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Sahasrabdhi Vaibhavam
- Malar Linkeshwaran
Photos courtesy: Usha Raghavan

May 30, 2017

Usha Raghavan and her students from Kalasagara UK presented a thematic Bharatanatyam performance 'Sahasrabdhi Vaibhavam' in celebration of the 1000th birth anniversary of Bhagavad Ramanujacharyar on May 1, 2017 in London. Researched, choreographed, presented and performed to a full house, it was a veritable compilation which took the audience through the life of Ramanuja.

Whilst standing out as an informative account of his life, works and influence in the teachings of Hinduism, the performance also captured the beauty of the dance and accompanying musical score. The orchestra lead by Usha Raghavan herself on the nattuvangam was mesmerizing with Vamshikrishna Vishnudas as vocalist, Jalatharan Sitamparanathan on the violin and J. Padmanabhan on the mridangam.

Accompanied by six of her senior students, the repertoire transported the audience through the life of Ramanuja, back to a period a millennium ago. Beginning with a prayer, the multifaceted Thodayamangalam, and the invocation piece "Sriranga mangalanidhim," it started with the birth of Ramanuja in Tiruvallikeni. A factual understanding of the great scholar of Sri Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism, and a treat to the senses through music and dance, was a signature Usha Raghavan production. One was introduced to the Hindu theologian, philosopher, and one of the most important exponents of the Sri Vaishnavism tradition within Hinduism. His philosophical foundations were explored in a comprehensible way, something that Usha is very adept at.

Usha Raghavan
His deviation from the two prevalent Vaishnavite teachings of Advaita and Dvaita vedantas to found the Vishistadvaita school of thought - the supposition that God and the soul are separate but can ultimately unify - was presented through narration of his difference of opinion with his Guru Yadava Prakasa, in Kanchipuram to become the new leader of Sri Vaishnava sect previously led by Yamunacharya. This period in his life was explored through the piece "Kannaara kande" composed by Purandaradasa in Kannada, expressing the devotional bhava most aptly by Usha Raghavan.

By far the most popular piece "Kalyana Rama" depicting the meeting of Rama and Sita, while Sita played with a ball of flower garlands and Rama entered the palace of King Janaka, captured Usha Raghavan's uncanny ability to portray sringara bhavam through a mere glance and subtle movement. This was preceded by her narration which linked the meeting of Peria Nambigal and Ramanuja at Maduranthakam Temple of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. It was here that Ramanuja was inducted into the new school of thought that he was to follow. The stage burst into colour as Usha Raghavan was followed by her six students in the piece "Vanamali" dedicated to Srirangam, where his new Guru Yadavachar resided. This was followed by Divyaprabhandam as a virutham in Tamil performed by Usha to depict his canonization as a priest of the Alwar tradition.

The performance was dotted with gems such as Ramanuja's episode with Thirukoshtiyur Nambigal, in Srirangam, where upon his eighteenth attempt to learn the sacred eight letter mantra he succeeded only in upsetting his teacher by preaching to the mass audience, free for all to hear, from the gopuram of Srirangam. This was linked to the melodious Telugu piece "Unnato unnatu Udayavaru" performed solo by Usha Raghavan and by all in "Om Namo Narayana." All in all, it was a treat to the heart and mind.

Malar Linkeshwaran is a dancer and connoisseur of South Indian classical music and dance. She learned under teachers in Sri Lanka, India and UK, including the late Guru Adyar Lakshman (India), Pushkala Gopal and Unnikrishnan (UK).