Silambam Houston’s 10th anniversary celebrations
- Ragothaman Yennamalli
Photos courtesy: Silambam Houston

October 25, 2012

The Silambam group of institutions, formed by the alumni and students of Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy’s Shree Bharathalaya (a premier institute for Bharatanatyam and allied art forms in Chennai) has spread its branches in different parts of the world, like a banyan tree, giving inspiration and knowledge of Bharatanatyam to current and future generations. Dr. Lavanya Rajagopalan, a disciple of Sudharani Raghupathy, founded Silambam Houston in 2002 to propagate Indian classical arts, specifically Bharatanatyam, in the Greater Houston area. The 10th anniversary celebration of Silambam Houston was held at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center, Houston on 23rd September 2012.

The function was graced by one of Sudharani’s senior most disciples, Smitha Magal, the founder of Silambam Dublin in Ohio. Adhering to the traditional Margam format, the event had performances by three renowned Houston based dancers. Dr. Rathna Kumar (Kuchipudi), Padmini Chari (Kalakshetra bani), and Indrani Parthasarathy (Pandanallur bani) making the evening a memorable one. It was a unique experience for the audience, especially for the dance students as they witnessed different styles.

The Ranga-anjali, a traditional opening composition set in Ragamalika and Talamalika, was an offering to the gods Ganesha, Muruga and Saraswathi. The intermediate level dancers of Silambam performed this piece with clear mudra depictions of the three gods. The choreography was brisk and demanded more coordination from the children.

Students of Silambam Houston

In “Maye Mayan Sodariye”, a popular varnam composed by Madurai N Krishnan in ragam Thodi and set to adi talam, Lavanya Rajagopalan and her advanced level students praised the various aspects of Sakthi. The various attributes such as shringara, shruthi (depicted by different musical instruments), laya (depicted by drums and a jugalbandhi), and bhava (depicted by the navarasas) embody Sakthi making her the mother Goddess, who manifests in all creation. The intelligent use of focused lighting for depiction of specific attributes made the audience perceive what the choreographer intended. In some portions, a small amount of front lighting would have helped the audience clearly see the abhinaya of the dancer. The jugalbandhi between the dancers when depicting the laya attribute of Sakthi was enjoyable. The Jati following the line “Karuthil unnai ninaithu bhajika” was pleasing to watch with the dancers keeping laya and coordination. Lavanya’s and her student’s supple movements had the trademarks of the Tanjore style as taught by Kittappa Pillai, the guru of Sudharani Raghupathy.

After the varnam, Rathna Kumar performed to an Annamayya krithi “Brahma Kadigina Padamu” set in ragam Mukhari in Kuchipudi style. Her eloquent choreography depicting Lord Brahma’s salutation to the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu, Ahalya’s liberation from her curse by the brush of Lord Rama’s foot, and Krishna dancing on Kaliya showcased her exquisite abhinaya skills.

The padams performed by Silambam Houston students were “Neelakantha Mahadeva” (in ragamVasantha set to tishra adi talam) and “Mellamellane bandhane” a devarnama by Purandaradasa (in ragam Mohanam set to adi talam), an excerpt from Sudharani Raghupathy’s “Krishnam Vande Jagatgurum.” The padams were delightful. Unable to bear Krishna’s antics, the Gopis complain to Yasodha, who does not believe that her son is capable of mischief. Lavanya as Yasodha maintained the Vatsalya bhava with neat depiction of a mother protecting her child. Not having a dull moment in the group choreography and every dancer playing a part, made this padam highly appreciable to watch. In the second half of the padam, a Thondaradipodi Alwar pasuram was seamlessly introduced, making the bhakthi bhava the dominant mood at the end.

Padmini Chari performed a padam in praise of Muruga (in Ragamalika), interweaving three stories - the interaction of Muruga with Avvaiyar, the poetess of Tamil Sangam era, the episode of gnana-pazham between Ganesha and Muruga, and the wooing of Valli in the guise of an old man. The depictions were in textbook Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam.

Rathna Kumar, Padmini Chari, Indrani Parthasarthy

Showcasing the Pandanallur style, Indrani Parthasarthy performed a padam in praise of Vishnu, “Parkadal Alai mele” in Ragamalika and Talamalika, which was popularized by M L Vasanthakumari. The ten avatars of Lord Vishnu were depicted one after the other, set to different ragas. Her understated abhinaya, which smoothly transitioned from one avatar to another, was a delight to watch.

The penultimate composition performed, having vatsalya as the dominant mood (again), was Mahakavi Bharathiyar’s “Chinnachiru kiliye” in Ragamalika. This was presented by the tiny tots along with the advanced group of Silambam’s students and by Lavanya Rajagopalan. The piece was ably depicted through the poet’s love and pride in the child, ending in anguish. The lively Revathi thillana in praise of Bhuvaneshwari left the audience with a satiated feeling. The choreography was well adapted to a group performance with apt entry of the performers at the beginning of each korvai.

In the 10th anniversary celebrations, Silambam Houston has set a good example of showcasing not only their own talents but also of other styles. For a student of Bharatanatyam or Indian dance in general, witnessing performances from various styles or bani is essential for expanding their knowledge and to appreciate the nuances of each style. I hope such performances happen more frequently in Houston. 

Ragothaman Yennamalli is a student of Bharatanatyam learning from Guru Vijayalakshmi Ramanan, New Delhi.