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Updated: February 14, 2012 17:24 IST

A dance for Devi

PANKAJA SRINIVASAN
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Embodying Grace Alarmel Valli Photo: K. Ananthan
The Hindu Embodying Grace Alarmel Valli Photo: K. Ananthan

In a spectacular setting outside the Devi temple on the foothills of Velliangiri, Alarmel Valli gives a performance that must have pleased the goddess

We sit on large floor cushions at Isha Yoga Center. There is pin drop silence as we watch thousands of oil lamps flickering on the temple walls behind the stage. We hear anklets and there she is, Alarmel Valli, flame-like in fiery orange and purple. What follows is a paean to Shakti. Valli's dance describes the goddess in all her glory — from creation to destruction, from the sensual to the sublime, from power to compassion — she is omniscient. Valli sparkles as she darts about the stage. She is a waterfall now, the full moon, the terrifying lightening, the dancing peacock… Her hands and feet describe a blooming lotus, the fluttering birds, the doe-eyed deer and the softly flowing stream.

The spell remains unbroken even when there is a brief technical glitch and the sound and lights go off. In the light of the oil lamps to the sound of the now-muted mridangam and flute, Valli's performance is even more riveting.

Valli's next performance celebrates Krishna. From a toddler who wants his mother Yashodha to bring down the tasty-looking moon for him to eat, to the handsome cowherd who has the gopikas fawning over him, from Radha's beloved to Kaaliya's vanquisher, Krishna is both accessible yet infinite, intimate yet cosmic. The performance is liberally sprinkled with verses from ancient texts, and Valli explains the meaning and significance of each one. Through dance, she beautifully captures the inflections, the moods, the emotions and the philosophy of each hoary composition.

There is one more treat in store for the audience. Valli dedicates it to Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev. It is a piece that is set to verse composed by Arundhathi Subramaniam. The poetess is present at the gathering and she reads out her poem. It is about a woman waiting for her lover. Arundhathi and Valli have collaborated on the piece, and the result is beautiful and evocative. Valli is at pains to point out that it is a contemporary poem, but her dance is wholly traditional.

Alarmel Valli's accompanying musicians were are C.K. Vasudevan on the Nattuvangam, Nandini Anand Sharma on the vocals, K.P. Nandini on the violin, Shaktivel on the Mridangam and Shruti Sagar on the flute. S.R. Murugan handled the lights.

Pankaja Srinivasan's review of the "performance that must have pleased the goddess" left me wondering whether the goddess has been indeed pleased or not. That's the question that Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev is supposed to be qualified to have answered clearly as we are living at the times when every dancer, classical or not, makes all sorts of divine claims.
Regardless, the clue to this question can be found in Natya Shastra,
where Bharata Muni unequivocally states that it is only the dance
consisting of the 108 karanas that can please the gods, and further
elaborates the difference between the divine likings and the human,
ending with a very clear and lucid description of "Divine Success"
and "Human Success" of a performance. To dance to a paean to Shakti is fine, but how is it related to the the dance of Shiva and Shakti that they danced in Tillai and which is depicted in Chidambaram in 108 karanas? Or was it just a different Shakti?

from:  P.Maheshwari
Posted on: Feb 16, 2012 at 22:11 IST
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