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Birth Centenary celebrations of Mrinalini Sarabhai
- Satish Suri
Photos: Shandilya Srivatsa

June 28, 2018

The birth centenary celebrations of legendary dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai presented on 14th June at the NGMA by International Arts and Cultural Foundation was organised with meticulous details and grandeur befitting her dance career which began in Bangalore.

Dr. Sunil Kothari in his keynote address emphasized how Mrinalini Sarabhai, steeped in tradition, could bring resonances of contemporary times linking the mythology to present situations. On the 50th anniversary of Sangeet Natak Akademi in Delhi at Siri Fort, while performing to Purandardasa's "Krishna nee begane baro," asking Krishna to come, as it happened to be 30th January, the day Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was shot dead, Mrinalini enacted abhinaya asking Mohan /Krishna/Gandhi, when will he come again to save us all. That touch of interpreting on the spot was brilliant and the entire house stood up as one and gave her a standing ovation!

Mrinalini Sarabhai along with her husband Vikram Sarabhai established Darpana Academy in 1949 in Ahmedabad to promote Art and Culture and to focus on the arts as a vehicle for social and cultural change. Today it is being managed by their daughter Mallika Sarabhai. The screening of the film on her life produced by Yadavan Chandran and Mallika Sarabhai showed many facets of her larger than life persona, her concern for social issues which was articulated through several productions dealing with the environment, Silent Valley, river Ganga pollution, science, issues of Dalits and untouchables, and dowry deaths. She showed equal mastery over classical Bharatanatyam as well as Kathakali and her creative choreography added an impactful message. Creativity was part of her core which was more than evident in her work 'Manushya' dealing with man's journey from birth to death wherein she used Kathakali artists without makeup and costumes to poignant effect. Mallika Sarabhai sprang a surprise on all by screening three short clips of her mother dancing at the age of 92. The audience gave her a standing ovation when a recording of a varnam done by her for Sangeet Natak Akademi was played. Her perfect teermanams drew repeated applause.

Shreema Upadhyaya

Archana Rao

Rukmini Vijaykumar

Yamini Muthanna

The screening of the film was followed by four dancers paying tribute to the legendary dancer. Shreema Upadhyaya, a disciple of Praveen Kumar, was the first to come on stage to perform "Aadenamma," a Shiva stuthi which describes the cosmic dance of Shiva in all his glory and to the wonderment and delight of his consort Parvathi, who is stunned by his various attributes and the multiple dimensions that define the Lord. Shreema's portrayal was characterised by a flair of elegance as she enacted the nine different emotions. Archana Rao showcased the ever popular "Krishna nee begane baro" in which she evocatively portrayed the extreme devotion of Meera, Radha and Yashoda for Krishna.

Rukmini Vijayakumar's presentation of the Ardhanariswara Stuthi was intense and full of verve describing Shiva and Parvati as separate but in reality, they represent oneness of the Paramatma. The second piece was a song from Radha to Krishna -"your very name makes me tremble with fright.You may leave Brindavan to rule but you are always in my heart.You have bound me." Conceptualised by the artist with lyrical inputs from Dr.Sharada and music composition by Tirumale Srinivas the delineation captured the mood and tenor of the composition.

Yamini Muthanna provided the finale with Guru Pranam,"Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu Guru Devo Maheshwaraha." With her amazing control of the body movements and yogic postures, even going to the extent of performing a Shirashasana on stage, she drew a gasp of astonishment from the audience.

Mallika Sarabhai

Mallika Sarabhai in her concluding remarks said how delighted she was at the thought of celebrating her mother's birth centenary and thanked Shandilya Srivatsa for the impeccable evening. Bangalore has always been special to her as her parents lived here. She herself was a reluctant dancer. She joined her mother's dance class as all her schoolmates were there and it was boring without friends. Her mother never taught her. It was Kittappa Pillai and other Gurus at the Darpana Academy who taught her. She saw the incredibly hard work her mother put in, seeing her feet sliced after doing a varnam and taking injections. Later on, when circumstances forced her to take up dancing, her mother created Meera for the two of them. "When we performed for the first time at the Vikram Sarabhai International Arts Festival, I play the external Meera with all her toys and my mother the internal Meera. Seeing the two bodies dance as they merge into one was like a thread between the two of us. All three generations danced together quite a lot till my mother officially stopped dancing at the age of 92. She gave me amazing freedom, integrity and backing as every mother should do. She was never upset even when I performed 'Shakthi' - the power of women - for which I had learnt Kalari. She made me realise the power of the alphabet. It's only the imagination that limits you and not the style. Deep roots don't mean we stay rooted. Branches go everywhere knowing they are rooted.

Trees don't care where the flowers drop and who eats its fruit. Tree's dharma is to give. Give, share, grow and experiment. Be impassioned. Don't take up women's issues because that's where the funding is or an environmental issue because it is the flavour of the day. It must be so much a part of you that you cannot but share it. More than the legacy of the art it's the legacy of teaching every moment for the poor. My art must be for the oppressed. Language like dance cannot be entertainment. We have a language that can transcend barriers, break through the walls of hatred. Use it."

Does she miss Amma? "One can miss someone who has gone away. For all of us, she is still there at Darpana. Continuously something goes through me that must be hers. Many people have remarked that when I dance I am like my mother inspite of the fact my body shape is in no way similar to hers. What is that spirit or flame that she has put into us that transforms us? That is her legacy."

For the dance fraternity, Mrinalini was an artist beyond compare and her legacy will endear one and all for time immemorial.

Bangalore based Satish Suri is an avid dance rasika besides being a life member of the Music and Arts Society.