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Sri Bharathamuni Natyotsava 2022
- Sudha Sridhar

April 12, 2022

The past couple of years have been extremely tough in general for all. Be it personal, career, financial, economic, cultural, social, the pandemic took the toll on all unequivocally and the stakeholders of the art and culture scene were not spared too. But kudos to those who held on with grit and faith and didn't give in to the imminent negativity that surrounded them relentlessly. The need for adapting to the protocol surrounding the pandemic saw the advent of different strategies which were by and large technology driven.

The art scene saw more of online classes, webinars, pre-recorded and live streaming of performances was the order of the day for most festivals. The Gurus, students, the art connoisseurs all adjusted to the unprecedented change in the scenario and took into their strides with gratitude what was offered to them. In this backdrop, the six-day dance festival Sri Bharathamuni Natyotsava 2022 organized at Sri Siddendrayogi Kalavedika, Kuchipudi (Natyakshetram), Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh from 14th March to 19th March 2022, came as a fresh breadth of air for one and all.

The festival was put together by Yakshagana Centre (National Centre for Research and Training) officials Tadepalli Satyanarayana Sarma and Professor Pasumarthi Ramalinga Sastry with the support of CCRT - Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (Ministry of Culture, Government of India), under the Azadi ka Amrti Mahotsav, an initiative of the Government of India to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of Independence and the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements. The festival was dedicated to the artistes and patrons of the Kuchipudi art form who left us during the pandemic, Pasumarthi Keshavaprasad, Yeleswarupu Kanakadurga Prasad Rao (popularly known as YKD), Vempati Venkatachalapathi, Chinta Adinarayana, Vedantam Ramachandra Varaprasad, Lanka Annapurna and Sobha Naidu.

The history of the Bharatamuni Natyotsava takes us to the vision and efforts put by one of the most assiduous propagator of Kuchipudi art form, Pasumarthy Keshavaprasad from Kuchipudi traditional family through the organization Akhila Bharata Kuchipudi Natya Mandali. He started organizing the festival from the year 2000 onwards. The aim of the festival was to remember with reverence the grand seer of classical dance, Bharatamuni, the author of the Natyasastra and also to provide an opportunity for the artistes of the other classical art forms of India too to perform at the Kuchipudi heritage village, the primary seat of Kuchipudi art form.

This edition was jam packed with solo, duet, group, dance dramas and Yakshaganas on all the six days by artistes from classical art forms of Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak, Mohiniattam, Karnataka Yakshagana and the much revered Kuchipudi Bhagavathamelam with their captivating Kuchipudi Yakshagana and dance dramas. The performance started at dusk and went on well into the later part of the evening on some days beyond 10.30 pm too. Almost every evening saw the exhibition of the talent of CCRT Scholarship awardee students through their solo or group performances.

Undoubtedly the highlight of each evening was the much awaited Kuchipudi Yakshaganam or dance drama from the traditional Kuchipudi families, the Kuchipudi Bhagavathas. They brought to life the stories from the ithihasa and puranas with such minute detail and splendor, that the audience would remember it for a very long time to come. Particularly the extraordinary innovations and abundant value enhancing presentation skills exhibited in the dance dramas is worth mentioning.

A day to day brief report attempted below gives a bird's eye view of the proceedings which is a very poor substitute to that of witnessing in person against the backdrop of the Balatripurasundari temple or even to that of watching the live streaming of the festival from the comfort of home.

Day One - 14th March 2022
The proceeding of the festival was kick started with Kuchipudi traditional 'Purvarangam' performed by the students of Telugu University under the guidance of their Principal, Dr. Vedantam Ramalinga Sastry. This was followed with an invocation item on Lord Ganesha 'Tandava nritya kari gajannan' praying for the successful conduct of the festival.

A glimpse of the stellar contribution of Siddendra Yogi, the much famous Bhama Kalapam was showcased next. Vedantam Radheshyam as Satyabhama performed the Pravesva daruvu, to the melodious singing of the Carnatic music genius from the village, D.S.V. Sastry ably supported by yet another stalwart from the village, Chinta Ravi Balakrishna with his nattuvangam.

CCRT scholarship students, Swathi Narayana, Srawani V and Somnath Bharadwaj took the stage with their Kuchipudi performance and later the students of Anuradha Jonnalagadda of Central University, Hyderabad performed Kuchipudi Brinda Natyam.

Virata Parvam
Virata Parvam

The evening's main attraction was the first Nritya Rupakam of the festival, Pasumarthi Venkateswara Sarma's 'Virata Parvam' written by the prolific writer N Ch Jagannatha Charyulu. It was good to see artistes from the Pasumarthi traditional family, one of the torch bearers of the art form, come together playing the lead roles - Venkateswara Sarma as Keechaka, Srinivasa Sarma as Bheema and his son Pasumarthi Kumara Datta as Brihannala, as part of the enactment of the engrossing episode from the Mahabharata. A befitting tribute to yet another Pasumarthi, Keshavaprasad, who was instrumental all these decades in conducting both Siddhendra Yogi Festival and Bharatamuni Festival in the heritage village of Kuchipudi.

It was very thoughtful of the organizers to schedule the production at one stretch after the meeting for the dignitaries, without taking away the tempo of the strong plot to get rid of the troublesome Keechaka in the Mahabharata.

Day Two - 15th March 2022
The evening started with Kuchipudi solo performances by P.M. Sohail Khan and Bindu Abinay, followed by Mohiniattam group performance by Bijunath Surendra and team.

The students of Kuchipudi Art Academy, Chennai performed the composition of Kuchipudi doyen Vempati Chinna Satyam, one of the most illustrious contributors to Kuchipudi. It was heartening to see the group pitch in four male artistes reminding how Kuchipudi was until a few decades ago essentially a male oriented performing art form. They also performed 'Guruvadana', a popular choreography by Vempati Ravishankar, made as part of his tour to America in 2004.

Usha Parinayam
Usha Parinayam

The famous Kuchipudi Yakshagana 'Usha Parinayam' performed by the students of Chinta Ravi Balakrishna had a pleasant surprise in it. The entire cast of the Yakshagana was students from the age group of 5 to 13 years only. The knowledgeable audience, who knew the intricacy and difficulty of exuding the nava rasas through the characters, were intriguingly wonder struck with the kids' amazing performance right through the plot of the story. Chinta Ravi Balakrishna added that he had trained the kids for four months to achieve this feat of presenting a full length Kuchipudi Yakshagana only by kids, that too at the heritage village which had witnessed many stalwarts perform the same Yakshagana for several decades now.

The performance of Banasura character by the youngster was terrific belying his age and reminded one of the many performances of the same role by Chinta Ravi Balakrishna himself. The children essayed the roles without any exaggeration though they are apparently very young to bring out such expressions as raudra and romance required for the presentation.

Day Three - 16th March 2022
The evening dished out a glimpse of the rich classical dance flavor of the country with performances of Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Karnataka Yakshagana and Kuchipudi Brinda Natyam.

It started with a Bharatanatyam performance by Avasarala Amritha, student of Guru Geeta Ganesan, followed with an Odissi performance by Madhulita Mohapatra and group. A jugalbandhi of Kannada Yakshagana and Bharatanatyam, 'Moksham' by Sravana Ullal and Kiran Ullal, showed the different dimensions of the art of presentation, when it comes to showcase more than one dance form at a time.

The Kuchipudi group comprising of Pasumarthi Kumara Datta, Chakravarthy and Deekshitulu performed with ease two numbers, Vinayaka stuthi and Hamsanandi tillana. Once again making an impact statement as to how the Kuchipudi dance form, very elegantly enables the male performers to excel without having to resort to any unnatural or exaggerated dance movements.

Goda Kalyanam
Goda Kalyanam

Vedantam Ramalinga Sastry and his team enacted the story of 'Goda Kalyanam' by way of a dance drama. Ramalinga Sastry as Vishnu Chithar enacted the role with full devotion and it brought bhakthi and piety in the hearts of the viewers. It was interesting to see that his granddaughter, all of a few months too, featured in the play as the infant Goda. The story was all about how Andal of Srivilliputhur with her divine love for Lord Krishna ended up marrying the Lord himself.

The show was all in all a Vedantam family production one should say, with Ramalinga Sastry writing and directing the play, his son Vedantam Vagadevi Prasad as Lord Vishnu, Vedantam S Devi Bhavani as Goda, Ramalinga Sastry's wife Bhavani and his brother-in-law D.S.V. Sastry on the vocal for live orchestra, for the praiseworthy dance drama.

Day Four - 17th March 2022
As showcased in the previous evenings, the CCRT scholarship students Neha Kameshwari performed solo Bharatanatyam and Yamini Reddy performed Kuchipudi followed by a Kathak duet by Nidhaga Karunad and Rachana Karnik.

Karthikeya Kalyanam
Karthikeya Kalyanam

The evening's dance drama was lengthy but captivating stories of 'Karthikeya Kalyanam' by Hari Ramamurthy and his team. Ramamurthy who hails from yet another traditional Kuchipudi family 'Hari' is a disciple and one of the principal dancers in Vempati Chinna Satyam's most famous ballets. Following the footstep of his illustrious Guru, he has kept the flag of the Kuchipudi dance drama tradition flying very high. The episodes of Karthikeya's killing of the demon, Tarakasura Vadha, his marriage to both Devasena and Valli was brought out very vividly by the team. Once again the organizers did well to have the customary guest related function at either side of the two stories without disturbing the flow of both the stories.

The artistes of the play were so many that in the last scene, they occupied the entire stage very colorfully, like what one would witness in a traditional marriage. The presentation was awesome, nothing short of the extravagance that one sees on the giant screen. Particularly the idea of peacock (with two artistes), the vehicle of Karthikeya, in the front and the fluttering of the feathers of the peacock adorning the crown of the Lord, gave a good effect like that of VFX one should say. It brought back memories of the innovative props and characters that one is accustomed to see in the dance dramas of the doyen of Kuchipudi, Vempati Chinna Satyam.

Day Five - 18th March 2022
The penultimate day saw at the start Kuchipudi solo performance by Divya Yashasri, a CCRT scholarship student, followed by a Bharatanatyam group performance by Sheela Unnikrishnan's team. Though the presentation was good, it seemed that there was a very thin line of difference to that of Kuchipudi style.

Meenakshi Kalyanam
Meenakshi Kalyanam

The fifth day's dance drama 'Meenakshi Kalyanam,' a production of Pasumarthi Ramalinga Sastry, was an unbelievable presentation. The question that came to one's mind was how the group managed to effortlessly recreate the story with the settings and lighting that transported one to visualize the events that took place culminating in Meenakshi's Kalyanam. The clockwork precision with which the play was enacted brought to the forefront the extraordinary presentation skills that too on a stage with no overhead aids or even an elaborate backstage. Generally, for example, even to bring in a small king's throne during the scene on stage the artistes struggle, but here we saw the frequent swift change of settings like the snow peaked Himalayan backdrop along with the appropriate lighting effect, performance of the yagna and having a physical Nandi sit in front of the Linga and Madurai Meenakshi during the play, enacted with clinical efficiency. The wedding scene is still etched in the memory and this coupled with melodious music, apt dancing gave a feeling that one was really attending Madurai Meenakshi's marriage.

Day Six - 19th March 2022
The final day's proceedings started as his wont, once again with Kuchipudi solo performance by CCRT scholarship students, Anjali and Vaishnavi and Kuchipudi Brinda Natyam by students of Rohini Kandala. This was followed by a Bharatanatyam presentation by Sahithya Ramakumar.

Sri Ramakathasagaram
Sri Ramakathasagaram

The last dance drama of the festival was Pasumarthi Ramalinga Sastry's, 'Sri Ramakathasagaram'. The story line of Ramayana right from Rama's vanavasa, capturing of Sita by Ravana and how Rama gets Sita back by killing demon king Ravana and about all those who contributed their might for Lord Rama to accomplish his task was dealt wonderfully.

The main theme of the festival which saw enactment of the story leading to the marriage of Goda, Usha, Karthikeya, Meenakshi was very apt, taking into consideration that it coincided with the week when the Kalyana Utsav of the Balatripurasundari temple is generally performed in the month of Phalguni month for ages. This also marked the first Kalyana Utsav of the temple after the completion of the large scale renovation work in January 2022 with the help and support of various Kuchipudi artistes, patrons, well wishers from USA, Germany, India, etc, by the illustrious Pasumarthi Keshavaprasad's family who were the dharma karta and karya karta for the past several decades. During the Kalyana Utsav, the artistes were also seen dancing their way during the Uregimpu - the procession of the temple's deity in the streets of Kuchipudi village.

Once again the Kuchipudi Bhagavathas have showcased their admirable skills, the rich cultural lineage that they belong to and their efforts in protecting the same tirelessly against all odds. That the cultural extravaganza was organized in the village of Kuchipudi adds one more pointer that the time is ripe for the fructification of having the status of heritage village bestowed upon it. Let's wish and pray that the efforts of several decades by doyens, stalwarts, legends, cultural activists, altruistic NGOs, and art lovers results in bestowing of heritage status to the village for the benefit of all stakeholders of the Kuchipudi art form.

Sudha Sridhar
Sudha Sridhar, a double graduate in Law & Dance is a cultural activist working on advocacy efforts to preserve, promote and propagate art forms and for the cultural rights and welfare measures for artists. Her main focus is on Kuchipudi heritage village and promotion of all the three streams of South Indian Yakshagana - Karnataka Yakshagana, Kuchipudi Yakshaganam and Melattur Bhagavathamela

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