‘Thyaagaraaja Vaibhavam’ — Dhananjayan’s tribute to Tyagaraja

V.P. Dhananjayan in his reprisal underlined the experience, which resulted in the composer’s outpourings

The saint bard Tyagaraja is so deeply entrenched in the minds of musicians and rasikas, that any attempt to present his musical compositions calls for a lot of effort, understanding and commitment to do justice.

To tackle this theme of the saint’s music as a dance production is no mean task. V. P. Dhananjayan’s effort in 1992 was a great success, the veteran presenting ‘Thyaagaraaja Vaibhavam’ 22 times. This Bharatha Kalanjali production was revisited by Dhananjayan and Shantha in December last, editing out the Harikatha component of the original. Recently, it was presented as a part of the Trinity festival by Kalakshetra Foundation.

“It was S. Viswanathan of Kala Mandir Trust who conceived of this idea as a fund-raiser for Thiagaraja Sangitha Vidwath Samajam,” says Dhananjayan tracing the origin. I was only too happy to work on it. The challenge was to select those songs which would do justice to his greatness and also lend themselves to a dance narrative. The work is not a biographical sketch, but an attempt to capture his thought process and emotions behind the creative outpourings and his metaphysical quest.”

‘Thyaagaraaja Vaibhavam,’ by Bharata Kalanjali

‘Thyaagaraaja Vaibhavam,’ by Bharata Kalanjali   | Photo Credit: Bharata Kalanjali

Shanta Dhananjayan, who wielded the cymbals, was in control of the ensemble. Hariprasad with his melodious voice, captured the nuances of the songs with great emotional fervour. The musical team consisting of Ramesh Babu on the mridangam, K. P. Sunil Kumar on the flute, Anantanarayanan on the veena, Yogaraj on ganjira and other instruments, Karthika on the tambura played with total harmony. The musical support played a great role in breathing life into the dance sequences. Lighting design was by Satyajit and Aravind.

The curtains went up, to the rendering of the Sourashtram kriti, 'Sri Ganapatini,’ revealing a dancer depicting Lord Ganesa in seated posture. The sounds of a Bhajana group wafted in and the audience turned to find Tyagaraja entering with a group as a part of his daily Unchavrithi. Impressive entry indeed!

Poignant portrayal

As Tyagaraja is immersed in his worship, he hears a knock on the door. He opens the door and sees a vision of Rama standing there. His joy knows no bounds, tears flood his eyes, and when he opens his eyes, he realises that the vision was just a dream. The exhilaration and the dejection were poignantly portrayed by Dhananjayan for the Atana raga kriti, “Eala nee dayaradu.” The magnificent image of Lord Rama glowing with the dazzling earrings, the beautiful smile, and the majestic form adorned with finery, was depicted in detail. Tyagaraja’s puja vidis with songs such as ‘Tulasidala’ in raga Mayamalavagowla played in the background. His anguish came through evocatively for the popular kriti ‘Nagumomu’ (Abheri).

‘Thyaagaraaja Vaibhavam’ by Bharata Kalanjali

‘Thyaagaraaja Vaibhavam’ by Bharata Kalanjali   | Photo Credit: Bharatakalanjali

The choreography included a few segments of group dancing, perhaps for visual appeal. It worked very effectively in the song ‘Evarikkai,’ where significant moments from the Ramayana like the breaking of the bow, Maricha Vadam and Ravana Yuddham unfolded in the background as Tyagaraja visualised it in his music. Although the idea of Advaita philosophy did come through, in the song, ‘Venuganalolunikana’ (Yadukula Khambodi), the extended Raasleela, dancing of Krishna and the gopis was a trifle distracting.

‘Nidichala sukama’ (Kalyani), ‘Melukovaiyya Rama’ (Bowli), ‘Nenendue Veda Kudura’ (Karnataka Kapi) and ‘Kanukontini’ (Bilahari) came in succession underlining the fact that the compositions were not just flights of imagination and creativity, but an outpouring of deep emotion and experience.

‘Thyaagaraaja Vaibhavam’ — Dhananjayan’s tribute to Tyagaraja
The pinnacle of the presentation was the classic composition in Ritigowla, ‘Nannuvidachi’ — where music and abhinaya touched a new high in Rasanubhava. It made the rasikas realise that it is not easy to carry a larger-than-life image of Tyagaraja on one’s frail shoulder, but Dhananjayan was doing it with such dignity and sensitivity. Dhananjayan recalls that in 1998, after a performance in Hyderabad, an old man walked up to him and said, “Do you know M.D. Ramanathan, for I can see his presence in your rendering.” Says the veteran: “I was stunned for it is MDR, whom I had heard so often in Kalakshetra, was my inspiration for this song. Similarly it is Balamuralikrishna for ‘Nagumomu.’”

Appealing details

The final sequence was ‘Sita Kalyanam’ as visualised by Tyagaraja The Kurinji raga ‘Sitakalyana Vaibhogame,’ and the tableaux of the wedding ritual danced in detail were appealing. It also brought back to memory a sequence from his mentor’s Ramayana series, where the battle is visualised through the eyes of the celestial nymphs. The use of a blue fabric laid out to suggest a river from which the idol was retrieved was interesting, but the idol of Rama at the altar on the stage was too small to be visible.

A show heavily relying on classic kritis and a single dancer occupying the stage for the most part may not offer the typical dramatic elements an audience would generally expect. That ‘Thyaagaraaja Vaibhavam’ sustained the interest of rasikas spoke volumes of the fine amalgamation of music and dance of high standards. Twenty-eight years ago, Dhananjayan performed the role of Tyagaraja, but that evening (February 13), he lived the role, with the line between the character and the actor almost invisible.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 6:59:57 PM |

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