Music

Balance of styles

S Shashikala Nedungadi and Eloor Biju

S Shashikala Nedungadi and Eloor Biju   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

A jugalbandhi by S Shashikala Nedungadi and Eloor Biju expertly blended the bhakti of Sopana sangeetham with the movements of Kathakali

One half of the face is framed by matted hair, the other half is hemmed by soft curls. The right side of the forehead is smeared by ash, while the left has a neat line of sandalwood paste. One half epitomised roudram (ferocity) and the other half expressed lasyam (grace). As Eloor Biju created the form of Ardhanareeshwara with his music, S Shashikala Nedungadi brought Shiva and Shakti alive, switching between both effortlessly.

Sopana sangeetham and Kathakali may seem like an unusual medley, but the artistes created an audio-visual experience by marrying the two art forms. And the results were astounding. “After each performance, we have had people coming up to us and saying it touched them,” says Shashikala.

S Shashikala Nedungadi

S Shashikala Nedungadi   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

A Kathakali performer for over 37 years, Shashikala felt she should collaborate with Biju for an experimental piece. “His music touches the soul; it is full of emotion and bhakti. She had a discussion with Biju and the Ardhanareeshwara piece was conceptualised. “Choreography was initially a challenge, as unlike Kathakali music, Sopana sangeetham is more fluid,” says Shashikala. “We had to reduce dance sequences and increase the abhinaya component.” While the thalam used in Kathakali are traditionally Champada and Thripuda, the music had to be set to Roopakam, so as to find a common ground between Kathakali and Sopana sangeetham.

It was decided that a Kathakali musician would assist Biju and they would be accompanied by the maddalam. Biju would have his edakka and elathalam, which are used by Sopanam singers, to create the desired effect.

An emotional piece

Painstaking hours of practice went into the creation of the repertoire — a Ganapathy sthuti, in praise of Lord Ganesha; ‘Ardhanareeswara’, a piece that symbolised the perfect balance of male and female energies; and ‘Devaki Vilapam’, where Krishna’s mother Devaki sings him a lullaby in her dream. Waking up, she realises he is not with her and pines for her child. “It is an emotional piece. It touches my heart each time I hear it and perform it. It has left a number of people in the audience with moist eyes, especially women,” says Shashikala.

For an art form that was largely confined to the temples, Biju popularised Sopana sangeetham with his individualistic style. “For me, collaborating for a project such as this was exciting as it was challenging. I had never sung for a Kathakali performance before and I was keen to understand the creative process.”

Creating venues for Sopana sangeetham outside the temple is a way to give more people an opportunity to appreciate it, says Biju. Traditionally sung in temples, where the singer stands beside the steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum, Sopana sangeetham is an ancient art form that is believed to have existed even before Carnatic music made an entry into Kerala. “It is pure bhakti and its role is to connect the devotees with their lord,” Biju says.

A performer for over 10 years, Biju experiments freely with the ragas and tempo, contemporising the style to make it more appealing. However, neither Kathakali nor Sopana sangeetham was diluted for this jugalbandi, says Sashikala. “The pieces were choreographed, retaining their sanctity.” Shashikala and Biju have performed in a few venues in Kochi and the duo plans to add a third element — Mohiniyattam. They are collaborating with Mohiniyattam dancer Athira Shankar to create a piece that would be a rare meeting place for three diverse forms of art.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 12:01:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/a-jugalbandhi-blending-sopanasangeetham-and-kathakali/article30623288.ece

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