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Celebrating sixty years of dancing
- Vijay Shanker
Photos courtesy: Nrithyodaya

June 16, 2022

Nrithyodaya Academy of Performing Arts, Mumbai, celebrated 'Shashti Samashti,' a dance tribute to Bharata Nrityam exponent Dr. Jayashree Rajagopalan, celebrating 60 glorious years of performances on stage. The highlight of the program was the performance by three generations of dancers with the execution of selected items from the Bharata Nrityam repertoire. The program was held at the Mysore Association auditorium on 20th May. With the blessings of Jayashree's parents and her Guru Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, who joined virtually, the event commenced with a formal function where Jayashree was felicitated by Guru Kalyanasundaram Pillai, stalwart of Sri Raja Rajeswari Bharatanatya Kala Mandir, represented by his wife Mythili Kalyanasundaram and son Harikrishnan, Manipuri exponent Darshana Jhaveri, Dr. V. Shankar, educationist, president of Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha, Mumbai. They showered praises on Jayashree for the diligent and painstaking efforts taken to practise, promote and teach Bharata Nrityam, thereby taking the legacy of her Guru nationally and internationally.

The evening commenced with invocation dedicated to two most popular Gods of Maharashtra- Ganesha and Vittala. Jayashree and her daughter / disciple Aishwarya Harish performed the Pushpanjali, Jathiswaram, Varnam Anandame, all showcasing the charis, nritta hastas and karanas that form the speciality of Bharata Nrityam. The shlokas selected for the Pushpanjali in ragam Bhouli and talam adi were extracts from Maharaja Shahaji's Mrityunjaya Chiranjeeva Nataka in praise of Siva, describing the manifold aspects of his majestic personality. The invocatory item Ganesha Vandana was tuned by Jayashree's mother Leela Gopalan and choreographed by her first Guru T.S. Janakiraman for her arangetram, in ragam Vasantha set to adi talam. It was performed by Varshini, representing the third generation.

Aishwarya with the music ensemble
Aishwarya with the music ensemble

Aishwarya performed the Jatiswaram composed by Leela Gopalan, in ragam Hemavati and talam rupakam. It was a pleasure to watch Aishwarya performing with complete involvement and joie-de-vivre, interpreting the varied facets of dancing, merging well with music, melody and rhythm.

Jayashree's older daughter Vaishnavi Anand and granddaughter Hiranmayee from Singapore, presented virtually with verve and vigour, a rasa sabdam, a composition of Oothukaadu Venkatasubbayyer in Simhendramadhyamam ragam and adi talam, choreographed by Jayashree.

Varnam is the colourful centrepiece and most elaborate number with emphasis on nritta, nritya and natya. This was an unusual varnam, an extract from Tulsidas's Ramcharitamanas interpreting the dohas and chaupais in Hindi. It begins with the story of Sita's birth, her growing up years as Raja Janaka's daughter, Rama's chance meeting with Sita and their subsequent wedding following the Swayamvara. This rare composition with Aishwarya's spirited dancing gives it a dramatic and holistic touch. Composed by Dr. Lakshmi Sriram, this was in Ragamalika and adi talam.

Aishwarya, Varshini and Jayashree
Aishwarya, Varshini and Jayashree

The concluding item of the program was a ritualistic dance pertaining to the Ahamargam tradition, performed in the Tiruchangattankudi temple. Referred to as Bhairavam, the verses are from the Saiva text. Padma Subrahmanyam composed and choreographed the pallavi and anupallavi. The relevant karanas like prenkolitam for vakyartha abhinaya exposing the story of Siruthondar Nayanar depicted in the sanchari bhava, describing the unwavering devotion of the saint whose cut up child offered as 'pillai kari' to Siva is revived by Siva himself to Siruthondar's astonishment. The enactment of the same by all the three generations, Jayashree, Aishwarya and Varshini together in appropriate roles was the finest form of natya or dramatic art at its best.

The program was followed by a documentary on Jayashree Rajagopalan that portrayed her formative years, her passionate involvement with music and dance and her career as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, daughter, wife, mother and grandmother. Scripted, compiled, edited and narrated by Aishwarya Harish, the film exposed Jayashree's multifaceted life, and was an eye opener to all present. Felicitations from her family and more importantly stalwarts like her Guru Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and violin maestro A. Kanyakumari, aptly summed up her achievements.

Vijay Shankar is a Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, teacher, bilingual journalist, arts critic and actor.

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