The splendid performance of V.P. Dhananjayan and his group brought alive the story of Nandanar on stage, as part of Natyanjali fest.
‘Nandanar Charitram - A Nrutya Natakam' by the Dhananjayans focussed on the essentials of bhakti and the path to the Almighty. The aharya of the dancers, rendering of the songs and sollukattu and the tenor of the composition perfectly suited the sombre mood. V. P. Dhananjayan donned the role of Nandanar and carried the day with the depiction of a simple yet fervent soul.
That Nandanar Charitram was a classy and refined affair was also due to Shanta Dhananjayan wielding the cymbals and the proficiency of the senior dancers of Bharatakalanjali.
The inaugural of Natyanjali 2010, organised by Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha and Sri Lalithakala Academy Foundation, Mysore, was inexplicably delayed and spilled over to the schedule of the dance performance also.
Nevertheless, the dance drama was a 50-minute affair that swiftly captured the highpoints of Gopalakrishna Bharati's musical opera intact.
‘Ulagellam' was one of the opening numbers where the glory of Siva was portrayed by the talented cast: Pavitra, Kirti, Vijnarani, Vijayalakshmi, Venkatakrishnan, Gopu Kiran, Umesh and Uthiyo. The off-white dhoti costumes for the men and the earthy brown and grey for the women lent elegance to the overall impact.
The call for all bhaktas to join in the worship of Lord Siva was the introduction for Nandanar. Sans any obvious make-up and the customary 'salangai' on the feet, Dhananjayan was a figure of pathos and humility. The vibhuti on the forehead and the necklace of beads added up with the simple dhoti to depict the humble state of Nandanar. The selection of songs such as ‘Sivaloka Nadanai', ‘Vazhi Maraikudhe' and ‘Satru Vilagu' chronicled the events in the story. Some early scenes like the one where Nandanar exhorts the people around him to come to the temple, were faultless in depiction but would have certainly benefitted from more dancers on stage.
The overall effect seemed to be one of restraint and this was underscored by the picturisation of Siva commanding Nandi to make way for his devotee -- that saw the coming together of drama and devotion without hyperbole. The bhakti mood further deepened with Nandanar asking permission from his master, the landlord, to visit Chidambaram. The cringing servant and the haughty master were handsome characterisations that also stirred undercurrents of ego, humility and class conflict. ‘Varugalamo Ayya' is a classic that perfectly conveys Nandanar's sense of wretchedness at being denied the Lord's Grace. On this occasion, vocalist Shashidharan's emotional ‘Ayyah!' surged with Dhananjayan's appeal for salvation. The strategy of keeping Nandanar on stage but partially hidden behind the centrally positioned Siva emphasised his Oneness with the Supreme while the group dance brought on a sense of closure and happiness.