Matter of dialogue

Medium and message: Sunaad's 'Swar Katha Upanishad'. File Photo  

A constant criticism against the classical arts world has been its inability to look beyond the lone orbit of each art form one represents. “We have forgotten to talk across disciplines,” said a dancer in an informal exchange over a cup of tea. “I remember my grandmother telling me that all well-known dancers of those days like Balasaraswati made it a point to attend Harikatha programmes primarily because it gave them on one platter, music (with which most were very well-versed), poetry, philosophy with quotations from old texts and with modern literary references also generously thrown in. They felt the need to be in constant touch with literature and poetry and if time did not allow the indulgence of much reading, listening to Harikatha experts who were really well-read was the next best thing to do. Similarly, constant exchanges with painters, sculptors and theatre persons were a part of life. Today we are so insular that we do not talk to artists from other disciplines.”

Watching Gowri Ramnarayan’s “Sarpa Sutra” with music, Sanskrit verses from the Mahabharata, Bharatanatyam, Nattuvangam emerging as another text, acting and plenty of philosophy in the narration of the Sutradhar, one got the feeling that this integrated concept was going beyond the one-art unicorn perspective. In the other work, “Yashodhara”, it was Mythili Sharan Gupt’s poem in Hindi which provided the incentive for the venture with Mythili Prakash’s intense Bharatanatyam interpretation. The stage had an Ajanta painting of the Buddha, with all action interspersed with the Sutradhar’s narration of the state of mind of a deserted wife, whose husband, the prince, during the dead of night, without taking leave, had slunk away from his royal bed, to ponder on the secret of man’s sorrows. Again, it was a cross-disciplinary venture.

The latest example of going beyond the one-art preoccupation was “Swar Katha Upanishad” presented at the India International Centre by Bangalore-based Sunaad — “an eclectic group of singers” including “school-going and retired professional performers and hobbyists, homemakers and working professionals” bound by a common passion for music.

Taking the timeless tale of the dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa in Katha Upanishad, a uniquely simple and yet rich performance piece has been designed, expatiating on the ideal guru/shishya exchange, with questions on the deep mysteries of life and death — always looked at as states-of-being in opposition to each other — and how understanding their intrinsic nature, removes the fetters from life and above all, the fear of death.

The enactment revolving round the subject and anchored on 46 shlokas from the Upanishad presented in the Dhrupad format, with verses at points having a gestural Bharatanatyam style of interpretation. To hear 25 singers of varying ages, sing as one voice and in complete ‘sur’ was an experience in itself.

As for the music composed by the Gundecha Brothers, set to 22 ragas, all one can say is that they could hardly have found a more dedicated group of singers who must have striven for hours rehearsing — with each of the ragas rendered with deep feeling and passion. No praise is high for Tara Kini’s direction of the music with the manner in which the voices blended. And right from the peace invocation, “aum sa ha navavatu, saha nau bhunaktu, saha viryam….”, to the last, “Om”, this wonderful journey through ragas like Desi, Jaijaivanti, Kamod, Hameer, Maru Behag, Hemavati, Bhoopali, Charukesi, Sohini, Shankara, Khamaj, Bhairavi to mention a few, one experienced a gamut of emotions — all laced with an inner stillness which never deserted the entire effort. In fact, only a form like Dhrupad which has a purity and sense of space with no ostentatious virtuosity, could have evoked that feel of complete internalisation and quietude.

There is a direct simplicity in Dhrupad, which is best for interpreting themes on complex issues — the unvarnished notes seeming to unravel the essence of truth without shrouding it in layers. There were moments when time stood still and others when one had tears in the eyes listening to the unsullied sur-filled tones of music.

In a group, there is no star and no room for the “I” and this contributes to the theme’s inner search. The dialogue part with the English script by Gita Shenoy and Anand Kasturi was directed by Arundhati Raja and enacted by Anshool Pathak as Sutradhar with Thomas Alapeli and Ravi Narayanan as Nachiketa and Yama respectively. Never has one heard deep questions of metaphysics dealt with in such a sensitive fashion touching the inner cord. This is the type of work that must be taken to all high schools and colleges by Spic Macay.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 4:00:25 PM |

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