It is early 1990s. I am at Kala Peetham, TTK Road, Chennai. Music and dance classes are underway inside.
A young boy’s powerful voice fills the air. It’s T.M. Krishna learning from his guru Seetharama Sarma. Just then a sylph-like girl in Bharatanatyam practice costume, meets Sarma sir, to clarify doubts about her forth-coming performance. It is Malavika Sarukkai.
It’s an image that still fresh in memory as I get ready to meet her in Singapore. Her quiet charm has matured, and her enthusiasm undiminished.
Dressed casually in a churidhar kurta, Malavika was a picture of style, grace and Indian-ness.
She was in Singapore to present ‘Ganga Nityavahini - The Eternal Ganga’, which she presented at The Esplanade under the aegis of SIFAS.
Malavika is so taken up with the Ganga. To her, it is a state of mind rather than a river; it’s the God of Kashi; she is moved by its moods and mystique. Life around its banks is portrayed in her unique Bharatanatyam style.
The layman and the dance expert were transfixed, carried away by the flow, as her story unfolded with each wave of movement. Malaviks’a blue costume echoed the waters, her sinuous arms, the waves, and her nimble feet, the turbulent river. Her sculptured poses challenged geometric precision.
The huge stage opened to a silky darkness -- Bowli marked a slow daybreak, awakening the Ganga, as it were. A raga and talamalika depicted Gangavataran, the river’s descent into Siva’s locks, and then on to Earth. The dance showed pilgrims at the holy spot, ablutions and prayers absorbing them, and the viewers.
Bowli and Saraswati ragas were used for the sedate Bhagirathi, while a joyous Nalinakanti showed the rushing Alakananda. Bahudari worked for the confluence at Devprayag. The tabla and mridangam added to the vibrancy of the scene.
The next item dealt with a prominent denizen of Kashi - the courtesan, who is involved with the Ganga. Sarukkai depicted a courtesan’s day, starting with morning ablutions at the river, dressing up, worshipping the lord of Kashi, beguiling the eager male customers, and finally being overpowered by godliness. Raga Kalyani was used beautifully to depict worldly pleasures, and Yamuna Kalyani for profound experiences. Sarukkai was masterly in her languorous poses as the courtesan, in her graceful stretched movements.
A North Indian influence was evident in the stylised ‘Lament of the Ganga’ in Subhapantuvarali, highlighting the pollution of the river. The tempo picked up for the finale, which was a specially choreographed Puriya Dhanasri piece associated with Tansen — dhrupad, tarana and thillana merged here.
About this composition, she said, “I wanted the river’s flow, and Prof. C.V. Chandrasekar captured it so well. He understood what I wanted, for he lived in Benares for a while.”
Later, during a tête-à-tête, she expressed her passion for her art. “Dance transports one to a zone. If I’m able to reach that, it enriching. When all props, the stage and sound are perfect, it helps me to reach to a good plane. For me, it is an experience; the intangible made effortlessly visible, by our classical arts.”
To celebrate 40 years of professional dancing, Sarukkai danced in front of the deity at Chidambaram. “It was a thanksgiving, a samarpanam. Just a few of my friends, and her team were present. It was lovely, and quiet, in the temple. And as I depicted a processional deity, a real temple procession started, with music flowing down… in sync with my dance at that moment. It was magic.”
Teaching is something she is happy about, but often students get side-tracked. “I am very much against the current arangetram scene… the hullabaloo, the needless pomp and expenses. I’ve decided that my students will make their debut alongside me, during my performance.”
Focus, effort and dedication have set Sarukkai apart. And she is brimming with ideas, and the stage is waiting for her.
Keywords: Malavika Sarukkai