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Goddess in Bliss: Tamrapatra Session 7 with Geeta Chandran
- Mithun Shyam
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January 18, 2022

Classical dance is considered a pathway to attain the Almighty. It not only allows the ritualistic worship through certain dances, but also gives leeway for one to connect with the Supreme on a very personal and intimate level through varnams, javalis, padams, keerthanams and ashtapadis. The Shringara Bhakthi refers to a form of devotion where the devotee is 'allowed' to be the lover of the Lord himself and even consider an imaginative physical union with him. While it is a taboo to discuss eroticism or sexuality openly, we are the land of the Kamasutra, Geetha Govinda and a spectrum of other arts like the explicit sculptures of Khajuraho and many other literary and artistic works that openly explore the innumerable possibilities of human intimacy.

The Tamrapatra series, an initiative of Natyarambha headed by Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant, explores 12 Annamacharya Krithis, one each month by a well-established dance choreographer, interspersed with clear theoretical delineations and cross references by Dr. Anupama Kylash. Each session provides one with an opportunity to explore various facets of the saint poet's fantastic, imaginative and creative ideas of open, direct, intimate conversations with Lord Venkateshwara and his consort Alamelumanga.

Ananda, Geeta & Anupama

Over the past seven sessions of the Tamrapatra, one had the pleasure of watching and being a part of open discussions about Annamacharya's almost voyeuristic view of the Lord and his consort in intimate detail. Guru Geeta Chandran, Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant, Dr. Anita Ratnam and Dr. Anupama Kylash discussed about how to aesthetically and artistically present the erotic metaphors and how to draw a line between subtle eroticism and outright vulgarity in 'Tamrapatra Conversations', a YouTube video prior to session 7 which gives a glimpse of what is to come in the weekend's workshop. Anupama Kylash was of the opinion that it is a very personal choice and stated that one should take into consideration the audience, the platform and definitely the comfort of the artist.

The seventh session of Tamrapatra held on 8th and 9th of January 2022, explored the krithi "Sarasuda Vavuduvu" in raga Lalitha, the theme 'Goddess in Bliss' and the topic was aptly 'Aesthetic approach to Sambhoga Shringara in dance.' The choreographer for this session, Geeta Chandran was of the view that presenting the poetry in a literal manner would underestimate and tone down the vicarious words of Annamacharya. This is a poet, who in many of his keerthanams, has discussed the physical beauty of Goddess Alamelumanga and the erotic moments between her and the Lord through unabashed conversation with the divine duo. Anupama Kylash was candid and confessional in her explanation about how his writings are indeed openly erotic and discuss the intimacy between the Lord and his consort in vivid detail.

Geeta Chandran throughout the creative process explained to the very curious wide-eyed audience the varieties of Angika abhinaya and subtle eye and facial expressions that can be utilized to maximum portray the private physical manifestations of Sambhoga Shringara. Her direct yet subtle blend of movements and expressions for the challenging lyrics such as "Chemata chekkula gaare chittamu santasamande" and "Ramanitho neeventa ratisamu sesitivo" which translate to "What kind of battle of love-play ensued between the two of you that perspiration and goosebumps cover the lady's body", gave the attendees several ideas to sensitively portray these private imageries. Through a suggestive look around herself Geeta Chandran was able to convey that the union between the Lord and his consort was also the course of creation itself, thereby bringing in the spiritual connotation to the otherwise seemingly human desire for physical union.

Geeta Chandran
Geeta Chandran

More importantly, during the course of the workshop, Geeta shared several gems of knowledge which could enhance an attendee's performance. Her tips on continuity, shedding inhibitions, never underestimating the audience, the need for actions to follow the eyes and suggestion that actions should never precede the lyrics are all simple yet very effective tools for dancers. Initially beginning with the manodharma style of teaching where the actions kept changing each time she played the music, the second day was more about fixing the actions so that the attendees could get a clear framework.

Post the workshop was an inspiring talk by the guest of honour, Chitra Sundaram. With vast experience as a dancer, teacher, theatre artist and educationist, she shared her thoughts about realism and symbolism and also insisted on the emotional truth in a performance. She further appreciated the methodology of using dialogues to build the actions so that the expressions and actions could be clearly read by the audience.

With the kind of exposure the current generation receives through social media and even mainstream media, one would wonder why the classical world would still prefer to hide its truly liberal past and only show the false facet of the so-called Indian morality. While over the past century, Indian classical dance has seen a purification of sorts to suit the so-called morals of the elitist society (mostly an after effect of colonization), today we see a resurgence of freedom of sexual expression in classical dance without being considered inappropriate.

Overall, the Tamrapatra series is an eye-opener in many ways. We are a culture that proves, time and again, that only a seeking eye can see beyond the apparent. The delineation and assimilation of Shringara and Bhakthi, treating the Lord as a friend, partner or lover and unabashed, innocent, naughty and open-hearted conversations about physical union and emotional turmoil are the need of the hour to normalize society's bigotry when it comes to devotion and sexuality.

Tamrapatra Session 7 - In Session

Mithun Shyam
Mithun Shyam is a Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and teacher, who has performed with many leading artistes across the country. He is the Director of Vaishnavi Natyashala in Bangalore.

Thank you, Ananda, for this extraordinary experience through Tamrapatra! Anupama, how beautifully you explained...You brought out even minute details in that composition. A wonderful session, Geeta. Loved every moment, every idea and your awesome singing! Thank you.
- Bragha Basell

Excellent session! Loved it! And Geeta, what a lovely singer! Special bonus! Each of these sessions has been an eye opener in its own way. No adequate words to thank the brain behind the Tamrapatra series, Ananda, and the erudite Anupama Kylash, always throwing new light on Annamayya's lyrics and their nuances.
- Rathna Kumar

A wonderful session, as expected. Geeta, your range of sanchari options accompanied by your nuanced and emotive singing was such a treat. Huge shout out to Ananda, Anupama and the Tamrapatra team.
- Lata Pada

Wonderful session! Anupama, your detailed explanation was like a magnifying glass to Annamacharya's lyrics, loved every bit of it. Geeta, thoroughly enjoyed the way you improvised your sancharis with relish and passion. Chitra, loved your insights into the various aspects of how to interpret an expression poem of such depth.
- Hema Rajagopalan

Beautiful session, Ananda. Anupama was brilliant as ever in her interpretation of the sahitya but Geeta's sensitivity for music, her trained voice and melodious singing brought its fragrance in the abhinaya too. Tamrapatra ki Jai ho!
- Manjari Sinha

This has been truly swamy's blessing on me to offer a tribute to dear friend Venu Madhav through his music composition. "Dear friend. Wherever you are, my prayers and musical tribute will surely reach you and you will continue to live in the embrace of the swara devata forever. Much love."
Geeta akka, just loved your ideas, sensitive approach, improvisation and musicality. Thank you for inspiring me musically.
Dear Anupama, you were a sewaarthi of Lord Venkateswara & Annamayya and not just an interpreter while explaining the kriti. You truly touched my heart and widened my understanding of the myriad approaches that Annamayya has brought in his sankeertanas. Continue the sewa, dear friend. You are born for it.
- Venkat

Wow! What assured evenings of blissful seduction into Sambhoga Sringara, Geeta and Anupama! Brava all round, Ananda and your team. Enjoyed the bhogam of this feast for eyes and ears and heart and brain.
- Chitra Sundaram

Am inarticulate. Was sheer bliss! Feeling blessed...
- Methil Devika

It was a delightful session! The succinct layering of the meanings in words at the end of the session, left all those who attended much to think about, Chitra akka.
- Swarnamalya Ganesh

Oh Venkatesha, what did you do to my dear Alamelumanga! She seems to be in absolute ecstasy... I wouldn't know what has happened between you two...But I can see all the telltale signs of passionate lovemaking in Her...all too obviously...
Thank you, Geeta Chandran akka, for this delightful rati. I started crying in joy as you were dancing for us. This must have been the Goddess' emotion too when She was in union with Her Lord. Thank you, Ananda akka, Anupama akka and Venumadhav garu, Venkateshwara garu and Manohar for this unique Annamayya paata. Sarasuda in Lalita was so beautiful. Bliss Bliss Bliss!
- Gayatri Krishnaveni Lakshmanan

Once again thx for creating and sharing this series, @Ananda. It was a treat to watch and absorb the nuances at a slower pace. @Anupama Kailash @Geeta Chandran, you brought such passion, imagination and joy to this composition. @Chitra Sundaram, I am sure the young students got a lot from your elaborate deconstruct of the piece as well.
- Ramya Harishankar

Wow! Just finished watching the sessions... Not just the students but all other dancers are benefiting from the selections of the lyrics by Anupama and her wonderful detailed and scholarly analysis followed by the beautiful interpretations by senior dancers. Geeta, your sensitive, immersive, uninhibited, and joyful presentation was so amazing to watch. Kudos to you for sharing your process and performance so generously.
- Mythili Kumar

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