Towards Bharathiyam 
by Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur 
February 8, 2004   

Bharatham, true to its name is concerned with all that is Bharathiyam in the field of art and culture for the people of Thrissur in Kerala. Celebrating its first anniversary, it organized a three-day dance fiesta for its members. Indian aesthetics that deals with the theory of Rasa focuses on the discerning viewer. The organizers took pains to arrange demonstration classes to help the audience with the much-needed intellectual equipment by the artistes themselves were the salient feature of the festival. Study classes in the mornings and, dance performances in the evenings enhanced the aesthetic experience of the dance lovers. The festival left a lasting impression of the rich legacy of various Indian dance forms that evolved through centuries from temple precincts to modern concert halls. 

The festival began by honoring Sri Chathunni Panikker, the Kathakali maestro, who breathed glory into Darpana run by Mrinalini Sarabhai in its infancy and growth. Forgotten by the art world, forsaken in his old age, Chathunni Panikker relived a momentary splendor in his eighties. 

Vyjayanthi Kashi, one of the top-ranking exponents of Kuchipudi chose to give a lecture demonstration. She began with its origin from a village of its name in Andhra Pradesh in 15th century; dealt with its growth in the hands of masters who gave it the classical dimension. Her demonstration proved her spiritual depth that made her a visionary and a dance therapist. She revealed the secret of the magic of dancing on the rim of the brass plate, a special feature of Kuchipudi. Imbibing its unique philosophy is the soul and spirit of her dance. The water-pot on the head of the dancer is the dhyanakanda: a meditative pose that can be achieved by concentration and practice. The brass plate is the symbol of Karmakanda: one's field of activity. And the dancer is a Karma Yogi: highly disciplined with the knowledge of some footwork. She demonstrated how three parts of the feet could be used - the fingers, the base of the fingers and the flat of the feet to maneuver many moves as she danced on the rim of the plate moving from place to place on the stage, and in and around in circles. It is a superb symbolic representation of life, circumscribed like the plate limiting all human capabilities. Yet mastery of some knowledge and the art of control is the secret of success. Dancing on the rim indicate the human possibilities to reach beyond the limits. 

In the evening during her performance her expressive eyes and smiling face communed with her admirers taking them beyond the beyond. Every item was unique in some way. In Ganesh Sthudhi the elephant-headed Lord Ganesh himself walked to the center with all glory introduced by a third person. The dramatic element in the piece made the dance special. 

Dasavatharam, the conventional piece, depicted the ten incarnations of Krishna, a new version. And so, Boutham, something basic to India's spiritual traditions, found its place in the traditional format. Vyjayanthi presented Dasavatharam as the poetic rendering of the modern theory of evolution. The first speck of life was born in water Matsya; the amphibian - Koorma showed the coming of life on to land; the animal on land Varaha; animal-man - Nara-simha; the dwarf Vamana; then the heroes of legends; on to history with Boudham; finally towards future: Kalki. And the whole item, rendered in quick tempo made it brisk and lively. 

Her Urvasi represented the origin of dance on earth. Urvasi, while dancing in the celestial court saw her beloved Pururava. She missed a heartbeat and missed a rhythm. and was cursed for loving a mortal. Born out of a curse, the graceful dancer descended to the world to give an aesthetic dimension of beauty to humankind. She lived her span of life as a divine preacher of Natya Veda. She taught women who devoted themselves to dance in temples that gave birth to the origin of Devadasis in its golden days. 

Bhama Kalapam is a usual item of Kuchpudi. Sathyabhama, the wife of Krishna is the aesthetic idea of a woman's persona. The lovelorn woman in a mood of separation presented the typical feminine ethos in its pristine purity: proud, yet humble; anguished, yet expectant! The positive sentiments that filled her lovelorn heart was unique. 

And her Nava Rasa had a feminine flavor about it. She enacted karunam in a special way: the love for a child, not of her own, but for whom she feels motherly love. As the child leaves after spending some time with her like a visitor, her heart goes after the child in blessings, in concern. the very picture of the divine mother and we felt like children in a blessed mood, blessed by Mother. 

That Vyjayanthi Kashi in her twilight years as a dancer chooses roles befitting her age and form is part of the charm of her show. And her solo performance does not give room for comparisons. As India's celebrated dancer, choreographer, dance therapist, researcher, and dance-guru, she is well known as a dynamic force in Kuchipudi. Yet, she is an iconoclast as well. For her, like all dedicated artists, dance is a way of life.