Homage to Swathi Thirunal  
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur 
e-mail: padmajayaraj@gmail.com 
April 28, 2008 

Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma (1813 to 1846) patronized a cultural renaissance in South India. The Maharaja still reigns the realm of musicians and artistes. To pay tribute to his legacy the Government of Kerala confers Swathi Puraskar to maestros who leave their signature on Indian music. This year's recipient is Pandit Jasraj, an eminent Hindustani musician. And a three-day music-dance festival from 18th April made the cultural capital of Kerala festive.  
Neena Prasad, a top ranking Mohiniattam artiste, gave a concert on the second evening. For the occasion, Neena chose Swathi kritis for her recitals. Classical in content and style, her performance was an eloquent expression of graceful lasya highlighting the innate dignity of the feminine. Highly individualistic in flavor, simplicity and lucidity marked her style of performance. It was an interesting learning experience in the subtleties of Mohiniattam. Confined to the established frame work, the dancer explored innovative ways of presentations. 
Traditional in style, the performance began with Ganesh stuti. The opening numbers, a Cholkattu in ragam reethi gaula and Chaturasra jati Ata thalam, pancha natai was a remarkable piece of choreography that showed how rhythm can be so effective. Thematically, the thrust was on devotion and lord Ganapathy emerged as envisioned by the devotee.  It set the mood of bhakti, the stamp of Swathi kritis. 
The second item, a Swathi composition in hamsanandini ragam, adi talam was a kriti. Here, lord Siva is in deep meditation and the Third Eye is powerful and open. The power of the inner Eye is the burthen of the lyric. His consort, Parvati is troubled to see its effect on Nature. The fiery Eye is melting the very Himalayas, off-setting balance. It is not yet time for samhara. Stiti has to be maintained. So she interferes to restore the benign aspect of her lord. As Siva opens his eyes, the third Eye shuts itself. Harmony reigns; calm flows life on Earth; Parvathi is happy, so is Nature. The item show cases how a lasya dance can present a thandava theme. The choreography transcends the limitation of Mohiniattam to present power and fury, speaks of the innovative talent of Neena. 
The third piece in ragam Mukhari and Adi talam was a padavarnam. The dance recital enshrines Swathi Thirunal's ishta devata, Sree Padmanabha. His devotion to the presiding deity of the Travancore royal family has left its imprint in the innumerable kritis the king penned. A mystic theme of the lovelorn human psyche waiting bathed in religious aura is a beautiful rendition of lasya bhava. Sringara touches its sublime peak as the sakhi takes the Lord to his waiting consort-devotee. There is something truly regal about the waiting lover unseen on the stage. The lyric speaks in volumes of the Maharaja's devotion and inner longing. 

The next piece from Geeta Govindam was an ashtapathi. Radha waiting for Krishna on the banks of the river Kalindi, is told to by the sakhi to go and seek Krishna. 
"He will not come looking for you," her  Sakhi tells. Yes, even the sunflower turns sunward. And the human needs to search for the divine.  
"Go garbed in blue, when the deep, blue night is still to seek the beautiful blue god, Krishna." 
The white melting into the blue is beautiful indeed. Here again it is the sakhi who speaks of Radha's travails. The erotic is sublimated with the sakhi giving a sense of direction and spiritual dimension to the theme of love.  
What is unique in the rendition is the role of the sakhi. Sakhi takes the centre-stage, not the virahotkandita nayika that has become a stereotype in our classical dance numbers. Sakhi is the mediator, felicitator and the interpreter. Two lyrics from two different composers are taken to juxtapose two approaches that are complementary. Symbolically, the purusha goes to prakriti: the feminine seeks the masculine.  The mystic theme of divine coming to the human and the human seeking the divine makes the performance wholesome. Even at the gross physical level of love, man-woman relationship is cast on an equal plane.  
The last item was a thillana a popular Swathi composition. Incorporating the rhythmic variety of Carnatic tala system in ragamalika and thalamalika, the fast number was a fitting grand finale for the subdued aesthetics of a hauntingly slow Mohiniattam concert. 
Ably supported by an orchestral team, the dance and the music jelled in wonderful harmony: Vocal - Changanasseri Madhavan Namputhiri, violin-VK Haridas, veena-Trichur Murali, Edakka-Krishna Kumar, Mrudangam - Vaipin Satish, and Nattuvangam -Kottayam Unnikrishnan 
Neena Prasad has graced distinguished stages, both at home and abroad and is one of the prominent artistes of the younger generation of Mohiniattam dancers. Noted for focused expression, chiseled movements, a wonderful sense of rhythm and innovative choreography, her performance is aesthetically captivating, filling the audience with a serenity non parallel. Her mind caught in the traumas of our times is eager for experiments. Mohiniattam which badly needs innovative choreographers is sure to go a long way with Neena Prasad, the researcher and the institution builder who takes her disciples on board to uncharted seas.  

"This legacy of Mohiniattam should be taken to many people around the world. In my own little way, if I can achieve that, then that is what I will cherish..." Dr. Neena Prasad looks into future.

Padma Jayaraj is a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com