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Srinidhi Chidambaram's outstanding Bharatanatyam recital
- Dr. Sunil Kothari

January 12, 2019

Srinidhi Chidambaram had announced that for the Margazhi season she was to present only two recitals. I could catch up with the second one at Narada Gana Sabha on 21st December. What a delight it was to see what she described were ‘vintage’ numbers which were evocative of nostalgia, giving her audience glimpses of the glorious tradition, so rich and unique. In the present scenario where Bharatanatyam has undergone so many changes, it was heartening to see Srinidhi presenting these numbers. She is a fortunate dancer, having received training from a very young age under Kamala, the star of Vazhuvoor bani. And she was later on groomed thoroughly under Swamimalai Rajaratnam vadiyar. She has an attractive stage presence, praiseworthy command over laya and tala, and a mobile visage that registers expressions in a trice. 

She began with Vasanta Jatiswaram in rupaka talam. It struck notes of one’s memories having seen it earlier, but not in vogue in many dancers’ repertoire. If one is familiar with Vazhuvoor bani of great Ramaiah Pillai, and its execution by his disciple Kamala, one could see how graceful Srinidhi’s movements were. So many times the images of Kamala, taking exquisite leaps, utplavanas overlapped in my viewing of Srinidhi’s dancing. The moving back with extended arm in alapadma was so typical of the bani or take the way extending arms in diagonal manner and moving in shape of ‘S’, facing the wing and taking u turn and facing the opposite wing.  The ease with which Srinidhi moved added to the charm of the number.

Explaining the varnam, she spoke of the greatness of lord Brihadishwara and the temple, appealing to her sakhi to convey her message to the lord and bring him. Then she unleashed the sancharis describing his royal persona. She told her sakhi that he does not wear ordinary ornaments. He wears the sun, the moon and the stars. He wears tiger skin. His cosmic form is indescribable. She also told the sakhi not to go when the arati would be on, when the drums, the musical instruments would be played, the  singing would be on, the crowds would have gathered  and the sound would defy the purpose of conveying the message, therefore she should wait for the opportune moment. She told sakhi that she would be overwhelmed by the greatness of Tanjore, its palatial building, from distance she would see the tower of the temple with such exquisite architecture that its shadow does not fall at noon; when she would enter the great temple, she would see the huge Nandi; when the abhisheka would be performed, from upper story the water would be poured. Srinidhi created these scenes with graphic details, as if she was guiding the sakhi and us, the audience, we were following her!

Srinidhi’s nritta was scintillating with onomatopoetic sollus of Vazhuvoor bani. The teermanams were danced with such precision. I can go on and on describing the beauty of this vintage varnam as adapted by S.K. Rajaratnam Pillai, the agony of the nayika showered with flowery arrows by Kamadeva, unable to bear the sweet cooing of the cuckoo bird, her intense desire to be with her lord, as would a creeper entwining the tree, the bee hovering over the lotus for the honey and so on, dancing to the swaras, towards end of the varnam, taking periya advus, covering the stage. In the end when the nayika told the sakhi to finally bring the lord on a path lit up by moonlight, it seemed the sakhi did not look like she would do that, so she even attempted to send the message through the birds, beseeched deer and finally decided that she herself would hold hand of the lord and bring him unto her and walked away into the wing.

In later part of the performance, Srinidhi chose the well known padam “Aduvum solluvaal” bringing a group of women, gossiping about one who had started putting on airs of late as her luck had changed with her beloved providing ornaments and what have you! Earlier the same woman was begging for used ornaments, worn saris, and little money. And now watch how she walks, calls servants to hold umbrella over her head as she cannot bear the sunlight, looks in mirror with pride, strikes her bangles to show off… can all the women in the neighborhood see the contrast? Such is her arrogance. Srinidhi communicated the sarcasm, surprise, annoyance, and part envy at the change in behaviour of the woman who till few days ago was all humility and begging favours! Srinidhi had announced that the other woman had begotten the wealth because none else than Lord Subramania had bestowed it on her. However, that part of the padam was not shown and it was not clear why.

In a delightful javali which followed in Atana and adi, the nayika was perplexed at the beloved’s indifferent behavior when she was requesting him to be united with her. Whenever she approached him, he seemed angry, rejected her; she cajoled him, prepared a flower garland to place round his neck, and he threw it away; she prepared sandal paste to apply on his arms, he spurned her and moved away; she even played veena to please him, he placed two palms on his ears; she told him that cupid was harassing her with his arrows and how come he does not even care when her eyes are filled with tears? Finally with seductive charms she catches his hand and runs away like a gazelle taking him with her. The playfulness, the seductive longing, feminine graces with which she enacted the nayika was absolutely charming.

The finale with Paras tillana was the cherry on the cake - having relished the Paras raga and watched the tillana over several times by so many dancers - performed with abandon. The sculpturesque poses with pataka hasta brought on either side, the musical jugalbandhi, repartee with the mridangam player and nattuvanar’s play upon cymbals, with footwork a la Kathak, was entertaining. The sundari griva, neck movements, the side glances moving in consonance with the music, the movement of the arms and rhythmic footwork all added to the beauty of the tillana. The shloka in praise of the presiding deity of Ramnad and goddess Rajeshwari remains etched in our memory.

The nattuvangam by Swamimalai Suresh, nephew of Rajaratnam vadyar, singing by Radha Badri, mridangam by Kannan, and violin by Eshwar Ramakrishnan was of high order and highlighted the performance. And with light wizard Murgan, the dancer and the stage were lit up in colours that were appropriate for the mood and the ambience. Doubtless an exemplary team work.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and critic, Padma Shri awardee and fellow, Sangeet Natak Akademi. Dance Critics' Association, New York, has honoured him with Lifetime Achievement award.