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Nrithya Pillai's adherence to tradition
- Prathik Sudha Murali
Photo: Barani Ganapathy

January 16, 2019

Nrithya Pillai presented a Bharatanatyam recital on January 14, 2019 at Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai. Adhering to the traditions of the Vazhuvur Isai Vellalars, Gyanasabhesha stotra was sung as the Todaya Mangalam - a salutation to all the deities of the Vazhuvur Temple.

The recital started with a Viruttam from Silappadhikaram. A salutation to Devi from a chapter called Vettuva Vari, to which Nrithya's abhinayams did full justice. She stood as Devi on the lion, winning over evil. She also became the devotee beholding Devi's form who was astounded by her beauty. Nrithya elegantly portrayed Shiva with matted hair and three eyes, whose left half was Devi in the form of Ardhanarishwara. This was followed by the Mishra-Alarippu. Nrithya's control on laya was commendable throughout the performance. Not a single beat was out of place.

The main piece was a Varnam, 'Samini Rammanave' in Khamas by the Tanjore Quartet. True to Matanga's words in Brihaddesi, 'Raga is that which colours the innermost feelings of everyone', Khamas was an apt choice. Composed on Lord Brihadeeshwara of Tanjore, the Varnam was brimming with decorous sringara. The heroine pleads with her friend to fetch Brihadeeshwara for her. Nrithya entreated her sakhi with an anjali, went onto cajole her by warding off the evil eyes on her, enticed her with a gift of necklace and finally admonished her to go to the hero. In the Pallavi, where there was no mention of the hero's name or attributes, the audience knew who he was as Nrithya demonstrated the iconic Gaja Hasta and Abhaya Hasta of the lord of dance, Nataraja. When the heroine applied kohl to her eyes, Nrithya casually smeared the excess in her hair. This reflected the subtlety of realism. As the texts say, to imbibe worldly activities realistically is a part of dance (lokavritti anukaranam). The jathis were apt and steeped in tradition of the Vazhuvur parampara. Her patakas were as if they were announcing the greatness of Brihadeeshwara, while tripatakas were reflective of the flag of the huge temple at Tanjore. Nrittta aspect of the varnam did not distract the audience from the natya, but helped soak in the rasa.

For "Samanya dora kade sakhiyaro," Nrithya explored the ornaments of Shiva. He wore tiger skin as his dress and a snake as his necklace. He is not an ordinary man. She went on to depict the Tanjore temple in all its grandeur. She portrayed a festive scene at the iconic temple. Nrithya, as a devotee washed her feet at the temple pond and had darshan of Shiva as the priests performed poojas. Beautiful abhinayas for the procession, percussion, music, dancing girls who threw flowers at the deity, transported the audience to 17th century Tanjore. It is this extraordinary god, who is worshipped by all, who is her 'sami'. The greatness of Thanjapuri was conveyed in the phrase 'bhumilo sri Thanjapuri Brihadeeshwara'. As if to tell her sakhi that her conduct should be apt when she visits the lord. Nrithya discerningly danced for the verses 'kamitarthamulicchi', describing the desires of hers that were to be fulfilled by the hero. She gracefully handed over the tumbler of milk to him and drank it as the hero with elegance. Nrithya was the hero seated with pride while she also became the heroine who played the veena with utmost involvement. Her music was interrupted by the beauty of her lover's face, at which time she put the veena down to enjoy her union.

The charanam in Durita Kalam reinforced her friend to come close and listen to her pleadings. She secretly told her desires to her friend. The brisk jathis added to the grace as if to reinforce the nayaka to come soon to meet the pining lover of his. This varnam was a fitting tribute to Lord Brihadeeshwara, who had enjoyed dance for a thousand years. It was a respectful obeisance to all the 400 Devadasis of Rajaraja Chola's time like Chozhakulasundari and Eduttapadham, the historic Muddu Chandrarekha during the times of Vijayaraghava Nayaka, the various dancers who danced Kuravanjis, Bharatanatyam and Hindustani dances during the Marathas' rule and countless other dancers who have carried forward this tradition of Indian dance in all its glory . That very Brihadeeshwara, who was witness to a thousand year dance tradition, was the fitting hero of Nrithya's graceful recital.

This was followed by a Padham in Tamizh. 'Thiruvotriyur Tyagarajan' in ragam Atana. Nrithya sang the pallavi and then handed it over to the orchestra to continue. This re-emphasized the tradition of the Isai Vellalars who were adept in singing and dancing to the deities of the temples and at the courts of kings. The usage of patakas to show 'pratapa' of the nayaka was very elegant.

The Javali of the evening was in Bhairavi. 'Ela radayane' composed by Chinnaiya Pillai is a piece on the King Chamaraja of Mysuru. Chinnaiya was the eldest of the four brothers of Thanjavur. He was in the court of Travancore king and Mysuru King also, apart from that of Tanjore. Nrithya's dance made the rasikas question as to why the Wodaiyar king did not live to see her dance to the Javali in his praise. The vocal support however needed refinement. Traditional renditions of this Javali by veterans in the music world have different sangatis. Trying to embellish through brihas, an otherwise beautiful Javali, does not do justice to the lyrical beauty of the Javali, whose importance is multifold for abhinayam.

This was followed by a Tillana in Kedaram. The lyrics focused on dasya to Vishnu who lies on the serpent bed. The recital was graceful sringara, packed between two bhakti works. Myriad of bhavas in sringara were portrayed. Both divine and human sringara were chosen, as if to highlight the various aspects and hues that the king of rasa incarnates in. The incessant applause of the audience at the end of the performance stood testimony to the entertainment that was offered along with adherence to tradition. Nrithya was accompanied by Rakesh K.P. on nattuvangam, Roshni Ganesh on vocal, Anirudh Bharadwaj on flute and Saktivel Muruganandam on mridangam.