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Bharata Manoratha
- Shalini Vittal

March 11, 2019

Noopura Bhramari, Kalagowri and Mayuri Nrityasala presented 'Bharata Manoratha,' a half-day event on dance, dance history and research, and performances. The prime objective of the event held on Feb 3, 2019 at Kalagowri Auditorium, Bengaluru, was on the thoughts of Bharatamuni of Natyashastra and contemporary art field.

The event opened with a panel discussion 'Kala samvada' on 'Music for Dance' and 'Recent trends in Dance Research' moderated by Dr. Manorama BN (Dance researcher, historian and scholar). Multilingual scholar Shatavadhani R Ganesh, dance scholars Dr. Shobha Shashikumar, Dr. Dwaritha Vishwanath, Dr. Padmaja Suresh; poets and scholars Korgi Shankaranaryana Upadhyaya, Arjun Bharadhwaj, Hari Ravikumar and many students, artistes, scholars participated and shared their thoughts.

The first point of discussion was the recent trend of dancers resorting to recorded music as compared to a live musical ensemble. It was found that the main reason for this is the issue of cost in terms of conceptualizing and executing a production. In this age of experimentation, if the various ancillary and extraneous aspects are reduced, it would give scope for bolder experimentations. The point was raised that artistes of today equate the art profession with other professions, they wish to earn good money through this profession like their counterparts in IT. This has led to unnecessary increase in costs, to cater to corporates, who concentrate more on glamour, than real substance in thought and conceptualization. Shatavadhani Ganesh raised the point that we have become obsessed with documenting a living tradition, which has never existed in our history. Obsession about perfection is influence from the West. In living tradition, documentation is not given importance. Professional seriousness with an amateur mindset is the need of the times, with the rising costs. Solo chamber concerts should become the trend. More of abhinaya concerts with minimum musicians, more maturity with intimate audience would reduce the cost and time for preparation. And bringing dancers who can sing and dance at the same time is the solution. All this requires great mental preparation for the dancer.

Some of the key points of the discussion are as follows.
  • Bharatanatyam should happen at all homes with quality. Even if there is one person interested in watching, the sampradaya of dancing should be there.
  • It is not the rehearsal which is required for good abhinaya; it is the maturity. Abhyasa is different from what we do on stage. Inability to explore manodharma is due to lack of experimentation. Democracy is anti-art.
  • Over dependence on tala brings down level of art appreciation.
  • Research which supports the betterment of dance practice always helps the field.
  • Discussions on recent trends in dance, contemporary themes, research standards, plagiarism checks, writing formats and their possibilities also took place.
The evening witnessed solo dance recitals by three Bharatanritya disciples of Shobha Shashikumar as a part of the 'Natyasastra Karana Padavi' certification by Noopura Bhramari and Mayuri Nrithyashala. Anuradha Lokesh, Arun Sreenivasan and Madhulika Srivatsa presented their research-based choreographies. The music ensemble accompanying the dancers included Madanika Manjunath and Nagashree Narayan on vocal, Srihari Rangaswamy on mridangam, Sangeeta Iyer and Megha Srinivas on nattuvangam, Mahesh Swamy and M.S. Pramukh on the flute.

The first piece was a Pushpanjali performed by Madhulika Srivatsa set to Gaula raga, adi tala composed by Madurai R Muralidharan. It was presented as a traditional opening number where offerings of flowers and obeisance was made to the deities, gurus, accompanying artistes and the sahrdayas. The technical aspects of the dance form were duly explored in this piece whilst using adavus, charis, nritta hastas and karanas, in the framework of the musical structure available. This was followed by a Ganesha kriti of Muthuswamy Dikshitar in raga Vegavaahini and adi tala performed by Anuradha Lokesh. In simple yet beautiful Sanskrit, the poet has described Lord Ganesha as sureshvara, ganeshvara and vighneshvara. Along with presenting the actual descriptions through the song and a lively nritta in the chittesvara, the artiste interestingly began with a description of a typical Ganesha puja vidhi from making the idol of Lord Ganesha in soil and worshipping the deity with flowers, modaka and coconut offerings, mangala aarati and prayers. Suitable dance elements from the Natyasastra were included to describe the elephantine movements.

Madhulika went on to present a composition of Kannada litterateur D.V. Gundappa titled 'Hoovu' from his poetry collection of Ketakivana, set to a variety of ragas and talas. The music composition was by Balasubramanya Sharma and inputs from Madanika Manjunath. This poem talked about the various aspects of creation with special emphasis on a flower. While the creator of the universe brings many parts of nature to life, such as mountains, oceans, forests, clouds, animals, birds, insects and even human beings, he finds it to be incomplete; finally, when he sees a flower bloom, he rejoices. The artiste made a detailed attempt to give a picture of creation of Bhuloka, from the time Lord Narayana lying in the pralaya jala manifests the Hiranyagarbha which houses Lord Brahma, who along with many other gods such as Shiva, Indra, Varuna, Vayu and Chandra create the world under the direction of Lord Narayana. Creative liberty was taken to depict how the different gods created the various facets of nature. The creation of each aspect was associated with a particular deity and suitable use of Natyasastra angika and their adaptations were incorporated. When Lord Narayana finally examines the creation, he finds every incidental creation to be inadequate. An accidental blossoming of a flower brings immense joy to him as he realises how innocent and flawless a flower actually is. The lord embracing the flower into his own being was beautifully portrayed. The composition concluded with providing a few metaphorical possibilities of why a flower is so special.

Madhulika Srivatsa

Anuradha Lokesh

Anuradha then presented a shringara padam in raga Sahana and khandachapu tala, a composition of Manorama BN. The padam was based on mugdha nayika who is none other than Sita, the heroine of the epic Ramayana. The composition explores the various Vyabhicari bhavas this young and innocent Sita experiences when she sees Rama, the son of King Dasaratha, for the very first time. The artiste began with an incident where Sita who is joyfully plucking jasmine flowers in her balcony garden is unable to reach some of the flowers that were high up on the trees; she then remembers the Shiva Dhanush and uses it to bring down the flowers with remarkable ease and innocently tosses it aside. Watching this, an astounded King Janaka then decides that only a man who can wield the mighty bow of Shiva will wed Sita. Sita, now along with her sakhis, makes a ball out of the flowers and the girls playfully enjoy their game; the music here was set with solkattus being recited and sung suitably. As the ball drops off the balcony, Sita begins to look for it and in this moment spots the handsome Rama. As the composition progressed the artiste described the beauty of Rama in very many ways while wondering if such a charm was possible by anyone other than Lord Narayana who must have come down to the earth as this handsome man. As Sita wonders if it is even possible for a man of such charm and delicacy to wield weapons like the Kshatriya prince that he is, the artiste chose to describe the veera of Rama as perceived in Sita's imagination using the Lalita Sanchara Mandala described in the Natyasastra. This mandala included the following caris - Suchi, Apakrantha, Parshvakrantha, Suchi and Bhramari, continuing with Parshvakrantha, Atikranta and finishing with Bhramari. Sita wonders if she would be fortunate enough to wed this man and drifts off into imagining her wedding with him. We then find Rama coming across the fallen flower ball and as he looks around to return it, their eyes meet for the very first time. Lost in that elongated moment of blissful union of the innocent gaze, Sita gets perplexed with everything she is experiencing as Rama walks away. The sakhis console her that if she worships goddess Gauri, her desire will definitely be fulfilled and she duly obeys… The apparent accidental meeting of Sita and Rama is woven around as a play of destiny through this lovely composition.

Arun Sreenivasan
Arun Sreenivasan began his performance with an ashtapadi set to Misra Jog. Kṛishna wants to make up for his mistake for not arriving the previous evening, as promised to Radha. With the help of the sakhi, Krishna has arranged for another meeting with Radha. Finally Radha arrives on the full moon evening at the decided place and this ashtapadi of Jayadeva, starts with this background. The presence of shlesas throughout the composition has added to the variety in interpretation as angika. Hence, the angika was made natyadharmi in order to bring out the exoticism. The major challenge of this item was however to decide the tala for it to be composed in. Khanda chapu was brought in at certain important places, during the end of each couplet. The ashtapadi was tuned by Ganesh Radhesan and improvised by Nagashree Narayan with suggestions from Tirumale Srinivas and Mahesh Swamy.

Devi Sthuti set to Ragamalika and adi tala was a compilation of the selected two verses from Saradabhujanga Stotra of Adi Śhankaracharya. The context of this sthuti was that of a Bhakta describing Devi who is ever smiling and bejewelled with precious jewels including the auspicious ruby and flowers, holds the vina, aksamala, jnanamudra and a pot of knowledge nectar in her hands. Although there are many suggestions in the verses to be interpreted as Lakshanavritti, they have been retained as Abbidhavritti since the purpose of the item was an opening piece. Svara korvai was used to bifurcate between two verses, with the incorporation of adavu and karana. The music by Nagashree Narayan was in Dharmavati and Kharaharapriya.

This was also followed by a short Pushpanjali in Nata raga with the incorporation of the eight Angahara from Natyasastra called Aparajitha, which includes the karanas - Danddapada, Vyamsitam, Prasarpitam, Nikuttam, Ardhanikuttam, Uromandalam, Karihastam and Katicchinnam, in the particular order was performed. Since the angika was already specified in the Natyasastra, the tala and the sollukattus was worked backwards, making it to fit to the tala of the Pushpanjali.

Madhulika concluded her performance with Bhaja Govindam, the popular composition of Adi Shankaracharya set to adi tala and Ragamalika. While innumerable anecdotes and life lessons are provided in the many verses written by him and his disciples, a few were chosen for dance presentation. The concept of worshipping Govinda was thoughtfully touched upon from the angle of Navavidha bhakti (shravana, kirtana, smarana, archana, padasevana, dasya, sakhya, atmanivedana). The power of time over a rich man's arrogance was elaborated by the artiste; the humorous portrayal of him flaunting his wealth complemented the pitiable state that he was left in once Kaala showed its supremacy by way of a natural disaster. As the composition progressed, the four paths discussed in it were delineated as Yoga, Bhoga, Sanga and Sangavihina which saw the portrayal of yogic practices, enjoying good food, a woman devoted to her family and a sanyasi respectively, each dwelling in a form of divinity comprehensible to them through their choice of lifestyle; yet all having the potential of experiencing ananda. The artiste then touched upon the concept of how a guru can be any personification who helps clear the path of ajnana in the disciple with the light of jnana. A metaphorical meaning how, when the testing time is near, basic knowledge of a subject would not suffice and requires one to dwell deeper was connected to a personal experience of a dancer's journey as he/she would be working with the angika and sattvika concepts. The piece aptly concluded with repetitive chanting of 'govinda.'

Anuradha concluded her performance with a thillana in Kadanakutuhala raga and adi tala. This lively composition of Dr. Balamuralikrishna was given a thematic approach. Radha who is thrilled at the prospect of meeting Krishna is seen happily dancing through the pallavi of the thillana. On hearing his melodious flute call, she realises she is getting late and quickly decks herself up and rushes to meet him. This section was creatively adapted to the quick pace of the anupallavi thus matching Radha's manovega. The sahitya of the thillana was expressed as Radha momentarily forgetting her hurry and recollecting the beautiful form of Krishna, following which she feels the arrows of Manmatha pulling her towards Krishna. Although feigning anger towards Krishna, she finds herself drawn to his mesmerizing flute music and the two enjoy joyous moments of togetherness. Graceful use of charis, karanas and adavus was witnessed in this thematic approach to the thillana.

The ending piece was by Arun Sreenivasan, a Kriti- Bhujangini set to adi taḷa composed by Annamacharya. The theme was the poet who is confused how to place Venkateshvara of Tirupati. He wonders - how can a butter thief be called a Paramapurusha? The one, who is the father of Brahma, is also the son of Yashoda. The one, who is the essence of the Vedas, is a butter thief. The one, who is called the greatest among greats, is a cowherd with a bamboo flute. How is it possible for a common man to have his Darshana of the one who resides on the seven hills with a mere chant of his name, when the learned scholars chant hymns a hundred times and still not get at least a glimpse. This state of wonder made the poet the sutradhara for the dancer. Certain karanas like Sarpitam to depict the Adishesha, Sucividdham to show Lakshmi, Katibhrantam to show the unveiling of Brahma through the garbha of Vishnu, Krantam for the actual creation and many relevant karanas for the creations like Nagapasarpitam, Gajakriditakam, Simhavikriditam, Vidhyutbhrantam, Vishnukrantam, Akshiptarecitam and Samanakham were used. Uromandalam to depict sthiti of the world; later Avartam and Mandalasvastika to depict, 'with a mere thought, the creations are taken back by Vishnu, thus making him a literal Shesha (residue after everything is destroyed) and primordial (Adi). To depict the little Krishna, Vriscikam and Elakakridita were used (with suitable abhinaya hasta). The sanchari of Krishna eating mud and Yashoda reacting was used to depict the mischievous Krishna. The presentation concluded with a Mangala shloka.