Padma Subrahmanyam and her students brought alive the verses of Andal and Manickavachagar.
Taking inspiration from the Trippevai and Triyampevai Thai Festival during the month of Margazhi that brings the Vaishnava and Saiva sacred poetry of Tiruppavai and Thiruvempavai on to the same platform, the first Natya Kala Acharya awardee from Music Academy, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, decided to compile the verses to stage ‘Paavai Nonbu’ in Thailand in the 1990s.
‘Paavai Nonbu’ was recently presented by the senior artist along with her student Dr. Gayathri Kannan and other dancers from Nrithyodaya. It was dedicated to the Kanchi Paramacharya, who initially brought to light the fact about the Thai festival.
The presentation was essentially devotional, with verses of Andal and Manickavachagar, describing the austerities to be performed by young, unmarried girls while worshipping Goddess Paavai or Karthyayani for plentiful rain and good husbands. The daily rituals of waking up before sunrise, having a bath and praying were portrayed simply, through solo and group segments.
The picturisation was from a common man’s point of view, without the central figures of Andal or Manickavachagar dominating the landscape. So every aspect reflected this simplicity, be it the costume or the dramatisation.
The only grand inputs were the melodious musical score (Dr. Padma) and the dramatic lighting. Little village scenes such as acrobats or a hawker with his wares balanced on his shoulders lent authenticity while additional lyric and the cries of ‘Om Nama Sivaya’ and ‘Om Namo Narayana’ in between verses, added devotional fervour.
There were patches of drama in the Maha Kali pose and the Karthyayani frieze with the chant of the Devi mantra ‘Sarva Mangala Mangalye’ in the background. The episode with the sentinels outside Nandagopal’s palace in ‘Naayakanai Ninra’ and Dr. Padma enumerating the dos and don’ts in the keeping of the vrata in ‘Vaiyaththu Vaazhveergaal’ were retold with humour while the ‘Kaadhar Kuzhayada’ verse depicting girls at the bathing ghat, was well-visualised.
The finale with the swing scene and the bhajan by Meenakshi Subrahmanyam more than made up for the quiet presentation. Dr. Padma followed the Thai swing ritual where a man who has maintained certain austerities, is dressed up as Siva and made to sit in the North of the swing. The verse, ‘Innisai Veenayar’ from the ThiruppaLLiyezhucci set in Kurunji raga and ‘Potri Aruluga’ formed the backdrop of the festivities. The spirited bhajan, ‘Achyuta Keshava’ and a namasankirtanam where artists danced with cymbals, heightened the overall impact.