Confluence in creativity: Samyuktam  
- Dr. Sunil Kothari 
Photos courtesy: Sanjeev Bhargav 

March 27, 2009 
Collaborations in creativity: Samyuktam was the brainwave of that indefatigable organizer, visualiser Sanjeev Bhargav, who has given to Delhiites, Ananya, and the annual festival of choreographic works at the historical Purana Quila. Under the joint aegis of India International Centre, Seher, Power Grid Corporation, First City monthly and others, the three evenings of 16th, 17th and 18th March 2009 will be long remembered for its novel approach to bring together the best of the Carnatic vocalists, musicians and Bharatanatyam exponents to explore the common grounds in classical dance and music without losing their autonomy, but exploring and embellishing one another. 

16th March 2009 
Two years ago during IIC Experience Festival, I first heard the brilliant young Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna and fell under his spell. The magic he created weaving the musical notes lingered long in my memory. Sanjeev Bhargav expressed a desire that he should sing for Priyadarsini Govind, the brilliant Bharatanatyam exponent. And from then on, started this journey. With bated breath we waited for this miracle to happen. And happen it did at the beautiful ambience of Fountain Lawns of India International Centre, with tastefully designed stage by Sumant Jaikrishnan, artistic lighting by Gautam Bhattacharya and full care was taken of sound system and other factors which gave the rasikas and the connoisseurs, a rewarding experience. 

I am still under the spell of Krishna’s mellifluous voice, renderings of his alapana in  Ragam, Tanam, Pallavi, the soulful singing for the Khestrayya padams and a combined work on musical notes and tala patterns in raga Nalinakanti with which he and Priyadarsini Govind, concluded the evening. Both in terms of aural images and visual images, one was immersed in rasasamadhi, the aesthetic delight that our rich traditions of music and dance can take us to such great heights! The transparent sincerity touched one and all. Whether you were an expert in Carnatic music and classical Bharatanatyam or not, the performance by these two artistes left you wanting for more of it! And there lay their success. 

Generally classical vocalists do not accompany classical dancers. There is a built-in resistance, a sense of infra-dig, vocalist playing a subsidiary role to dance, which such a venture broke. Not easy for a dancer or a musician who in her/his own right is a star and is at the zenith of her/his career. And wonder of wonders, their coming together was such a rare delight! 

Priya and Krishna made their statements as to how they conceived the entire program and arrived at meeting points in dance and music, retaining the element of improvisation. Introducing Mallari, it is sung ceremonially in a temple when Lord Shiva as Thyagesha, is taken in a procession at Tiruvarur, stopping at various shrines of the gods and goddesses like Vallabh Ganapati, Durga, Kamalambal, Nilotpala, Nandikeshwara and Sundaramurtinayanar, specially composed in Sanskrit by the violinist Shri Ramkumar. Opening with the poetic phrase “Pashyati dishi dishi….” and set to music with varying speeds, tempo, both in terms of music and dance, they set the tone. Looking like a dipalakshmi, a bronze sculpture come to life, Priya evoked the iconography of the gods and goddesses to the melodious music.  

The most challenging number was the Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi in which first Krishna elaborated the alapana with imagination and invested each note as it were with newness. Priya followed in panchanadai, chatusram, tisram, misram, khandam and sankirnam, weaving patterns of nritta, where there was a parallel coming together of aural and visual imageries - one wondered whether to relish the dance patterns or to immerse one’s self in the melodious singing! 

Using the Pallavi with “Krishnapatu kamaniya avatara” from Krishnakarnamirtam, both of them fully explored the sanchari bhavas, improvisations, Priya, starting with  incarnations, arriving at Balarama and then taking over as Lord Krishna, registering expressions of how when Balarama and Krishna entered the court of Kamsa for duel with the wrestlers, the wrestlers realized that Krishna was not a little child but as insurmountable as a mountain; the mothers present saw in him a child; the gopis saw him as irresistible Ananga-Kamadeva; Kamsa saw him as Yama who had come to kill him. And the Yogis saw him as one who gives Moksha! Both the dance and music went hand in hand. 

Krishna said that if you understand the padams and pour your heart into singing it, you achieve the maximum joy. Choosing Kshetrayya’s two padams Kuvalayakshi and Vadlani, contrasting padams, Priya delineated in the first, her intense love experience with the beloved about whom her confidante had come with the tell-tale stories of his dallying with other women. “So what?” asks the nayika who recalls the intensity of their love play. In contrast, in the next padam, the nayika chides the beloved for his infatuation for a woman of loose character and not listening to her advice to him to be careful! The playfulness both in abhinaya and singing was enjoyable.  

And the finale came with combined exploration in raga Nalinakanti where Krishna wove patterns with svaras and Priya with rhythm to the accompaniment of the mridangam, a sort of jugalbandi where they came together in a spirit of unity. No wonder the audience gave them a standing ovation. None wanted to get out of that magic circle. Sanjeev Bhargav has won many hearts with his ‘dream come true’ of bringing such artistes together. 

17th March 2009  
The second evening at the Fountain Lawns saw swelling crowds. The audience was looking forward to Leela Samson’s Bharatanatyam Margam to the accompaniment of vocal music by Bombay Jayashri. One expected that like Priya and Krishna, both would introduce their joint venture. Instead, the performance began with wonderful humming by Jayashri and Leela went straight ahead with the prayer in praise of Lord Shiva extolling his ardhanarishwara form. Then followed the time tested Varnam “Chalame  Rangaiyya” in Natakuranji dwelling upon a nayika, a devotee asking Lord Rangaiyya why was he angry with her and brushing her off, when she offered flowers and her devotion? One who astride Garuda, one who sleeps on serpent Shesha, one who comes to the rescue of the elephant from the clutches of a crocodile, one who saved Drauapdi when she was being humiliated - then why O Lord do you not take pity on me and bless me? To the harmonious signing and excellent nattuvangam by Sheejith Krishna, Leela rendered the Varnam in Kalakshetra bani with consummate artistry. Indeed it had an old world charm and evoked nostalgia. Of late one does not get many opportunities to relish such gems. 

In “Gange mam pahi,” Leela brought to life the river Ganga, her descent from the heaven and being received by Lord Shiva in his matted locks; the scenes on the banks of river Ganga, people ferrying across in a boat, devotees offering lamps, floating them on the waters, the final rites after the last journey, Ganga being worshipped by Akrura - so many images cascading one after another. The mood was built with Jayashri’s flowing voice, Sheejith’s kunnakol like rendering of sollus, merging with Ganga’s flow depicted so graphically in dance. 

With the rendering of Dharmapuri’s Javali in Paras depicting swadhinapatika, madhyama nayika, Leela was in her element. Drawing water from a well, she tells her sakhi about the beloved of hers, his incomparable qualities and that she does not bother about others talking what they may about him. The understated abhinaya was mature and balanced, dignified and controlled. It was further embellished by Jayashri’s soulful singing. It is in Javalis and padams that gifted musicians bring out the nuances with poignancy.  

Poochi Srinivas’s composition ‘Janaro’ in Khamas raga, Rupaka tala followed. Leela  brought out the anguish with economical movements and subtle facial expressions, the memories of the past, of the love play with the beloved, the flowery arrows of Kamadeva causing various effects, the helpless state of the nayika - all came through in a telling manner further highlighted by singing. 

Leela rounded up her performance with another Kalakshetra gem, Vaidyanatha Iyer’s Tillana in Hindolam raga, further enhancing the nostalgia for those who have relished this composition choreographed by Rukmini Devi and a favourite of Kalakshetra artistes. With peria adavu, Leela covered the space in an engaging manner. She indeed transported some of us, who love Kalakshetra aesthetics, to those halcyon days when Rukmini Devi’s physical presence was palpable in those hallowed grounds. With the passage of time, Leela reveals the values Kalakshetra has created and which reflect in her exposition. Poised, unhurried and composed, Leela and Jayashri succeeded in a presentation where the role of the vocalist/musician following the traditional Margam exposition was to give an excellent vocal musical support, not overriding but going hand in hand. 

Therefore, one saw two approaches in Samyuktam - the first one in which the dancer and the vocalist explored common grounds and took the audience with them on a journey where there was excitement of experimentation and the other, more sedate and traditional to which we are normally used to when watching a Margam presentation, the vocalist going parallel along with the dancer, not experimenting, but embellishing the total impact with melodious rendering full of bhava. 

18th March 2009 
And the finale. All four of them were to perform together! The expectations rose to a heightened level of palpable excitement! Fountain Lawn grounds were overflowing with audience standing all over and there was such a hush. On the first day, Sadhana Srivastav as an announcer had with her customary finesse conducted announcements. For the next two days, Priya Venkataraman, a Bharatanatyam dancer and daughter-in-law of dance critic Leela Venkataraman, with an arresting stage presence, poise and dignity conducted the announcements. However one wished that announcements were made of the ragas which were rendered, for the benefit of the audience not familiar with the ragas in Carnatic music. 

First Jayashri and Krishna rendered a Carnatic vocal recital together. The opening prayer in Lalita raga by Dikshitar in praise of Goddess Lakshmi “Hiranyamayi Lakshmi sada bhajami” they set the tone. Alternating, together and like a well tuned musical instrument, they sang together as one voice, where the notes wove a musical web and one had to close the eyes and just listen to it in complete silence and wonder. Individually both are competent, shining in their own right and have achieved a stature over the years. Coming together, they started a journey of sheer delight. Every note they rendered revealed the artistic heights Carnatic music reached in this Samyuktam. One took over from the other in a seamless manner and the effect it created was sheer bliss. 

Then followed in Bhairavi “Kanchi Kamakshi Amba” with crystal clear enunciation evoking the iconographic images of the Goddess that Jayashri and Krishna brought to one’s inner eye! “Bhaktajana kalpalatika karunyalaya sadaya” and the phrases ‘Shyamakrishna sahodari Shiva shankari parameshwari’ were rendered with such artistry. Was it devotion? Was it magic of pure notes? I am not a connoisseur of Carnatic music but have relished it over the years as a part of Bharatanatyam and also at times in a kutcheri when I am fortunate during the Chennai season to be with my connoisseur friend Manna Srinivasan, who gently whispers in my ears the nuances and the beauty of the music and how artistes handle the svaras! Ah, what a delight it is to be transported to such ‘rasasamadhi’!  

They concluded with Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi from the Gita Govinda, “Priye Charu shile” in bhajan sampradaya style and in the version in which violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman, Jayashiri’s guru has composed it. The rendering in raga Mukhari and Shivaranjani was flawless, and the Sanskrit text came through evoking poetic images, with such feeling that when Krishna sang “Dehi Padapallavamudaram,” one felt how could Radha not surrender when the Lord pleads in such a manner?  That musically it generated such wonderful response was a triumph of the music. (I closed my eyes and saw Kelucharan Mahapatra enacting abhinaya!  Who else can match their singing?)  

The finale came with Dandayudhapani Pillai’s ragamalika varnam. Leela began with pure dance in slow tempo which allowed her nritta to flower. Both Jayashri and Krishna sang together and alternatively for the varnam, lending an extra dimension to the musical quality of the varnam. Scintillating is the word which comes to mind to describe the nritta, pure aspect of varnam, when Priya took over. Her leaps and expansive movements were of a different school than that of Kalakshetra and the juxtaposition looked interesting. I had some uneasy feeling when the same stanza and others were taken up by Leela and Priya for abhinaya, alternatively. In their individual delineation they were superb, but to switch over from one to another visually, on the same stage, with their individual gifts, posed some problems to me for my enjoyment. In music which is aural, one listens as it is harmonious, whereas their depiction as nayika in separation in dance has differences registered on face and they arrive alternatively on stage, before those expressions sink in for appreciation. As an experiment one would enjoy, but I felt that switching over from one to another visually did not have the same impact as in the case of vocalists. 

In Dharmapuri Subbaraya’s “Sakhi Prana” in Jhenjurutti, Leela and Priya enacted abhinaya to virohatkantita and vipralabdha nayika’s state of mind, the anguish of separation, the nayak’s indifference, walking past the nayika whom he adored with sweet words of love and moved on to another woman - ah, what pain one suffered! Leela with her Kalakshetra background and Priya with her abhinaya delineation as imbibed from Kalanidhi Narayanan, shone forth individually. I would have preferred the presentation not alternatively but one after another to let individual expressions sink in aesthetically and visually. 

The Tillana number was, as Krishna explained, two tillanas in Khamas, one by Pattanam Subramanya Iyer and the other by Lalgudi Jayaraman, judiciously put together for singing to which both the dancers performed with élan, each highlighting her own style with aplomb. Visually the impact was stunning. Rarely one sees two gifted dancers, two gifted vocalists coming together with other accompanying instrumentalists with such rare understanding, respect for each other, humility, without any desire to upstage anyone, with one goal to create aesthetic delight. When the mangalam was sung, it spread that auspicious feeling of which Abhinavagupta speaks of as ‘hridayavishranti.’ Music has that exquisite quality of bringing peace within and it was in the air.  

Sanjeev Bhargav dreamt of this confluence and it did happen. Lucky were those who immersed in the waves of such joy. This happened in spite of several difficulties the artistes had to face on account of their professional engagements and then work together even when they are in the same city.  

And now we are all waiting for a similar confluence in Kathak and Odissi, which Sanjeev Bhargav has promised in the near future.  

Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic, having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr. Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan. He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008) and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to, Dr Kothari is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award.