The Hindustani concert by Vidya Rao and ‘Darshanam' by Ananda Shankar and group left the audience mesmerised.

The Hyderabad Literary Fest, held at Taramati Baradari, had much more to offer than literary events. The icing on the cake was Thumri and Dadra evening by Vidya Rao followed by Ananda Shankar Jayanth's Ode to the eye (Darshanam), a group choreography in the Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam.

The gentle, dove-like Vidya Rao prefaced her melodic thumri-dadra pieces in deceptively hushed tones that later exploded like a meteor as she rendered an Amir Khusro composition, sung by her guru Naina Devi during her last singing days. Thumri soorath ki balihaari… flowed in a steady tone with controlled modulation. As the musician mentioned, divine lyrics were adopted to the thumri style which was actually erotic singing by courtesans of yore. Investing the thumri-dadra with the Sufi spirit, Vidya was able to bring out the soul of poetry without sacrificing the quality of singing a thumri. No mean achievement this! Her sonorous voice was an added asset.

A Meera bhajan adopted to the dadra (usually couched in shringar) was rendered with the feminine graces often bestowed on the beloved (in this case Lord Hari). Vidya's elaboration on the line, Hum chithavat, tum chithavat… in varied ways brought out the import of the line in more than one way: sometimes pleading, complaining, accusing, caressing and so on. A Sufi composition by Mahlaqa Chanda, a courtesan of the 18th century Hyderabad, was rendered with a touch of the divine that went straight to the heart. Shanti Bhushan on the tabla complemented the musician while Badrukhan on the harmonium kept a steady pace.

‘Darshanam' by Ananda Shankar and her Shankarananda Kalakshetra ensemble was primarily a eulogy to vision — beginning with the physical and culminating in the metaphysical. The group of five emote with the eye to the various looks that form a part of artistic expression (drishti bheda) in dance parlance, viz. samam (straight), aalokitam (rolling eyes), saachi (looking through corner of the eye), pralokita (moving sideways), nimeelitha (semi-closed), ullokitha (upwards), aanuvruthecha (sizing up) and avalokitam (downwards).

Physical and metaphysical

The static falls into the kinetic, expanding the import of each single eye movement. The bhava or feeling that is conveyed through the language of the eyes got further enriched with the deft moves and abhinaya. The gamut of eye expression found its graphic description in the verses of Soundarya Lahari of Adi Sankara and Ananda used two of these poems to describe the potency of eye language in a fleeting, vibrant manner. The footwork and movements matched the varied expressions that cross the Mother Goddess' eyes as she views her divine consort Lord Shiva (Shive shringarardha).

The dancers take us along the innumerable metaphors for the eye and its expression. They depict the doe-eyed in lightning movements, the fish eyed (meena lochana), the lotus-eyed, etc. A vivid picture emerged with the pace of music and mime (dance to structured syllabic utterances/swaras) which was a wonderful piece of creativity. The formations for lotus in bloom by the five dancers was beautifully brought out.

The dance moves on to the esoteric level, wherein the third eye (inner eye) personified as the cosmic dancer Nataraja is imagined to be closed by the divine Shakti in play and the world is plunged into darkness. When this eye opens, it was supposed to have wreaked havoc upon the world. Interpreting this physical aspect in the spiritual realm, Ananda and disciples were able to draft a tangible, coherent picture of the supine energy lying dormant in human being coiled like a serpent at the very base of his being (muladhara).

When awakened from its stupor, this energy (Shakti) passes like electricity to the crown, transgressing the nerve centres corresponding to different parts of the body and unites with ultimate reality (called Shiva) and all ignorance is dispelled. The forming of a single file by the five dancers to show the ‘chakras' (or centres) was a fine piece of choreographic detail.

Jinak Raj as Shiva proved a brilliant dancer. ‘Darshanam' ends with the story of Kannappa who ‘donates' his eye to Lord Shiva paving the way for ultimate realisation that transcends earthly bonds.

Venu Madhav on the vocal was superb and so was Renuka Prasad on nattuvangam. Venkateswarlu on the bamboo, Sridharacharya on the percussion, Balasubramaniam on mridangam and Anil Kumar on violin complemented the presentation.