Rangoli Production of 'Tulasi' is aglow with spirit and reverence 
by Anuradha Kishore Ganpati, Los Angeles  
e-mail: akishore@arts.ucla.edu 

August 3, 2004   

Rangoli Foundation for Art and Culture founded by artistic director Malathi Iyengar realizes through music and dance the traditional stories and beliefs associated with the sacred Tulasi plant. 'Tulasi' in Sanskrit means matchless and is believed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi.  

Choreographer Malathi Iyengar expertly navigates the audience through the intricate world of 'Tulasi' in myth and legend. Imbued with a spiritual quality ranging from a lyrical exposition of form, grace and symmetry like the plant to a powerful prayer of ceremony and worship, the cumulative effect of the production momentarily transcends the rasika. As the production progresses, you realize the strong, deep, and varied symbolisms of the sacred plant competently rendered with versatility, emotion, and precision by the dancers from India and USA. Traditional and explorative as it moves fluidly from the mundane to the cosmic, Iyengar's “Tulasi” reveals the very essence of simplicity in modern society. Soul stirring compositions of 18th century poet Saint Thyagaraja and new works by contemporary composer, Rajkumar Bharathi were masterfully rendered by the music ensemble. 

The chaste authenticity of Iyengar's 'Tulasi' was best illustrated in Sri Krishna Tula Bharam.  Flowing without restraint this piece narrates the story of Rukmini placing a single Tulasi leaf on the scale, which weighs Krishna and balancing the scale. The full implication of the dramatic and emotional potential of the production is revealed in this scene, which demonstrated that even a small object offered with devotion means more to the Lord than the weight of all the wealth in the world.  

'Tulasi' functions as a prayer, beseeching humanity to realize the supremacy, efficacy and purity of  bhakti (devotion) and simplicity amidst the din of mind numbing excess in a restless modern society. On another level Iyengar intelligently honors the sacred feminine through the worship of 'Tulasi' harboring the soul of the Goddess Lakshmi representing beauty, virtue and power.  This underlying humanity in all of Iyengar's productions gives the audience something that they have never experienced before. 

The dancers were Renjit Babu, Sudarshan Sibi (Kalakshetra, India)  Dimple  Bhasin, Lakshmi Iyengar, Hema Iyer, Mary Khetani, Shyamala Moorty, Sangeetha  Rao, Shaheen Sheik, Soumya Sundaresh (disciples of Malathi Iyengar). The orchestra comprised of nattuvangam: Malathi Iyengar, vocal: Balasubramanyam Sharma, mridangam: G Gurumurthy, flute: AP Sarvothama, violin: Sankara Subramaniam. Set design was by Suresh Iyengar and costumes by Lakshmi Iyengar. 

The guest artiste on the program from Northern California was Kuchipidi dancer Jyothi Lakkaraju. Choreography - Dr Uma Rama Rao and Jyothi Lakkaraju. The dance called daru, was a composition of music and dance designed to reveal the dancer's identity artistically. As a Vipralamba Nayaki, Lakkaraju deftly represented the lovelorn Satyabhama, the second consort of Lord Krishna who is deceived and dejected by her husband's absence. 

Malathi Iyengar & Lakshmi Iyengar have been selected as Master Artist & Apprentice by the Alliance for California Traditional Artists (ACTA / 2004). Malathi is also author of Dance & Devotion with illustrations by Suresh Iyengar. 

Anu Kishore Ganpati is a Communications/Development Officer at UCLA's Center for Intercultural Performance, Los Angeles.