UNDERSTANDING THE VARNAM -
AN ISSUE FOR THE AUDIENCE IN THE US
by Babu Parameswaran
Jnaanam Dehi Smritim Dehi Vidyaam Vidhyaadhidevathe
Pratishtham Kavitham Dehi Shakti Shishyaprabodhikaam
O Saraswati, Goddess of learning, grant me knowledge, grant me memory,
grant me learning, reputation and poetry, and the power to enlighten disciples.
Every year when I tour, I learn a lot of things from the dance teachers and students with whom I work. I learn many new songs in different ragas and languages. I am deeply impressed that the kids here in the US want to perform with 100% perfection when they do their Arangetrams or any performances. I would like to share some of my experiences this year with you all.
In recent years, I have been singing lot of north Indian language songs for the Arangetrams. Recently, I sang even a Gujarathi Varnam. We all know that the Varnam is the longest piece in the Arangetram. Since most of the Varnams are in Tamil or Telugu, other than the few South Indians, none can understand the substance of the Varnam. This makes the audience confused and restless and makes most of them look forward to the intermission. To avoid this, I think we should make an attempt to make sure that every one enjoys the main piece in an Arangetram.
Even in the Arangetram of a Tamil speaking family, I see 50% of the audience is from North India. It would be appropriate here to make an attempt to present some Varnams in north Indian languages too. Bharatanatyam is a dance form, which can be adapted to any language. As the art form has spread in a big way, every one should enjoy it.
It is difficult to replace a Varnam like Sakhiyay, Athimoham, Swami Naan Undan Adimai or other popular Varnams. But it is high time, to cultivate an audience for the Varnam. A dance teacher wanted a whole margam on Jesus in Malayalam. Even though it took me almost a year to work on it, it was heartening to note that it was well appreciated by the Malayali crowd.
At present I am working on getting a full margam in Hindi. I will be happy to get suggestions from you all.
A staff artist of the Dhananjayans' Bharata Kalanjali, for the past 12 years, Babu Parameswaran has performed in major festivals in India and abroad. He has composed music for many dance productions like Meera, The Nutcracker, Cinderella, Tagore's Shyama, Thulsi Ramayan, Kalidasa's Malavika and others. He has worked with Pt Ravishankar in his musical theater Ghanashyam and was featured in the album Chants of India by Pt Ravishankar and George Harrison of the Beatles. Recently Babu composed music for the production Hari Charan, which was staged in Los Angeles on the July 7, 2002.