When temples came alive

PADMA SUBRAHMANYAM Photo: V. V. Krishnan   | Photo Credit: V_V_KRISHNAN

Padma Subrahmanyam was first a talented Bharatanatyam dancer of the Vazhuvoor style, endowed with a musical flair and exposure to eminent hereditary dancers such as Gowri Ammal.

A chance documentary project in a temple with brother V. Balakrishnan in the 1960s led her to study temple dance sculptures, karanas. Thus started a new chapter in her life.

‘Natyasastram Viswamargam - The Global Path’, presented by Padma and her students from Nrithyodaya, is a compilation of her research work and stand-out choreographies of the last few decades. It is in reality a ‘Padma Retrospective’ with solos reformatted as group presentations.

There is always excitement in historical reconstruction, notwithstanding differing interpretations. With the dance scholar’s endeavours to revive practices as mentioned by Bharatamuni in his Natya Sastra, there was an overwhelming sense of ‘what might have been’ all evening. Padma’s rustic style of expression enhanced the sepia tint.

The Purvaranga opened with a delightfully melodic Pushpanjali (Gambhira Nattai, Adi) and was followed by the Jarjara puja to the bamboo flag, representing the Jarjara or the stem of an umbrella given by Indra to Bharatamuni to ward off evil. No programme supposedly commenced without first worshipping the flag. This practice has been likened to present-day ‘kodi etram’ in temple festivals.

A selection of re-constructed karanas (1-19 from Talapuspaputam to Katisamam) was performed by the agile dancers, the names set to tune by Padma. They were performed one after the other like a tutorial. It is important to mention here that karanas are not restricted to just the footwork that we see in contemporary Bharatanatyam. Stamping still has a place, but the steps include charis, so there is the play of the entire leg, hip downwards. A karana involves both the arms and the legs in coordinated movement.

Angaharas are a series of karanas strung together. There are 32 angaharas mentioned in the Natya Sastra, of which three were premiered, namely, Sthirahastam, Paryastakam and Suchi Viddham. The accompanying rhythmic syllables were recited by Padma and sounded different, ‘Tham kiti mam rihi kitigin gendhanam…’ They were from the Natya Sastra, syllables that are to be played on the tripushkara percussion instrument.

Kalinga Narthana, with lyrics from the Narayaneeyam and evocative music (Punnagavarali, Hindolam) by Padma was the piece de resistance of the evening. It was a 1975 choreography that incorporated angaharas with bhujanga karanas (serpentine movements) from the Natya Sastra and the Bharatarnava. For those of us who were not aware of the angaharas, one felt the jathis were unusual, without a natural progression, with no theermana adavus or arudis to round them off. Mahathi Kannan did justice to the vibrant choreography.

Padma’s spiritual forays were not left out. The Adi Sankara - Chandala samvada from the ‘Maneesha Panchakam’ wherein a lowly born questions the saint, giving him hard-hitting lessons on Advaita, was enacted with easy aplomb. The way she conveys the highest philosophical truths is to be observed - in this case, she gave the tribal a folk beat so the piercing questions were couched in catchy rhythm. There is so much silence in Padma’s delineations, the acting is so calm, so unaffected by stylisation or any impediment. The programme was a study of the brilliant artist’s life’s work.

Amongst other senior accomplished dancers were Vineeth and Gayathri Kannan. The only downside that evening was the improper management of the sound system. Nrithyodaya’s production team needs to be more vigilant.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 5:01:40 PM |

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