by A Seshan, Mumbai 

December 2002

The Kanaka Sabha, an institution in Chembur, Mumbai, dedicated for nearly two decades to the promotion of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi under the direction of Dr Siri Rama and Smt Saroja Srinath, presented one of its star disciples, Kum Rumya, at a concert at the prestigious auditorium of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness  (ISKCON) in Juhu, Mumbai, in the afternoon of December 8, 2002  The ISKCON is visited by a large number of devotees,   both from India and abroad. Keeping the multi-lingual and multi-racial composition of the potential audience, Dr Siri Rama and Kum Rumya had planned their repertoire in an imaginative way. The emphasis was on moving quickly from one item to another so that the various facets of Bharatanatyam could be presented in a capsule, so to say, without in any way detracting from depth in content or classicism. Thus there were seven items presented in the course of an hour. As could be expected, the emphasis was on the Krishna theme. The artiste, endowed with the personality of a dancer to the manner born, exhibited joie de vivre throughout the programme unmindful of the small size of the audience.   She holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and works with handicapped children. She is no novice to the art form. She had her arangetram a decade ago and since then has participated in many dance dramas of Kanaka Sabha (Hayavadana, The Fifth Lotus, Padmavati Kalyanam, etc.) in Hong Kong and Singapore besides in India. 
The concert started with a Pushpanjali in Nattai, the traditional invocatory piece. It was.  followed by a Purandaradasar song (“Neene Anathabandhu”) presented as a Padam in Gurjari Todi. The two episodes relating to Krishna as Vitthala and his rescue of Gajendra were portrayed brimming with bhakti. Since there was no scope for a heavy item like Varnam to be presented, given the nature of the audience, this Padam effectively substituted for it in exploring sanchari bhavas and other aesthetic elements. Then came the centre-piece of Ashtalakshmi composed by Madurai Muralidharan in Ragamalikai. The various aspects of Lakshmi as one who grants the boon of victory, prosperity, happiness, etc., were brought   out in a fast-paced rendition of charanams  studded with sparkling chittaswarams. Next was a Meera bhajan (“Jhoolatha Radha”) in Yaman Kalyani. The madhura bhava bhakti of Radha was brought out well.  Meera describes how Krishna and Radha experienced the joys of the spring season. It is often humorously said that Mumbai has only two seasons – the hot and the hotter.   One, however, saw the spring season on the stage. The swinging of the jhoola was very realistic. “Enna  Tavam” - a well-known song of Papanasam Sivan in Kapi – followed. In describing the fortune of Yashoda in playing mother to Lord Krishna, full advantage was taken for sanchari bhavas depicting the myriad leelas of the god. The penultimate piece was Balamurali Krishna’s tillana in Kathanakuthoohalam, popular both on the music and dance stages. The nritta was done with beautiful sculptural poses associated with this form of dance. As a climax Rumya danced to the tune of “Krishna Nee Begane Baro”. No, it was not the well-known Kanakadasa song. It was a composition of the Colonial Cousins, who had taken only the first four words from the popular number. It was an ode to peace in English requesting Lord Krishna to come down to earth and resolve the conflicts of the world. Easily it was the piece-de-resistance of the programme. It showed how much scope there is in Bharatanatyam for innovation without violating the norms of the sastras. This writer was impressed by the manner in which Jesus Christ, the son of God, was represented – a contribution supplementing  the  Devata hastalakshanas in the sastras.
The dance was performed to the accompaniment of recorded music. A live orchestra would have no doubt enhanced its appeal.  As the attention of the audience was riveted on the artiste’s magnificent performance, perhaps it was not missed. However, one should acknowledge the rich melody and rhythm of the artistes who had recorded for the event. The popular dancer-cum-compere, Kum Vidya, introduced each item in a brief but effective manner.  

Summing up, Rumya’s recital was representative of a standard classical Bharatanatyam programme. Attractive and fault-free adavus marked her dance. This reviewer noted her ability to sit on the floor and get up artistically without a jerk, the bane of many dancers. The costumes were sober and did not distract attention. My only critical comment is that there were no variations in tala, all the items being in Adi.  Perhaps this was justified, considering that the audience was expected to consist of laymen, not connoisseurs, who would not have been  able to distinguish between one tala and another or their  role in imparting  the rasas. 

A Seshan is an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, formerly Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Economic Analysis and Policy in the Reserve Bank of India. He is a music and dance enthusiast and writer.