Sugar and spice cake - with the icing...
A tribute to Pt Bhimsen Joshi through Bharatanatyam
- Poornima Ramaprasad
Photos: Poornima’s clicks

October 9, 2011

What? "Mango pickle in Kesaribhath?" was my first reaction when I heard that there would be Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's legacy concert by Nachiketa Yakkundi topped by Bharatanatyam by Gargi Panchangam. Although I'm an ardent lover of Hindustani music as well as Bharatanatyam, I wasn't sure how they would blend together. As always, the most welcoming audience of San Francisco Bay area responded to this overwhelmingly and there was a houseful show at the Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto on Sept. 25, 2011 for this novel experiment, hosted by ICA (Indians for Collective Action), the beneficiary being Parivartana, a Karnataka education project.

The first part was Hindustani vocal concert by Nachiketa Yakkundi, a musician par excellence trained under Late Pt Basavaraj Rajguru of the Kirana Gharana, the same style to which Late Pt Bhimsen Joshi adhered to. The concert started with a  composition  in  Brindavani Sarang, preceded by an alap in a relaxing pace, followed by two khayals in Maru Bihag set to vilambit ek tal and drut teen tal, one that was a particular favourite of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi "Rasiyaa ho na jaa." This was followed by the evergreen bandish in raag Puriya Dhanashri in teentaal "Payaliyaan jhanakar mori" which was rendered very melodiously and effectively such that the audience was dancing. This played a good prep to the forthcoming dance in the second half of the concert. He further continued the mood of payal and jhanak-jhanan with the peppy "Jhanana Jhanana Jhanana payal baje" in raag Jai Jaivanti which became an instant favorite of the audience followed by a Marathi natyageet based on a Jayadeva ashtapadi in a traditional tune in Yaman Kalyan. The harmonium accompaniment by Vivek Datar was wonderful, so was tabla by the maestro Ravi Gutala. The audience was spellbound by the unrestrained thunderous voice of Nachiketa Yakkundi.
The second half was mainly for bhajans, abhangs, Purandara Dasa and Vijayadasa krithis that were a legacy of Pt Bhimsen Joshi, which seemed more complete with Gargi Panchangam's Bharatanatyam. Gargi Panchangam is a Kalakshetra style Bharatanatyam artist, who has carved a niche for herself in the hearts of the San Francisco Bay area rasikas through her expressive abhinaya and upbeat choreography. To begin this recital, a tribute to the legend was offered by Gargi through the item "Guru Maharaja Guru" in raag Din-ki-puriya, a rare melody with an apt saahitya, rendered in a very fitting way. This was followed by the Purandara Dasa krithis that were popularized to the Hindustani world by Bhimsen Joshi himself, "Kailasavaasa Gowrisha Isha" in a Kambodhi(ish) raag, a folkish number and "Deva banda namma swamy bandano, Devara deva shikhamani bandano" in raag Yaman Kalyan which was a very lively group dance. The group comprised of talented and seasoned dancers, who did justice to the saahitya while making sure that there was perfect harmony and coordination. This was followed by a Marathi abhang in raag Ahir Bhairav, "Teertha Vitthala kshetra Vitthala" followed by another famous Vijayadasa pada in Darbaari, "Sada enna hrdayadalli vaasa maado Sri Hari" (You live in my heart, always, O Sri Hari).  Gargi's expressions for this one were so touching, her emotions were so natural, the audience in the front rows did not fail to notice the tears that were running down her cheeks - the tears of bhakti.

After witnessing this, I must admit that my analogy was a total misfit - this should be called a ‘Sugar and spice cake,’ the icing being the grand finale, the masterpiece, Purandara Dasa's "Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma” in the Bhimsen Joshi style, in raag Bhibhas, which is a super hit in Karnataka and rest of the world. This was a group dance and was exquisitely choreographed with all the dancers coming together in spectacular formations taking the Supreme Goddess’s poses. A great tribute to the great legend thus ended, providing an awesome start to Navaratri 2011.

The mridangam accompaniment and the nattuvangam interludes provided a good base for the dance. Also, the fact that the style that Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Nachiketa Yakkundi use (Kirana Gayaki) has some influence from Carnatic music gave a not-so-unusual feel for Bharatanatyam. The dancers Shubha Aithal, Ramya Abhijit, Vinita Ajay, Pooja Gubbi, Deepa Sridhar and Purvi Sathya did all the justice to add grandeur to a quiet and peaceful affair.

May the divine music of the late maestro overflow and penetrate into the hearts of millions of rasikas in all possible novel approaches.

Poornima Ramaprasad follows Indian classical music and dance forms. She reviews Indian dance and drama events in the San Francisco bay area from time to time.