Nayika: national seminar and dance festival
Photos: Pon Kasi Rajan

March 22, 2015

NAYIKA - a national seminar and dance festival was organized by Bangalore based Shambhavi  School of Dance at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai, on 7th March on the eve of International Women’s Day. It was the second series of this edition and was supported by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai.  According to Vyjayanthi Kashi, the brain behind this festival, the main focus of the seminar was to bring out the contribution of women to the field of Kuchipudi. Those women, who have given their life to propagating this art form, however remained unfamiliar at a higher level. As a future plan, Vyjayanthi, through the seminar aims to address the contribution of women to other fields of dance as well.

As everyone knows, Kuchipudi belongs to the Bhagavatha Mela tradition and initially women were prohibited from dancing. It was Vedantham Lakshminarayana Sastry who introduced women into this art form since 1930. The morning seminar started with Dr. Sobha Naidu, who was to receive the Natyasastra Award in the evening session. She presented a Power Point presentation to explain the history of dance and shared her experience in learning and pursuing Kuchipudi under her Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. She explained his strict discipline while imparting training in nritya  and  abhinaya. She initially used to portray male characters in her guru’s dance dramas but he felt that she was not suited for such characters. Hence he made her don only female roles and Sobha waited for an opportunity to prove to the world that she could do justice in exhibiting both the male and female characters. When she started choreographing her own dance dramas, she chose to portray the character of Lord Rama which was well received by the audience. Some of them commented that she was just like the popular film hero N.T. Rama Rao. Apart from her guru’s choreography, she choreographed Bhagavad Gita, Navarasa Natabhaamini, Sarvam Saimayam, Swami Vivekananda etc.  During the course of the seminar, she demonstrated Satyabhama’s pravesa daruvu.

The second presentation was by Vasanthalakshmi Narasimhachari, who explained the importance of Satvikabhinaya in dance, her journey as a student and wife of her guru Narasimhachari and also as a mother. She portrayed Ashtavidha Nayika avasthas through a padam which was written by her father-in-law. Her subtle expressions enhanced the beauty of the lyrics. Her melodious voice and commendable knowledge made her speech interesting and appreciable. Her appreciation of the silent contribution of the Gurumaatha (Guru’s wife) by taking care of all the students and providing them with food was also a worthy allusion when it comes to women’s contribution.

Dr. Sobha Naidu

Vasanthalakshmi Narasimhachari

R. Prasanna Rani

Voleti Rangamani

Next presentation was by R. Prasanna Rani, who has served as a Lecturer in Govt. Music & Dance College, Hyderabad for four decades. She mentioned the twists in her career as a dancer, actor and lecturer. Her marriage forced her to give up performances and made her stay away from the limelight of being a performer. However, the fundamentals that she learnt from Late Bhagavathula Ramakotayya were very strong. She also received training under Vedantham Jagannatha Sharma and learnt Bhama Kalapam and Golla Kalapam along with other traditional items. Later, she was introduced into movies by none other than Akkineni Nageswara Rao in ‘Sudigundalu.’ Post that, she acted in almost 20 movies. After returning from the glamorous cinema world of Madras where she couldn’t further continue, Prasanna Rani polished her talent under the guidance of Surya Prakash Sharma. She completed certificate and diploma exams in Kuchipudi and joined Govt. Music & Dance College as a lecturer. Through her demonstration of Ramakotayya’s adavu style, Siggayane and Madana Daruvus from Bhama Kalapam in Jagannadha Sharma’s style, we could see the crude abhinaya of those days. Dr. P. Rama Devi who was moderating the seminar said that there are so many dancers who have had to give up their passion to maintain a peaceful family life. Leaving the glittery world of cinema for the sake of pursuing one’s passion (classical dance) is really appreciable and that shows Prasanna Rani’s dedication towards the art form. Unfortunately, she had to stop performing and keep her passion alive by teaching.

The concluding session was by Voleti Rangamani, daughter of C.R. Acharya. She shared her experience from her childhood as to how she helped her father in choreography and in classes but yet remained a non-performer as her family was against the idea of girls learning or performing dance. Acharya, who revived Alaya Sampradaya Nrithyas - temple ritual dance forms like  Simhanandini, Mayura Kowthvam etc using rare talams like Simha Nandana, Mallika Modu - was a genius who created syllabus to draw these figures with feet on the canvas cloth which is fixed on a wooden frame. Being a disciple of Acharya, Vyjayanthi Kashi added saying he also would perform the Vinayaka Kautvam set to Vinayaka thalam, where he would draw the picture of Vinayaka which he later had to forgo as people objected to him drawing god’s image with the feet. Voleti published  her father’s work in the form of a book and is continuing his legacy by teaching Alaya Sampradaya Nrithyas.
The evening session started with the conferring of Natya Sastra Award on Dr. Sobha Naidu along with few video clippings of her contribution to this art form.  Chitra Visweswaran, Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao and L. Sabaretnam, Chairman of Bhavan's Chennai Kendra, presented the award. A dvd ‘The Magic of Kuchipudi’ featuring Prateeksha Kashi was released by Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao.  According to Vyjayanthi Kashi, this dvd is an outcome of the sparkle that her gurus added to her learning, which has ushered in creativity. Following this were dance performances centred around the theme of Nayika, presented by Vyjayanthi Kashi (Kuchipudi), Sharmila Biswas (Odissi) and Gopika Varma (Mohiniattam).

Natya Sastra Award

Prateeksha Kashi & Vyjayanthi Kashi

Sharmila Biswas

Gopika Varma

Vyjayanthi started with a traditional pravesha daruvu of Mohini, moving on to ‘Gandhari’ which had excellent script and music. She concluded her performance with ‘Kubja’ in which her daughter Prateeksha appeared as Lord Krishna. Vyjayanthi's experience and excellent abhinaya made the characters come alive. The next performance was by Sharmila Biswas which was more on the lines of contemporary and even the music resembled that of the folk tradition. The evening ended with a wonderful presentation by Gopika Varma. She began her performance with Ahalya and moved on to Draupadi portraying her as a charanadaasi towards her husbands.  

Due to the main speaker / awardee arriving only one hour late, the morning seminar was unduly delayed by an hour. Since she informed the organizer over one hour that she would be at the venue in 5 minutes, the organizer could not very well start the proceedings. As if the morning late coming was not enough, she arrived half an hour late for the evening function as well, resulting in a delayed start. When such delays happen, the organizer would do well to cut down on certain planned schedules / items, so there is a reasonable audience for artistes performing towards the end of the evening.