10th edition of Natya Parampara Utsav
- Sudha Sridhar
Photos: Srivatsa Shandilya
November 7, 2023
The 10th edition of the annual Natya Parampara Utsav, a classical extravagance from Kuchipudi Parampara Foundation (KPF) was presented at Ramana Maharishi Heritage Auditorium, Bengaluru, on 28th October 2023 with premiere of their new production 'Bhava Nuta' Kuchipudi Natyam, a presentation of the great Sri Munipalle Subramanya Kavi's iconic contribution 'Adhyaatma Ramayana'. It was incidentally Valmiki Jayanthi too, a befitting occasion to showcase Ramayana.
Munipalle Subramanya Kavi, a great scholar from the 18th century who lived in Kalahasti, Andhra Pradesh, is appreciated for his colossal work 'Adhyaatma Ramayana'. Known for its rich literary content, it brings forth Ramayana through 104 keertanas divided into six chapters, viz., Baala Kaandam, Ayodhya Kaandam, Aranya Kaandam, Kishkinda Kaandam, Sundara Kaandam and Yuddha Kaandam. The Kavi composed keertanas in 58 ragas and also it is to be added that 5 of the keertanas are written in Sanskrit. While Valmiki Ramayana portrays more the mortal side of Lord Rama and how he went through the hardship in his life unequivocally, Munipalle Subramanya Kavi's Adhyaatma Ramayana is hailed as a spiritual Ramayana, advocating for Advaita through his retelling. He portrays Lord Rama as Parabrahma Swarupa and Sita Devi as Adi Maya, conveying that Jeevatma and Paramatma are one and the same.
Adhyaatma Ramayana starts with a narration by Lord Shiva to his consort Parvati, spelling out the greatness of Lord Rama. Further, to the lament of Bhoo Devi citing the increased grossness engulfing the society at large, Lord Shiva says that Lord Vishnu promised to take avatar as Rama to take care of the situation and thus the entire story is enacted as a pre-destined Leela Natanam.
The popularity of his keertanas can be seen from the fact it was one of the favourites of the women folk of Andhra Pradesh and it was also sung by the distaff side of the traditional Kuchipudi families. As a natural corollary the Kuchipudi stalwarts like Vedantam Prahlada Sarma, Vempati Chinna Satyam, PVG Sarma and others continued the age-old rendition of the keertanas from the Adhyaatma Ramayana by the Bhagavatas. The keertanas Namashivayathe, Cheri vinave sowri charitamu, Andamugaa ee kadha vinave, Raamuni sakala gunaabi raamuni, Inti changalva poobanti are some of them which are performed by Kuchipudi artistes.
But the effort of Deepa Narayanan Sashindran, life trustee of KPF, to present the magnum opus of Munipalle Subramanya Kavi as a dance drama is very commendable and praise worthy. The brave effort to script a shorter yet very interesting and comprehensive dance drama from the mesmerizing keertanas is credited to the lyricist Dr. Rajani Malladi. To understand the work of a legend and concise the presentation to an acceptable time frame is never an easy task and the team has done an excellent job in selecting the episodes and the keertanas that went with it to weave a captivating dance drama.
Rama & Sita
The 'Bhava Nuta' Kuchipudi Natyam covers the birth of Lord Rama, Yaaga samrakshanam, Siva danurbhangam, Sita swayamvaram, Sita Rama Kalyanam, Soorpanaka vruthaantam, Maaricha vadha, Sita apaharanam, Jatayu moksham, Sugriva maitri, Sita anveshana, Lankaa dahanam, Ravana samhaaram and Rama Pattabhishekam. The story puts forth a different perception of Ramayana, such as in the episode Maricha vadha, in the keertana, 'Deena bhaktajana sowkya dayaki prana nayaki vinave', Lord Rama informs Sita that Ravana is coming to take her and that Sita should leave behind a shadow of her person while hiding away her divine spirit elsewhere, since Rama was aware of the impending danger from Ravana. It is this 'Maya-Sita' who asks for the mysterious golden deer who is actually the demon Maricha in disguise.
The choreography skills of Deepa are brought to limelight in the deft handling of the story line scripted with various characters in the fray. The work of the lyricist and that of the choreographer can bear the required aesthetic impact only if accompanied with impeccable music composition. In this aspect the outstanding work of G Gurumurthy lent the much required flavour to the overall presentation, particularly the challenge of evoking response for dramatizing the various emotions portrayed as part of the treacherous journey of both the protagonist and the antagonist of the dance drama was beyond expectations.
Only one area where some extra attention could have been bestowed was in selecting the singers for the dance drama. Vocalists from the Telugu speaking populace would have further enhanced the experience of the audience. This is a very important aspect taking into consideration the popularity of the Kavi's work even among commoners who are in the awareness of the correct diction and pronunciation of the lyrics. A little bit more research in this aspect would have taken the music compositions to the next level.
Jatayu's wings clipped by Ravana
But that doesn't belittle in any way the overall experience of the audience. It was very heartening to see the rasikas of all ages spellbound all through the dance drama. It reflected the shift in overall preference of viewership from the oft repeated solo / group repertoire to the mesmerising dance dramas. One distinct observation was that though the story was a well known one, the dramatization of the same with excellent choreography, spontaneous performance by varied characters in some poignant moments added to the grand spectacle of the dance drama and it took the breath away with its sheer brilliance.
Even such minor scenes like Vanaras building the Sethu bridge in rhythm, the sleeping lankanis, attendants of Sita at the garden along with the much more emotional scenes like that of Soorpanaka's defiant attempts to entice both Rama and Lakshmana, Ravana taking Sita away by luring her to cross the Lakshman Rekha, Jatayu's fight with Ravana where his wing gets clipped, Rama tending to the dying Jatayu, Rama and Lakshmana in search of Sita, and Hanuman meeting Sita at Ashoka Garden, were impressive. All the characters starting with Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Soorpanaka, Maricha, Jatayu, Ravana, Sugriva, Kaikeyi, Dasaratha, Mandara were all performed with aplomb, bringing to surface the hard work of the artistes as well as the meticulous choreography making a lasting impact that aided the audience get connected to the character portrayed.
It is a well-known fact that Kuchipudi classical art form lays equal importance to all the arms of the Chaturvida abhinaya. In this regard, it would augur well for the presentation to give bit more additional attention to stick to the aharya abhinaya that are identified with the characters that are portrayed to add more authenticity and sheen to the performance.
The evening also witnessed the felicitation of the dynamic Kathak duo from Bengaluru, Hari and Chethana. Continuing with KPF's modest yet very enviable tradition of honouring and felicitating during each edition of the Utsav, one senior artiste / Guru from the Kuchipudi traditional families, this year the honour went to Kuchipudi Guru Bhagavatula Mohana Rao, Uttama Natyacharya from Rajahmundry.
As a parting thought, the artistes of the KPF ensemble performing exceedingly well right through the Kuchipudi Natyam Bhava Nuta, evoked continuous involuntary appreciation from the entire auditorium resulting in a very fulfilling, art satiated evening, eagerly awaiting the next such unforgettable edition of KPF's Natya Parampara Utsav.
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 artistes. 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 Bhagavatamela.