinaya makes the performance outstanding. Contemporary Bharatanatyam rarely practices Natya yoga, a sacred Hindu meditational tradition. Shridhar incorporates yogic poses which enhances the transcendental essence.

True to tradition the Bharatanatyam recital began with Nritanjali followed by Ganapathy Stuti in raga aghada, adi thalam, a composition  by Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, the king of Mysore. Ganesha dances with his devotee in his attributes- his special features and wisdom. Ganesha tames the mouse, the mookasura and he lords mooladhara charka, the beginning of spiritual wisdom. The aspect of wisdom, the source of arts and literature is the highlight.

Then followed the major piece, a varanam in raga shanmughapriya, adi thalam, composed by Lalgudi Jayaraman. A pilgrim's progress is depicted on his way to Thirumala to have a darshan of its deity Sreenivasa. An incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Sreenivasa humbles his devotees just to bless them. As he moves ahead he recalls the legends. Story after story from different incarnations of Vishnu is enacted to point how he rescues the helpless bhakta. Vamana grows in stature, Ahalya wakes up from the stone, Draupathi is rescued from humiliation. Devotion, single-minded devotion, is the key. The lone pilgrim moves on... the way is long; tiring.... The Sreenivasa element unfolds with the local legend of gods descending to wake-up the lord of Thirumala. And the pilgrim wakes up roused by chanting to behold the deity in the sanctum sanctorum - huge and powerful, the pilgrim is struck with awe; forgets all his worldly desires; humbled, falls at the feet of the Lord to receive his grace.
In each and every episode, the male-female principles are united to show two sides of the same coin. The subtlety and finesse of such a presentation makes the piece transcend the mundane. The synchronization is remarkable as it shows, the distinct and the similar as a continuum: an ever-present phenomenon of life, of art, and of thought. Tableau like poses punctuate the performance and the message sinks in. Ethereal lighting gives the visuals a mystic dimension. The big and the fine move in and out like day and night, like lucidity and mystery, like shadow and substance, part of a whole,  interchanging positions, always balancing…

The third item was a Javali by Anuradha in raga behari, adi thalam, a composition of Venkatadri Shamrao. The lovelorn nayika is waiting for her lord. Her impatience is characteristic of the young. She sends her friend to fetch her lord. Humanity has waited down the millennia with single-minded devotion. The theme of waiting has been the burden of human song down its cultural history. Mundane love in mystic literature becomes a metaphor of the soul in its spiritual evolution. 

The fourth item, Sabari was a fine piece from the poet Seetaramayya, in raga kapi, adi thalam. Sabari... eternally waiting in all simplicity…waiting for her lord ...waiting each day with patience, hope and joy seemed an extension of the earlier piece. The tender tale told and retold over centuries, is refreshingly lyrical. The transformation of the manly body of Shridhar into that of an old woman has a touch of magic. The dancer paints her life in Chitrabhinaya. Sabari lives in harmony with her surroundings, as part of nature with birds, deer for company. Thorns that prick her feet are gently removed as she plucksberries tasting them. The serenity and beauty complements her inner longing. There are times when she feels weary. Yet, finally when Rama comes there is a moment of disbelief... and then realisation dawns in tear-filled eyes... she falls at His feet, the merger!! Three nayikas are embedded in the framework of spirituality. 

The recital concluded with a thillana. Nritta reflected the virtuosity of the music in the complex footwork and captivating poses of the dancers. As the performance ended, the folk etymology of Bharatanatyam: Bha for Bhava- abhinaya or expression, Ra for raga or melody, and Ta for tala or rhythm seemed real. Supported by a team of vidwans - Karthic Dadar (nattuvangam) Harsh Samaga (mrudangam) Nandakumar (vocal), Vivek (flute) and Madhusudanan (violin), the recital created vibrations of a temple ambience. How much of tradition courses through our blood stream was a revelation. Great art communicates itself; Indian catharsis ennobles the soul.

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to