Thyagaraja comes alive in Thyagaraja Vaibhavam
- Bhavani Ravindran
Photos: CP Satyajit
February 21, 2020
Thyagaraja Vaibhavam highlights some of the main events in the composer's life that shaped his musical achievements. It begins with him describing the loving care he bestows on his precious Rama idol, his eternal search for real Rama through intense devotion. When his brother tries to persuade him to accept the gifts offered by the Maharaja, Thyagaraja spurns offers of wealth, power and position in his single-minded devotion to Rama. Disgusted with the indifferent attitude of Thyagaraja, his brother throws away Rama's idol into the River Kaveri. When faced with the loss, Thyagaraja creates fervent music to express his anguish and deep sadness. When he finally recovers the idol from the river, his intense relief and happiness is expressed in more joyful music.
I have watched this production of the Dhananjayans' Bharatakalanjali right from the first presentation in 1992 at the Madras Music Academy, and then at Narada Gana Sabha in 2008 (if I remember correct) and now at Music Academy on 4th January 2020 as part of Academy's Natya Festival. Watching it in the Kalakshetra ambience was totally a different aesthetic and divine experience on the 13th February as part of Kalakshetra's Trinity Art Festival. I have also watched an excellent CPC production in Doordarshan several times. I was told that this production was staged in other Indian cities and USA as well. Though the recently revived production seemed intact (as of in 1992) I personally missed the great novelty at that period, of presenting the show through a "Sangeeta Upanyasam" (musical narration).
"If Kalakshetra is the finest example for perfect professional classic production, the Dhananjayans' Bharatakalanjali presentation is one step ahead of their alma mater," remarked one of the connoisseurs in the audience. The Kalakshetra theatre ambience lends itself to enhance the beauty of any Bharatanatyam production. The dramatic entry of Thyagaraja and his disciples through front entrance and auditorium took the audience by surprise and many thought of real Thyagaraja doing his daily "unchavritty" through the streets of Thiruvaiyaru.
All Carnatic musicians should see this "Thyagaraja comes alive" show to understand and feel the saint's imaginations and in-depth meaning of his outpouring divine poems. It is mind boggling how Dhananjayan has selected appropriate songs from Thyagaraja's many compositions to weave a story line bringing the essence of the saint's life and philosophy. The evocative rendering of the songs by Hariprasad (of Kalakshetra) and epitome of communicative body language and facial expressions of doyen of Bharatanatyam and Kathakali went hand in hand to bring tears to the eyes of onlookers. Sitting right in front of the stage were a bunch of youngsters sobbing watching the thespian enacting the ecstasy and agony of Thyagaraja.
Simple and effective multi-coloured saris for the girls and simple dhotis for the men ensemble was appropriately designed to go with this simple theme of bhakti oriented story line. A great imagination must have gone in the mind of the choreographer to interpret real content of Thyagaraja's songs in Telugu language through group choreography. People not knowing the language could easily understand the thoughts of the composer.
The musical ensemble consisting of well rehearsed and coordinated nattuvangam (Shanta Dhananjayan), mridangam (Ramesh Babu), violin (Kalaiarasan.R), flute (Sunil Kumar), veena (Ananthanarayanan) and ganjira (Yogaraju.R) effectively supported the flow of the emotions happening on the stage. The lighting design by C.P. Satyajit was adequately used to show the facial expressions of the artistes.
Bhavani Ravindran is a Bharatanatyam artiste, Carnatic musician and writer, Chennai.