Prema Rangachary was up at 5.00 am. The guests had started arriving. Dancers. Singers. Organisers from Chennai. Jutu, the school puppy, welcomed guests with what she believed was a fierce “don’t-move” growl. She was greeted with laughter and lots of petting.
This was the third edition of Svanubhava to be held in Vidya Vanam school in Anaikatti, 32 km from Coimbatore. On the morning of February 21, it felt less like a school; more like a family wedding.
At 9:45 am, under a shamiana and a gentle sun, TM Srikanth (Academic Coordinator of Vidya Vanam) welcomed the gathering. First to go up on stage were the school’s own kids. The singers, in bright long skirts and blouses, were accompanied by a live orchestra; the dancers, in elegant half-saris, their feet and fingertips red with alta , performed a Jathiswaram and Gummi dance.
Kali Veerapathiran’s troupe showcased the link between folk and classical dance forms. Bharatanatyam and Oyilattam; Kuchupudi and Karagattam; Odissi and Devarattam; Kathak and Thappattam. The performance was electrifying. For 15 minutes after the show, Kali was mobbed by selfie and photo requests.
Next up was a Tamil play, Naadi , both entertaining and thought provoking. The kids kept beat during the classical music recital by Brindha Manickavasakan and team. Alongside the astonished kids was the school cat, attentive and alert, until a bird somewhere caught its eye. Questions came thick and fast. How do you remember the lyrics, one kid asked. “I sing each song one hundred times,” Brindha replied.
Shivaji Rao’s troupe also left the kids gasping. The tricks — some daring, some deadly — probably resulted in a youthful comment on the feedback board outside the dining hall: “venom”. The rest appreciated the line-up, and children and visitors wrote with coloured pens, in beautiful cursive.
Tea and lunch breaks on both days were busy. Food counters arranged around a banyan tree served sambar rice on day one and biryani on day two to 900 kids from 10 schools. They wandered around the large campus — circled by purple hills — and admired, and sometimes bought, carved stone pendants, palm leaf puppets and bead jewellery at the stalls on the sports ground.
Koodiyattam began with a sharp and spell-binding mizhavu recital. Then Kapila Venu emerged from behind a red and gold curtain. She sat still as a sculpture, only her eyes moving, then her hands while the glass and beads in her hip belt glinted in the light of the oil lamp. She sang and performed the story of Kurma Avatar and, as she churned the ocean, the edakka and mizhavu drums provided rich drama.
Bharathi Thirumagan’s Villupaattu group had the children clapping enthusiastically in accompaniment, often drowning the percussionists on stage. Her easy humour and rapport with her son who also sang alongside her were big hits.
The Badaga dance by Mahalinga Troupe got a rousing reception. The movements of the five male dancers, all dressed in white, were graceful and simple. The instruments — drums, rattle, trumpet and clarinet — cheerful and energetic. The troupe then invited the kids to dance along if they wished. The whole ‘floor’ came alive with hundreds of children dancing in circles, laughing, clapping and it felt like the FDFS of a Rajini movie.
The finale, a percussion ensemble, began with a mridangam and tavil performance which ended in a thumping crescendo. Mridangist Delhi Sairam promised the children a “surprise” and the kids cheered when three drummers, two with parais and one with a thamur came on stage. The five then played together and also explained and demonstrated the range of sounds from each drum.
“Anna, last year you danced as you played the parai drums. Please can you dance for us now?” a student asked. So Saravanan, Iyappan and Lyakathali danced and drummed and the children clapped and whistled and hooted …