Music and dance came together in an effective narrative at two different events at the IIC

The past week brought to the fore presentations out of the ordinary, with music and the raga taking a prominent place. Mounted by Alap of Chennai was Navarasa at the India International Centre (IIC), woven around Mahabharata hero Arjuna, conceptualised as a storytelling event by V.R. Devika, who was the raconteur. The mood underlined in each situation was evoked through fluent Carnatic singing by Suma Sumashekharan, whose commendable rendition was without the backup of instrumental support barring percussion on mridangam and khanjira by Akshay Anantapadmanabhan. Suma, after learning music in Singapore, and Akshay, tutored in the U.S. as a resident, have returned to Chennai, showing a trend opposite to what happened in the past — Diaspora’s talented musicians now homing for India.

A prince with many women in his life, like Draupadi, Chitrangada, Ulupi, Urvashi and his real love Subhadra, Arjuna as the “sringar nayaka” was evoked through an Ashtapadi, the “Suddha Sarang” sung with deep feeling, aptly bringing out the mood. The episode highlighting the valour of Arjuna, who rescued even Duryodhana, his enemy, from the clutches of Chitrasena, after Devika’s animated narration, found the chivalrous tones in raga Shivashakti, through a Bharatiyar song “Daga, daga, daga venradumo”, the staccato, onomatopoeic sounds suggesting the mood. Arjuna, gifted the Pashupata weapon by Shiva, after strict penance and being tested by the God — who in a hunter’s guise fights over the boar felled by simultaneous arrows aimed by both Arjuna and Shiva — is wonder-struck at the magnificence of the Lord, whose one touch makes all impurities disappear from Arjuna’s body. The lyric “Sri Jaalandaramaashayaam yaham”, a composition of Mysore Maharaja in Gambhira Nattai with solfa passages, evoked the feel of wonderment, notwithstanding the irrelevance of the sahitya to the situation. The Kandava forest being consumed by Agni’s raging fire, with Arjuna’s unchivalrous act of creating a canopy over the forest with his arrows to prevent Lord Indra’s rains from dousing the flames, with the smell of burning flesh of all the forest creatures, creates revulsion . “Bagaye naiyya nee maayalendo”, a Tyagaraja kriti in Chandrajyoti, was too melodious to catch such negative feelings of disgust, though Arjuna is mentioned in the text, in a totally different context. Arjuna’s compassion in saving Maya saw raga Shahana rendered in alap without words — very evocative. So was Hasyam, the mood of mirth — the incident being when Arjuna and Draupadi greet Duryodhana’s antics in the Pandava palace with loud, derisive laughter. The interspersed swara phrases in “Shankarabharanam”, coming as punctuation points in Devika’s very amused recounting, were very effective. Equally indicative of the required mood was the choice of raga Ahir Bhairav with Krishna epithets like “Madhava”, “Madhusoodana”, “Keshava” and “Govinda” sung in the raga, fully illustrative of Arjuna’s mood at Kurkshetra — with fear about the future assailing him as he gazes from his chariot at the brothers, cousins, playmates and wise men he now has to wage war against.

The slaughtering of Abhimanyu kindles deep rage in Arjuna, who swears that he will slay Jayadhrata before sunset, and raga Revathi with the tanam syllables spelt the mood fittingly. Desh was the typical raga for tranquillity and quiet, with Arjuna in sanyas after the death of Krishna and a body weakening with age realising that Time creates and destroys, and that beneath all this is the deep calm. For the fair-sized gathering, the evening was a very fulfilling experience.


Another well-designed programme, “Ashtadarshanam”, at the same venue, was crafted by vocalist Sudha Raghuraman, and mounted with the help of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Supported by dancer Geeta Chandran’s inputs, it emphasised the bhava/ raga concept through both music and Bharatanatyam. In crying form, Sudha Raghuraman’s singing provided the foundation for the programme, beginning with the rendering of a slokam in ragamalika mentioning the nava vidha bhakti, the bhakti-sringar blend, concluding with sringar as the king of rasas (“sab ras se hei adhik saras sringar”).

The first scene was built around abstract music, with no sahitya — the violin and the voice providing snatches of raga as Geeta wove an expressive narrative comprising known images associated with sringar, depicting the “vasakasajja” nayika adorning herself and preparing the room lovingly for the joyously expected Nayaka, finally stepping out as the abhisarika in search of her loved one, braving the dangers of the dark and the forest. Images of disappointment and disillusion follow his non-arrival, the singing cuckoo intensifying her agony as the jilted nayika rejects the man who later appears at her doorstep.

The male perspective in sringar saw Sudha in a bhava-soaked rendition of Arunachala Kavirayar’s “Yaro ivar yaro” in Bhairavi, with Geeta’s version based on two verses from late 11th and early 12th Century “Chaurapanchakshika”, portraying Bilhana (facing death under the king’s orders) reminiscing on his love. In the first verse, the flute alap in Shahana followed by Sudha’s singing provided soulful music, with communicative abhinaya by Geeta. The second verse showed Amaravati as “roshita mukhi” rejecting Bilhana’s advances in anger. With the words set to Rasikapriya, a vakra raga, Geeta’s depiction needed more intensity. The piece de resistance of the evening was the Ashtapadi in Suddha Sarang, “Keshi mathanam udaram”, Sudha’s deeply involved singing with Geeta’s gestural and expressional interpretation in the seated position, along with mood lighting by Deepa Dharmadhikari who created just that feel of darkness even as one could see Geeta’s presentation clearly, all blending in a very absorbing experience.

Another excellent singing effort evoked the Khandita Nayika in a Swati Tirunal Javali in Behag ticking off the flirtatious Nayaka, “Saaramaina maataunta tsalu tsalu ra (Enough of your talk)” wonderfully sung.

The next lyric in the bhakti mould was Gopalakrishna Bharati’s “Enneramum undan sannidiyil” in Devagandhari, the devotee addressing Lord Nataraja, asking for nothing but eternal service at the Lord’s feet.

Concluding moments of SNA Festival

Easily a highlight, the Kerala Thayambaka presentation led by Chenda expert awardee Mattanur Sankarankutty held the audience spellbound with the vigour of the inspired drumming, versatility of playing, the sheer speed and the myriad talas executed, along with the majestic way in which the troupe comprising Idanthala, Valanthala and Ilathalam blended so smoothly, the cymbal playing at the back also equally awe-inspiring in dexterity.

The Kathakali Narakasura scene with P.V. Vijayakumar as Narakasura, a Kathi character, and Kalamandalam Amaljith as his wife, became a tame event, thanks to too much editing of what is a long scene. To add to the travails of over-cutting, inability of the main Chenda player to arrive from Kerala deprived the main actor of the energetic accompaniment that inspires and lends emotive appeal to the performance. The vocal accompaniment was by artistes Sadanam Radhakrishnan and Kalamandalam Manikandan from International Centre for Kathakali.

“Draupadi Vastrapaharanam” by the Thambiran Parambarai Therukoothu Manram, Thiruvannamalai, had all the vigour of this theatre form, particularly in the second half. Purisai Kannappa Sambandan as Dushasana was vibrant, the different types of footwork and movements along with the singing and the dialogue making for an energetic combination.

Keywords: Navarasa