Sri Valli story moves the hearts of Japanese too
- Neela Srinidhi, Japan

November 6, 2005

I witnessed an amazing performance on October 29, 2005 by Daya Tomiko who is a very well known teacher trained by gurus VP Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan for the last 20 years. She has been training many Japanese in Kyoto. I have been attending her programs for the last few years and have been seeing her dedication to the art. It is amazing to see a team of non-Indians performing Bharatanaatyam with such perfection!

On this occasion I was very happy to meet the gurus - for the first time - and talk to them. Having heard so much about them, I got a golden opportunity to see them perform. It was such a tremendous experience, I wanted to share it with my country people and also encourage the young budding artists through these few words.

Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan. Its heritage monuments attract both national and international visitors. This city has the best classical traditions and the special traditional theatres like, Kabuki, Noh etc are supposed to be the pride of the nation. Japanese in general are very tradition bound and extremely spic and span.

In the recent past, Kyoto has seen tremendous interest in Indian performing arts with several schools of Bharatanaatyam, Kathak and North Indian instrumental music.

Among such enthusiasts is Daya Tomiko who has established Thanmaye-Nathyalaya. Celebrating the 15th year of founding, she invited dancers and musicians from her inspirational alma mater Bharatakalanjali, Chennai, to help her reproduce their Sri Valli, a dance drama choreographed by the Dhananjayans. It was a totally professional theatrical show with a matinee and evening show. Both were houseful and the awe struck Japanese audience had tears of joy in their eyes. Daya Tomiko deserves an encore cheer for her meticulous presentation of an Indian dance drama with a group of amateur Japanese girls.

The secret of her success, Daya says she owes to her gurus, The Dhananjayans, for their full support and undemanding co-operation, while the gurus say, ďIt is her complete discipline, devotion and dedication that has won us over. When she came to us last December and April, we suggested Sri Valli for its simplicity and interesting story content, though Murugan story is not familiar like Krishna stories in Japan. She took it very seriously, made pilgrimages to south Indian Murugan temples to emulate spiritual guidance. We were really surprised at her dedication. She did learn all the choreography, made video and audio recordings. When we reached Kyoto on 19th October, we were taken aback seeing those Japanese girls in our traditional half sari practice costumes, nice bright red pottu and the way they went straight through a practice session. Daya had already prepared them well without even changing a wee bit of our choreography. Really hats off to her.Ē

The first half of the program was traditional Bharatanaatyam repertoire starting with Ganesha Vandanam - rearranged to suit the group presentation. Then Daya and Divya Sivasundar from Bharatakalanjali presented the Nrutyopahaaram (varnam) on Ganesha, for music set by T VGopalakrishnan. Both of them performed it with perfect synchronization and distinct individuality. Though Daya is in her fifties and Divya in her twenties, they almost looked like twin sisters on stage. The stories of Ganesha went well with the Japanese audience. Next, the maestrosí appearance in a short Ashatapadi titled Radha-Maadhavam enthralled the Japanese audience, more because of the love hate
expressions of male-female feud. They laughed when Radha asked Krishna to go away and really pitied Krishna when he fell at her feet. The 15 minutes break after that item, witnessed an amused audience whispering about the performance of the maestros. This audience had not see anything like that before; probably some of them have seen The Dhananjayans and their son Satyajit in 1992, when they danced in Kyoto.

Starting with Thiruppugazh in the typical south Indian Kurathi attire, the stage brightened with color. Valliís entrance, a ball playing dance sequence, Murugaís dramatic appearance, Valliís love sickness, guru Dhananjayan as Vedan and later on as the old man, finally Valliís helpless plight seeing the elephant, the old man turning into real Murugan, all that drama was easy to digest for an audience not so familiar with Indian mythologies. Daya Tomiko used Japanese dialogue for a dream scene and a well known stage actor acting as Nambirajan (Valliís father). Daya Tomiko as Valli and Divya Sivasundar as her friend Chitrangi, danced with emotional clarity.

The live orchestra led by Shanta Dhananjayan, very ably supported by Sasidaran (vocal), Rameshbabu (mridangam & other percussions), Bhavani Prasad (veena) and Sunilkumar (flute), impressed the audience. The curtain closed down to thunderous applause and finally when guru Dhananjayan announced the honour of Naatyapoorna award and Ponnaadai to Daya Tomiko for her service to Indian art and culture, the audience went into rapture, with tears of joy rolling down their rosy cheeks.

It was a rare treat for Kyoto city and we wish such cultural extravaganzas happen more often to better the cultural links between our two nations.