Ode to Navarathri 
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur 
e-mail: padmajayaraj@gmail.com 

October 19, 2010 

The month of October is the month of Navarthri. Goddess Saraswati rules the subcontinent; classical arts, for a brief period, relegate other activities. Thalam, a cultural trust, celebrates the mood in its annual festival. This season, it was the Thalam- Soorya festival for the people of Thrissur, Kerala. 

The five day festival showcased three dance recitals. The inaugural day saw a captivating Odissi recital from Nrityagram. The ninety-minute recital had the stamp of Protima Bedi, who had left her mark as the founder of Nrityagram. Her disciple Surupa Sen accompanied by Bijayini Satpathy and Pavithra Reddy formed the ensemble. Although derived from temple sculptures and the Vaishnava tradition, Odissi embodies many influences. Nrityagram acknowledges its tribal traditions or yogini cults. Discarding the traditional style of head décor and dress pattern, the group gave a bewitching performance with powerful leaps, dynamic movements, and stunning yoga postures.  

The dance recital began with Ganesa thandava. A joyous dance of three, entering the stage one after the other brought the thandava of Siva, lasya of Parvati and elephantine dimensions of Ganesha to the beat of bold rhythmic syllables. The Pallavi ‘Ritu Vasant ‘showed endless sculptures in various motifs from the temples of Orissa. As if caught in a flowering land, watching flowers blooming in different designs, the audience felt the magic touch of the ensemble.  Nritta explored the raga in intricate footwork, a composition by Pt Raghunath Panigrahi. 

A solo by Pavithra Reddy enacted an Oriya hymn by the Muslim poet Salabega, an ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath. Choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra, it provided scope for abhinaya as stories of Vishnu avatar rolled on. 'Mugdha' was the quintessential Odissi piece that lovers of dance would like to cherish. The popularity of the song ‘Dhire Sameere…’ choreographed by the late Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra and performed by his many disciples, has made the item immortal. The choreographic ingenuity of Surupa Sen blossomed in the portrayal of Radha and Sakti. Sringara rasa highlighted sublimated love in the Ashtapadi.  

The concluding item Vibhakta, centered on interdependence and duality of being. Performed by Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy, the Ardhanareeswara stothram of Sankaracharya was an energetic articulation of raudra rasa of purusha juxtaposed with the lavanya of the female principle blending into a perfect fusion. Recorded music flowed complementing a filigree of arm and hand gestures, expressive mudras, and tribanga poses set to intricate rhythms. The music for the Nrityagram performance differed from the conventional. Close to Carnatic with the accompaniment of violin, it was really outstanding.  

The second evening started off with a Bharatanatyam recital by Priyadarsini Govind in perfect margam format. With a live orchestra (nattuvangam - Balakrishnan, mridangam - Sakthivel Murgan) and superb singing by Preethi Mahesh, the recital began with a mallari (ragam gambeeranatai, roopaka thalam) followed by two pieces of invocation. The invocation to Muruga in Shanmughapriya ragam and roopaka thalam composed by Madurai Muralidharan, traced the story and various aspects of the Lord. A swarajathi in Bhairavi followed. “Amba Kamakshi,” a composition of Syama Sastri, conjured up a divine halo for an evening of peace, harmony and solace so dear to the human soul. 

The three abhinaya pieces that followed stole the heart of the audience. A short piece from ‘Akananuru’ was an insight into a different perspective of a past that cherished a different ideal. The haunting singing with violin (Sikhamani) dominating, in ragam Bhavapriya, drenched the mood, evoked the pain of human memory that has endured the sorrow of war and killing. Humor is rather a rare treat in a classical dance recital. But here a javali (Behag ragam, adi thalam) “Samayamithe.... ” in which the nayika packs off her husband to invite her lover is replete with humor, at least at the physical level. Of course it has spiritual connotations of a higher kind that is beyond the mundane. The contradictions and the duality of human existence is the nucleus of the recital. 

The perennial joy evoked by the archetypal child, Krishna: mischievous, impish yet how loving and lovable! Exasperation here is a manifestation of love, something that women fussing over children have established as an emotion. The folk piece based on raga Chenchurutti and adi thalam roused the maternal longing inherent in every being. A thillana followed by an abhang culminated the mood set by the mallari. The dancer merged into the persona of the poet Bhanudasa whirling and singing; singing and whirling, spiraling the mind of the audience into a seventh heaven. 

Lakshmi Gopalaswami is a household name in Kerala as a popular film actress. Enjoying a dance recital by the glamour girl is a different treat.  Each item she performed was unique in the stance taken, even when it kept within the bounds of tradition. On day three, her recital started with the customary pushpanjali. The choreography moved on with the mythical birth of Ganesha. The second item struck the keynote of her stance as a thinking artist who is concerned about what happens around us. Kaali was non-parallel in theme and presentation. Kaali, the primordial Mother Goddess was the fury, an environmental theme built into it, with a choreography based on just khanda chapu thalam without a song. It was a rare item that showcased her originality.  

The third piece was a varnam that dealt with a different kind of love: the love of a devotee for Krishna. The composition “innum en manam ariyaadhavar” by reputed violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman in Charukesi ragam and adi thalam was another item with a difference. The lonely human soul celebrating her love for Krishna recalled unforgettable events of his life on earth. The Krishna lore is engraved in the memory of the subcontinent: Poothana moksham, Kaaliya mardhanam, the antics of child Krishna etc came alive creating the theatrical aspects of a dance performance.  The padam that followed was also a celebration of the human, composed by Subbarama Iyer in ragam Behag and thalam roopakam. Sarcastic in tone, “Ariven ayya un antharangam” the khandita nayika takes a philosophical stance, stands detached, lets life flit pass with its nuances. Yet, with a courage born out of moral strength, she does not mince words but tells the truth to the very face of her husband who stands for all husbands who really do not care.  With a deep irony, the dance swings between love and deception, in each line of the song. The padam celebrates womanhood from Indian perspective.  

A Swathi Thirunal kriti, “Smarathinumaam  sadayam” was the Krishna-Kuchela piece,  again from a different angle in ragam Attana, talam adi. The story too was human in essence. Kuchela in front of Krishna’s palace tells the gatekeeper of their childhood together at the feet of their Guru; tells him of the gift he had brought in spite of his torn clothes. And then he asks permission to get in. ‘No way’ - the doors remain closed for the poor. A resigned Kuchela prepares to leave. At the nick of the moment, the sound of the flute fills the air….it is the call, the divine call…what else is needed? Kuchela falls down prostrating, surrendering his packet of beaten rice, the only thing he had. At another level, the dancer surrenders at the feet of Krishna. The human and the divine remain at two levels, yet God comes to man. The concluding item was a thillana by Pattanam Subramani Iyer in Khamas ragam and adi talam. The recital ended with mangalam for the earth. But for the vocal by Uma Ramaswamy, the accompanying team provided excellent support. 

Sthree by Ragamala Dance Company, Minneapolis, led by Ranee Ramaswamy, concluded the five-day long Thalam-Soorya Festival.  Silappadikaram by Ilango Adigal is perhaps the most popular source from the Sangam period for dancers. The Story of the Anklet is an eternal theme. What is striking in the presentation is the modern perspective given to the theme. It is not just a story of love and revenge but of 
man-woman relationship with its psychological nuances. Choreographed by Ranee Ramaswamy (original music by Dr. L Subramaniam), the 90-minute dance drama explores love, loyalty, retribution and karma. 
The philosophy of karma and dharma is woven through its many strands.  

Characters emerge from a female chorus, reflecting, refracting, and highlighting the emotions of the protagonists. Coalescing into one being with diverse facets, the persona of the woman emerges in her complexity… fragile, fierce, majestic, ebullient, erotic and spiritual. Each character is played by several dancers in the course of the ballet following ekaharya lasyangam. 

The festival sponsored by Manappuram Group, is an annual feature Thrissurians look forward to. 

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com