by G S Paul, Kerala 
January 2003 

The 10th anniversary of the World Forum of UNESCO Chairs held recently (Nov.14, 2002) in Paris turned a memorable experience for the hundreds of delegates from 113 countries across the world, courtesy a scintillating two-hour bharatanatyam recital by Dr Vasundhara Doraswamy from Mysore. Incidentally, UNESCO’s flair for Indian art forms has been phenomenal in the past as was evident from the concerts of Ravi Shankar and Amjad Ali Khan who were invited to perform at the same Forum. Moreover, it was only a couple of years back that the organisation had declared Koodiyattom, the two-millennia old Sanskrit theatre of Kerala as an oral, intangible heritage of mankind. But Vasundhara made history by being the first Indian dancer to perform before this august assembly. 

One among the few torchbearers of the Pandanalloor School of Bharatanatyam, Vasundhara has been a traditionalist to the core. And she chose to present the recital on the traditional format starting from pushpanjali and ending with the tillana. In conformity with the text on Bharatantyam that was meticulously drafted in her brochure specially prepared for the occasion, her performance proved that Bharatantyam is a spiritual exercise for both the performer and the audience. 

Following the 10-minute pushpanjali, as she struck bewitching karanas of Siva in "Mahadeva Siva sambo", a composition of Shrisankar Iyer in Revathi Raga and Adi tala, the entire congregation seemed to exclaim along with the dancer, " Oh Lord, I am spellbound by your beauty as a dancer". Vasundhara’s exploits in Yoga – her doctoral thesis is "Yoga and Bharatanatyam" – were reflected not only in the stability of the poses but in every movement as well. More of her histrionic propensities found vivid expressions in the Charukesi varnam of Sreedharan Mundangadu as she portrayed the characters Murugha, Devayani and her sakhi. And Murugha’s peacock appeared on the stage in all its splendour eliciting a spontaneous, thunderous applause. 

The longest in the repertoire was Dasavathara in ragamalika. The number created such an abiding interest that every member was seen verifying each avatara by referring to the brochure provided. Myriad were the curtain calls she had to make as she wound up by an enthralling tillana in raga Sivasakthi. A notable flaw in the performance was the absence of variety of talas as all the numbers embraced adi tala only. 

Said Mr. Dimitri Beridge, Chief of Networking, UNESCO while presenting the bouquet to Vasundhara, "We are really overwhelmed by your superb artistry, especially since the bottomline of all the mythical stories you have delineated is essentially peace". His observation appeared relevant as the programme was sponsored by the UNESCO Chair for Promotion of the Culture of Peace and Non-violence of the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. 

Vasundhara was ably assisted by Varija Nalige (Nattuvangam), Guru Prasad (Vocal), Susheel Kumar Payyannur (Mridangam), H S Thandavamoorthy (Violin) and Ravisankar Mishra (Flute) in the historic hall Salle 1 of the UNESCO. 

Prof. G S Paul is a regular contributor to THE HINDU (Friday Review, Kerala) since last 15 years. Even now, after retirement, he continues to do reviews for the paper. He was also a member of the Executive Committee of Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi for 5 years from 1996 to 2001, a member of the dance audition committee for DD, Trivandrum