Leap backwards

Swarnamalya. Photo: R. Ragu

Swarnamalya. Photo: R. Ragu  

Ta Tai Tha Tai Ta

Tai Tha The Tha Tai

Tha The Tai The Tha

Tai Tha The Tha Tai

Tha Tai Tha Tai Tha

These tala inscriptions on the Arachallur caves written in Tamil Brahmi musically echoed in joy to Swarnamalya’s dance, as did the several other murals and inscriptions in various places, when they received attention from an artist with the intention of giving it a deeper meaning.

Swarnamalya Ganesh speaks of her journey in research which figuratively led her to the attic, where she discovered a treasure trove, which in turn unlocked several doors. ‘From the Attic’ is a three-event programme comprising a talk, an exhibition of rare video footage and art works, topped of course, by Swarnamalya’s performance at The Music Academy, Chennai.

Swarnamalya’s quest took her to the Saraswathi Mahal library, Thanjavur, where her eyes were opened to the less known areas of inscriptions and literary sources. Says Swarnamalya, “ ‘From the Attic’ is a journey through the immediate past centuries. My research has helped me identify the context of the art forms we practise and thereby find a personal identity.”

Delving into history

Swarnamalya goes on to explain that while it is common knowledge that much of contemporary dance history is steered towards its past, and its link to the Vedas and the Natyasastra, we also need to understand that much of what is considered ‘performing tradition’ today is from the immediate cultural memory. It is perhaps this memory that takes one back to Sadir, and it is from these resources that the Margam format envisaged by the Thanjavur Quartet, was culled out. Thus began Swarnamalya’s adventure from the point ‘where cultural memory had stopped’ to delve deep into a time frame unravelling the mysteries of the past.

What is natya without music? And in this case, the music should reflect the same era as dance. “My research led me to understand that in a bygone era, the music was free flowing, and far from the present day concert format. It will reflect the complexities of the historic periods, the political assimilations and spiritual intercourse in all its glory.”

The Thanjavur Quartet probably culled it out from a larger repertoire, perhaps understanding the changing needs of the day in their period. Swarnamalya’s focus was on the Nayak period.

The Vijayanagar kingdom under the Nayaks was a virtual cultural melting pot. The spice route had always encouraged unfettered exchange of artistic influences. This resulted in the continual interpolation of cultural ideas which led to new words intermingling and thus enlarging the vocabulary of the regional dialects. Citing an example, Swarnamalya mentions a simple Tamil word “jannal” (which has come into vogue and is here to stay) and says, “Do you know it is actually a Persian word? The Tamil word for window is ‘Saalaram!’

Confluence, however, did not rule out exclusivity. The devadasis guarded their repertoires within their region without any dilution or influence of any sort.

Now how does Swarnamalya plan to negotiate this journey backwards? She proposes to intersperse her performancewith video footage. She speaks about the 32 repertoires – Mukhachali, Perani, Jakkini, Gondal .... researched and reconstructed with a context placement and musical form of their own. Out of these, a few will be showcased. Raghunathan (HMV), R.K. Shriramkumar and Mala Balaji share the credit for music. A host of artists has joined hands to enrich the performance with Jagan (Attabodhaka) as the Guest Artist. The presentation on March 19 will begin at 6.30 p.m. R.N. Joe d’Cruz, writer and Sahitya Akademi awardee, and Nandini Ramani, Bharatanatyam exponent, will offer felicitations.

Swarnamalya thanks all those seniors who inspired her - the late T.S. Parthasarathy, Dr. Padma Subrahmaniam, Dr. Sathiamoorthy, Dr. T.N. Ramachandran and Dr. S. Ramachandran, to name a few. She also acknowledges the learning from Tiruvalaputhur Kalyani grand-daughters and the role played by her guru K.J. Sarasa, who besides giving her a strong foundation in the art, encouraged her to “seek." It was this thrust that led her to what she is finally doing today, a performance backed by an academic quest.

Sample the dialect

When the idol of Azhagiya Manavalar was brought back from the Delhi Sultanate to Srirangam, they had to dance the Jakkini to appease the Sultan! Jakki could have been possibly derived from the Persian “jank” to mean anklets. Interestingly, there was one line in the vernacular composition, Jakkini – “Elilam elilam laale/elilam elilam deva.” It turned out to be Persian for “Oh lord, Oh lord, look at me!” Incidentally, the Manganiyyars, follk singers of Rajasthan, sing “Jakkadi,” and also use “ilahi.” The Manganiyyars will also feature in her performance, besides the Gondalkars, as also Nithya and Vidya, who will provide musical support for various compositions in many languages.

Beholding the Attic: At the Roja Muthiah Research Library, Taramani, Chennai, special exhibition (March 15-20, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.) of paintings, sculptures, rare portraits, photos, costumes, jewellery, and audio footage relevant to the Nayak and post Nayak periods.

Inauguration by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan on March 15, 5 p.m.

Stories from the Attic: A lecture/talk by Dr. Balusamy on March 15 at the Theatre, Natya Department of Dr. MGR Janaki College for Women and Research Academy, Raja Annamalaipuram, Chennai. Dr. Swarnamalya Ganesh will support.

This will be followed by a Question-Answer session.

For details contact 9677580383 and log in to

A letter from the Editor

Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism
Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 21, 2020 1:13:20 PM |

Next Story