Nataraja Samman 2013
- Veejay Sai
Images courtesy: Usha RK

February 10, 2013

On the clear moonlit night of January 19 in Tamarind Tree, a classy resort on the outskirts of Bangalore, five superstars and a whole bunch of rasikas got the evening abuzz with activity. Thanks to the untiring efforts of arts promoter Usha RK, yet another set of awards have been instituted into the dance world. This time with ample backing from no one lesser than the Tatas and the Shringeri Shankar Mutt, the ‘Nataraj Samman’ is all set to be a path-breaking one in the years to come. In its first edition, the award was conferred upon five dance veterans – Vyjayanthimala Bali, Yamini Krishnamurti, Pt Birju Maharaj, Sonal Mansingh and Bharati Shivaji. This event was in collaboration with the Sadguru Sri Thyagabrahma Aradhana Kainkarya Trust and G. Sheshappa and Smt Sundaramma Charitable trust.

The evening opened with a small group dance presentation by Bangalore’s senior dancers Sathyanarayana Raju, Poornima Ashok, Soundarya Srivatsa and Shubhashini Vasant performing the famous Tyagaraja Pancharatna Kriti ‘Endaro Mahanubhavulu’. The awards ceremony saw each of the awardees receive a commemorative plaque, a gold medal from the Shringeri Shankar Mutt, a shawl and a purse of one lakh rupees. The awards were given away by V R Gowrishankar, the CEO of the Shringeri Mutt, veteran dancer Vani Ganapathy, Captain Gopinath of the erstwhile Air Deccan, Usha Veerendra Kumar of Matrubhumi newspaper and Usha and Radhakrishna. It was a sight to see all five of them on the stage getting a standing ovation from an over-crowded hall. The highlight of the evening was performances by each of them, which were much-awaited.

Seated: Bharati Shivaji, Yamini Krishnamurti, Vyjayantimala Bali, Birju Maharaj, Sonal Mansingh   Standing: Radhakrishna and Usha RK

Subhashini Vasanth, Soundarya, Poornima & Sathyanarayana Raju

Bharati Shivaji

Bharati Shivaji, being the youngest of the awardees, opened the series of mini-presentations with the famous lullaby written by Iriyaman Thampi to a baby Swathi Thirunal ‘Omana Thingal.’ Fresh in everyone’s memory, thanks to the recent controversy surrounding this tune, allegedly an inspiration of Bombay Jayashree’s Oscar-nominated lullaby to Pi, the audience seemed pretty familiar with it when Bharati started her performance. Slow and soothing, the music wafted into the air and one could see how effortlessly Bharati put the child to sleep with her abhinaya.

From there to a more vibrant ‘Dashavatara Stuti’ taken from Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam, one saw veteran Odissi dancer Sonal Mansingh give glimpses of her interpretation. Though constantly bothered by her slipping saree, Sonal danced with much vigour showing the old-world charm of all the dashavataars done in the Odissi style. A huge round of applause welcomed Yamini Krishnamurti as her invocatory item opened to the ‘Krishna Shabdam’ that she was once famous for. Sitting on a chair as she threw her eyes into the audience with a ‘Saami Rara’, every other man felt she was calling him. It was a joy to see her do abhinaya for this particular piece, which she herself made so famous throughout her performance career. She followed that with ‘Lekha,’ an excerpt from the traditional ‘Bhama Kalapam.’ Though the lapel mic gave way several times, one could see how she was at ease in her Vaachikabhinayam for the act.

Sonal Mansingh

Birju Maharaj

Yamini Krishnamurti

The five legends

Next came the uncrowned King of Kathak, Pandit Birju Maharaj, who not only danced but also exhibited his melodious voice. Very few people outside the Kathak circles know that Maharaj-ji is not only a trained vocalist who can sing all the famous Lucknow Gharana Thumris but also an expert tabla player. That kind of training kept him strong in his abhinaya and taal throughout his career. Along with his prime disciple Shaswati Sen, Maharaj-ji performed the famous ‘Jhoolat radhe naval kishore’ penned by his grandfather Maharaj Bindadin, one of the founders of the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak. The grand finale came with the one and only Vyjayanthimala Bali performing an excerpt from Bilvamangala’s ‘Srikrishna Karnamritam.’ Even at her age, one could see how she was perfect in her aramandi and the little bit of dance she performed. Women half her age wouldn’t be able to manage the kind of grace and charm she exudes.

The ceremony ended with a grand charity dinner in the memory of late Namrata Venkatram Reddy, the proceeds of which were sent to patients of pediatric cancer. The first edition of Nataraja Samman turned out to be a grand successful event, thanks to the organizing capabilities of Usha RK and her team. In today’s time and age there are plenty of awards and award ceremonies. Most awards are bought and a few are sought. Many more are meaningless elements of self-indulgence and self-promotion. We hope the Nataraja Samman holds its dignity over the years and is bestowed on the right kind of candidates. For now the dance world has yet another fantastic high-class awards ceremony to be proud of and what better than coming from the garden city.

Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and culture critic.