Matey Malayadhwaja, an ode to the Divine Mother
- Sunil Sunkara

October 28, 2016

The Sharda Sangeet Vidyalaya is host to the Durga Festival each year during Navratri where dancers present their work in gayan, vadan and nritya seva. On Oct 9, 2016, this year’s festival concluded with a performance by Pavitra Bhat, who presented the Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar varnam Matey Malayadhwaja.
The unique feature of this varnam is that it is a daru varnam in Khamas ragam set to adi talam, where lyrics, swaras and syllables come together to create a unique musical experience. Made popular by the legendary MS Subbulakshmi, it got greater familiarity with the common audience through the movie Morning Raga. Pavitra Bhat choreographed and presented this varnam for this first time in Mumbai. The excellent orchestra of Kalishwaran Pillai (nattuvangam), Keerthana Krishnan (vocal), Dakshinamurthy Pillai (mridangam) and  Mangalam Vaidhyanathan (violin) created the right mood for this piece, especially since the audience comprised a number of people who were not regular attendees of Bharatanatyam concerts. Beginning with the description of Durga as mother of Ganesha and Kartikeya, daughter of the mountain king, fair and wearing a crescent moon, Pavitra went beyond the realms of his body to create a vision of the goddess on stage. Then having introduced the audience to the musical space created by the daru varnam, he went on to use the swaras effectively to depict the story of Chamunda Durga felling demons, chopping their body to pieces and going on to drink their rakshasa blood. So engrossed were the audience in this visual that the final pose as Chamunda drinking blood resulted in thunderous applause.
He then took the audience towards the shanta rasa by concluding with a mangalam, Sarva mangala mangalye.  Pavitra’s stamina, attention to detail and command over both abhinaya and nritta left the audience wishing for more when he concluded his 40 minute piece. Suresh Narang, the president of the Sharda Sangeet Vidyalaya, made a rare appearance on the stage to congratulate Pavitra. Narang reminded the audience that in 2002 Pavitra was a Paluskar awardee from the Vidyalaya, an award given to promising artists and expressed his happiness on seeing the refined performer Pavitra has become. He invited Pavitra to perform again in the 90th anniversary festival of the institute next year along with stalwarts of the field, which is truly an honour.

Sunil Sunkara is a Kathak dancer with a PhD degree, based in Mumbai.