Blown away to ecstasy by Rama Vaidyanathan’s Mad and Divine
- Poornima Ramaprasad
Photos: Lalitha Venkat

August 28, 2013

"Let us all be Jeevan Muktas," she proclaimed. But I refuse, for life presents such lovely feasts of dance and music and I want to enjoy them! Lo and behold, such was the beauty of ‘Mad and Divine,’ a thematic dance production by Rama Vaidyanathan, for South India Fine Arts, a premier sabha in the San Francisco bay area on August 25th evening.

The dancer went on to describe the life and works of two women saint poets of the 13th and 14th centuries namely saint Janabai of Maharashtra and saint Lalleshwari of Kashmir. Both these women took different paths to reach greater heights and attain proximity to the Lord. Janabai was a maid in the house of Saint Namdev. Her works were on Vittala (Vishnu) and were mainly Marathi abhangs immersed in bhakti. Two abhinaya items showcased the works of Janabai and this was interspersed by some dialogues to give a hint of the life of Janabai. The music for the abhangs was beautifully set in a host of Hindustani ragas including Sindhu Bhairavi, Yaman, Maand, Vasanti, Ragesri and more.

Lalleshwari (Lalla) was a devotee of Shiva. She took the path of 'tantra' for her liberation from life. She was ill-treated by her husband's family and decided to renounce everything and spend her life singing madly to reach the divinity. The 'tantra' (meditation) aspect was well depicted by the interspersing of slow paced, yet very precise jatis and the grand finale a lovely taana, followed by a thillana like item with rhythmic phrases and minimal saahitya in raaga Brindavani, urging everyone to attain mukti and renounce life when alive.

Rama aced in both the performances. She was one humble damsel begging for Lord Vittala's mercy as Janabai, and a revolutionary woman who discarded everything in life including her clothes to be with Lord Shiva as Lalla. The costumes for both were perfect - a typical green/red cotton kacche to depict a Marathi bai and a white salwar kameez type of costume for the Kashmiri woman. Rama's charming abhinaya, her energetic and youthful choreography were beautiful beyond words. It was really interesting to see Marathi and Kashmiri songs being used for Bharatanatyam.

Asha Ramesh, bay area's very own musician, on the vocals was a treat. The fact that she has a Hindustani background was very evident in the way she effortlessly sang the abhangs without a touch of accent. Snigdha Venkataramani on nattuvangam, Sreenivas Ponnappan on the mridangam and Vikram Raghukumar on the violin aided perfect support to the dancer and the musician.

All in all, the rasikas were treated to a fulfilling bowl of kheer and headed home with enlightenment.

Poornima Ramaprasad follows Indian classical music and dance forms. She reviews Indian dance and drama events in the San Francisco bay area from time to time.