A documentary showcases rare moments of the masterful Dandayuthapani Pillai and his star pupil Srividya.

It was a moment to cherish for art buffs when musician-scholar Sujatha Vijayaraghavan's documentary for the Padavarnam Project opened with an audio clip of the yesteryear greats, Vidushi M.L. Vasanthakumari (vocal) and Guru K.N. Dandayuthapani Pillai (nattuvangam) performing the opening lines and trikala jathi of the Sankarabaranam padavarnam, ‘Sakhiye Inda Jaalam' (Adi tala). It was only a sampler; the serene yet masterful interlude was over too soon.

Their legacy of understated aesthetics was however carried forward in Guru Dandayuthapani's navaraga masterpiece, the padavarnam ‘Swamiyai Azhaittodivaa' in Adi tala performed by the guru's star pupil and dancer-actor Srividya (MLV's daughter) and Vanaja Narayanan, the multi-faceted vocalist-nattuvanar (trained by the guru).

Soft, dignified

The accompanists, the mridangam maestro Adyar Balu, maintained a stately dignity while the young Sigamani (violin) was softly unobtrusive. Unfortunately three of them - the dancer, the singer and the mridangam vidwan - are no more.

Prefaced with a well-researched introduction to the project and the composer by Sujatha, the padavarnam came under the microscope. Its performance was filmed with some salient points highlighted at the end. Then followed a discussion between Srividya, Vanaja and Uma Anand (daughter and disciple of Guru Dandayuthapani) on the composition and their vadhyar. The evening was a treat for dance enthusiasts and culture historians.

The half-hour padavarnam was a feast of crisp rhythm, delicate expressions and delectable music. There is an effortless balance in the rhythmic and expressive segments, both rendered with conviction and restraint. The jatis were short and composed with speed, symmetry, clean lines, and infinitesimal pauses to facilitate the mix of adavus. So too with the arudis. The effect was a simple whole that teased but did not strain the rasika.

As was pointed out by Sujatha, the literal meaning of the lyric (padaartha) was presented first, followed by either a short narrative or expansion (vakyaartha), and coming back to the padaartha in the end. In particular, the sancharis for ‘Maamadi mugamo...' in which the moon's rays torment the heroine, but she hesitates to shut the window because the moon reminds her of Siva's face, and ‘Bhoomi Pugazhum...' in which Meenakshi Kalyanam is briefly touched upon, were memorable. Srividya's was a sensitive performance and a faithful homage to her guru.

The music in the padavarnam, besides the lilting ragas and their smooth flow, also requires hard work. As Vanaja pointed out, even the pace for the rendition of the first line in the pallavi in Thodi differs from that of the next line in Mohanam!

The suitable ragas and their usage had been honed to bring out the mood whether it is hope or pangs of separation.

Being a musician, lyricist, composer and natyacharya, Guru Dandayuthapani's compositions are some of the best available for dancers today.