Dance

When style dictated form

Sruti dancing during the lec-dem session presented by Guru Kalyanasundaram who spoke about nattuvanars. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan  

This is the second part of the report on Baani Festival. The first part appeared last week.

In a panel discussion well-known Bharatanatyam dancer Anjana Anand aptly referred to baani as, ‘the artistic vision of the originator.’ Professor Janardhanan, senior dancer and former Principal, Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts, while referring to Bharatanatyam as a banyan tree with different branches, spoke of baani as a ‘shaili,’ a term used to differentiate Kathakali styles.

Beside the academic and documentation appeal, Kalakshetra’s Baani Festival 2016 was also a connoisseur’s delight as each session had presentations replete with soulful music and heart-warming dance.

Bharatanatyam seemed to be a more composite art form earlier, with the masters knowing as much music and as dance. The sishyas therefore imbibed the finer nuances of both. Nandini Ramani, for instance, sang the padam Padari Varugudu (Khambhoji), the ragamalika navarasa sloka, ‘Sringaram kshiti Nandini,’ and others, as she danced, demonstrating the sensitivity of the dancer to the weightiness and micro oscillations of the Veena Dhanammal style, providing a befitting tribute to her gurus K. Ganesan (Kandappa Pillai’s son) and the legendary T. Balasaraswati.

Kandappa Pillai had another illustrious disciple — Kanjivaram Ellappa Pillai — who perpetuated the Thanjavur Baani in his own way. His famed disciple, dancer Lakshmi Viswanathan, presented the innovative composer and singer-percussionist whom she likened to the eminent nattuvanar-composer K.N. Dandayuthapani Pillai. Guru Ellappa composed many original korvais with sollukattus. One of his signature korvais which he is believed to have composed for Ramgopal is in misra nadai, ‘...tharitthakka thanatthakka jonutthakka thaa...’ When Lakshmi wanted to learn the Husseini swarajathi, ‘E maayalaadira’ (Adi), the guru, instead of following the usual practice of composing korvais in different nadais for the charanam, ‘Ri ri ri….’, composed korvais with the seven talas (Dhruva, Matya…) incorporated into them.

His korvais were usually crisp and short. Mridangams were told to play cross beats to enhance the drama.

He did not believe in slow speeds; varnams had to be brisk. Even the sahitya portions in varnams had challenging thattu-mettu sequences. A medium speed was necessary in emotive pieces as well. The padam ‘Dari joochu’ (tisra triputa) was the slowest he taught and this too was taught with footwork, eschewing the practice of standing still or walking up and down while emoting.

Lakshmi pointed out the fact that there was always more than one vocalist — the culture then was that all the members of the nattuvanar’s family pitched in. Padams were always sung by two singers, in different octaves. Music was such an integral part of the learning that each sangati and each nuance had to be in coordination. Feminine grace was an important component of the style, so Lakshmi calls her Thanjavur Baani full of ‘precision, fluidity and charm’.

The well-known dance institution Sri Rajarajeswari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir, Mumbai, boasts many legendary nattuvanars, gurus T.P. Kuppiah Pillai, A. T. Govindaraj Pillai, Karunambal, T.K. Mahalingam Pillai and K. Kalyanasundaram. They belong to an illustrious line of artists that can be traced back 200 years in Thanjavur. Their most illustrious ancestor is Panchapakesa Nattuvanar, Guru Kalyanasundaram’s grandfather, who wrote a Tamil treatise, Abhinaya Navaneetham, in 1886. He was acclaimed for his abhinaya, being capable of showing ‘ananda’ on one side of his face and ‘shoka’ on the other side simultaneously.

For the last hundred years, the family has been associated with the Thiruvidaimarudur Mahalingaswamy temple and hence their style is called the Thiruvidaimarudur Baani, an offshoot of the Thanjavur Baani. Guru Kalyanasundaram lists ‘azhutham’ translated as firmness not stiffness, of the arms and legs, ‘nalinam’, grace, perfect clarity in footwork, even in the third speed, and in hastas, as characteristics of the style. This maybe the only baani that gave equal importance to abhinaya. Bhava should be deep yet subtle and suggestive, says the guru.

He takes credit on behalf of his family for the taking the Kavuthuvams, performed usually in front of the deity, from the temple to the stage. His baani has a penchant for them and he insists that Kavuthuvams have to be recited, not sung.

A poetic sabdam from the Kamba Ramayana composed for young dancers, ‘Dayarathan pudhalvan enbar..’ describing the colour of Rama’s skin as that of the dark, rain clouds, and contrasting it to the softness of his skin, likened to the inner folds of a flower, was demonstrated.

Excerpts from the Sankarabaranam padavarnam ‘Saamikki sari evvare’ with the song eduppu (start) at 3 matras after the start of the Adi tala cycle were presented — the trikaala jathi that begins in samam and ends where the song begins, and a charana sahitya thattu-mettu, ‘Veymaaruddu..’ that naturally accommodates the five nadais within the construction of the lyrics.

Another interesting demonstration was the ‘gat’ used in the Hindolam thillana (Adi), composed some 60 years ago. The guru equates it to the kuraippu. They were rhythmic sequences of intricate combinations involving only footwork — pancha nadais and dhi dhi thais.

Guru Kalyanasundaram spoke about nattuvanars — being a good musician and hailing from a parampara of temple oduvars, was not enough; they had to learn the mridangam as well. He quotes mridanga vidwan Thanjavur Vaidyanatha Iyer as saying that his percussion skill acquired a new dimension after his exposure to the Ponniah Pillai ‘silamba koodam,’ dance hall.

Nattuvanars had well-defined dos and don’ts, and had reverence for the art form. They were particular about legacy and family involvement as well. True to tradition, the Tiruvidaimarudur family was on stage — G. Vasanth Kumar, Harikrishnan Kalyanasundaram, Vidya, Shruti, Savitha and Chaitanya. Guru Kalyanasundaram can trace his family back eight generations; it looks like the legacy will be passed down to many more…

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 10:47:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/more-from-the-baani-festival/article8446797.ece

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