A floral tribute in classical dance
- Shveta Arora
Photos: Sanjay Koul
January 16, 2017
Divya Pushpam was held on Dec 1, 2016 at IHC, Delhi as part of the Divya trilogy - Divya Astra, Divya Vahana, and finally, Divya Pushpam. Every deity has a flower associated with him or her, which complements the attributes of the god. Flowers in Hindu mythology hold a special significance as they are used as offerings to the lord. A flower in general gives us pleasure with its beauty and fragrance.
Firstly, the concept was unique - choosing to depict a flower, its shape, size and significance. Then, all the dancers depicting the flowers were young and energetic, and finally, they were asked to choreograph the pieces themselves, which made the performance a special experience.
Associated with Mahaganapati, the piece was essayed by Keerthana Ravi, a student of Padmini Ramchandran. The presenter of the evening, Usha RK, explained that the japaa or hibiscus flower grows in abundant sunlight and produces large, funnel-shaped flowers with soft petals and attractive, large stamens. They are seen in a wide range of colours. ‘Japaa kusuma sankasam,’ the surya shlokam, compares the sun and the japaa for their brilliance and radiance. The japaa plant rises from the earth and grows towards the sun. The dance was in the format of an alarippu, which means the blossoming of a flower. The red flower is associated with Lord Ganesha. The beeja mantra, ganvam ram, compares the red Ganapati’s form to the japaa. Ganesha begins the process of self-realization since he is the presiding deity of the muladhara chakra. The japaa says:
‘I am just like my maker.
I am just like my maker, easily accessible to everybody.
I do not need too much sunshine, or too much rain.
Neither am I perched up on the tree, nor do I have thorns.
Just like Ganapati, who sees no caste or creed, rich or poor, but visits every home every year.
I am just like my maker, cyclic in nature; just as he visits our home year after year, I am born.
I bloom, I wither away, continuing the cycle of life and death.
My karma lies in decorating the tree,
My moksha lies in decorating his feet.
I am just like my maker.’
Clad in a red saree for the performance, Keerthana depicted the seed becoming a sapling, swaying in the wind, using a broad plie. The sapling grows and flowers. Then she went on to depict Ganesha with his elephant ears, trunk and round stomach – “gam gam Ganesham.” The lord pics the flowers with his trunk and puts them on himself. Keerthana had good energy, technique and expressiveness in depicting the lord and the flower. The performance reached a crescendo with Ganesh pooja and Marathi aarti “Sukhkarta dukhharta varta vighnachi.” Keerthana ended the performance with hastas to depict the hibiscus flowers.
The choreography was by Keerthana with choreographic inputs from Rama Vaidyanathan. The research and lyrics were by Himanshu Srivastava, lyrics in Tamil by Rama Devi, music by Karthik Hebbar, the artistic mentor was Dr. Anita Ratnam and artistic support by Vaibhav Arekar.
Associated with Lord Krishna, it was presented by Matangi Prasan, a disciple of Sandhya Kiran and Kiran Subramanyan. Matangi was excited about portraying a romantic flower. She said she got to explore shringaram and to choreograph something beyond the Bharatnatyam margam.
Paarijaata is a flower associated with Mahavishnu, used as a metaphor for Krishna. The night coral jasmine is a white flower with an orange stem. It spreads its fragrance in the night. The dancer depicted the narrative ‘Paarijaatapaharna’ with Satyabhama as the protagonist. Satyabhama, the young queen of Krishna, is very smug about her beauty, the attitude presented very well by the dancer. She is awaiting the return of Krishna from Indralok, but he enters the chambers of Rukmini and gives her the divine Paarijaata flower. Satyabhama is saddened by this and feels jealous.
Matangi wore an orange and white saree, depicting the flower and the waving of its makarand or pollen. The scent of the flower is very sweet – ‘maadakgandha’. In depicting Satyabhama waiting for Krishna to come to her chambers, Matangi captured the attitude of a queen, who is very sure of her beauty and her power over her husband. She’s waiting for him to put the flower in her hair. When he does not turn up, she’s annoyed. She says he has a ‘katuhriday’, a hardened heart, and ‘vivekshunya’, no love. When he finally comes, she brushes him away and blames him for his partiality, ‘pakshapat’, and tells him to go away while she sulks. Krishna sows the tree and she nurtures it with a lot of care, but when the flower falls into Rukmini’s side of the garden, she tries to destroy the tree by chopping it, loosens her hair in her anger and finally, breaks down to accept the reality. Matangi’s abhinaya was expressive and touching. The lyrics were by Arjun Bharadwaj, music composition by Mahesh Swamy and rhythm composition by Guru Kiran Subramanyam.
Associated with Shiva, it was depicted by Radhika Shetty, a disciple of Rama Vaidyanathan and Bragha Bessell. These flowers bloom in large bunches. One tree can bear 1000 flowers per day. They flower profusely, and are strongly scented. The flower is large, about 6 cm wide, coloured bright pink or red, and yellowish towards the tip. The stamens are arranged to form a hood, which looks like the hood of the snake on the Shivalinga. The associated literature says that the devotee entering the temple falls in love with the flower and strikes up a conversation with it. “Looking at you ignites the form of Shiva. The Lord was cursed by rishis and takes the form of a linga. The red and white of the flower remind me of Sumeru parvat, and the ardhanari, the female half of Shiva. Worshipping the pushpam takes us to the Supreme Lord.”
There were rhythmic jathis to depict Shiva, ‘Namah Shivaya’. Radhika showed the wrath of the rishis and the flower to resemble Parvati. Her slow, calculated movements, standing in a broad plie, depicted the flower. The red fan of the costume would open up in the form of the petals of the flower. Krithi and music were composed by Karthik Hebbar in raga Nagaswaravali, adi tala, and the rhythmic interlude by Balachandra Bhagawath.
Associated with Radha Rani and depicted by Gowri Sagar, a disciple of Sathyanarayana Raju. Shankha pushpa grows on a creeper commonly known as the butterfly pea. It is called Aparajita in Sanskrit. There are white and blue flowers. The flower looks like a conch shell. Sri Aurobindo said that this flower is part of Radha’s consciousness, and she is the personification of absolute love of the divine. Aparajita literally means one who cannot be conquered. The tale is that after Krishna goes away to Mathura, virahini Radha is pining for him. She sees the flower on the banks of the Yamuna and falls in love with it since it reminds her of Krishna., because of its colour and its texture. The hood made by the petals remind her of Kaliya mardana. Radha is reminded of the way Krishna was looking at her while he was dancing on the Kaliya naga, and then the realisation that Krishna is not away from her, but in her aatma and in every breath of hers. Finally, she says, “I will spread the fragrance of love like you, Aparajita –main bhi hoon Aparajita.”
Clad in a blue sari, Gowri did some riveting abhinaya, showing Radha reminiscing about Vrindavana - the peacocks, the bees, the Yamuna and her love for Krishna, the embrace and the kiss. Her expressions of Krishna as he watches Radha while dancing on the Kaliya, holding with one hand the serpent’s tail, were rendered well. Finally, she brought out the climax in a very touching manner, reciting again ‘Main bhi hoon Aparajita’. The music composition and lyrics were by Karthik Hebbar, and choreography by Gowri under the guidance of Guru Sathyanarayana Raju.
Associated with Mahadurga and depicted by Sneha Chakradhar, a disciple of Geeta Chandran. She said that her father Prof. Ashok Chakradhar had written the lyrics and she wants to expand the piece further. The kadamba is a round, ball-like flower that Aryabhatta compared to the globe. The ball is surrounded by flowers on all sides, a beautiful representation of the planet. It is dear to Tripurasundari Durga. The flower exudes a fragrance that attracts birds and bees, and is a key component in the making of the scent of sandalwood. The tree blossoms in the monsoon and it enriches the soil. Kadamba vanavasini resides in the forest and is akin to the wilderness. Lord Krishna, who is Durga’s brother, plays his flute in Vrindavan under this tree. The two play a ball game with the flower, kanduka krida. The tale told was that of Karthabasur, who, after receiving a boon of invincibility from Lord Shiva, defeated the gods. Devi Durga came to the rescue of the gods and took the form of the kadamba tree, and annihilated the army of the demon by setting them ablaze. Wearing a costume in yellow and red, Sneha depicted the tree blossoming in the anandkanan, where the peacocks are dancing and the clouds come and go. Krishna and Durga play with a ball. When Karthabasur attacks the gods, Tripura Sundari reduces him to ashes. Sneha’s abhinaya was powerful and the technical dance immaculate. Music composition was by K Venkateswaran, rhythmic inputs by Lalgudi Sriganesh, inputs on mythology by Dr. Usha RK, and costume by Sandhya Raman.
The lotus associated with Mahalakshmi was essayed by Arupa Lahiry, a disciple of Chitra Visweswaran. The lotus is seen in different colours. Blue symbolizes the victory of the spirit over wisdom. White is bodhi or awakened. Purple is mystic or esoteric. The pink lotus is the supreme lotus, and red is associated with love and compassion.
The story depicted first was that of Rama, who, when he sees Sita, feels that Sita is the embodiment of the lotus. She is lotus-faced, lotus-eyed, and the hovering bee is Rama’s heart.
The lotus moves from darkness to light. It is shaped like the eye of Lakshmi, the eye which destroys ignorance. It is the seat of Lakshmi in the thousand petal form. The human body has six chakras. Each chakra has a different number of petals in the flower, and in each lotus sits a devi holding different objects. The portrayal had the lotus as the pushpakula bhushan, the crown of the family of flowers. The flower was shown as blossoming and the bee hovering over it, as Lord Vishnu reclines on the serpent, the lotus emerges from his navel.
The chakras and lotuses depicted were: Mooladhara chakra – Mooladhara Ambuja Ruda Devi (4 petals), Swadhishthana chakra – Swadhishthana Nambuja Gata Devi (6 petals), Manipuri chakra – Manipurabaja Nilaya Devi (10 petals), Anahata chakra – Anahatabaja Nilaya Devi or Rakini (12 petals), Visuddha chakra - Visuddhi Chakra Nilaya Devi (16 petals), Agneya chakra – Agneya Chakrabaja Nilaya Devi (2 petals), Sahasradhara chakra - Shri Sahasra Dala Padmastha Devi (1000 petals). The abhinaya of Rama seeing Sita as a lotus and his heart like a bee was aesthetically done. Arupa has emerged as a dancer with immaculate technique and exactitude of footwork and hastas.
Arupa said she had picked up the traditional format, the padavarnam. “The lotus has many significances and I chose the 1000-petalled one. The lotus is also a metaphor in poetry. A varnam is cyclic and so is the lotus.” About the choreography she said that she listens to the music and allows it to carry her; that is how her guru has taught her to choreograph a piece. The lyrics were by Arjun Bharadwaj, music by Satish Venkatesh, rhythmic inputs by T.A. Mahadevan, and the composition of the trikalam jathi used to describe the natural habitat of the lotus by Guru Chitra Visweswaran.
The music credits for the evening were – Vasudha Shastry (on vocals), Kalishwaran Pillai (on nattuvangam), MV Chandrashekhar (on mridangam), Delhi Shridhar (on violin), G Raghuraman (on flute) and Sharad Kulashreshtha (lights).
Shveta Arora is a blogger based in Delhi. She writes about cultural events in the capital.