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The Surreal, Real
- Veena and Dhanya Nair
Photos: Sudhi

June 8, 2019

My mind refuses to wake up from the trance of the evening, the trance of an experience called Chitra Visweswaran.

The beautiful evening was courtesy Poornima Gururaj, who has arduously and ardently curated the 'Nirantara Narmada' festival year on year for the last 12 years. The festival commemorates one of Bangalore's foremost Bharatanatyam gurus, the late Guru Narmada. Many an artist of today owe their artistic prowess to Guru Narmada's inimitable, staunch, free spirited teaching methodology. The festival over the years has featured veterans from the classical dance firmament. This year the festival presented a performance by one of the doyens of Bharatanatyam, Guru Chitra Visweswaran.

The melancholic Subhapanthuvarali at the start of the evening drifted into an evocative invocation of the elephant headed God. The Marathi words, which were alien to our ears ceased to exist and all one could hear and see was the mellifluous bhava of Chitra's sattvika abhinaya, beautifully echoed by the orchestra. The orchestra aptly and richly echoed her sentiment and as the vakyartas and padarthas effortlessly flowed out of her nimble hands and fingers, it created moments of joy.

The Kali kouthuvam brought forth glimpses of her passionate nritta and she briefly froze as ugra Kali, stunning the audience, for she was the very vision of devi herself. The Tevaram transported us to Tiruvannamalai and as Chitra juxtaposed Annamalaiyar and Unnamalai one could see the form of the formless come to life. This piece brought back memories of Chitra's portrayal of Ravana as he comes to abduct Sita, a piece we would have watched over two decades ago, half her face poised, saint like and the other throbbing in conceited roudra.

In the next piece, she chose to weave together Hamsanandi and Saveri and seamlessly shrouded the audience in bhakti. The ardent yearning of Hamsanandi as the nayika sang 'yenne aalinganam seidu' and the poignant pleas of Saveri in total surrender as she cried 'Muruga Muruga' was soul stirring and elevating. And as often happens when one is encompassed in a divine fervor, one is moved to tears of ecstasy. Gliding into Yamunakalyani with the popular 'Krishna nee begane' she was the epitome of a Krishna bhakta. On stage, in her, with her, was the universe and all it encompasses, the god we seek, we yearn for, the truth we aspire to know, there she was soaked in the bliss of her art, drenching us in pain and elation.

Watching her every move and following her like a shadow were a fabulous team of musicians. G Srikant on vocal, Sukanya Ravindhar on nattuvangam, K Venkata Subramanian on mridangam, Mudikondan S N Ramesh on veena and R Thiagarajan on flute. Though completely engrossed in their art, they selflessly submitted to her and together they weaved a magical web of mysticism.

Chitra Visweswaran was my first love and like all first loves she continues to tug at my heart. And as I sat at her feet to take her blessings, I could hear a distinct distant murmur of Tagore's verse, "I stand under the golden canopy of thine evening sky and I lift my eager eyes to thy face. I have come to the brink of eternity from which nothing can vanish-no hope, no happiness, no vision of a face seen through tears. Oh, dip my emptied life into that ocean, plunge it into the deepest fullness. Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch in the allness of the universe."

The Nair Sisters Veena & Dhanya are senior disciples of Guru Narmada (Bharatanatyam) and Guru Kalamandalam Kshemavathy (Mohiniattam). They presently train under Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam.

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