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Her love, as a sport
- Pujita Krishna

September 25, 2021

Necessity is the prodding mother of invention while invention is the pleasantly surprised child of necessity.

Covid has taught us many things and one of them is gainful use of technology to subvert the forced seclusion caused by the pandemic. Artists have embraced various social media as well as tools of technology to outwit the virus and keep plodding on with their work. Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant has been at the forefront of this new frontier, finding new and innovative ways along with her dynamic team to help artists engage with one another.

Tamrapatra is one such platform. As the name suggests, the cornerstone of this initiative is the propagation of the compositions of Annamacharya, the bard luminaire of the Telugu land, among younger dancers of all persuasions especially those who may not be familiar with his works. This year-long program spread over weekends every month is conceived as a mentoring initiative with senior dancers from varying forms such as Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, Odissi etc guiding participants through abhinaya based choreographic ideas for chosen Annamacharya sankeertanas set to tune by the late Venumadhav. The added flower to this bouquet of offerings is a detailed explanation of these keertanas by Annamayya expert and dancer-scholar Dr. Anupama Kylash, who takes the dancers through the minutiae of the many aspects of the chosen compositions.

Ostensibly, the objective is not only to popularise the works of the genius saint-composer but also to enable young dancers find their own voice and feet for self-expression with some deft help from the masters. The sessions held over zoom have been immensely successful with over 100 odd participants joining in from around the world. Watching the participants in various locations, seated yet their hands and faces emoting on the screen, all at once, was quite a sight.

The Tamrapatra session for September was led by leading Bharatanatyam dancer Rama Vaidyanathan who chose a delightful piece to choreograph and teach in the course of the two-day workshop:

Sathi, ninnu galichenu, javvanapu garidilo
Mati lona mecchi mecchi manninchu ramanuda

set to music by Sathiraju Venumadhav and sung by Sudha Raghuraman.

With Alamelu Manga visualised as a feisty lover keen on winning the 'contest' of love with the lord himself, the flights of imagination along the course of which the saint-bard takes us were explained by Dr. Anupama Kylash who spoke of the many symbols, imageries and metaphors employed by Annamayya. His methodology, she said, was to play around with a single idea rooted in a word and then use that as a motif throughout his composition. In this particular composition, that word is 'garidi' - a competition or contest of love. Elucidating further, she spoke of how the figures of speech employed by the poet heightened the poetic effect of the love-lyric, subsequently eliciting rasa. No doubt an example of sambhoga sringara, Annamayya brings in the character of Madana into the mix whose aim is to create viraha but fails miserably!

Rama Vaidyanathan
Rama Vaidyanathan

Taking this thread, Rama Vaidyanathan effortlessly built around itthe warp and weft of a tapestry that unfolded over the two days. Alamelu Manga is without a doubt the one that captivates, fascinates and leaves one rooting for her while Lord Venkateshwara, ends up a little out of his depth, playing catch up in this sport of love and Manmadha is hopelessly vanquished as he tries to outwit the goddess by attempting to strike first, but is thwarted each time.

As Rama Vaidyanathan rightly pointed out, the challenge in such a piece where the nayika is bold and openly demonstrative and a goddess at that, is to keep her within the bounds of a uttama. The slightest over-exaggeration of a gesture or an overture could make her look like a samanya. Thus, the choreography had to be sensitive to every detail, especially in its expressivity.

Using the opening alaap to set the context, she chose to bring in Annamayya himself who is after all a silent observer of this one-sided match of ardour, but one look at the two, he declares with finality: sathi, ninnu galichenu - 'your wife has won over you', urging Lord Venkateshwara to keep pace with her.

In keeping with the treatment of the writing itself, as explained by Dr.Anupama Kylash, Rama Vaidyanathan too brought out the requisite bhava by focusing on a word in each of the verses like 'ramanuda' in the opening lines for example, which is used as a landing word to bring all of the nayika's love and desire to an appeal, a plea or a teasing dare.

Another example: in the 1st charanam, the phrase 'kannusooti' meaning an unwavering straight gaze brings out the manner in which she looks at him that leaves no doubt as to what her intention is; similarly, her arms too are 'sooti' as in clear and unequivocal in claiming his attention. The portrayal of how she uses her eyes and arms to get his attention is where the skill of the dancer would be put to the test. In the second charanam, the nayika gets bolder. Annamayya uses the act of revealing a secret to compare it to how she 'innocently' lets her upper garment slip to ensnare him with her charms. The literal meaning of the word 'secret' was shown with the use of samputa while the ruse of revealing her bosom was depicted through the nayika's charade of trying to touch his feet and while doing so letting her upper garment drop ever so slightly. Once again, it was emphasised that Alamelu Manga is an uttama nayika and there cannot be even a hint of vulgarity in the depiction of any of these actions.

The two-day workshop ended with a question-and-answer session. A scratch recording of the song along with a translation and transcreation of the composition was provided to the participants and it was suggested that while choreographic ideas were only provided as a guiding tool, it was entirely the individual dancer's artistic discretion and choice to make changes wherever necessary to make the piece entirely one's own.

Pujita Krishna is a dancer, writer, scholar based in Secunderabad. She is Artistic Director, Feet on Earth.

Rama and Anupama, what a lovely session. Detailed, clear, and I am amazed how much you managed to impart in just two sessions. Thank you, Ananda, for planning this wonderful programme.
- Sharmila Biswas

Thoroughly enjoyed your beautiful depiction of Alamelumanga's love play. A big thank you to Ananda and the Natyarambha team. You are doing a fabulous job with your in-depth explanation, Anupama.
- Deepika Reddy

The session was amazing. It was so beautiful, simple but extremely effective! We had such a great time attending the session.
- Anusha Namburi

Each and every hand has been so well thought and I am sure it was a major work for you to set the hands. Thank you, Anupama akka, for your beautiful exploration of the bheeja of the song. Ananda akka has sowed the bheeja through Tamrapatra and we shall all sprout out with unexplored realms of Sringara as felt by Alarmelmanga through the poetry of Annamayya.
- Gayatri Krishnaveni Lakshmanan

The thought process and approach of every Guru is so unique and beautiful which is making this entire experience even more exciting. The learning has been fantastic; I can't wait for session 4.
- Amy Kumar

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