Krishna - The artiste's muse

The making of ‘Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha’

Padma Subrahmanyam from ‘Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha’

Padma Subrahmanyam from ‘Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha’   | Photo Credit: Picasa

Veteran dancer, Padma Subrahmanyam, recalls how her vision came true

‘Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha’ is the title of my Ekartha Eka aharya solo performance that created history in the technique of presentation. It is still a popular theme after its inaugural performance in the 1970s. The origin of this divine experience is an interesting story.

My policy has always been not to perform at wedding receptions. Padma Narasimhan, the philosopher daughter-in-law of T.T. Krishnamachari, approached me to give a special performance for her son’s wedding. She said that the earlier day M.S. amma would sing and that for both events no dinner or high-tea would be served. These events would be like sabha performances. It was she who wanted me to perform a whole evening on ‘Krishna,’ the unparalleled ‘Purna Avatara.’ She suggested that I cull out the lyrics from Sanskrit and Tamil texts. I was excited as Krishna has always been my weakness.

Sri Gopala Desikan and Karandhai Sri. Kandaswamy Pillai chose dozens of verses in Sanskrit and Tamil. When I studied them a thought occurred to me, which revealed the various aspects of Krishna’s personality — ‘Krishna as a baby’, ‘as a growing mischievous child’, ‘as a dancer’, ‘as a musician’. ‘as a lover’, ‘as a valorous husband’, ‘as a true friend’, ‘as a protector’ and finally ‘as a preacher’. Which other religion can boast of such kaleidoscopic nature of a deity? Krishna can be experienced through all the nine kinds of Bhakti that Prahlada classifies in the Bhagavatam, as well as the additional dimensions of Vatsalya and Madhura Bhakti.

Like for any other production, I tuned the lyrics day and night. Of course, it was not my creativity at work; it was the flow of Mother Kriya Sakthi.

The music would usually flow at night in my sleep — not giving time to notate. I used to have a tiny tape recorder by my bedside and would sing the verses and forget it, till I played it for my golden-voiced sister-in-law, Shyamala Balakrishnan, who would notate, write and sing. People still remember her ‘Achyuta.’ The programme was considered a divine experience by the audience. There have been people like Sri. Y.G. Parthasarathy, who watched it at least thirty times and said that they found a new interpretation each time. Once I was asked, ‘How can you act so many characters without confusion?’ I would tell them that it was internalising what was external to me and then externalising the same for others to understand. Someone asked, ‘How do you get such varied ideas to deal with that Divine naughty baby?’ My reply was, ‘ I do not act! I only react to what I experience in His presence.’

Once in the U.S., I exited the stage, carrying the imaginary Krishna on my shoulders. That night during dinner at our host’s residence, a three-year-old boy Mukund, asked me, ‘Aunty! Where did you take away Kiccha?’ I was pleasantly shocked. I thought only I saw Krishna but that little child had also had His darshan!

The making of ‘Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha’

A devotee of Kanchi Mahaswami, I had deep within me an anguish that I could not perform ‘Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha’ in his presence. Once, he suggested that I visit the Siva temple at Thirukodikkaval village to obtain some parallel for my research hypothesis. When I went there, I was stunned to see a sculptural panel portraying a verse of Periyazhwar, exactly like the way I had compiled for ‘Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha.’ The posture of a Gopi standing was like a still photograph of the action that I performed for that line. My anguish vanished for I realised that His Holiness was motivating me.

A few years later, I met with an accident and developed spondylosis. I had severe neck pain and could not lift my arm. But there were ‘Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha’ programmes all over, which I never cancelled. My brother V. Balakrishnan used to announce the performance as a ‘nrtya yagna — an offering at the feet of Krishna’. As Adi Sankara asks in a sloka, ‘Bhakti kim na karothi – What can faith not achieve?’ I danced, I moved my neck, but didn’t know how. Excruciating pain followed the show.

One day, during my meditation, I scolded Krishna and told Him that I would not lift Him if he gave me pain. I demanded that I had His vision as a one-year-old baby when I would clutch Him and mount Him on my shoulder. After my meditation I forgot all about it.

A few weeks later, I was in Guruvayur with my family and orchestra to have a darshan of the Lord. We got delayed in reaching the temple and the shrine was closed. But there was Taayambakam — playing of the percussion when the tiny idol of Krishna is mounted on a huge elephant. The drumming went on, probably for half an hour and I lost track of time, my eyes fixed on the Blue-eyed boy of Brindavan, mounted on the elephant, with my neck tilted up throughout — something which was not possible for me because of the pain.

Suddenly in the crowd a tiny hand tapped my shoulder from behind. I pushed it aside, without looking back, my gaze still fixed on Krishna. It happened again and before I could even realise a beautiful child leapt on to my shoulder from the mother’s arms. I broke down in tears remembering the vision I had during my meditation. I took him in my arms and looked at the divine child’s face — I can still remember the dark face with large, beautiful eyes and curly hair, clad in blue dhoti and decked in gold jewels — it was an experience beyond description. I hugged him tight, kissed him and the baby was not ready to go to his mother. I turned towards the mother, whose relative was holding the child’s twin — fair and draped in a pink dhoti with ornaments. She said it was their first birthday and they had come to do annaprasanam. I came to know that the child in my arms was called Krishna and his twin brother, Balarama. What a Divine gratifying experience. I had come out of my spondylosis and could lift my hand and tilt my head.

I believe in the divine origin of all knowledge — Arts or Science, as explicitly pronounced in the Vishnu Sahasranama. Music and dance are ladders to divine experience. Hindu deities are all dancers — Siva is king of dance, Krishna is lord of dance and Ranganatha is the presiding deity of the stage. Faith is part of our culture and nobody has a right to tamper with it. As Deepak Chopra says, miracles happen in all our lives; we tend to dismiss them as mere coincidences. In Tamil there is a saying, which means, ‘the icon of an elephant is veiled inside the wood.’ The common man’s eye sees the wood while a sculptor’s eye sees the elephant hidden in it. To me the idol of Krishna, which was presented to me by Padma Narasimhan, for the inauguration of ‘Krishnaya Tubhyam Namaha’ is not just a piece of sandal wood, but Krishna Himself.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 8:51:21 PM |

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