Margi Usha talks about her choreography of ‘Gitopadesam’, which was performed at the Melpathur Auditorium, Guruvayur, on June 3.
The way Margi Usha described her run-up to her inaugural performance of ‘Gitopadesam’ at the Melpathur Auditorium, Guruvayur, on June 3, gives a sense of déjà vu.
It is said that Melpathoor Narayana Bhattathiri, afflicted by rheumatism, composed 100 cantos of dashaks (10 shlokas) extolling Lord Guruvayurappan and praying for an early cure. Sure enough, his prayer was answered. Such is the power of faith, asserts Usha, and says her rendition is an offering to the Supreme for having given her the inner strength to overcome the sunburn that scalded her skin for months.
Usha has been working for over a year on the attaprakaram for this selection of five verses that would convey the essence of the Gita. It was obviously the possibilities that the lines provided for a Nangiarkoothu performance that made her choose these. “Since all performances at this venue have to keep to the 75-minute time limit set by the administration, I had to curtail my performance to three main slokas. The inner conflict in Arjuna while he surveys the two armies in battle readiness was therefore the point where I began the performance.”
The scope for elaborating on the preparation to go to war is offered in depicting Krishna, the charioteer of the white horse-drawn chariot carrying Arjuna to battle. Arjuna’s ‘vishaada yogam’ (Chap I: 47) is conveyed in the verse beginning, ‘Evamuktwaarjuna samkhye, Rathopastha upaavishat’, the crucial juncture wherein, overcome with grief, Arjuna casts away the bow and arrow and sits down conveying his total reluctance to go to war. “Considering the prevailing mood of the moment I have set it to the dukhagandharam ragam for infusing a powerful and emotive element in the expression,” says Usha. The next stage in ‘Gitopadesam’ begins with Krishna exhorting and convincing Arjuna why he should give up this despondent state, and therefore Margi Usha here draws on the Sankya yogam (Chap II:22), ‘Vaasaamsi jeernnaani yathaavihaaya, Navaani grhnaati naroparaani’ in Antari ragam (swaram).
Convincing Arjuna to fulfil his duty, Krishna describes to Arjuna the transformation that the human being must undergo to achieve this state. The faltering Arjuna experiences a change of heart when he has a vision of the Viswaroopam, raising his consciousness of the Supreme being in Sri Krishna. This episode for Usha was a major piece where the description of the vision and what precedes gave her the opportunity to adapt to the grammar in Nangiarkoothu. “To wrap up the performance I decided to draw on Gita Mahatmyam using ‘Yatrageeta vichaarascha…nivaswami sadaivahi’ set to Srikanthi (swaram) highlighting the power that can be derived from reciting Gita as a routine in every home. This I felt was apt not just for concluding my performance, but also a message for present times,” explains Margi Usha.
An alumnus of Kerala Kalamandalam and now in Margi, Thiruvananthapuram, Usha has, on earlier occasions, presented ‘Darikavadham’, ‘Bhadrakalijananam’, and ‘Sreepadmanabhadarshanam’, besides the Nangiarattam ‘Radhamadhavam’.