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Swati Tirunal Festival: A tribute to the monarch musician
- Shilpi Aggarwal

November 16, 2017

Connoisseurs of art paid rich tribute to the Maharaja of Travancore, Swati Tirunal, at Swati Tirunal Festival at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on October 23 and 24, 2017. The two day festival, organized under the aegis of International Academy of Dance by Guru Jayaprabha Menon, had first day devoted to dance and subsequent day to music. The opening day witnessed Bharatanatyam by Vasudevan Iyengar, Mohiniattam by Smitha Rajan and the last piece was an amalgamation of five classical dance forms.

Vasudevan Iyengar was the pick among the dancers at the fete. He chose to present a rare varnam of Swati Tirunal, "Jagadeesha Shrijaane" (raga Suddhasaveri and tisra triputa tala). The composition was in praise of the presiding deity of Travancore, Lord Padmanabha. Ever keen to expand his artistic horizons in dance, Vasudevan's new choreography was bold in attempt and experimental in its treatment. Having a story line revolving around three key attributes of Lord Vishnu - anant (endless, a serpent bed), padmam (lotus) and nabha (navel) and their inter-relationships for spiritual awakening i.e. kundalini jagruta, the dancer refused to be straitjacketed in any particular style of dance school and wove his own interpretation and creativity in the fabric of his dance. The performer made extensive and some smart use of mimes in the narrative, personifying grace and poise, but due to over use of metaphors, this thematic dance presentation could be too complex for an average viewer to comprehend the dancer's interpretation.

In the latter part of the varnam, Vasudevan depicted various incarnations of Lord Vishnu including Varaha avatara and Narasimha avatara, on the lyrics "Mama paapajaatam vaaraya." It had various Kathakali movements infused into Bharatanatyam to add vigour to the performance. Energy level in charanam was admirable and the performance was captivating. The communicative power of the dancer was greatly enhanced by the excellent orchestra support - K. Venkateshwaran on mridangam, G. Raghavendra Prasath on violin. His disciple Varsha Ramkumar made her debut on nattuvangam.

Vasudevan Iyengar
Photo: Ashwini Chopra

Smitha Rajan
Photo: Vinu Nair

Another performance that stood out was Mohiniattam by Smitha Rajan. Traditionalist to the core with a restful approach throughout, she was an epitome of grace and beauty. She performed for "Paripalaya Sri Padmanabha". The cascades of expression from devotion, lasya to valour were enacted with great ease and artistry.

The last one was a group production, an amalgamation of classical dance forms, ‘Sammohanam', based on the most popular and most loved Carnatic krithi composed by Swati Tirunal, "Bhavayami Raghuramam." This amalgamation brought five dance formats on stage - Bharatanatyam by Shreyasi Gopinath, Mohiniattam by Ambili Menon, Kathak by Yamika Mahesh, Ranjini Nair in Kuchipudi, Vinod Kevin Becchan presenting Odissi dance format. In this dance piece, six kandas of Ramayana was staged in 7 different ragas. The orchestra and vocalists did a good job but the dancers failed to hold the attention of the viewers for long despite a wonderful music composition as the dance piece seemed less rehearsed.

Shilpi Aggarwal is an ardent admirer of Indian classical dance forms. She runs her own tabloid on art, culture and travel, Bleisure in Delhi.