Meditative melody and dance divine
- Sumana Srinivasan

October 3, 2012

The monsoon rains have begun to recede in Mumbai but it’s raining music and dance at IIT Bombay, thanks to SPICMACAY hosting their west zone convention ‘Virasat’ in the campus. The newly refurbished convocation hall with its beautiful burgundy décor and excellent acoustics set the stage for artistes R Vedavalli and Rama Vaidyanathan.

Vedavalli’s singing was deep and meditative adhering to tradition. She started out with a Ganapati slokam and followed it with the evergreen Dikshitar’s ‘Vatapi Ganapatim.’ The pace was unhurried and she added a new dimension to the already embellished krithi with slowly unfolding neravals. The next song was a leisurely Ananda Bhairavi krithi of Dikshitar, ‘Manasa Guruguharupam Bhajare re.’ Panthuvarali followed with the deeply resonating ‘Shambho Mahadeva’ of Thyagaraja. She captured the essence of the raga in her neraval and swara prastharas that unfolded slowly with pregnant pauses dwelling on dhaivatha and madhyama and then slowly increasing the speed to a cascade of sparkling swaras. There was saukhyam, adakkam and auchityam, hallmarks of musicians of her era, in her singing. Her mandhra sancharas brought back memories of the indomitable DKP. It was Dikshitar’s krithis that dominated the evening with yet another gem in Dwijavanthi, ‘Chetah Balakrishnam.’ She then sang the traditional Ragam Tanam Pallavi with the main ragam being Keeravani in adi and followed it with lilting taanams and a pallavi on Krishna in ragamalika comprising of Athana, Saveri, Bihag and Suruti. The krithi, ‘Sarvam Brahmamayam’in Jhinjhoti of Sadasiva Brahmendra was an apt end to a meditative concert.

In this day and age of flashy showmanship, it was heartening to see her dignified persona without gaudy accouterments and her music reflected her personality. Despite her advancing age, her voice held on and she was supported ably by her student (whose name I unfortunately do not know since the student organizers never bothered to introduce her or any of the accompanists at the end, which is a shame, especially in a SPICMACAY concert). The violin and mridangam accompaniments were superb, complementing the senior artiste without being too jarring. The violinist RK Sriram Kumar followed and supported the musician faithfully and brought out the melodic nuances and rhythmic cadences with delicate bowing. The mridangist Arun Prakash played in a subdued manner throughout and we missed out on seeing his virtuosity in action since there was very less time, barely a few minutes for tani avartanam since the concert started late. All in all, it was a beautiful and contemplative concert.

While the music was meditative, the dance that followed was deeply spiritual and replete with metaphysical symbols. Rama Vaidyanathan is known for her intelligent choreography and she is a thinking dancer who brings her own interpretations to classical pieces. She began her concert with a twist on Alarippu called Sannidhanam in Atta talam, which describes and embodies the geometry and suggestive symbolism of our temples. She intelligently crafted the alarippu like movements and bols to depict the external ornamentation of the temple architecture that becomes more stark and minimalistic as one approaches the sanctum sanctorum. She also depicted the Sree Chakra with the vertical and inverted triangles symbolizing lingam and yoni with a stand at ease like stance and a floor bend respectively enclosed in a circle denoting the cycle of life. It was apt that she chose Devi, the sacred feminine, as the bindu in the middle of the sanctum and using the beeja mantras from Devi Mahatmyam, painted her as a creator, nurturer and a destroyer of evil. It was executed with flawless technique and rhythm. The SPICMACAY banner at the back was distracting since it was bright yellow and red but luckily Rama covered the stage well and her facial expressions were visible when she was not in front of the backdrop.

The piéce de resistance, Varnam, was the classical Bhairavi Tanjore Quartet composition ‘Mohamana en meedil.’ In this piece too, Rama added her own metaphysical interpretation again through suggestive symbols, the physical and spiritual union of the longing nayika with her Lord Tyagesa of Tiruvarur. The set of movements where she shows the physical union using two shikhara hastas with her back to the audience and legs crossed and stretched and transforming that into a spiritual union by bringing down slowly the shikhara hastha now representing lingam entering her body and the ecstatic awakening of the spirit by the Kundalini aptly depicted the joy of the physical and spiritual union. It was brilliant, mesmerizing, suggestive and intelligent.  The imagery she wove of the Lord’s procession was beautiful and ably supported by different rhythms on the mridangam. Her in-depth research of the sthalapurana of Tiruvarur helped her explore more sancharis. Depicting the sanctum sanctorum of Tiruvarur temple as the chest of Vishnu and Siva dancing to his heartbeat brought out the sthayibhava of bhakti-sringara in a most evocative manner. The mridangam strokes depicting the heartbeat added to the rasa, however, the violin playing at this juncture was too distracting. I wish she had just used the mridangam alone during this sequence. The charanam and swarams depicting Kama’s arrows and the state of the nayika was lively with Rama covering the entire space of the stage.

Following the varnam, she presented a rare Purandaradasa krithi ‘Saddu madalu bedavo, Rangayya.’ Rama danced the role of a young nayika frustrated with Krishna playing flute next to her, afraid as to what her neighbors would say if they found out. It was charming and enjoyable. While announcing the item, she said that the ending regarding how the nayika would make Krishna stop playing the flute was a suspense and I was a tad disappointed that it was a clichéd ending where the nayika just plucks the flute from his hands and runs away. I hoped that the nayika was bolder, perhaps, kissed Krishna to keep him from playing the flute.

Next, Rama presented ‘Enna thavam seidanai Yashoda.’ She did justice to the mood of the song and the audience lapped it up. The last item was a thillana followed by an abhanga. The tillana choreography was fragmented. Rama’s innovations within the traditional framework are bold, thought provoking and aesthetic. Somehow the visualization of tillana lacked the punch. Missed the attamis in the beginning that helps build up to a crescendo. There was lot of movement all over the place without punctuations and the patterns did not really settle in the mind. I also missed the beautiful usi adavus. However, she more than made up with the spirited performance as Sant Jana Bai waking up Panduranga in the Abhanga ‘Uttho Vitthala.’ The lavani movements and the bhakti fervor brought the curtains down but awakened the spirit within. Her accompanying musicians did a commendable job with nuanced nattuvagam, soulful singing, melodious violin and measured percussive support. Rama mesmerized her audience completely and carried them effortlessly into her world of imagery, emotion, music and movement and left them craving for more.