Click here for all links

Social media links

Naachiyar Next - A saga of love and devotion
- Manjari Sinha
Photos: Adarsh Sahni

April 16, 2024

'Naachiyar Next', the magnificent production of Dr. Anita Ratnam and her dance company - Dance Theatre - was brought to Delhi by costume designer Sandhya Raman and the Rasaja Foundation, as part of 'Rasaveni', their annual festival of dance and music presented at the Chinmaya Mission Auditorium.

Based on the story of Andal, aka Goda, who 'remains an enigma and a beloved icon of the Tamil imagination', 'Naachiyar Next' left the Delhi audience spellbound. The hall full to capacity, sat glued to their seats, watching the fascinating saga of the mystic poet and gave a standing ovation for full five minutes at the end. The allure and appeal of Nachiyar / Andal has not dimmed with time. Even Anita who has presented several editions of the ANDAL legend till date admits that "it has stirred the audiences every time!"

Like the 'Prem-Diwani' Meera in Northern India, who was passionately in love with her 'Giridhar Gopala', Andal is a much revered name whose love and devotion for Krishna, as Lord Ranganatha, has its own enduring appeal in Tamilnadu. Amongst the 173 verses that she wrote, the first 30 were called Thiruppavai (the sacred vow). The rulers like the Nayak dynasty, adored her so much that they even built her a temple. She is among the very early feminist voices whose searing love and devotion to her Ranganatha / Krishna made her immortal and the only mystic poet to have her own temple with a living tradition.

Andal is also a cherished entity in every household in south. In the month of Margazhi (mid December to mid January) unmarried teenage girls would fast for one month, abstain from drinking milk, putting kajal in their eyes or plucking flowers to decorate their hair. They would rise early, bathe in the icy river waters and meditate on Ranganatha / Vishnu. Andal's popularity in Sri Villiputtur, her birthplace, is evident in every other shop and business in the town named after her, like Naachiyar Sweets, Naachiyar Saris, Naachiyar Pharmacy etc.

Naachiyar Next

'Naachiyar Next' presented in Delhi, was conceived, choreographed and presented by Anita Ratnam who played a versatile Sutradhar - singing, dancing, acting, chanting - as the foster mother and even the inner voice of the teenage Goda with sensitivity. Goda was the given name for the foundling which means "a beautiful garland". It was only after she merged with the object of her desire - Ranganatha / Krishna - is she anointed as Andal, the one who rules the Lord's heart. The scenes flowed smoothly through her childhood listening to her father telling her mythological stories, to her adolescence, skipping and enjoying Kolattam (Dandia Raas) with friends to turning into a beautiful maiden passionately in love with Krishna, her Ranganatha, and finally her passion transforming into devotion and ultimately her merging into the idol of her beloved deity, while the heavens tremored and the Lord Himself surrendered to her will.

'Naachiyar Next' opens with the idol of Krishna installed in the centre of the stage and the Arayer priest (Madhusudanan) chanting the stotras in the authentic way to create the aura for the story, which gripped the audience from very beginning when the newborn left behind in the Vrinda (Tulasi) grove was found by Periyazhwar who brings her up as his adored child. Sridhar Vasudevan looked convincing in the role of Goda's father, singing lullabies written by the actual Periyazhwar, father of Goda. The first Pasuram (sacred poetry by the Azhwars) was a lullaby in ragam Kuntalavarali, that talks of the cradle of Krishna, studded with rubies and diamonds on the sheets of pure gold, gifted by Brahma, atop which the tiny Krishna rests with his tiny feet that once measured the three Bhuvans.

Naachiyar Next

Naachiyar Next

The second Pasuram in raga Yaman (Yamunakalyani) was about the feet of Krishna that shine like the twinkling stars and the little baby Krishna is decked up with pure pearls and precious gems from toes to the crown. The melodious singing with varied swara combinations of both the ragas evoked the vatsalya rasa he felt for his own cute little Goda. The music for this was the priceless contribution of the yesteryear doyen of temple music, especially in Vaishnava tradition, the late V.V. Sadagopan.

This is just one example of Anita's commitment to authenticity in whatever music or dance she has used in this landmark production. The group of dancers had perfect angashuddhi, but what was used in her choreography was not the typical margam of Bharatanatyam, but its innovative application to suit the flow of the narrative. Also, the imaginative music like evoking the pathos with just four swaras of raga Revathi played on the melodious veena, or the musical sound-scape used to enhance the choreography, were both selected and directed by Anita. It was sound design and not a mere music score.

Naachiyar Next

The Duff, for instance, was used imaginatively to keep up the Tisra or Chatusra gati Chhand to which Anita would carry on the story of Goda, in poetic rap style, keeping up with the beats of the Duff. The enthralling bit of syncopation at times used to break the monotony underlined not just her command over rhythm but also gave a sense of surprise to the rhythmic pattern. The same was true for her use of props and imaginative choreography, where the ultimate moment was the magical scene of multiple mirrors to turn the whole stage into reflected waters of the well in which Andal wanted to see how the garland she wore would look on her as the future bride of Ranganatha.

Anita was not re-telling the story like a translation through this musical play, but trans-creating it through her artistic and aesthetic sense. Imagine the challenge of trans-creating a persona and beloved legend like Andal! A remarkable life, saturated with emotion, passion, and poetry, that lived over one thousand years ago, where the landscape of devotion and personal worship was forbidden for women! It would not have been easy. Anita brought all this alive, in a spectacular way through her contemporary lens of theatre, movement and global aesthetics. The stage was saturated with every aspect of South Indian Vaishnava traditions in its many splendored details. The concluding scene of the wedding procession and the climax of Andal's merging into the idol of her beloved Ranganatha brought tears to many in the audience who held their collective breath and rose to their feet in a unanimous burst of prolonged applause.

Naachiyar Next

The seventy-minute performance, which went far beyond the conventional dance drama style of interpretations, featured a talented ensemble of Anita with seven dancers, two actors, and four musicians, creating a visually stunning and emotionally charged experience. It braided dance, theatrical staging, ritual chanting, storytelling, and contemporary movement improvisations. The credit of concept, choreography, props, sound design, and acting as an accomplished Sutradhar goes to Anita Ratnam herself, who has journeyed with Andal and her poetry for over 5 decades. The gifted dancer Nandini Subbulakshmi played the lovely child, a vibrant adolescent and the beautiful Goda. The other excellent dancers were Reshma, Rasika, Nrithya, Devika, Anjana and Keerthana. Madhusudanan played and looked apt for the roles of the Arayer priest and the fortune teller gypsy while Sridhar Vasudevan was a perfect choice for Periyazhwar, the poet/garland maker father of Goda.

'Naachiyar Next' is a stunning landmark production that has created a standard for a new template of retelling ancient stories and legends for today's audiences.

Manjari Sinha
Manjari Sinha has an M.A. in Sanskrit and Music, and Sangeet Prabhakar in vocal, tabla, sitar and Kathak dance. She has regular columns in national dailies as a music and dance critic.

Click here for all links
Reviews | Home | About | Address Bank | News | Info Centre | Featured Columns