Sunday morning drew a sizeable crowd to the lecture-demonstration by Chitra Madhavan and Kausalya Srinivasan as part of Karthik Fine Arts’ Natya Darshan seminar, which this year featured themes related to Krishna. The scholar-dancer duo chose the topic ‘Soulabhyam’. This Sanskrit term means ease of accessibility, and here, refers to the ease with which devotees can approach Krishna.

Chitra's scholarship blended with her evident devotional zeal as she took up examples from Krishna lore to substantiate the belief that Krishna is “soulabhyam personified”. Narayana is known for this quality, she noted, and the life of Krishna showed that this incarnation embodied it completely. Margazhi was in full bloom inside the hall of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Chitra's explanations were interspersed by Kausalya's Bharatanatyam interpretations of appropriate verses. The first dance intervention was set to ‘Jayatu jayatu devo’ of Kulasekhara Alwar,

Informative lecture

The talk rose from the level of a devotee's everyday conversation to an informative lecture, because it was woven around some rare temples housing manifestations of Krishna not often seen as deities. Among these she described the Pandavadoota Perumal temple in Kanchipuram, where Krishna is worshipped as one who went as a messenger of the Pandavas.

As the lord of the universe, according to Chitra, Krishna could have sent anyone as a messenger to the Kaurava court in an attempt to broker peace. But he went himself, since the Pandavas had wholeheartedly given themselves up to him.

The image, nearly 30 feet tall, embodies the ‘vishwarupa’, explained Chitra, as he had revealed this omniscient reality about himself to those present at the court. Here Kausalya took up a verse of Pillai Perumal Iyengar.

The next example they took of Krishna's accessibility was the story of his obliging his ‘lower caste' devotee Kanakadasa with an unobstructed view of his vigraham in the temple of Udupi, where the saint composer was not allowed to enter. “This was in the 16th Century, when the caste system was rampant… ,” the speaker pointed out. “It is said the wall completely collapsed so he could have a full view,” said Chitra. Kausalya went on to dance to a famous composition of Kanakadasa, ‘Baro Krishnaiya’, which incorporated the sequence where the devotee sang with such complete dedication that the stone image turned around to allow him a glimpse of the Divine visage.

Krishna's ability to be a friend was highlighted through the example of Sudhama, illustrated by Kausalya through Sanskrit verses from Narayana Bhattathiri's Narayaneeyam, and again in his mentoring of Arjuna on the Kurukshetra battlefield. To illustrate this one, Kausalya danced to ‘Namam endra podado’ of Papanasam Sivan. The dance portions, however, seemed decorative in nature, not essential to the presentation. Partly this was because the abhinaya was not dealt with in an in-depth manner.

Sattriya dance

Later in the morning, Sharodi Saikia, the Guwahati-based Sattriya dancer, gave a lecture-demonstration on ‘Krishna Rupa Darshan’ in her dance form. Since it is an art not very well known in other parts of the country, Sharodi first introduced her audience to the history of Sattriya, which was created by the 15th Century social reformer and artist Shankardev for the Vaishnav monks residing in monasteries — known as sattra. This was a part of his propagation of Vaishnavism in the region. Monks continue to practise the dance, said Sharodi, but over roughly the past half century, a parallel development is that “the transition from sattra to proscenium is taking place”.

Sharodi went on to demonstrate ways in which Krishna is represented in Sattriya. She took up for exposition verses describing Krishna's entry into Mathura where Kamsa had hired wrestlers to kill him. His arrival evokes differing reactions in different people, including his parents, Devaki and Vasudev, his fellow cowherds, the maidens watching him, the wicked Kamsa, the wrestlers and so on. Sharodi, through brief presentations, revealed the subtlety of the art in depicting contrasting characters by simply changing a mudra here, a stance or a gait there. Hands clasped in front of the chest immediately conjured up the long suffering parents, a heavy jumping gait in half-sitting posture indicated the wrestlers, while extended arms in circular movements suggested the cowherds with their sticks. Wicked kings, allies of Kamsa, were not shown in an exaggerated manner, but the stance and expression indicated their arrogance had been pierced by sudden worry on seeing Krishna.

Margazhi reached fruition in the quiet devotion of the Sattriya performance.