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Musical Temples and Dancing Sculptures
- Shobanaa Bhalchandra

April 24, 2022

Panchabootha sthalas is a popular topic for dancers and musicians. This time it was presented with a different perspective. 'Musical Temples and Dancing Sculptures', a five-part series curated by Ramya Ramnarayan, had not only natyam and sangeetam but also detailed explanations and panel discussions.

Episode 1

Dr. Chitra Madhavan
Dr. Chitra Madhavan

Dr. Chitra Madhavan, a very well-known historian, started with Kancheepuram, the Prithvi Sthala. Historical and mythological facts narrated, was elucidating and highly informative. After the brilliant talk, Priyadarsini Govind, an artiste of high calibre, performed the Bhairavi krithi of Muthuswamy Dikshithar.

Priyadarsini Govind
Priyadarsini Govind

The krithi, although not designed for natyam, was handled with grace and in-depth understanding. Priyadarsini started by showing the sculptures with beautiful poses which took one to the temple right away. I started wondering if it was the artiste dancing or the sculptures which have come alive, such was the intensity of the poses held. Priyadarsini can weave a magic spell on the audience with her technique and her eloquent abhinaya and this performance was no less. She is a fine artiste who has taken Bharatanatyam to a different level inspiring the younger generation. However, the presentation did not cater to the requirement. The lines were interspersed with nritta sequences, that although beautiful, took away the essence of the krithi, which was laden with bhakti. While many general stories of Shiva were enacted, the main sthala purana of the Prithvi Linga was just a touch and go. The purpose of this festival was to throw light on the sthala puranas and this number presented by Priyadarsini did not meet the requirement. The costume was somewhat disturbing to the aesthetics with some patch work done in the fan which looked like there was a shortage of material. The idea could have been to bring out the linga visual in costume. Sadly, it did not look appealing.

What followed was a panel discussion with Priyadarsini, Chitra Madhavan and Sandhya Shankar. Interesting facts and details of the Kancheepuram temple were discussed, though some of them were repetitive. When I finished watching the show, I had an urge to book an Ola cab and rush to Kancheepuram to soak in the beauty and history, so wonderfully visualized and shared by Dr.Chitra Madhavan and Priyadarsini Govind.

Episode 5
I walk into the east gopuram of the Chidambaram temple and am welcomed by the 108 karanas on the panels of the gopuram. I walk past admiring the beauty as my eyes catch the statue of Shiva with Pathanjali and Vyagrapada. As if this wonder was not enough, I see the Shivaganga with crystal clear water. Is it a dream?? I shake myself and realize that this was the visual imagery brought on by Dr. Chitra Madhavan's eloquent and lucid narrative of the Chidambaram temple. Varied mythological, historical and architectural facts were brought to light by Dr. Madhavan's exquisite lecture.

Ramya Ramnarayan
Ramya Ramnarayan

Following this was a performance by Ramya Ramnarayan who was also the curator of this series 'Musical Temples and Dancing Sculptures.' A lot can be said about Ramya's training and experience. Having trained under illustrious gurus, her technique had angashudha and clean lines. The intelligent choreography for the Dikshitar's krithi, "Ananda natana prakasam" in ragam Kedaram had the right amount of spice to make the number interesting. Ramya started off with a sloka describing Tillai in all its glory. Her eyes caught on the sthayi as she entered the stage, but it would have been visually more appealing to have started in the centre with the camera zooming in. In the sloka the words pathanjali priyamu had a shade of shringaram which deviated from the bhakti. The pose held at the end of the shloka was a good transition to the krithi, if the tapping of the toes to keep thalam could have been avoided. "Ananda natana prakasam," a tried and tested number, took a new avatar with Ramya's creativity. The beautifully held poses and geometrical movements brought the image of Shiva dancing at

Ramya's feel for the natyam came out clearly with each passing line. She was weaving a garland of movement with ease and precision which comes only with deep understanding of not only the krithi but also natyam in its entirety. Ramya's experience in choreographing traditional and fusion music had a great impact in her presentation. The lighting and camera play a huge role in online platforms. The camera shift revealing the top lights and zoom-in at inappropriate moments was an irritant in the otherwise beautiful presentation. Virtual platform poses challenges to the dancers, but once we learn it, wonders can be created. The following panel discussion was again an eye opener with so many details of the temple and the journey of the artiste. Chidambaram is every dancer's delight and this program gave the satisfaction and wholeness of visiting Chidambaram.

Musical Temples and Dancing Sculptures - Part 2

Shobanaa Bhalchandra
Shobanaa Bhalchandra is a senior performer, teacher and educator. She is the artistic director of Tharanginee. As an empanelled artist of ICCR, Shobanaa has performed for various prestigious international forums. She is now the creative/executive director of Bharathakalanjali, Chennai.

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