Creativity within traditional parameters
- Ranee Kumar

March 15, 2016

A good grip over the artistic medium, a transparent countenance that can reflect required emotions convincingly and a creative initiative to lend a new dimension to the established format - all these are sure signs of a successful stage presentation. And this is precisely Divya Ravi’s  USP. 

In keeping with the unique title ‘Manjari’ (bouquet), set to the margam (orthodox stage repertoire), each flower unfolded itself to the traditional alarippu, followed by the varnam, a tester in every sense of the term, a javali, a padam and a finishing tillana. Divya took pains to give a brief on each piece she was going to present for better appreciation.  Never swerving from the framework of Bharatanatyam, both in nritta and abhinaya (footwork and artistic expression), she took up ‘Vikasitha’ (bloom) to begin with. Her innovation of the alarippu jatis were her hasta mudras (gestures) which were always geared to depict a flower in bud and bloom going by the sequence of the song. Strong footwork was set to three cycles of speed while her artistry displayed originality in the sense of the flowering process of the bud being the plant’s way of paying obeisance to Mother Nature. Each petal was shown as opening up in salutation to the eight directions (ashta dighpalak), a very impressive piece of thought and action.

The Padma (lotus) was picked first from the Manjari since it connotes divinity in the Indian context.  To elucidate the significance of lotus, she chose a mythological story from the Padma Purana where the creator Brahma manifests an era of Padma (Padma kalpa). The spiritual and metaphysical symbolism of lotus was enacted with clarity and conviction that went down well with the audience. Since this was a varnam, it had to be lengthy. Hence, a lot more about the import of the lotus flower; aspects like it represents the five elements of earth, water, air, space and fire (in this case the Sun) and the very popular concept of living a life like the lotus who is born in murky waters but remains literally untouched by its surrounding; the instance of our inner self (atman) being unsullied by the Arishadvarga (six frailties of human mind), flitted across her face in quick succession.  The Tantra interpretation of the seven chakras (subtle body points) in the human body, each in the form of a lotus where the colour and petals differ of course was pictured with precision. Divya is bestowed with a pair of lovely, speaking eyes that could express any emotion with ease. Her quick silver change of mime from amphibians to fauna to establish the ‘pancha bhoota samyogama’ while the deities who are described with lotus as the metaphor rounded  off the significance of this queen of the bouquet.

The Parijath (Shefali), a white and red little flower with short span of life but heavenly fragrance hence dear to worship, formed the context for a javali  (O yamma vinave, ati valapula parijata sumamulinche...) ,  an abhinaya centric piece which is a natural corollary to the trying varnam that preceded it.  The reference to this flower brings to mind the mythical story of lord Krishna’s tryst with Parijat flower and his two strong wives, Rukmini and Satyabhama. The latter is a favourite with most dancers and dance forms since her character is multi-dimensional in emotive output; she is an amalgam of the Kalahantarita, Khandita and Virahothkantita nayika.  Her portrayal is a challenge to any artiste.  The complexity of emotions and the depth of Satyabhama’s character were not as profound as it should be. 

The Ketaki (Kewda) flower was set to the padam format where the Ketaki is personified as an accursed maid who has been punished for her self-conceit about being the most fragrant among flowers. The myth is culled from Shiva Purana which speaks of a contest among the gods which finally leads to an enraged lord Shiva wreaking a curse on Ketaki that makes her unfit for worship thereafter. The gati change while dwelling on the past glory of Ketaki and the swan gait is worth a note. The culminating piece, tillana offered something original: the process of regeneration of the flower. Divya chose to call this piece Latangi and gave it a new dimension by denoting the flowers’ varied uses in our life from worship to adornment which blended well with the theme.

Divya’s thematic margam is a laudable attempt to offer the audience the old in a new packing which is one way of arousing the audience interest in classical dance which is a rarity these days.  This artiste has the potential to excel with a little more grace and fluidity in her body kinetics. The music and vocal by Srivatsa was an added asset.

Ranee Kumar, a journalist for the past two decades, has worked with mainstream newspapers from Hyderabad. She later took to freelancing for The Hindu in art and culture as their art critic. Ranee has hundreds of articles, reviews in music, dance and drama published to her credit.