A new varnam was the highlight of Narthaki Natraj’s latest performance.

Narthaki Natraj’s recent Bharatanatyam recital was dedicated to the preceptor who guides devotee through the travails of life. The presentation was conducted in the presence of Mathaji Vithamma and had been organised by the Lalithakala Mandir, the fine arts centre of Sri Muthukrishna Swami Mission Trust.

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan hall was colourfully decorated and rang with tranquil hymns. A disciple of the stalwart, Guru Kittappa Pillai, Narthaki is well known for her emotion-rich presentations that incorporate both charm and vitality. The dancer has been conferred several awards for her expertise. In this programme, she focussed on the spiritual content and emphasised it all through the sequence of items.

A highlight of the performance was the Ashtalakshmi varnam, ‘Tiruvae Tirumagalae Thaye,’ set as a ragamalika in Adi talam, penned by the dancer herself and set to music by Subhashini Parthasarathy and Aswath Narayanan. As interpreted by Narthaki, the piece accentuated the benevolence of the Mother. Word play such as repetitions on ‘tamarai’ coupled with alliterations in the catch phrase, gave this kriti a delightful musical quality.

Stories of the churning of the ocean and bestowing of Lakshmi’s grace on an impoverished woman by Adi Sankara were linked together using pleasing ragas such as Valachi and Behag, and brisk jatis. Narthaki’s grasp of the larger picture helped her sally past minor rhythmic discrepancies with the orchestra in the initial sections. The quick outlining of the eight aspects of the Goddess enfolded the idea of surrender to the teacher, reinforced by symbolic genuflections to Mathaji Vithamma.

With the stress on devotion, the inevitable fallout was that other rasas such as sringara and hasyam perforce played second fiddle. This varnam has ample potential for dramatic portrayals and visual variety which can be realised optimally in conventional performances rather than specialised ones.

Orchestral support in the form of Sakti Bhaskar’s nattuvangam followed the dancer’s cues along with the mridangam by Nagai Narayanan who anchored the rhythm firmly. Vocal music by Thyagarajan, violin by Ananthakrishnan and flute play by Atul Kumar added the right support to Narthaki’s dance.

Earlier, Narthaki began the recital with the Thevaram, ‘Maasil Veenaiyaum,’ by the saint Tirunavukarasu which associated the soothing beauty of Nature to the sanctuary of the feet of Lord Siva. In the Tamil kirtana, ‘Yenna Kavi Padinaalum’ in Neelamani, the artist displayed her prowess in expressing karuna bhava. The lyric on Lord Muruga was given a piquant touch with personalised sentiment that pleaded for His compassion in the face of rejection by society. The final item, Khamas thillana, was appended with obeisance to Sage Muthukrishna Swami and prayer for the Guru’s benedictions.

At Kapali temple

Narthaki’s presentation, ‘Maiyilaiye Kayilai,’ that marked the Guru Peyarchi (transit of Jupiter) celebration of Sri Kapali temple was well received. A speciality was she brought alive the compositions of Dr. Sridharan, Asthma specialist and an ardent devotee of Karpagambal. He runs the Karpagambal Charity Foundation, which offers free medical care to the poor.

The event was enhanced by the compering of Saratha Nambi Arooran and the observations of Sugi Sivam.