A deep devotional pursuit
- Nandini Ramani, Chennai
e-mail: nandinirvr@yahoo.com
Photo: Lalitha Venkat

January 22, 2011

At Brahma Gana Sabha's annual dance festival, Zakir Hussain presented his production on Srirangam, the divine abode of Sri Rangaraja, with a deep devotional approach that revealed his genuine involvement and adoration of the chosen theme. Zakir's research and analysis of the subject from various angles of the study he had painstakingly undertaken was fully evident throughout this thematic work; above all, the humility and dignity he added to both his narration and dance execution of the theme, brought forth the sincerity, dedication and unassuming quality of the artist.

Zakir revealed his in-depth knowledge of the subject, as he fluently quoted from the text, Koil Ozhugu and citing references from the different Pasurams and the Azhvars. All the while in his narration he made one wonder at his fine grip over the nuances of the Vaishnava Sampradaya, including the mastery of the Vaishnavite Hasta mudras and aspects of Vishnu Bhakti; it is sheer divine blessing and Purva Punya, that have granted him this opportunity in this birth to revel in the realms of devotion to the "All-pervasive Lord."

Zakir gave an interesting account of the different episodes that he had networked for his production with rich background material on the different Azhvars and their stories revolving around their devotional journey to the Kingdom of Sri Rangaraja. He narrated these details with such involvement creating a deep emotional impact on the listeners. Especially when he spoke of the devout courtesan, Vellaiamma, who confronts the Muslim dacoit and brings about his death using her charms, in order to save the deity and the valuables of the temple, and that of the washerman, Ekaali, who identifies the original idol of the Lord and addresses Him as "Namperumal" - were all described in such an intense manner by Zakir that would melt every individual to contemplate on the magnificent reach of the Lord's Grace towards His humble devotees and the unique status He assigned to them.

The opening number was a Raga Talamalika composition, based on Pasurams of different Azhvars set as a PrabandhaTodayam; the main Varnam format had been composed by the versatile Revathi Sankkaran with enriching lyrical content to describe each of the segment; 'Akilam Thaangum Aravanai Mel' in Ragamalika is a fitting addition to the dance repertoire, especially for the younger generation of dancers as it spreads the glory of the different devout Vishnu Bhaktas; also, with its pure-devotional content, this number is bound to educate scores of young artists, a knowledge that will suit and enthuse the young minds in the study of Bhakti and Prapatti of the Vaishnavite saints.

The Varnam had crisp, compact technical sections and Zakir displayed firm control over this area. The episode of Tiruppanaazhvar formed the first segment; the best came from Zakir, in the enactment of the courtesan Vellaiamma in honour of whose devotion to Arangan, one of the Gopura of the temple is named (Vellaigopura); herein, Zakir revealed his ample talent while describing the advances made by the Muslim dacoit towards the courtesan; at one time he was the charming Dasi and at another he was the rough dacoit; both of the roles were very well portrayed by the dancer without the usual technique of dramatizing explicit role reversal which is the common practice seen in most presentations; Zakir gave apt depiction at this point with utmost subtlety; his approach was one of a measured portrayal of the roles, never exaggerated at anytime; it was such a relief to see such a mature approach to these interpretative aspects, handled by Zakir with propriety. The other Azhvars included in the Varnam are Tiruvaali Naadan, Tirucchutru Vibhishanaacharya, who places the deity he is carrying and the Lord wishing to make Srirangam as His abode, aptly fitting into the lines of the Varnam - Achyutan Ugandadu Tiruvarangam.

The production on the whole was an elevating experience and proved the fact that it requires a dancer to identify with his or her art in absolute faith so as to effect a real culmination of spiritualism and aesthetics in their work, well extended to the Sahrudaya; this truly happened in Zakir's well-conceived and well-executed presentation on that evening.

Nandini Ramani is a well known critic, writer, Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher of the Balasaraswathi style. Daughter of late renowned scholar Dr. V Raghavan, Nandini is compiling her father's literary works and publishing them for Dr. V Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts, Chennai.