Worship of the sun, or Sowram, is one of the paths set out by Adi Sankara for self realisation and Sowram was the theme of Urmila Satyanarayana’s performance.
Starting with an anjali that incorporated, as could be expected, the stances of the suryanamaskaram or sun salutation, the programme took us through various facets of the sun, its place in the navagraham, its indispensable position in nature, its use in literature, religion and philosophy.
As a catalyst to creation, the sun becomes a Srishtikartha. The cyclical evaporation of water from lakes and seas to re-emerge as rain and its effect on agriculture formed the next part of the performance. This ragamalika song had lyrics by prof. Raghuraman and music by Swamimalai S.K. Suresh and was choreographed in part in a Jatiswaram format. The various aspects of agriculture, like ploughing, threshing etc, were described in detail. It also gave Urmila the opening to introduce a folk element to her performance.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s Navagraha kriti on Surya was taken up next as a ‘Surya Varnana’ (description). Surya’s position as Lord of the Zodiac and the crest jewel among constellations was emphasised in this item.
Opportunity for sancharam came in the episode describing Karna’s conception by Kunti when she playfully tested the efficacy of the boon given to her. Urmila effectively depicted the sorrow when, having realised that being an unwed mother could bring trouble, Kunti abandoned her child. Another effective moment was the detailing in the portrayal of the nine planets in the navagraham.
Urmila then went on to present excerpts from songs that contained allegorical and metaphorical references to the sun. This medley talked about the time of the day ‘Netrandhi Nerathile,’ ‘Mapatti Velakku,’ the effect of the sun ‘Mamyil Veyil Puzhuvaai Thuditthal’ and also the relationship between the sun and the lotus ‘Bhanu Padmamu Vale Dooram Untinanemi.’ The abhinaya for this was brought out well in a very short period, though the transition between the songs did not have a continuous mood flow.
The religious reference to the sun came from the Yuddhakandam in the Ramayana, when sage Agastya taught the Adityahrudayam to Rama on the battlefield in order to defeat Ravana. Rama had become disheartened when He discovered that no matter how often Ravana’s heads were severed, they would just grow back again. Reciting the Adityahridayam and praying to the Sun God gave Rama the valour and the power to destroy Ravana. The image of Ravana, the description of his heads rolling down and new ones sprouting was one of the highlights of the evening, with Urmila bringing in a perfect blend of arrogance and self assurance in Ravana, while maintaining visual aesthetics.
Urmila’s strength lies in this ability of hers to create vivid and aesthetic images through mime and her attention to detail in synchronising the dance with the music. Swamimalai Suresh’s involvement in the composition of the jatis and the music went a long way in enhancing this coordination. The entire orchestra, in fact, came together into a very cohesive whole with N. Dhananjayan playing the mridangam, Ananthanarayanan – veena, Kalaiarasan – violin, Sruti Sagar – flute and Kavirajan – percussion.
The performance had research inputs from Kausalya Sivakumar and guidance from Nandini Ramani. Urmila had chosen an appropriate gold and red dress as well, to match the theme. Images of the sun rising from the ocean and Surya astriding in his seven horses were depicted beautifully but repetitively and that is where the performance faltered, for, being such an abstract subject, this topic did not lend itself easily to exploration.