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Dance > Review
04 January, 2020

 – A Divine presentation personifying the Bhakthi Bhava of the Marghazhi Month

Smt. Padmini Krishnamurthy with her students from Sri Saraswathi Natyalaya, Muscat and Sri Saraswathy Gana Nilayam, Chennai presented “ARUTPERUM JOTHI”.  Conceptualised by Smt. Shanthi Vaidya, Padmini has visualised, choreographed and co-ordinated the entire thematic presentation. The background music score is centred around the famed saint poet Manikavasagar’s Thiruvachakam. All the verses are from Sivapuranam set in Ragamalika.

As is customary, the concert began with a Prayer. The dance presentation itself began with Nritha Vandanam in Ragam Revathy set in Kanda and Misra Nadai. It aptly included the verse beginning “நமச்சிவாய வாஅழ்க! நாதன் தாள் வாழ்க!” This was well co-ordinated piece with crisp choreography. It was indeed endearing to note that every dancer maintained a beautiful smile through-out this Nritta piece. (In the recent past, this smile is being replaced with a smirk or stern face, needlessly, in my opinion. A rigorous piece of foot work with perfect body line and angles can still be performed with a smile.)

The main act depicted the stories of Nandanar, Chandikeswarar and Karaikal Ammayar (Nayanmars) to show case the message that despite the difference in birth, caste, profession, or roles in society, the only way to attain Moksha is through unflinching devotion and that Lord Shiva always blesses his most devoted with salvation.

Nandanar, born in a lower caste yearns to visit Lord Shiva’s temple. However, the landlord and his chieftains reject his repeated requests for a day off to make this visit. Instead he is challenged him to grow an entire field in one day. As his reward he could take a day off to visit the Lord. Nandanar, knowing very well that it is impossible to grow crops in a day, begins in earnest to seed and water and later with a heavy heart falls asleep during nightfall. However, he wakes up to see the entire field fully grown and the landlord realises that this could not have been possible without divine intervention, regrets his taunt and grants Nandanar his days off to undertake his pilgrimage. Nandanar, (as advised by the Lord himself in his dream) sacrifices himself in the ritualistic pyre attains the feet of Lord for eternity. Padmini as Nandanar depicted the yearning for Lord Shiva, respect for his mean employers, acceptance of untouchability as practiced in that era, grief at not being given an opportunity to visit the Lord but without losing hope in his devotion, and ecstatic happiness at finally seeing the Lord and attaining salvation with great panache. All of these emotions in a span of 10 minutes while keeping the story moving at brisk pace requires a level of maturity and experience that only a few artists possess.

Chandikeswarar, born in a Brahmin family is entrusted with herding the cows of the village who had developed a natural affection for animals. Under his care, the cows in a state of bliss, began milching more than can be potted. Chandikeswarar, being a Shiv Bhakth constructed Shivalingams from sand and performed abhishekam with the excess milk. His father upon complaints from the villagers checks on him and catches him in the act. He is enraged when his son who was in a state of meditation, ignoring his repeated calls and kicks the sand lingam. Chandikeswarar, now disturbed throws a stick that turns into an axe and cuts off his father’s limbs rendering him unconscious. Upon realising this Chandikeswarar prays to Lord Shiva with great repentance at hurting his father. Lord Shiva appears before him and blesses him with eternal meditation and makes him the protector of his wealth and property. Prarthana as Chandikeswarar depicted very realistically the helplessness and regret at axing his father’s limbs even as he pleads for Lord Shiva to help him, so much so that it tugged at my heart strings.

Punithavathi, is married to a rich merchant. He had given her two mangoes that he brought from his business travels. Lord Shiva visits Punithavathi in the form of a sage who is hungry. Punyavathi, having not yet cooked gives him one of the mangoes. Later, at lunch her husband asks for the fruit. She serves him the one that she saved for him. It tasted so sweet that he asks for the other as well. In desperation and not wanting to deny her husband’s wish she prays to Lord Shiva. A mango appears in her hand and she gives it to her husband but when she hands it over to her husband, it disappears. He demands to know what happened and Punithavathi reveals the entire episode and that she produced the fruit with her prayers to Shiva. Her husband leaves her in the pretext of business travels never to return to her and finds himself another family. Upon learning this when Punithavathi visits him, her husband prostrates at her feet and informs publicly about her greatness and devotion to Lord Shiva that he does not consider himself worthy of being her husband. At this Punithavathi prays to Lord Shiva to assume the form of ghosts surrendering her flesh and visits Kailasam. As she reaches the mountain, not wanting to tread on his abode with her feet, she does so with her head. Lord Shiva blesses her with salvation, when she expresses her wish to see him dance. Sneha as Punithavathi was an apt choice for this characterisation, at first radiating beauty with her slender body, gait and grace. Her depiction of devotion to both husband and Lord Shiva as Karaikaal Ammayar was well differentiated and portrayal of the head walk is praiseworthy.

 The highlight of the presentation was the finale sequence depicting Lord Shiva’s dance. The sequence recreating a Chitsabhai orchestration with the Mridangam, Dhundhubi, Damaru, Veena, Flute, Vocal, and Cymbals, where the dancers depicted playing each instrument with Shiva dancing in the centre as Karaikaal Ammayar watched, was a class act, a true master piece. While the dancers depicted expertise and finesse in playing the instruments at the same time watching Lord Shiva dance with great joy, Padmini adorned the character of Lord Shiva doing the Ananda Tandav in the centre. The sequencing was set in a way that the musicians were in the true sense accompanying Shiva’s dance. It was surreal and it took me to a trancelike state. It is indeed very difficult to stay in character for 8 long minutes and to transcend that visual to the audience spellbound and mesmerised.

Jathis were perfectly interluded with every episode sequence, that they enhanced the presentation without distracting from the main narrative. While maintaining the theme through-out Padmini cleverly makes her signature moves in Bharatanatyam. She used only the Tripitaka Hastha in the second Jathi, showcasing her choreographic superiority. Infact a special mention must be made of two sequences under a minute, one, where they convey the concept of Shiva as Creator (of all beings), Protector(drinking the poison during churning of Parkadal) , Destroyer ( Tripura Samharam) and Saviour ( saving Markendeya from Lord Yama)  and two where Padmini portrays Shiva as the conqueror of the 5 senses. There wasn’t a second of drop in pace or an unnecessary korvai in the entire presentation. Padmini’s brilliance and creativity shines throughout the presentation as she uses the techniques of Bharatanatyam, space, music, lighting, choreography in the right amount in the right place. And her students dedicate themselves to the performance. Shivani, Vidya, Geetha and Barkavi portrayed the characters with great finesse contributing to the narrative. All the dancers maintained Araimandi and energy through-out the presentation. (Again, in recent years these basic expectations require special mention)

The performing artists were Padmini Krishnamurthy, Shivani Krishnamurthy, Vidyashree Ananth, Prarthana Ananth, Geetha, Barkavi, Sneha.

From the Nritta Vandana to the concluding Mangalam, verses and instrumental interludes for sancharis were very appropriately juxtaposed. The crescendos in every episode were achieved through brilliant music composing by Smt. Chitrambari. When a singer is also the music composer, there is a natural tendency to use excessive vocals but Smt. Chitrambari did not fall into that trap. The highlight of music composition for this dance production is the fact that vocals were used to set the context and orchestration did the job of creating the feel and progression of storytelling. To me this was important, since I as a member in the audience could focus and enjoy the dance without being distracted by any musical gimmicks. The quality of the music production is clearly enhanced by the skilful orchestra, Sri Rammohan on the Mridangam, Sri Venkat on the Tabla and Kanjira, Sri Vijayaraghavan on the Violin, Sri Devarajan on the Flute and Smt. Padmini Krishnamurthy on the Nattuvangam.

The music production, sequence visualisation and dance choreography were par excellence providing a transcendental experience.

When the present generation of students, artists and the general public make excuses to not attend the events, it is heart-warming to note that Guru Smt. Ranganayaki Jayaraman, at the ripe old age of 85, made it a point to witness the presentation and bless the artists. This is a testament to Smt. Ranganayaki Amma’s dedication to the art and her continuous efforts to encourage the artist fraternity.

I learnt that this dance production was first staged in 2007 and has been presented about 8 times hence. This is a production that deserves a tour by itself. When Padmini thanked Sri Radhakrishnan of the Indian Fine Arts society in providing an opportunity to stage this, I felt like I should join in for giving me a memorable experience.

As for me, it was an evening of pure joy and bliss to be able to watch a pure Bharatanatyam performance, which was only dance but had all the elements of drama.

Gurubhyo Namaha |

                                                                                      A dance enthusiast, Anubhavana ||

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