An enchanting Mohiniattam recital  
- Dr. M Surya Prasad, Bangalore 

September 6, 2008 
Veteran vocalist Dr. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was the Bheeshma Pitamaha of Carnatic music. On the occasion of his birth centenary year, his contributions to classical music are being enumerated on various platforms and in different forms. He is credited with the admirable work of popularizing the krithis of the royal composer Maharaja Swati Tirunal. One such program was held at the Gayana Samaja Auditorium, Bangalore, in which a select few compositions tuned by the late vocalist were rendered in the medium of Mohiniattam, the graceful dance form of Kerala.  
The Sunday evening really belonged to Gopika Varma, a versatile exponent of Mohiniattam and a member of the Swati Tirunal royal family. Gifted with an attractive demeanor, eminently suited for the graceful Mohiniattam style with its circular movements in the balletic form, she brought a sinuous grace to the fore.  

The deep bends, the circular and semi-circular gyrations, that she invested her selected compositions of Swati Tirunal set to music by veteran vocalist Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, revealed her intense mimetic potentialities. Bringing legends to life, Gopika has an innate artistry and is spontaneously innovative. Different moods alternately exuded from her face with telling effect, the gestures were eloquent. It was the ekaharya of a gifted artiste. 

Aptly accompanied by Vipina Ramachandran (nattuvangam), Sushanth (vocal), Vinod (violin), Nagarajan (mridangam) and Sureshkumar (traditional edakka), Gopika was lissome, graceful and adept at the gentle flowing movements of Mohiniattam as well as its rhythms. She impressed at once by showing her good training and her stunning stage presence. Her expressive movements were a delightful aesthetic treat which brought to the fore the distinctive undulating style of her dance in the rendition of 'Srikumara Nagaralaye' (Athana) in praise of the Kumaranallur Devi. Her lovely face and eyes proved to be the ideal vehicles for the projection.  

She reached an admirable point of professional grace as her body swayed and twisted with such skill that showed her control over her medium while presenting the well known 'Bhogeendra Shayinam' (Kuntalavarali) and a Malayalam pada 'Alarsara paritapamu' (Suruti) in a leisurely pace. Here, the dancer imparted the stamp of her individuality to all her movements. 

Kuchelopakhyanam, a Harikatha composition, proved her deftness in choreography. The number was especially noteworthy for the effective utilization of space on the stage and the contrasting emotions that her face delineated were eloquent enough to demonstrate her virtuosity in abhinaya. 

No technical analysis would do justice to the secret of her unique art, the exquisiteness and elegance of her line, the lyrical grace and flow of her movements and ultimate perfection, which were the heart of her performance. She danced to 'Vishweshwara darushana' (Sindhubhairavi) and the concluding tillana (Bhoopala) with professional expertise and spontaneity that was marked by elegance which is one of the main characteristic of Mohiniattam. 

Dr. M Surya Prasad is the editor of Gunagrahi, a magazine on art and culture.