Mudras unique


WELL RESEARCHED PRESENTATION: Zakir Hussain.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: R. Shivaji Rao


Extracted from Pancharatra Agama, the symbols captured the essence of Vaishnavism.

Zakir Hussain presented ‘Narayanam,’ a thematic Bharatanatyam presentation on Vaishnavism in Brahma Gana Sabha recently. The dance captured a strong sense of bhakti through Zakir’s compelling abhinaya and an evocative musical score that resounded with vedic chants. But the highlight of the evening was a unique set of mudras the dancer used in his interpretations. They were from the Pancharatra Agama sastra that deal with iconic worship, temples and rituals. The mudras or hand gestures corresponding to various aspects of Narayana such as Kausthubham, Srivatsam, Kothandam, etc. were explained and then given visual meaning in context.

Zakir is clearly well read. There was also a depiction of the Antaryamitva Puja in the Annamacharya kriti where the deity is taken out from the heart, worshipped and put back in. The 80-minute solo recital had a fairly simple format — a rhythmic Garuda Kauthuvam (Nattai, Adi), a meditative Annamacharya kriti (‘Sriman Narayana,’ Bowli, Adi) and a bhakti-laden Dwadasa Nama Varnam (ragamalika, Adi), the first and the last penned by Revathi Shankaran, multi-faceted artist. Presented in that order, the recital ended with a varnam somewhat abruptly, yet there was a sense of completeness in the unhurried treatment.

It was the soft appeal of the traditional jatis and involved bhava that caught one’s attention. The recital was a well-rehearsed coming together of music and dance. While the descriptive yet lilting Kauthuvam set the stage for Garuda and his majestic passenger Narayana, the varnam depicted scenes from the Narayan legend — Matsya, Narasimha, Andal, Kalinga Narthana and Vamana. Each was elaborately treated with the dramatic quotient heightened by the Chendai accompaniment and Kathakali movements. The most memorable however was the nayika bhava portraying Andal. This segment set in Behag brought out the delicate shades of Andal’s lasya and her love for Krishna.

Zakir received training in dance under Chitra Visweswaran and learnt theory from Krishnaveni Lakshmanan of Kalakshetra. Though his emotive skill stands out, his skill with pure dance is also commendable. But his energy level was disappointing; it was not befitting a body builder and a brand ambassador of a well-known gym. Perhaps his heavy bells and the overkill in the ornamentation slowed him down.

Zakir had the support of a good team of musicians: Murali Parthasarathy (vocal and music composer for the varnam), Lakshmi Venkatesh (nattuvangam), Mayuram Viswanathan (mridangam), V. Shankar (violin), Ramesh (flute) and Rajagopalan (special effects). Ayyappan did the lighting. At the end of the show, many in the audience and on the dais felicitated dancer Zakir Hussain for his commitment to the study of Hindu theology; especially so, because he was a Muslim by birth. One dignitary went so far as to remark that the dancer must have been a Vaishnav Saint in his previous birth! While one does not want to take away any credit from a sincere dancer, one feels it would be more encouraging to praise the academic input and the artistry and set aside all other parameters. To laud Zakir on grounds of religion is simply not fair.

His story of passion

Zakir is a full time professional who has been performing and teaching Bharatanatyam outside India for sometime now. His is a story of passion and determination that surmounted many obstacles. After his graduation in Fibre Technology, he left his hometown and family in Salem to learn dance. He struggled for financial support and names many who pitched in and they include actors Rajnikanth and Sathyaraj and industrialist Nalli Kuppuswamy Chetti. He also won a Government of India scholarship for seniors that sponsored his tuition fees for three years. Besides dance, he has a passion for reading and it was during one of his forays into Hindu theology that he discovered a unique system of mudras contained in the Pancharatra Agama sastra. He learnt from scholars such as Kooram Kidambi Madhusudhana Bhattar and from Parthasarathy Bhattacharya and used the knowledge in ‘Narayanam.’ This, he believes, is his contribution to the dance world and would like dancers to use the mudras.

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