'Ranjani' enthralls Bay Area on 'International Day of Happiness'
- Poornima Ramaprasad
e-mail: poornima@sbcglobal.net
Photos: Monika Venkateshmurthy

March 22, 2016

San Francisco Bay Area is the warmest home outside India to all classical performing art forms. It probably has the highest density of performing artists of various levels (could even be higher than Chennai itself)! That said, any number of events fostering these arts will gain great attraction momentarily and rasikas will barge in unquestioningly to these events. This year marked the first of starting the tradition of  a large scale Tyagaraja Aradhana in the Bay Area, very much on the lines of the world famous Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana. This event was hosted under the auspices of Kalalaya, an esteemed venue in South bay for local and international artists. As a part of this three day festival, on March 20th, which has also been recently declared as 'International Day of Happiness', there was a dance concert by Sundara Swaminathan and the company dancers of her dance school Kala Vandana Dance Company, which trains young girls and boys rigorously in the Kalakshetra style. With a day pass in hand, being an ardent fan of the Kalakshetra style and knowing well of Sundara Swaminathan’s calibre, attending this event started off my day in a pleasantly happy way.

The performance was a short one - about 75 minutes, which is the normal trend in such large scale events. The concert started with adulation to Saint Tyagaraja, who is no less than God for us Karnataka Sangeeta fans! Then the company dancers performed a Pushpanjali followed by the melodious Bhairavi jatiswara very neatly. This set the right ambiance for the audience to watch the next few scintillating items.

The show stealer of the concert was, hands down, the Ranjani mala. Ranjani - as the meaning of the raga suggests is ‘delightful’ or ‘one who entertains.’ With Ranjani in the background, even with eyes closed, it is bliss. Sundara's enchanting "mrdu pankaja lochani", the mrdutva, the lotus, the eyes came in so many unbelievably beautiful ways that heads were wavering, “shabhash!” was often heard and for me, I was smiling away with tears that I was unaware of. Next Ranjani of the mala is my favorite Ranjani - "Sriranjani", which, I feel, is the queen of Ranjanis. The sweet talker "manju bhaashini", the jovial one "mana ullaasini" were too sweet for words in the Sriranjani segment. The rain and clouds were beautifully shown in Megha Ranjani with the ‘making of the melodious song’ being ‘enacted’ with the tuning of the veena by the moon faced goddess of music, Saraswati. Finale with Jana Ranjani, enacted as the audience enchanter here, came as the common man’s savior who liberates him from all the sins, which the audience could figure out even without the saahitya that meant exactly the same. The Ranjanis fall into a family here only by virtue of their names and are musically very unique, making this song a musician’s delight too, as much as it is a dancer’s delight.

Mesmerizing abhinaya by Sundara Swaminathan and perfect accompaniment for the jatis and the chitteswara by the graduate student dancers was happiness personified, making the newly nominated ‘Happiness Day’ happier. This was followed by the Gopalakrishna Bharathiyar keerathana  “Natanam aadinar” in raga Vasantha. The well trained company dancers presented this seamlessly.

The concert concluded with a ragamalika thillana which had the theme of celebration and happiness. When ragas Brindavani, Durga, Hamsadhwani and Behag are danced to by an array of lovely dancers with colorful costumes, what else can it be, but pure happiness?  I am not sure if ‘Happiness’ was the theme for this performance, but definitely it made the audience extremely happy.

The award ‘Nritya Parampara Puraskar’ was bestowed upon Sundara Swaminathan by none other than the doyen advocate of South Indian art forms in the US, Cleveland Sundaram, at this first Tyagaraja Aradhana, for her service for over 25 years in the field of Bharatanatyam in the Bay Area. Dance and music certainly will thrive in the San Francisco area for many generations to come is just another clichéd conclusion from this event.

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.