Images, images, images... Malavika Sarukkai’s latest production ‘Maname Brindavaname’ was packed with them – all poetic, poignant, powerful. They were like the dots that you needed to link and if you did, you would have been transported to Srivilliputtur, Brindavana and Vaikunta. Andal came alive in the dancer’s imagination as an ecstatic and a fervent devotee who finally realises the sacred Brindavana inside her. ‘Maname Brindavaname’ was moving at a dramatic level, and a triumph of creativity in visualisation and in the exquisite musical score at an artistic level.

Brick by brick, or rather, image by image the dancer created the edifice. Malavika used different inputs such as, Andal paasurams from ‘Nachiar Thirumozhi’ and their poetic interpretations, original lyrics, music, movements, friezes, the symbolism of the flower, sets, props and lighting to build up the drama.

Andal’s ecstasy and celebration of her love for Krishna was the starting point of the tale and was conveyed through vibrant movements and mesmerising music (Nagaswaravalli) in ‘Nokkam’. Malavika used the flower as symbolic of Andal’s beauty and freshness. There were flowers everywhere as in the basket, garland, movements that mimicked stringing it and dancing with it. It is no coincidence that the flower garland is significant in Andal’s life, because in her innocence, she was known to have tried on the garlands meant for Vishnu.

It must be mentioned here that Malavika unveiled an imaginative frieze of the reclining Ranganatha that featured the celestial serpent Adisesha’s five raised hoods prominently. She peppered the presentation with many repeats.

The next step in Malavika’s endeavour and in Andal’s as well, perhaps, was enlisting the God of Love, Kamadeva’s help. She then turned to the clouds to exhort them to act as messengers. If the previous segments were pretty and poetic in that order, the brilliant visualisation of the ‘Vinnila Melappu’ Thirumozhi brought intensity to Andal’s yearning. The three paasurams – ‘Vinnila Melappu,’ ‘Van Kondu Kilarndu Ezhunda’ and ‘Mada Yannai’ -- were cushioned within images of Vishnu, standing (Perumal), sitting (Narasimha) and reclining (Ranganatha), chants of the Venkatesa Suprabatham, Lakshmi Narayana Sthuthi and the Vishnu Sahasrama and a recurring refrain of ‘Govinda, Govinda, Kesava,...’ to whip up devotional frenzy.

‘Varanam Aayiram’ was simple, stark and played out from the back of the stage; yet it was the best of the evening. It underlined the depth behind quiet visualisation that used just a small square of say 5ft X 5ft, Andal’s lyrics, some beautiful music and a couple of blue and yellow spots to create a wedding tableau that will be long remembered. When the wedding ceremony was over, the divine couple, Vishnu and Andal, rode on an elephant in a grand procession around Srivilliputtur... The Gambhira Nattai Mallari captured this wondrous sight that was played out with unhurried detail! Andal finds realisation within her in the ‘Patti Meyndor’ paasuram... and the flower within blooms.

The credits: Professor Raghuraman (research and lyrics), Vanathi Raghuraman (music composition), Priya Sarukkai Chabria (interpretation), Vasudha Ravi (vocal), Srilakshmi Venkatramani (violin), Nellai A. Balaji (mridangam), S.Srilatha (nattuvangam). Concept, choreography and music design by Malavika Sarukkai. The production was a part of the sabha’s Natya Darshan Seminar, ‘Mad and Divine women,’ on mystic saint poets, convened by Dr. Anita Ratnam.