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Beautiful and afresh

"Andal Charitham", enacted at Kalakshetra recently, was a wonderful homage to the choreographic skills of Rukmini Devi, who had so graphically visualised and presented the dance drama 40 years ago, writes V. R. DEVIKA.

Andal... Innocent and correct portrayal.

THE DANCE drama at Kalakshetra, "Andal Charitham", choreographed by Rukmini Devi, is one of her best. Kept in entirety as she had meant it to be, without adding or taking away anything, including the colour scheme of the costumes and the décor, the production shone, beautiful and fresh.

The drum (parai), lotus, garland and the conch, a few among the many symbols Andal has used in her Tiruppavai and Nachiyar Thirumozhi still bloom fresh in the minds of Tamils every Margazhi. They are sung, danced to, recited and rendered as discourses to perpetuate the memory of this girl saint.

The story of Andal goes that she was Goddess Earth — Bhoodevi — herself who appeared as a baby girl under a basil (tulsi) plant, in the garden of the Vatapatrasayi temple in Srivilliputtur, southwest of Madurai. A great devotee of Krishna named Vishnuchittar (Periyazhwar) found her, named her Kodhai and raised her as his daughter.

Vishnuchittar's ability to visualise, compose, sing and probably act out what he sang helped his daughter and her friends to see Lord Krishna. As Kodhai grew up her passion was focussed exclusively on Krishna, whom she sought to unite with. Out of her innate desire for him she composed 15 Tamil poems, the single poem comprising 30 stanzas — Tiruppavai, and a set of 14 sequential poems — Nachiyar Thirumozhi. Then, at her request, and as suggested by Lord Rangantha himself in the dream of Vishnuchittar, her father processed her northward to the Sri Ranganatha temple in Srirangam where she climbed into the sanctum and merged with the Lord.

This story of a daughter's devotion and her father's affection were beautifully visualised by Rukmini Devi in the early 1960s. The visualisation is still startlingly fresh as the house full audience at the Bharatha Kalakshetra auditorium, at Kalakshetra, acknowledged.

Judging from her poems, it is clear that Andal and Periyazhwar were highly cultured. She had received considerable literary training and had developed the ability to weave profound and complex poetic tapestries that appear simple at the superficial level. The motif of Rukmini Devi's visualisation matches up to the same description.

Andal's initiation had committed her to a liturgical discipline (sadhana) that used mandala, mudra, and nyasa to divinise her body, pranayama to control her breath and purify her mind and dhyanam to create visions. She and her father followed the Pancharatra agama that initiated all men and women into esoteric methods of worship. Her poems verbally embody her own experience of Krishna, and we in the audience experience the beauty in the presentation of her story.

'Andal Charitham'... depiction of simplicity and majesty.

Rukmini Devi herself had said that she could say with assurance that every musician and dancer taking part in the production had worked with great devotion and had taken infinite pains to bring it close to the spirit of Andal.

Now 40 years later, the spirit is still alive even with the third generation of dancers and musicians.

It was in 1961 that she had asked the legendary Papanasam Sivan to compose songs for the dance drama. Turaiyur Rajagopala Sharma had assisted Papanasam Sivan in the compositions and in teaching them to the singers.

Beautiful, synchronised dancing by the sakhis, Suhasini, Anuradha, Saroopa, Jisha Raghav and Saritha Kaiyan, the drama provided by Shiji Kumar and Sheejit Krishna as the sishyas and the palanquin bearers, the brief appearance of Shaly as the mother, the benign presence of M. R. Krishnamurthy as the archakar, the regal Vishnu, Narendran, innocent and correct depiction of Andal by Boby (one wished she showed a little more impishness of a little girl.

This Andal was rather serious), very good nattuvangam by Jyolsana Menon, beautiful singing by Hari Prasad, apt mridangam by Anilkumar and melody on the violin by Srinivasan complemented the majesty and simplicity in the portrayal of Vishnuchittar by Janardhanan.

It was his abhinaya both in mukhaja and angika that held the spirit of "Andal ... " together. He showed the mastery of his skill as a dancer and actor in the very contrasting portrayal of a humorous Kirata in the Kathakali drama earlier in the festival.

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