Touch of Tradition  
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur 
e-mail: padmajayaraj@sancharnet.in  
 

October 10, 2006 

 
Thalam, a cultural trust, staged its festival of dance and music for its 4th consecutive year in Thrissur, Kerala. The mood evoked by Navarathri tradition had its sway. 
 
The dance festival started in its characteristic way, encouraging local talents. Kalamandalam Husnabhanu inaugurated the function with a group of dancers lighting the lamp. The main item of the day was an Odissi performance by dancers of Gunjan Dance Academy led by its founder, Meera Das. 
  
Meera Das, a philosophy graduate, is swayed by the vision of Indian philosophy in her concept. An upholder of tradition, she began the performance with Mangalacharan that pays tribute to God, the honorable audience and asks forgiveness of Mother Earth for dancing on her bosom. 
  
The second item, Pallavi was a scintillating performance that incorporated poses of sculptures reminiscent of the Sun temple at Konark in Orissa in fast-paced pure dance movements, lyrical in flavor. Choreographed by Meera Das, it displayed effortless transition of dancers between the two prominent postures of Odissi: Tribhangi and Chouka. The weaving of the footwork, enhanced by Mudras depicting musical instruments - mardala, veena, manjira and flute - was a visual feast. An exponent of Bandha Nritya, an acrobatic form of dance, Meera Das had given a distinct zest by adding its features to her composition. Music by Sumanta Mohanty in Sankarabharanam and rhythm by Sachidananda Das, made the piece a delightful experience. 

The third, a solo item by Meera Das, was a part of Jayadeva's Geeta Govinda in rag Khamaj and taalam Adi. It was a vivid piece on the eternal struggle between good and evil. The allegory presented Lord Krishna killing Kaliya, the poisonous snake and demons, Madhu and Mura. Lord Rama slaying the ten-headed Ravana was another metaphor for the same theme. The reunion with Sitadevi symbolized harmony and peace.  
 

 
The group item Mayuranritta or Peacock Dance, showed the enduring love of the choreographer for the inherent rhythm in nature and its beings. It is an ever present phenomenon in India. The peacocks, seeing the cloud-cast sky sense the joy of the parched earth, and welcome rain, the elixir of life. The sheer joy of movements in blue and green amid shadows, wonderfully created by the lighting, was an evocation of nostalgia, of the forgotten feeling and warmth for nature. 

The concluding item evoked Hindu philosophical concept of liberation. Moksha, amid reverberating AUM, slokas from the Geeta, was a fitting finale to a traditional dance performance. The chanting resonated asking the blessings of God for the wellbeing of humanity. The music and dance invoked the souls of the universe to lull human soul to rest in peace...Santhi, Santhi Santhihi...Moksha! 

The orchestra was such that at times it eclipsed the dance performance. A team of artists well-known in Orissa enlivened the evening for the people of Thrissur. Sumantha Mohanty (vocal), Kalandi Charan Parida (mardala), Suramani Ramesh Chandra Das (violin), Jyotindra Prasad Misra (sitar) and Abhiram Nanda (flute) excelled as a team.  

Lapses in synchronization affected the magic of rhythmic movements. Lighting, even when it enhanced items like the Peacock Dance, was a little obtrusive, giving a filmy touch which affected the classical dimension.  

Meera Das, who belongs to a tribal district of Keonjhar, Orissa, dreams of giving rural girls a platform. She herself comes from a home where dance was absent in the family. She recalls how her parents supported her innate talents, how her teachers guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and guru Gangadhar Pradhan nurtured the artist in her. She has founded a school Gunjan to pass on the tradition, her Dharma. She has performed and won prestigious awards in India and abroad. She is grateful to have a supportive husband who helps her to devote much of her time to her mission. Life and art have moulded her, a traditionalist. And tradition is the hallmark of her personality. 
 

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance journalist. She covers fine arts and travel for The Hindu, and is a regular contributor to narthaki.com