Sonal Mansingh's Bharatanatyam performance provided some thought-provoking moments.
The Centre for Indian Classical Dances organised two evenings of dance at New Delhi's India Habitat Centre basement theatre this past week. The first was an evening of Bharatanatyam by CICD founder Sonal Mansingh, who has been performing more of Odissi than Bharatanatyam of late, at least in the Capital. It was with some expectation therefore that one attended the evening, especially as she always provides food for thought beyond the visual medium. Her abhinaya pieces were the most noteworthy. Selecting different aspects of the Lord - in this case, Shiva - she highlighted four moods: supplication (dasya bhava), affection, as in the relation of a parent and child (vatsalya), friendship (sakhya) and the relationship between a man and a woman as equal partners as exemplified in the Ardhanarishwar concept. To illustrate the first of these she chose the Tamil composition "Innum dayavaradillaiya" in the raga Kambodi, in which the poet beseeches the Lord to take pity on one who is full of devotion. It was the preamble to the piece that set the mood beautifully, in the form of a viruttam (verse in Tamil sung without the restrictions of a set tala), "Petra taitanai marundaalum". In this verse of Ramalingaswami, the devotee pits his steadfast faith against the most unimaginable possibilities. Even if the eye should forget to blink, he declares, I will not forget you. Even if a mother should forget her own begotten son, would I ever forget the Lord who is in my heart? It was a rare moment in which the dancer, the lyrics, the singer, the tune merged seamlessly. Providing a contrast to this moving piece was "Namami Vighna Vinayakam", in praise of Ganapati who has an elephant head. With rhythmic pieces woven into the framework, the light-hearted depiction featured Parvati moulding the sculpture of a child and breathing life into it.
Another striking presentation was the Papanasam Sivan kriti, "Ma Ramanan, Uma Ramanan" in the raga Hindolam. With its alliteration and clever use of words, the composition exemplifies the friendship between Vishnu and Shiva. While one is Madhava, the consort of Ma (Lakshmi), the other is the consort of Uma (Parvati). In her introduction, the dancer mentioned how their friendship is cemented by their being brothers-in-law too, since Parvati is considered Vishnu's sister. And a friend in need is a friend indeed. So whenever Shiva gets into trouble after granting dangerous boons to his devotees, which they then want to try out on him, Vishnu comes to the rescue. This is the basis of the story of Bakasura, which the dancer wove into the song as a sanchari.After rigorous penance, the demon Baka attains from the soft-hearted Shiva a boon that anyone on whose head Baka places his hand will immediately be incinerated. No sooner has he granted it, than Shiva is in danger of becoming the demon's first victim. Vishnu takes the form of Mohini, the enchantress, who distracts Bakasura and makes him dance a duet. Copying her movements, he places a hand on his own head and meets his end. The dramatic potential of the story was highlighted without excess. The last aspect of Shiva came through in the Ardhanarishwar, describing eloquently the right and left half of this perfectly balanced being. While the left side is replete with feminine grace, the other is full of masculine elegance. Earrings adorn one ear, while serpents form the jewellery for the other. Thus the contrasting imagery continues. The dancer added an interesting note by pointing out that if Ardhanarishwar (the Lord who has taken the form of a woman on one half) is actually symbolic of equality, this person could just as well be called Ardhanareshwari, the Goddess who has taken half the male body. Superb singing by G. Elangovan, with support from Keshavan (nattuvangam), Bejjanki Krishna (mridangam) and VSK Annadurai (violin) added tremendously to the presentation.