Captivating 'Kavinutha Krishna' 
- Shyamala Krishnamurti

October 10, 2008 
The Oothukadu Venkatakavi Academy Trust, Chennai, presented 'Kavinutha Krishna,' a solo thematic Kuchipudi presentation by Kuchipudi exponent Lakshmi Mani, as part of the composer's 308th Jayanthi celebrations. True to its name, the program was based on the vibrant Sanskrit compositions of Oothukadu Venkatakavi. 

Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer was a prolific composer, having composed several hundred songs mainly in Tamil and Sanskrit, with some Marathi compositions also to his credit. He was a recluse who sought the company of Lord Krishna alone. Interestingly enough, he never used any mudra in any of his compositions, except for a handful, seeking anonymity. His compositions are marked by sheer vibrancy, lilt, technical and qualitative aesthetics. His usage of Swaraakshara, alliterations, yati and madhyama kaala sangatis, coupled with intertwined swaras and jati syllables are attractive and one cannot but wonder at the torrent-like sequencing of words, especially in the Charanam, which has been composed mostly in the madhyama kaala. Thus, rendition and interpretation of these compositions can be enjoyed to the fullest only when the presenter has a good command over the language and the aesthetic. In this light, it is noteworthy that both the dancer concerned as well as her young vocalist, fulfilled the requirements mentioned above, with the vocalist being notable for her crystal clear enunciation and Lakshmi, with her vivid interpretation.

It is perhaps the first time that an entire program of Kuchipudi dance has been dedicated to the compositions of Oothukadu Venkatakavi, with only one or two of his compositions being generally performed in this idiom. The most recognizable among these, of course, is 'Marakatha Manimaya,' which is performed akin to a Tharangam. So much so that most people are under the misconception that it is indeed a Tharangam and it is not uncommon to find dancers announcing it to be so. 

Lakshmi Mani ranks among the leading Kuchipudi exponents based in Chennai and has to her credit several accomplishments in her career spanning more than two decades, winning accolades from audience of several countries, apart from regaling rasikas all over India with her exquisite abhinaya. The cultural cognoscenti always eagerly anticipate her recitals and she never disappoints. 'Kavinutha Krishna,' conceptualized, choreographed and presented by her, was no exception.

Starting with 'Shri Vighnaraajam' (Gambheeranata Ragam - Khandachapu Thalam), she moved on to perform the mercurial 'Maninoopura Dhaari' (Neelambari Ragam - Adi Thalam). In this item, the sparkling anklets and wondrous lustre of Rajagopalaswami are described by the poet. Lakshmi chose to portray the stupefying Vamana Avathara to the lyric 'Tribhuvana Prakatita Pratapa' (He whose glory is established in the 3 worlds). Notably, the word 'Pratapa' is usually denoted as valour in most contexts. However, the dancer chose to portray the inner meaning of the Sanskrit word, which means 'glory,' thus revealing her maturity as an artiste. The item also consisted of the depiction of the Kalingamardana episode, which was handled effectively and without consciously trying to create a spectacle, a bait that most dancers fall prey to. In both the portrayals, the artiste showed her finesse in abhinaya, which is indeed riveting. True to tradition, Lakshmi also gracefully danced on the rims of a brass plate, during the finale of the item. It is redundant to say that it was thoroughly enjoyed by all present in the auditorium.

'Madhura Madhura Venugeetham' was chosen as the penultimate item. Set to lilting Athana Ragam and Adi Thalam, the piece describes the lovely music produced from the flute of the eternal enchanter. Again, the dancer did not merely skim the periphery and chose to depict the effect of music as is said in the well-known Sanskrit saying, “Shishur Veytti Pashur Veytti, Veytti Gaanarasam Phanih.” Lakshmi's depiction that the enjoyment of Krishna's music is common to lovelorn Gopakanyas, hooded serpents, beauteous peacocks and all creatures of the world, exhibited her intellectual bent of choreography. 

The last item was the ebullient 'Ati Nirupama' (Panthuvarali Raga - Adi Thalam). In this piece, which starts off in the Tisra gati, the dancer allegorized the unequalled beauty of Lord Krishna, with suitable similes. The quick switchover to Chaturasra gati was utilized well and witnessed the joyous portrayal of the Raasaleela of Krishna, to the lyric 'Raasakaleybhara Mandala Chitra.' The program ended on a serene note, with the popular verse from Mukunda Maala, 'Jayathu Jayathu Devo.'

Lakshmi was well-supported with an excellent orchestra comprising of Sundari (Nattuvangam), Naveena (Vocal), Ganesh (Mridangam) and Venkataramana (Flute).