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OF GRACE AND POISE “Divya Vahana”

OF GRACE AND POISE “Divya Vahana”  

‘Divya Vahana’ explained the veneration of celestial carriers of deities through solo dance performances set to Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi idiom.

As part of the ‘Divya’ (divine) trilogy, the second series presented the ‘Divya Vahana’ or the celestial carriers of deities of the Hindu pantheon. Since most of these, usually in the form of an animal or a bird, mount a particular deity upon themselves, they are as revered as the deity by devotees. These carriers are also vested with an origin and an objective.

On a more scientific ground, the Hindu mythology, time and again conveys that all living creatures are to be venerated. This was precisely brought out in the four ‘vaahan’ solo dances set to Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi idiom. Conceptualised by Dr. R.K. Usha, the theme took off to a brilliant start with ‘Garuda’ (heavenly white eagle of Mahavishnu) personified by Shivaranjani Harish in the Bharatanatyam mode. With just ‘pataka hasta’ and of course, the eagle mudra now and then, the artiste literally swooped and flew across the stage to the verse of the Garuda Koutwam, creating an illusion of this mythical bird, now with wings wide open, now with piercing eyes probing its surroundings and at times resting as the lord Vishnu mounts on him and so on to a garland of fast-paced mnemonic syllables (jati patterns). Tracing the parentage of Garuda, the lyric moved on to establish the link between the deity and the vahana which acquires a propensity and power by virtue of being the seat of the lord.

The beauty of this piece lay in its picturesque imagery backed up by fantastic choreography. Shivaranjani proved to be an agile and amazing dancer as the Garuda episode proved. The same dancer took up the fourth and last vahana, viz. the nandi (holy bull), a potent mount of lord Shiva. The most impressive part of the dance was its Nandi sollu (kattu), a mere four-syllabic one which essentially ends in the sound ‘nan’ and ‘di’, a metaphor of sorts for the mythical master of rhythm, considering lord Shiva as Nataraja was the primordial dancer! The dancer kept pace with the tala, an ominous task in this aspect and her posture as she slumps down in bits and starts like the heavy bull before it settles down to its typical squatting position was brought out with elan by Shivaranjani. The link to the God and Nandi was established to the popular story of South Indian saint Nandanar through two lovely songs set to Thodi and Manji raga. To the conservatives, however, her movements, especially her bends during the Nandi dance piece would not gel with the linear style of true Bharatanatyam unlike her Garuda portrayal which was near perfect.

The costume for Garuda could have been a silvery white (since the following Hamsa vahana dancer had to necessarily don white costume in keeping with the mythical swan) rather than the orange Shivaranjani chose more perhaps since it was closer to Mahavishnu’s attire. The red went well with the Nandi!

From costume to postures to nritta, Arupa Lahiri’s depiction of the ‘Gaja vahana’ (tusker) was simply superb. She swung her hand indicating the elephant’s long trunk showering water on goddess Lakshmi, its presiding deity while her body moved in myriad ways synchronising to the tala in complex yet flawless footwork. The entry of the Gaja to single syllabic utterance in slow, calculated gait heaving its heavy body was enacted with a natural grace. Even as she heaved herself up like the elephant, at every juncture there was something to convey by way of a mudra, eye language and gesture not to talk of the lifting body. Arupa’s depiction of the kheerasagara madanam to underline the story linking goddess to the tusker was rather unique and impressive.

The Hamsa vahana took the form of Kuchipudi genre. Reddi Lakshmi in pristine off white and gold ahaarya and graceful movements and mime looked Hamsa personified. Her lithe sways and swings were quite in keeping with the fluidity of this dance style which is a combination of vigour, vivacity and verve. Taking the archetypal pravesha daruvu (self-introductory) so vital to Kuchipudi, she addresses herself as the mythical swan and traces her origin to the primordial sounds. The beejakshara chant by the vocalist as she danced created an illusion of divinity. The quick silver expressions that flit across her face as the bird who is snug about its origin begins to search for its objective in being and then on hearing the notes emanating from goddess Saraswati’s veena, finds its self- realisation bear testimony to Lakshmi’s grip over her medium. The refrain ‘soham’ and ‘hamsa’ brought out the ultimate connotation of this bird which is often viewed as symbol of purity. Though the veena in the orchestra did make its presence felt, at certain points in this particular piece, we felt that the violin could have silenced itself leaving the string accompaniment entirely to the veena to lend that extra depth. The live orchestra was an asset with Srivatsa on the vocal, Ramya Janakiraman on the nattuvangam, Saraswati Rajagopalan on the veena, Sridhar on the violin and Rajat Prasanna on the flute. Prior to the commencement of dance, three performing artistes from three genres – Gopika Varma (Mohiniattam), Deepika Reddy (Kuchipudi) and Rama Vaidyanathan (Bharatanatyam) were conferred with ‘Nataraja Samman’ awards by the 168-year-old Sri Thyagabrahma Aradhana Kainkarya Trust. New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre played host to the event.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 5:07:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/Well-mounted/article16667505.ece

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