Tamrapatra Session 8 by Dr. Methil Devika
- Niloshree Bhattacharya
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
February 24, 2022
The pandemic has transformed the world of performing arts, possibly because it has been deeply affected by the pandemic. Amidst the numerous workshops, performances, fundraisers, lectures and online classes, the Tamrapatra series will be remembered by many, because it brought Annamacharya's rich poetry to us. Thanks to the pandemic, we dancers sat with a pen and paper taking notes, getting soaked in the beauty of the sankeerthanas which have been set to tune by the late Sathiraju Venumadhav. While we sat in front of our screens, our minds traveled to the hills of Tirupati with Annamacharya's words of devotion to Lord Venkateshwara and his consort Alamelumanga, and Annamacharya's words reached different corners of the world. This unique year long series has been produced by Natyarambha, an online platform of Bharatanatyam practice application, an initiative of Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant.
In session 8 of Tamrapatra held on the 12th and 13th of February 2022, Dr. Methil Devika, Mohiniattam dancer and choreographer presented a thoughtful rendition of the sankeerthana Vinnavincavale niku. In this particular sankeerthana, Alamelumanga tells Lord Venkateshwara that he should not find fault with her, because she keeps count of all that she does or says. Structured as a conversation between the divine lovers, the sankeerthana is multilayered; it brings in the human and the divine, the material and the philosophical, seamlessly with metaphors. Dancer-scholar Dr. Anupama Kylash, while explaining the lyrics, elaborated on the idea of comparison as the life of poetry, referring to the works of Kalidasa and Jayadeva amongst others. Listening to Dr. Kylash is not only inspiring but illuminating for me; I get to know about the existing corpus of Indian literature.
Methil Devika created an example for all dancers and choreographers. She explained how she dealt with a language unknown to her to choreograph in her style. She translated the piece into her own language first, added Mohiniattam hastas to it, and then she did not need the translation. She explained, over a conversation I had with her over phone, that she 'mulled' over it for a long time and that doing background research on the topic is the essence of abhinaya. For Methil Devika, choreography is about knowing when to 'put a full stop'. We must have a beginning, a mid and an end to every story that we frame around the words of a poem. It is this narrative which assists the dancer to get into the character/s. So there are actually two stories; one that is being shown, and one that goes on in the mind of the performer. As I understand it, we see the sprouted leaves as the abhinaya, but what we cannot see is the entanglement of the roots (the words) in the body and mind of the performer, and we must be patient and allow the roots to go deep. Also, when we portray a character, there will be a sthayee bhava which will be layered with different emotions. For me, these were interesting insights into the process of choreography.
The choreography shows a prelude with Alamelumanga looking at Lord Venkateshwara coming down the mountain to meet her, which Methil Devika showed with eye movements and also ends the piece in the same manner, where her eyes follow the Lord going up the mountain after spending the night with her, and Alamelumanga goes into a meditative state. She shows the Chandrashala, where the moonlight creates reflections of the carvings on the wall on the bodies of the lovers. Alamelumanga asks the Lord to kiss her, not only creating a beautiful imagery, but also bringing in the significance of 'reflection' in this entire piece. Alamelumanga says, she reflects whatever the Lord does, and hence, he cannot find fault with her. She speaks the same sweet words just like the Lord, and she asks, is that not like adding sugar to jaggery? Wouldn't a little salt enhance the sweetness in their relationship? This ingenious way of asking her lover to overlook her mistakes gives us a glimpse of Alamelumanga's character.
Methil Devika creates a very sensitive moment in the piece, where she shows the Lord bending down to Alamelumanga and our heroine melts in that moment of tender love, and we see another side of her. We also see another Alamelumanga, after they have had an intimate physical moment, and she is revelling (in Devika's words) in what she is saying, and yet she is shy. Annamacharya compares the divine couple to water lilies and lotuses, and when they are entwined they look like a garland. In the process of untying the knot (or embrace), Alamelumanga tells him that she may have touched a sensitive spot unknowingly, and he should not find fault with her. Alamelumanga tells the Lord, 'Do you count the nail imprints on your body during such an intimate moment?' This particular sankeerthana portraying the different hues of a relationship between a couple is very 'everyday life' and yet so deeply philosophical. According to Methil Devika, when there are a lot of deep philosophical references in a poem, it is best to keep it simple and choose an approach that is understandable by the audience. Through various metaphors, this sankeerthana tells us that there must be a little salt to enhance the sweetness in a relationship; unless there is separation there cannot be extreme union; there might be pain of nail imprints during lovemaking and a little space is required between flowers to stitch it into a garland.
It was indeed a treat to watch Devika play Alamelumanga's various shades and tones of character, and her feat lies in the way she captured the essence of the poem. For instance, Annamacharya compares the divine lovers to a garland of pearls and diamonds and I was awestruck with Devika's presentation of the metaphor; she shows the eyes which are looking and through that the difference between the glowing lustre of pearls and the shining brilliance of diamonds. What an innovative way to elaborate on a complex metaphor! I was rapt in the sheer elegance of Methil Devika, the overall soundscape of the piece with the mridangam, veena and edakka used minimally and thoughtfully, and the depth of Annamacharya's poetry. Truly a mesmerising experience!
Dr. Niloshree Bhattacharya is a Bharatanatyam dancer and an Assistant Professor in Sociology at Presidency University, Kolkata.
Dear Ananda, Anupama and Devika,
It was a treat to watch and to learn... Just don't know how the time flew so quickly!
- Bragha Besell
Anupama-ji, your multi references were not only very scholarly and interesting but set the right ambience for the session. Thanks so much.
- Methil Devika
Dear Ananda, Devika, Anupama
Normally when we say mesmerized we convey an experience which is momentary or a short duration. As a septuagenarian, I experienced being mesmerized for two consequent evenings that add lots of life to my age. We don't often get what we hope for but we do get what we work for. This is proved by Tamrapatra. You have all worked for it and achieved what you hoped for.
- Sitaram Pancham, SPICMACAY National Treasurer
It was a splendid experience for the past two evenings. Anupama's explanation and Devika's creative work on the krithi were mind blowing. It is indeed a great contribution to Mohiniattam by the enchantress Methil Devika and the most charming Anupama Kylash along with excellent presentation by Ananda Shankar. Many dancers are much benefited. Great going. Wish you all success in future too.
- Sridevi Unni
Thank you for the invitation, I enjoyed all parts of it. Such a blessing for the next generation to have the opportunity to see and hear from a diverse group of artistes. They have to know how to judiciously use that to develop their own voice.
- Ramya Harishankar
What a lovely forum this is, where Ananda akka, you have brought thinking artistes together to facilitate each other. Rare indeed in the world of classical dance are opportunities to step into co-creative spaces with likeminded dancers of similar caliber.
- Swarnamalya Ganesh
Thank you very much, team Natyarambha, for conducting such a great session. It was a mesmerizing experience. I would like to thank Anupama-ji for explaining the lyrical meaning so nicely. Special thanks to Methil Devika ma'am for her mesmerizing demonstration. I feel so blessed to be part of this program.
- Nandha Denni
Beautiful session filled with insights that has opened vast boundaries to poetry and choreography .. thank you so much... just can't get over it.
Such a wonderful experience. Thanks a lot to the organizers, especially Methil Devika ma'am for putting in so much of effort in making the lyrics familiar for us in such short time with her beautiful detailing and storytelling. No words to describe the grace, beauty and expressions.
- Darsana Pradeep
So nice to look at divinity from the human experience point of view. Thank you so much for such a brilliant session. A big thanks to Ananda ma'am, Anupama ma'am and Devika Chechi for such selfless sharing of passion, love and art.
- Vinaya Narayanan
Loved the unique ways of choreography ideas imparted.
It was such a brilliant session with such wonderful insights on the verses by Anupama-ji and the choreography was taken to another level when it was executed and performed by Methil Devika- ji.
Absolutely speechless watching Devika ma'am. Loved the way she interpreted the subtle nuances which the verses required her to yet retaining the simplicity of the style of Mohiniattam. I loved the connection between the beginning and the ending that she made. It was like watching divinities leading a life of a normal human. Thank you, Natyaramba team, for this insightful workshop.
That was an insightful session ... amazing to see how the poetry got interpreted and choreographed.
- Anju Peter
It was quite an amazing experience, the expressions, beautiful composition, how perfectly the hasthas are used and the level of creativity in observing and portraying every minute detail with immense grace... all was spellbinding.
Thank you all for sharing your passion... from now in my mind, image of Alamelumanga is imprinted with Devika-ji's face...
An absolutely wonderful session and experience brought together by all of you. The interpretation, choreography, music and the whole ambience was beyond excellent. It was a beautiful and blissful two weekend mornings. I am left with a feeling of pure joy and bliss. It's hard to find such a mesmerizing performance put together so well. Thank you for organizing and sharing.
Heartfelt gratitude to Tamrapatra for this beautiful workshop and for everything you are doing to spread the art. This session was extremely beautiful with explicit description of the lyrics by the very humble and extremely knowledgeable Anupama ma'am and portrayal of the poetry by Devika ma'am, who really is the epitome of grace, beauty and talent. It was a thoroughly enriching learning experience
The choice of rare Annamacharya's kritis to propagate for future generations is laudable. Tamrapatra - what an apt nomenclature. Listening to Anupama ma'am itself is poetry. Her passion and zeal exudes so beautifully, it's almost tangible - in awe of her vast knowledge. About Devika ma'am, her craft, her talent, her articulation and the ability to captivate the attention of the participants who am sure are even breathless so as not to miss even a second was mind-blowing to say the least.
The item chosen might in periphery look simple yet the layers... Loved the subtle nuances that were explained and depicted in the dance item. Elucidation of comparisons in poetry was a revelation. A lot to ponder...
- Haritha Haridas