Kuchipudi Dance Art

Manomanthana: Of seeking and salvation

Srividya Angara

Srividya Angara   | Photo Credit: Shreyas Aakarshan

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Srividya Angara’s ‘Manomanthana’ is an angst of an individual, seeking an existential reprieve

Billions of sounds, they rain down on the ear

Filtered; through the delicate cochlear

They meander until they reach the chambers

That assign some sense to them.

In this unrelenting cacophony, what chance do I have of finding you?

But here you are…

She had us at ‘delicate cochlear’! The frustrating lure of the external world that impinges on that of the inner, competing for attention, thwarting the soul’s attempts to turn inwards, forms the crux of ‘Manomanthana’.

An hour-long journey that traces the vicissitudes, ebb and flow, crests and troughs of the seeker straining to meet and consequently merge with Lord Rama, Srividya Angara’s original work tightly wrapped in Kuchipudi’s grace and vigour, had moments that touched hearts. It wasn’t a mere point-of-view of Thyagaraja’s predicament as a devotee of Rama nor was it a retelling of his compositions; Instead, Srividya chose to plunge into her own experience as an individual caught in a vortex of existential crises, questing for Rama, for the much promised sublimation that every spiritual aspirant desires. To questions. dilemmas and doubts expressed in soft elegant words written by Srividya herself, answers are unveiled by Thyagaraja’s songs, as if clearing a path.

Stringing together compositions of the saint-bard that have become oft-hummed household refrains like Dudukugala, Jagadanandakaraka and Nagumomu, the dancer wrought out the struggles and challenges of an individual trapped in a quotidian existence holding a dialogue with herself even as she fights her own demons.

And what are the demons? The demons are attachments, some familial and some foreign, that we willingly trap ourselves in. Srividya depicted this segment with a golden chain that she first revels in and then as she realises its stranglehold over her being, begins to resist it: Perhaps the aid of a prop makes it more relatable and dramatic to the lay audience. One instantly connected with the angst and frustration of the dancer at not being able to see Rama, as she repeatedly asks, ‘where are you?’ She stamps her foot in righteous indignation or slaps a palm against the other, demanding to be shown a glimpse of Him. And then taking liberties in her anger that could only be endured by God, she takes his symbolic bow and arrow and flings them aside in fury. This is a tiny detail but nevertheless makes an unexpected reappearance later in the form of a gentle rebuke by the Maryada Purushotam himself. We shall see how.

Overcome with despair and overwhelmed with the surrounding chaos, when the dancer lets go of all her temporal limitations, in a sense, dying, for want of a better word, she sees him at long last. She springs to an effulgent Jagadanandakaraka as she now knows that the manifest world is nothing but ‘maya’. There is suspension of disbelief as the audience is made to travel along with the dancer in this astral world as she ‘sees Him’; childishly delighted and filled with incredulous joy, she describes his presence in Sogasu choodu tarama, only to realise that he is not carrying his bow and arrow!

Realising her folly, she seeks his forgiveness. The dancer, the individual, the restless soul has, even if it is for a transitory moment, found and become one with the Universe. There is catharsis.

Konakol sections embedded in the narrative gave ample opportunity to the dancer to maximise the Kuchipudi technique, celebrating the breadth and range of aduvus in the style. The agratala sanchari of the heels, or the interlinking of toes, the leaps and jumps — all of these were utilised to the fullest.

Driven by Thyagaraja’s compostions

Based in Bangalore and an engineer by qualification, Srividya Angara is now a full time Kuchipudi dancer/choreographer and the founder of CitSabha, a Centre for Kuchipudi and Allied Arts.

Training in Kuchipudi and the initial years

While she started her training at the age of six In Visakhapatnam, being a child of the forces, Srividya moved several cities before she started training again under Yamini Ramana and then Y Vijayavalli Priya under whose guidance she completed her certificate. She moved to the US after her marriage where she continued to practice her art showcasing Kuchipudi at various festivals including the 27th Annual Choreographers’ Showcase of Maryland and the Norristown Dance Festival in Philadelphia where she presented a piece on Draupadi’s vastrapaharana called MEL set to Beethoven’s 5th symphony.

Upon returning to India in 2011, she co-founded SAMAAGATI collaboration between styles, with Odissi dancer Shubha Nagarajan. She currently practices Kuchipudi apart from training in Kalaripayatu under guru Ranjan Mullarat.

The inspiration behind Manomanthana

Growing up to the songs of Thyagaraja, Srividya had always felt a strong urge to work with the saint-composer’s compositions. She particularly remembers being moved by the heart-rending melody of Thodi in Yendukudayaradura that she would listen to everyday while she was an Applications Manager at GE. ‘Manomanthana’ is in many ways a coming together of all those memories and a strong attachment to the sentiment and emotion behind the songs themselves.

What makes Manomanthana special

Manomanthana has something for everyone. There is Thyagaraja whose compositions are known to everyone especially in the South, there is Kuchipudi a style that has a powerful nritta element, there is English prose and poetry and finally, the evocative emotional and spiritual content that impacts everyone at some level or the other.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 4:40:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/the-hindu-friday-review-telangana-manomanthana-of-seeking-and-salvation/article30468805.ece

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