Friday Review

Philosophy visualised

(Left) Radhika Vairavelavan, Roja Kannan, Revathi Ramachandran and Dr. Sudha Seshayyan. Photos: S. R. Raghunathan

(Left) Radhika Vairavelavan, Roja Kannan, Revathi Ramachandran and Dr. Sudha Seshayyan. Photos: S. R. Raghunathan  

Six Bharatanatyam dancers will interpret the ancient treatises at the Natyarangam festival.

The Ultimate Truth. A wordless state. The Absolute Self. Liberation. These are but a few phrases used to describe the Upanishads. Now, how does one translate such deep philosophy, a profound thought process into the idiom of Bharatanatyam? That’s what six dancers have set out to do for ‘Upanishad Bharatham,’ the next edition of Narada Gana Sabha’s annual Natyarangam festival, from August 4-9.

Helping Revathi Ramachandran, Roja Kannan, Radhika Vairavelavan, Sheejith Krishna, Vaibhav Arekar and Ragini Chandrashekar understand the multi-layered treatise is the renowned orator Dr. Sudha Seshayyan. She says, “The biggest challenge for me was to find anecdotes and verses which could be interpreted through dance. This meant reading through every line with a new perspective.” She continues, “While keeping in mind the dancer, I was also concerned about the spectator. So, I had to read between the lines, words and the letters to find stories and slokas which the audience would find interesting.”

Five lecture sessions and a multitude of emails followed before the group and Dr. Seshayyan could zero in on six different aspects of the work.

Says Dr. Sudha, “There were many stories that appealed to all of them. Like the conversation between Yagnavalkya and Maitreyi. So, I have tried to cull out similar conversations.” The verses have been chosen from the various Upanishads such as Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya, Taittiriya, Kena, Swetaswatara and Mundaka.

If Dr. Sudha had to choose verses, the dancers had an even more onerous task – express them through natya. “Dr. Seshayyan’s lectures were not just eye-openers but lent a new dimension to our art. It has been a wonderful journey for all of us. That we are all having butterflies in our stomach and spending sleepless nights goes without saying,” say Radhika and Roja, a sentiment echoed by Team ‘Upanishad Bharatham.’ For, here is a subject that is so abstract that it requires hours of deliberation and introspection before one thinks of adavus and abhinaya to suit the philosophical words. This is what each of them has to say:

Vaibhav Arekar: “My theme reflects the collective understanding of Upanishadic philosophy. Scripted by Pradnya Agasti, the concept of ‘Life is a Yajnya’, and the truth of “Tat Tvam Asi” is the underlying concept. I have choreographed it using dance narratives that oscillate between abstract and representational images. This is one of the most challenging themes I have ever come across, especially in terms of interpreting philosophic thoughts. Prof. C.V. Chandreshekhar has provided the musical framework. We chose to use Hindustani music, and in particular the Dhrupad style for certain sections.”

Roja Kannan: “Brahmopanishad Param: The Ultimate Mystique Doctrine.” That’s the crux of the Upanishads and my presentation. I have sourced all the Upanishads, besides using one-line cross references of compositions of Tyagaraja, Ramana Maharishi and Ghanam Krishna Iyer and tried to depict the concept through seven scenes. The conversation between Yangavalkya and Raja Janaka highlight the concept of ‘self-luminous light.’ Here, I express my gratitude to scholar Dr. Asha Gopalakrishnan whose insightful words paved the way for my abhinaya and mudra choices. The music has been scored by Hariprasad.”

Revathi Ramachandran: “Brahmaatma Chakram: Wheel of Brahman who is the Atman.” That’s what my recital will expand upon -- The cycle in creation. It’s about life and death; it’s about day and night; it’s about a seed becoming a tree and fruit and again a seed, and so on. I have used the ‘tajjam, tallam and tadanam’ concept – born from the Brahman and re-uniting with ‘That’. I have divided my dance into two sequences – the first part deals with the five dukhas and the second with meditation. Veteran Suguna Purushothaman has set the music using a new tala, Rangapradapa. The singer is K. Gayathri.”

Radhika Vairavelavan: “My presentation is on ‘Anandam Brahmano Vidvan.’ It focusses on the journey of the Seeker from the Gross to the Subtle through the Panchakoshas – Annamaya (food), Pranamaya (life breath), Manomaya (mind), Vijnanamaya (knowledge) and Anandamaya (Eternal Bliss). There’s a parallel between the journey of a dancer and seeker. I want to explore that train of thought using the imagery of the ‘Unseen Horse,’ the conversation between Yagnavalkya and Maitreyi and other verses. We have to look not outward but within to transcend the Ego and reach That State. It’s a tough proposition, but challenging all the same.”

Ragini Chandrashekar: “The central theme of my performance is the realisation of Brahman within the Atman. The verses from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad have been woven into a Pushpanjali, while another piece, taken from the Kena and Chandogya, explores a dialogue between the teacher and the taught. The central piece has verses from Swetaswatara, Mundaka and Chandogya, with cross reference to a Kabir doha. The abhinaya is centred on and coloured with imagery from Nature and the world without to reiterate the supremacy of the Brahman. My mother and guru, Jamuna Krishnan, has scripted the presentation. Rajkumar Bharathi has composed the music.”

Sheejith Krishna: “The title of my presentation, taken from Kathopanishad, is ‘Yathadarshe Tathaatmani’ (Just as a clear image is reflected in a clear mirror, so too is the self, Atman, seen by the pure mind). It focusses on how different teacher-seers use images from the phenomenal world to teach seekers to recognise the self, and the self's relationship to Brahman. It was quite a task to compose music and choreograph based on such abstract, complex and scholarly commentaries on philosophy! There’s no obvious storyline to work with. What helps is that many parts are richly symbolic and poetic… they offer an artist scope for interpretation. Music is by Carnatic vocalist and composer Jyothishmathi Sheejith.”

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 5:51:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/upanishad-bharatham-narada-gana-sabhas-annual-natyarangam-festival-will-be-held-from-august-49/article6267589.ece

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