A shower of rasas in Raindrops Festival!
- A Seshan, Mumbai
e-mail: anseshan@gmail.com
Photos: Sabu Aadithyan

July 12, 2011

Sam Ved, Society for Performing Arts, established by Uma Dogra, conducted the 21st Raindrops Festival coinciding with the south-west monsoon in Mumbai. It was a two-day programme on July 8 and 9, 2011 with performances by six leading artistes of the younger generation in Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi and Kathak. I was able to attend the one by Sreelakshmy Govardhanan in Kuchipudi, the contribution of Andhra Pradesh to the fine arts of the nation, on the first day at the Mini Theatre at the P L Deshpande Maharashtra Kala Academy at the Ravindra Natya Kala Mandir in Prabhadevi. A Keralite presenting a Kuchipudi recital in Mumbai testifies to the increasing popularity of the art form, the cosmopolitanism of the metro and national integration achieved by Indian classical dancers. She is training under the guidance of Pasumarthy Rattaiah Sarma and also learning Kuchipudi Yakshagana. She has received titles like Singar Mani and Kalathilakam.  She has a post-graduate degree in Psychological Counselling and is the Artistic Director of Avanthika Space for Dance.

In order to provide scope for a wide gamut of classical dances each performance was limited to 40 minutes, which tested the ingenuity of the artistes in planning and bringing out their best within the limited time.  Sreelakshmy measured up to the challenge. She commenced with Ardhanareeswaram, a traditional Kuchipudi item, composed by Korada Narasimha Rao. It was in Ragamalikai and Adi tala.  It depicts the combination of Shakti (Prakriti or nature) and Shiva (Purusha) bringing out the truth that they are not separate but two-in-one. Shiva draws the feminine aspect into himself to demonstrate the point. In doing the double role, Sreelakshmy brought out the differences in the costumes of Siva and Parvathy: Siva with his garland of skulls, dress of tiger skin and ornament of a snake while Parvathy adorns herself with a garland of jasmine, saffron saree and golden bangles. The highlight of the item was the climax of tandava of Siva and lasya of Parvathy in jatis brought out effectively with bodily movements and footwork, the former expressing vigour and the latter delicacy. There was a dramatic finale with a karana in a sitting posture.

The second and final item was Poothana Moksham, the story from Bhagavatam, choreographed by the artiste. Poothana, the demon, is given an assignment by Kamsa of killing baby Krishna. She disguises herself as a beautiful lady and goes to Vrindavan. She loses herself in the dances and merriment of gopis and joins them. Later she remembers her task and goes to meet Krishna. On seeing him she is influenced by her maternal instinct. Overcoming it, she tries to feed him with poisoned milk but Krishna sucks the life out of her. Because she is killed by Him, she attains salvation (moksham). The item set to ragamalika and talamalika was composed by Vasudevan Namboothiri, the sahitya provided for sancharis in abhinaya. The climax was the Tarangam, the traditional unique feature of Kuchipudi, when Sreelakshmy danced on the rim of a brass plate to the cadences of jatis. It started with a slokam describing the nine emotions of Krishna. Endowed with a charming stage presence Sreelakshmy has a mobile face that can reflect myriad emotions in a quicksilver fashion.  This came through loud and clear in the sancharis and in effectively expressing the navarasas. The sloka started with Hamsadhwani followed by Behag (sringaram and hasyam), Sahana (karuna), Athana (roudram and viram), Saranga (bhayanakam), Kedaragowlai (bhibatsam and adbhutam) and Bhoopalam (shantam). Her tight rhythmic control over movements synchronising with the kalapramanam was proof of her hard work in the area. One novelty was the up and down movement of the plate to reproduce the syllables after the jatis were recited.

To give one example of Sreelakshmy’s mastery over mukhajabhinaya, she depicted the frightening face of Poothana with fierce eyes and the tongue put out that conveyed the rasa of bhayanaka (fear) effectively. However, mercifully it lasted only a few seconds and was not over-dramatised. I have always held the view that rasaprakarana or the delineation of the appropriate sentiment should be specific to the gender of the artiste. For example, certain facial expressions relating to rakshasas and rakshasis that go well with male dancers are not appropriate for the females and should not be overdone in order to produce a dramatic effect. The transmission of the stayibhava of the dancer to the rasanubhava of the rasika is a delicate nuanced matter and should not be vulgarised.  

The borderlines of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi are thin unlike in the case of those of other styles of Indian dances. A lay rasika like me can easily identify the others just by looking at the costume and hair-do as in the case of Kathakali, Mohiniattam, Manipuri, Odissi and Kathak. But it is not so for distinguishing Kuchipudi from Bharatanatyam so much so one has to look for specific characteristics like the sutradhara, the screen before the heroine in the opening scene, dancing on the brass plate, etc., for the former. Yet one has to reckon with the fact that from the sthanaka in Poorvarambham to Tillana, there are special technical features of Kuchipudi, for example, in the execution of teermanams, which only a connoisseur can detect.  There are many common elements in both the styles but Kuchipudi has its own special adugulus or adavus. Often those who have had training in both the systems rather unconsciously incorporate elements of one in the other – a form of fusion! I found Sreelakshmy strictly sticking to the classicism of Kuchipudi. Probably the fact that she did not have training in Bharatanatyam helped her in the matter! Thus, to give one example, the curvilinear nature of charis and sthanakas in Kuchipudi was conspicuous in contrast to the linearity of Bharatanatyam.

The supporting orchestra (recorded) contributed to the success of the programme: vocal - Reju Narayanan Namboothiri; nattuvangam - Vasudevan Namboothiri; mridangam – Kiran Nath; flute - Raghunath; and violin - Suresh Namboothiri.

The small auditorium with accommodation for about 150 persons was well air-conditioned with comfortable seats. It was full despite the heavy raindrops of the monsoon season raging outside. The smallness of the theatre was conducive to certain closeness between the artiste and the audience providing the ambience of a chamber concert that enhanced the enjoyment of the dance.

Uma Dogra and Sam Ved deserve the congratulation and gratitude of the aficionados of classical dances in Mumbai for thoughtfully organising the festival with a view to giving capsule versions of different styles in the country. More so because it presented some artistes of merit relatively not well known to the city. Kuchipudi performances are becoming rare and rare in Mumbai. Let us hope for more and plentiful raindrops in the future!

The author, an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, is a music and dance buff.