Megh Malhar festival 2018
- Chandra Anand
Photos: S.T. Amudhan
August 10, 2018
Megh Malhar, an annual festival of Nehru Centre cultural division, was held on 25th July 2018 at Nehru Centre Auditorium, Mumbai. This event is held to celebrate monsoon season. This show was originally a musical show presenting Malhar raags of Hindustani classical style, as they all express essence and mood of the monsoon season. Slowly the presentation has expanded to bring in other styles - instrumental music, Kathak dance form, and jugalbandi of dance and music genres. And this year it was a balanced music and dance show with both Indian classical styles of music (Hindustani and Carnatic) and three classical dance styles (Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam and Kathak) amalgamating to present about 65 artists who hail from all states of our country.
The festival theme has been conceptualized by L.A. Kazi, Director of Culture, Nehru Centre. Being a cultural program associated with Nehru Centre, all dramatic presentations have been associated with science subjects. Kazi has associated this year's Malhar with geographical sciences depicting arrival of monsoon and its reception by people in various parts of the country. This has been choreographed by Guru Jayashree Nair (artistic director of Upasana, Chembur) with musical score by Narayan Mani. He was well supported by Sanjeev Chimmalgi (Hindustani vocal), Satyajit Prabhu (keyboard), Avadhot Phadke (flute), Manoj Desai (harmonium and vocal), Kotakkal Jayan (Carnatic vocals), Dakshinamoorthy Pillai (mridangam), Narahari Acharya (pakhavaj), Kalinath Mishra (tabla), Nambisan (edakka, maddalam, chenda and udukku), Sathish Seshadri (violin) and Narayan Mani himself on saraswathi veena.
Life on our planet is, to a great extent, dependent on collective as well as individual behaviors of elements of nature. Sun is the most visible form of nature's power. The effect of sun's behavior causes phenomena of day, night and climatic seasons. Monsoon rains come, as a blessing during summer, as a gift to peninsular India from that source of power and energy. Rains bring relief from the scorching heat of the sun. Westerly winds from Arabian Sea bring rains first to the coast of Kerala and then western coastal areas. Then, monsoon clouds move inland, crossing Sahyadris to East of India. Strong winds take monsoon clouds towards Central India. Rain in India is celebration time. There is singing and dancing. People of all ages welcome and enjoy rain in different ways. This was the basic concept.
The show started with a vocal rendition of raag Goud Malhaar by Sanjeev Chimmalgi with a bandish "jhuki aayi bhadariya sawan ki" in adha teentaal and a drut bandish "umad ghan gagan aayo ri" in adha chautaal. After the auditorium was settled in an ambience of serenity and rain drenched spirit, the dance presentation began with 10th stotram of Aditya Hrudayam "Aditya savithaa Surya, khaga pooshaa gabasthiman" from Valmiki Ramayanam that explains the influence of Sun in the universe. This mantra Aditya Hrudayam in praise of the Sun god is recounted in Yuddha Kanda (war chapter) of Valmiki Ramayana. It was taught to Rama by Sage Agastya just before he fought with Ravana. One verse each was delineated in solos by Sujatha Nair (Mohiniattam), Divya Madhavan (Bharatanatyam) and Ruchi Sharma (Kathak) and ended shloka with an ardhi jointly but in their respective styles. The shloka was sung by Kotakkal Jayan.
Then, group presentations started with description of the scorching sun and everybody from human beings to animals aspiring for cool winds and water to drink. Mohiniattam dancers pointed to the sea by depicting the rise and ebb of the waves at the seashore of Kerala. Then processes of evaporation, condensation and precipitation were delineated. Sea water evaporating in sun's heat, forming of clouds and first comes drizzle of rain and then strong rains. In these processes, the musical score was set to ragam Kalyani. The arohanam phrases of the ragam were used to symbolize or sync with the ascending of the water vapor from the sea to the sky. Then, the long standing notes with gamakas were employed to indicate the condensation phase of water vapor to liquid state. And, when precipitation begins the arohanam phrases are used to indicate the descending of water as rain. This, depicted in a clear manner, was visually appealing. All three styles took part in this part of presentation.
With the rainfall, out came all amphibians - frogs, crabs, scorpions and snakes - into the open. Children play in the rain, making boats and getting wet in the first rain. The most appealing demonstration was fishermen catching fish. The fishing boat and fishermen activities were portrayed in Bharatanatyam and role of fish were danced by Kathak dancers. And then all activity of farming and cultivation was shown. Here too, the growing of crops from sapling to full grown crops could be imagined visually. Folk tunes were used to support delineation of agricultural activities. This was shown by Mohiniattam dancers while rains were depicted by Kathak dancers.
Shlokas from Varsha, the 2nd canto of Kalidasa's Ritusamharam, were employed to personify the majestic advance of rain; like a king in procession, it rode the dark cloud for an elephant, thunder sounded like royal drums and lightning represented royal flags and banners. Peacocks danced with their plumes in full bloom and bees hover around colorful feathers mistaking them for flowers. Streams and rivulets appear on mountain sides, their flow representing crawling snakes. It is frolicking time for elephants too who play in the cascading water. This item had Mohiniattam dancers leading this part with other styles giving support.
On Western Ghats, people were shown eagerly waiting for their share of rain. Their pleasure of receiving rainfall was represented through a song by Subramania Bharathi, a Tamil poet.
The song "Dikkukkal ettum sidhari" captured the beauty of rain and mood of the people. How rain scattered and fell with such force that the mountain rocks fell along with the rain in all directions and the winds pushing clouds over the Sahyadri and through mountain gaps were depicted in an appealing manner. The bee motif was recaptured with them hovering over lotus flowers. Bharatanatyam dancers led this item while other two styles gave support. The song was sung by Kotakkal Jayan.
Strong winds take monsoon clouds towards Central India. Gusty winds and dust storms have given way to moisture bearing cool breeze. Occasional thunders bring joy to peacocks and their jubilant cries could be heard. Blue black rain clouds bring joy to hearts and cooing of cuckoos could be heard. And, wherever, one looked, romance was in the air. This was depicted in the next three items.
Using the famous song "Bole re papihara papihara", the nayika requests the spring rains to take a message of love to her beloved's abode. Kathak dancers took the lead in this item. This was sung by Manoj Desai. Sanjeev Chimmalgi sang another bandish "Jhoola" set to 10 beat cycle in raag Sur Malhar. In this musical piece, it is said that the music was so composed one could visualize the jhoola swinging from trees in this season.
The presence of Lord Krishna as Shyamgopal could be felt everywhere during rainy season. In waters of Yamuna, bushes and creepers, peacocks and cuckoos, in almost anything and everything they behold Shyamgopal. This is the description of Hindi poet Mahaapraan Suryakant Tripathi, popularly known as 'Nirala' in his poem "Jidar dekhiye, Shyam virajey, Shyam, kunjvan, Yamunaa Shyamaa". This abhinaya item was performed by the three lead dancers Sujata, Divya and Ruchi. It began with a short combination of three dance forms. This song too was sung by Manoj Desai. Ruchi Sharma choreographed the Kathak part of presentation under supervision of Guru Jayashree Nair.
Just like raag Malhar enlivens the Hindustani music during rains, so does ragam Amritavarshini in Carnatic music. This Amritavarshini was played by Narayan Mani on the saraswathi veena with support from violinist and percussionists. The finale of Megh Malhar was with a delightful jugalbandi of instruments which then moved on to a short thillana performed by all artists together.
All were felicitated by L.A. Kazi of Nehru Centre who appreciated the artists' efforts and their immediate acceptance of his concept.
Chandra Anand is a Bharatanatyam artiste and teacher. She has an MA in Bharatanatyam from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, and her series on 'Education in spiritual values through Bharatanatyam' is featured in narthaki.com.