The sublime music added lustre to Meenakshi’s take on relationships.
In her latest thematic presentation, ‘Bandham,’ which was premiered this past week, Meenakshi Chitharanjan explored various relationships through existing literature, both religious and mythological, keeping to the medium of traditional Bharatanatyam. As is Meenakshi’s style, the tone of the production was matter of fact and stayed clear of any eulogy on the theory of relationships.
Meenakshi seems to have slowed down in the physicality of performance, yet there is an advantage in her easy presence that allows for rasa to flow unhindered from the music to the rasika. ‘Bandham’ benefitted from this, because the winning party was the music.
The beautifully apt ragamalika compositions were composed by the former nightingale of Bharatanatyam, and former Principal of the Tamil Nadu Government Music College, S. Rajeswari, and sung by Gomathi Nayakam, whose voice and melody took the presentation beyond the mundane. The chatusra nadai khanda jathi ata tala (14 beats) varnam with long sahitya lines was a challenge, and his breath control was crucial here. His music was akin to hitting a sixer out of the stadium, in cricketing parlance.
The instrumentalists were not far behind. The heart-rending ‘Mandodari Pulambal’ from Arunachala Kavi’s Rama Natakam began with the Sivaranjani raga, and Srinivasan’s haunting introduction on the flute was unforgettable, as was Seshadri’s bowing (he is from Rishi Valley). Sitting beside Ravana’s slain body, Mandodari bemoans her husband’s foolhardiness. The emotions ranged between grief, betrayal and anger, and matching them were ragas Sivaranjani, Mukhari, Subhapantuvarali, Ahiri and Punnagavarali.
Even after the piece was over, the air was heavy; it was Seshadri’s turn to introduce the next piece... To not break the mood, he filled the silence with plaintive notes, of what later turned out to be the thillana raga - Misra Pilu! It was also a pleasure to watch the master craftsman Pandanallur Pandian (nattuvangam), whose every beat rang loud and clear. Keeping one eye on him and another on the dancer was Shakthivel Muruganandam (mridangam), who lost no opportunity to add sound effects to the action onstage.
With this much going on the side, there was no pressure at all on Meenakshi. Her timing was excellent and especially so in the Bhairavi varnam, a Tamil version of the famous Viriboni, written by Tiruvavaduthurai Padinaalaam Pattam Ambalavaana Desikar, that centred on the author taking a proposal of marriage to Muruga. It was a well-visualised composition, with a racy second half presenting Valli’s happy disposition while driving away the birds in the cornfields.
But Meenakshi failed to come through in the most dramatic moments of the recital: in the merging of Siva and Shakti in Ardhanareeshwara Stotra, so also the merging of Meera with Krishna in the Meera bhajan, ‘Paga Ghungroo Baandh Meera Nachi Re’ (Misra Pilu).
The Mandodari portrayal had a readymade situation for pathos - the dancer could have used less padartha gestures and achieved greater intensity... The sublime music saved the day.