Memories of an unforgettable Bharatanatyam performance 
- Amarnath Pallath 
April 28, 2008 

Kirti Mandir is situated to the north of the statue of Prince Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad near the Viswamitri Bridge in Vadodara. A cluster of Shiva temples form the backdrop. The interior of the elegant structure is marble finished and on the walls of the central hall are murals showing the battle of Mahabharata. Kamati Baugh is close by where we used to go for an evening stroll. Vadodara is the cultural center of Gujarat and the name of Vadodara, come from the word "Vadapadraka" meaning a village amongst banyan trees. 

We spent an evening at Abhivyakti Sankrutik Sthal, Kirti Mandir – of Maharaja Gaekwads of Baroda - along with the descendants of the royal family, watching a dance performance organized by Ghargharika, set against the backdrop of a stage that was huge, open and with pillars on the sides and steps leading up. There were trees on the sides of the stage that was set to natural tones of the evening colours as we entered to watch the performance. On the rear side were the temples with lamps lit for the evening puja. 

The echo of the horns of the moving vehicles outside the Kirti Mandir got diffused. Lamps were lit on the stage in uniformity. The place where the performance was to be staged reflected a mood of silence in waiting. People whispered in a hush and the scene set in readiness to witness the nritya. The pattern of thoughts was getting focused to Rema Shrikant.   

Bharatanatyam originated in Southern India as a temple dance tradition called Dasiyattam about 2000 years ago. This probably is the most advanced and evolved dance form of all Indian classical dance forms and encompasses music, rhythm and expressional dance or abhinaya. The style is characterized by the linear form of the body without any pronounced movement of the upper body and makes it very dynamic and powerful in expression. Tradition says that Brahma, moved by the entreaties of Indra and other devas for a pastime befitting the inhabitants of the region, distilled the essence of the four Vedas taking Pathya from Rig Veda; music from Sama Veda; gesticulations from Yajur Veda; and aesthetic element (rasa) from Adharva Veda and compounded them in a form of dance as a graceful one. 

Temples were not the only places for the performing of dance. To get connected with God, we can be anywhere. The beautiful natya-mandapa at Kirti Mandir created many years ago, was set that evening for the Bharatanatyam dance performance by Rema Shrikant who is settled in Vadodara. 

We had the privilege of being in the august presence of Maharaja Ranjitsinh Gaekwad and Shubhangini Devi. The charm was also the richness of the place, lit by lamps with a golden colour, while on stage, Rema’s guru Prof. C V Chandrasekhar was preparing to conduct and render vocal support for the performance. The musical instruments were being tuned to be in tandem with the shruti of the vocals with Murugan on mridangam and Ramachandran on violin. Rema's sister kept the taal for the whole evening. 

The mood was set. The music commenced. The sound system was perfect to reflect the performer's lip movements and abhinaya. Abhinaya in Sanskrit means to educate or convey to the audience. As time elapsed the lighting emerged from unknown corners to mesmerize the moments that followed. The audience was in pitch dark, their lips closed and minds open. 

Rema has been performing for over four decades. Her father, guru Krishna Panicker was her guru in the beginning. Her mother too learnt and performed dance forms. Usha, my wife, was fortunate that Rema's father was teaching dance in Mumbai during her initial school days and had the opportunity to learn from him. 

Perfection comes out of devotion and focus after years of work. Mind and body gets tuned to each other in balance. This was what we could witness in the nearly three-hour solo dance performance of Rema Shrikant. 

As Rema's steps slowly came up front and she prayed in deep devotion and unfolded her closed hands, flowers and petals fell at the feet of God, to seek His blessings. Her body movements and facial expressions coupled with mudras were all in great resonance that fantastic evening at Kirti Mandir. She narrated at the beginning of each performance, the story on which that particular dance was based.  The guru-shishya connection in between the backdrop of music and swaras that accompanied the dance was so intertwined one wondered what follows the other or who follows the first. The layam mesmerized us all. 

The stamina to perform to perfection needs another basic aspect of will power. In prayer, you gain energy. The more you do, energy comes from the Panchaboothas. The air we breathe and the strength gained from the cosmos. 

Rema has been teaching what she learnt from her gurus. Some of her students have been performing all over the world on a canvas reflecting Rema’s devotion to transit the knowledge of Natyashastra to the next generation. Dedication to know, learn and part with the knowledge for the future is her vision. Rema survives on yet another support system – her life partner Srikant, whose father, Padma Shri Vazhenkada Kunchu Nair, one of the exponents of yet another dance form Kathakali, had taught the form at the banks of Bharata Puzha in Kerala Kalamandalam.

To appreciate is an art. To listen - need skills. To learn – need perseverance. To teach - need patience and temperament. Let the old forms of life, its miracles of simplicity, that enrich the modern life by observation of the Guru-Shishya parampara of setting value systems, focus and devotion that are the fundamentals of any work form, continue to evolve with dedication of dance gurus like Rema. Let the art forms continue to delve in the fast tracks of the modern life patterns for appreciating abhinaya, tala and rhythm that weave our lives to the demands of future.

Amarnath Pallath is a technocrat and has worked for many years abroad. He is currently based in Vizag.