Lit for Life

Musings on mysticism

Bhakti poetry has many facets, but the ones by 9th Century Tamil poet Andal and 12th Century Kannada poet Akka Mahadevi were radically different, mostly inspired by their fascinating personalities.

That, and much more, was part of the discussion ‘Crazy words that swept away taboos’ that Arundhathi Subramaniam had with dancers Anita Ratnam and Madhu Natraj. Excerpts:

Anita on Andal

As someone born in the 1950s in a Tamil family, Andal was waiting for me. As a young Bharatanatyam dancer, I learnt Andal’s verses, as it was the norm to perform them during any recital. She was the epitome of beauty; I often heard people describe a beautiful girl as ‘Appadiye Andal maari irukka’.

My most special Andal moment was in 1965 when I watched Vyjayanthimala perform at The Music Academy. Soon after, I also read a book on the Thiruppavai that had beautiful illustrations near every pasuram… soon, I found myself being attracted by Andal.

Performing Andal today is different because she’s everywhere; she’s sung, she’s danced… and she’s on T-shirts as well! So, before performances, I meditate on her work. I usually sit down, enjoy her poetry and then proceed to the actual dancing. I consider Andal and her works radical; she was the torchbearer of all mystic poets. She was unique in her poetry; almost ferocious, at times. As a dancer, I will continue to engage with her.

Madhu on Akka Mahadevi

Having grown up in Delhi and then Bangalore, I was searching for a Kannada poet to portray at a programme. That’s when Akka came cascading into my life.

There are several folk legends about Akka and the kind of life she led. One says that she walked out of a man’s palace in a huff. For a production on Akka, I made the first part contemporary. I also tried to showcase her constant wanderings; I wanted to show that she wished to be like the clouds. Akka lived the way she wanted to, despite restrictions. I connect with her as an artiste.

As a kathak and contemporary dancer, I’d like to explore her works.


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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 7:59:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/lit-for-life/Musings-on-mysticism/article14005250.ece

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