In the tradition of gurus 
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
March 18, 2008 

Rarely does the dedication of an artist instill a sense of responsibility in the crowd around her. The sheer force of her personality had its sway during an interactive session in Kerala Kalamandalam.  Rama Vaidyanathan spoke of her vision to the young students that filled the hall; asked them to judge her after her performance at night. She stood tall, seemed to be made of such stuff that a guru is made of. Perhaps the mantle of her guru, the legendary Yamini Krishnamoorthy, has fallen on her. Her Bharathanatyam recital was part of the annual art festival in the first week of March.
Here is an artiste who values tradition, yet believes in innovation, an artist who is conscious of the aesthetics of dance, yet thinks of social problems. For her, art is both for art's sake and for life's sake. An outstanding dancer of national and international repute of two decades standing, Rama rose to the expectations of the audience, the students of Kalamandalam, the premier institute for performing arts of Kerala. 
Koothambalam, the nrithamandapam, is a blend of Kerala architecture and the ancient temple theatre. The dancing girls from Natyasastra stand frozen in time poised in different karanas on its many pillars. The hall filled with aspiring students steeped in the ethos of gurukula tradition, provide perfect ambience for any artiste.

Rama's graceful concert began with salutations signifying welcome, greeting, and humility in ragam valachi, misra jathi tripura talam.  A performance in Pandanallur style sought perfection in technique and presentation.
The second item, Mayoora alarippu struck a magical chord for the viewers. Capturing the movements of the bird, projecting its poses and poise, the innovative piece with 11 beats was enchanting. And the peacock danced, all over the stage, generating the joy of a parched land eager for the first showers. It was a singular forecast of the monsoon rains, which means so much to India since time immemorial. 
Her varnam, Lalgudi Jayaraman's composition in Charukesi ragam, cast itself like a spectrum. The shades of love fell into a colorful pattern. Her presentation of "Kamala Kanna..." focused on the power of His eye, the window of His soul and spirit. Surely love has always been conveyed in silence by eloquent eyes… The woman in love is a noble soul. Hers is introspection and a pilgrimage to the portals of love. The nayika wonders at the attitude of her lover Krishna, as well as the nuances of the passion called love. How she grew up in awe of him; how passion filled her young heart; how love changed into devotion; how intoxication was quenched by compassion. 

At one level it is the burden of unrevealed love, its secret joys and pangs, waiting eternally, as the flute sounds fill the atmosphere. At another level, it is the journey of human love from the physical to the spiritual. 
Gopalakrishna Bharathi's "Varugalamo ayya..." in ragam manchi, rang with pathos. The story of Nandanar at the door of the Chidambaram temple revealed the anguish of a devotee. Genuine emotion is real abhinaya. The tear-filled eyes showed a deep feeling for the downtrodden.  
Purandaradasa kriti in Kanada lent itself into superb choreography. "Flute is forbidden at such a nightly hour," says Radha. "This is the sanctified hour of the night, the time for retreat, for prayer, do not wake up those who sleep..." She pleads with him in different ways, in different moods like a conscientious woman. But the wayward lover, Krishna persists…until she confiscates his flute and goes away. Kalyani ragam and adi thalam maintained the flavor of the old kriti. 
The last item from Skanda Purana, was Shivoham: the dancer and the dance becoming one, experiencing the cosmic power. The musical composition of just one line fell in kaleidoscopic designs for 15 minutes.
Like a finely tuned instrument, Rama built a dreamland of wonder. Her fleeting movements carved sculptures in a gopura of salabanjikas. And all the sleeping dancers of the koothambalam rose like Ahalyas from its pillars. 
An exceptional confidence and a rare chemistry between the artiste and her orchestra were the marked features of Rama’s forte. Her team comprised of Karaikudi Sivakumar (nattuvangam), Sushant Parambatha (vocal), Sumod Sridhar (mridangam) and G S Rajan (flute), who also composed the music for Anjali, Purandaradasa kriti, and Shivoham. 

In Mayoora nrittam, sensitive observation, an eye for meticulous details, and practice that wrought the ease, score points for the artiste. Rama's program was refreshingly distinctive. Like an activist, she points to the lack of moral responsibility in a civilized society. Untouchability is a socio- religious problem even today. In an emotionally charged performance, the story of Nandanar becomes a metaphor for the naked reality of Indian ethos in these days of revivalism. The grief and torment of a social outcast is the injustice of a man-made world. 
The dance relates to the niceties of social life when Radha plays the role of a responsible woman in love. What a contrast to the modern idea of love!! The last item, like a chant, was a fitting finale for a sterling performance.
As Dr Paulose, the vice-chancellor of the Deemed University honored the artist on stage, the students of Kalamandalam ran to the green room. It was jam-packed with admirers waiting for autographs, a silent spectacle far from the public eye. 

I walked into the deep night. The spirit of the performance filled the air. "Be responsible…" was the refrain; be responsible, chanted river Nila in the backdrop; be responsible, sang the wind; be responsible, echoed my heart, be responsible…. 

A freelance writer, Padma Jayaraj is a regular contributor to