From quiet elegance underlining every detail, gracious welcome by low-key organisers, total absence of VIP fanfare, Gandharva Mahavidyalaya observed its weeklong “Tarpan” festival, mounted at the Kamani, marking 75 years of outstanding effort in grooming students of Hindustani classical music and some dance forms — the celebration an offering marked by a spirit of humility and dedication — rare in today’s world. The Mahavidyalaya’s meticulous discipline and artistic excellence spoke right from the renderings of the Gandharva Choir.
Group Odissi under Madhavi Mudgal inaugurating the dance segment, had the synergy of the choreographer’s feel for the aesthetics of Odissi movement evolving in close consonance with musical knowledge. Compositions of Madhup Mudgal and stalwarts in a host of melodic modes Jayjaiwanti, Kedar, Desh, Darbari Kanada, Bhairavi, etc, provided the dance inspiration, creating poetry through Madhavi’s visualisation, despite no outstanding talents, other than Arushi Mudgal, relying on technical precision and honed group discipline. “Pallavan”, with nritta bhangis expanding into angaharas, had rhythm flowing in combinations of 9,7,5,4 and 3. Freezes came alive capturing images of birds and trees. Understated aesthetics characterised “Kumara Sambhavam”, where Manmatha being burnt to ashes was delicately suggested, sans overpowering theatrics. Parvati was ideally cast in Arushi. But the part of Shiva called for a dancer with a different type of energy.
The three-day solo dance presentation featured flawless selection of young talents from all dance forms — each mentored by a chosen senior dancer/guru from another classical discipline, the dialogue yielding fresh and enriching perspectives, without tampering with the intrinsic identity of the younger artist’s dance form. Such crosspollination of ideas through interaction demands sensitivity from both mentor and dancer with awareness of how far the approach of the ‘other’ can stretch in opening out doors and windows of creative opportunity. Kathak dancer Monisa Nayak, disciple of Rajendra Gangani, mentored by Bharatanatyam artist Geeta Chandran, began with the pan-indian Jayadeva’s “Lalita Lavangalata” from Gita Govindam, in raga Vasant — symbolsing the theme. Ashtamangal tala of 11 matras brought to the fore the finished grace, elegance and precision with effortless execution, which are the hallmark of Monisa’s Kathak. Geeta Chandran’s love for Haveli Sangeet provided the format for the interpretative item “Tedhe rupa Sundara” a composition of Maiya Ram in Sindhu Bhairavi, the word ‘tedhe’ describing Krishna’s unique, unusual beauty, with his adorable edginess and mischief. After immaculate recitation of a jati from the Bharatanatyam repertoire, the dancer’s rendition of it, rhythm-perfect, had a flowing quality to movement, different from Bharatanatyam’s linear geometry. The best of the interactive effort was in the Lalgudi tillana in Yamuna Kalyani, the lilt and rhythmic permutations and punctuations exquisitely captured in Monisa’s Kathak visualisation and also in Samiullah Khan’s singing. Lowering the decibel level of the music, particularly Yogesh Gangani’s table, in the ashtapadi would have caught shades of bhava better.
The curtain-raiser for Mythili Prakash, mentored by Madhavi Mudgal, was based on Subramania Bharathi’s “Shiva Shakti”, with Lalita Shivakumar’s score in the same raga. The mentor’s Odissi touch and supervision climaxed in the recital’s piece-de-resistance — the pallavi, with score in Nalinakanti by Aditya Prakash, the recited ukkutas by Jayashree Ramnath and sensitive percussion by the mridangist fully catching the musical tones of the Odissi mardala, without in any way diluting the Bharatanatyam specificity in Mythili’s nritta visualisation. An intense interpretation of the Jayadeva ashtapadi “Sa virahe tava deena” portraying the sakhi addressing Krishna, describing the condition of pining Radha (score by Balamurali Krishna in Vasanti evocatively sung by Nandini Anand) was followed by the finale of Jayachamarajendra’s tillana in Kapi.
Amrita Lahiri’s Kuchipudi, under Sharmila Biswas’s mentoring with her guru Mosalikanti providing nattuvangam and indirectly ensuring retention of the Kuchipudi sensitivity in the student’s praiseworthy endeavour, ushered in a quality of delightful freshness. “Moorchana”, a story from the oral tradition of Odisha’s khol players, with Sanskrit text based on translations of the original Odia, delineated a narrative on the inner spirit of natya amalgamating geeta, vadya and nritya. Brahma utters the all-pervading syllable “Om’’ whose spirit floating in search of an abode found it in Apsara Rambha’s swaras, the sapta swara mridangam, in Mohini’s delightful dance flitting across the skies after successfully distributing the nectar of immortality, and in the moksha of Krishna’s Raas with the gopis. Today it may reside in the mother’s lullaby or boatman’s song, or occasionally, dancing feet. Innovatively translated to Kuchipudi’s graceful agility with twinkling rhythm (each sequence in a different cycle) and vibrantly emotive, Amrita’s dance had its fine take-off point in Sudha Raghuraman’s ragamalika music in Arabhi, Varali (very suggestive and beguiling in Rambha’s stray notes) Kalyani, Mohanam, Shubhapantuvarali and Brindavani Saranga (the last as a tillana). Mosalikanti’s sur-ful nattuvangam, and Sudha’s singing added impact.
The innocent joy and incredible virtuosity of Vishal Krishna’s Benares gharana Kathak is always wonderful to watch, his physical dexterity in executing chakkars in myriad ways, his full-split squats, dancing on the rim of a brass plate (outdoing any Kuchipudi tarangam) and rich Sukhdev Maharaj legacy inherited from the dancer’s relatives Gopikrishna and Sitara Devi in wonderful Krishna and Mayur gats. Containing this stormy petrel of rhythm within the confines of a leisurely Dhrupad “Jamuna ke neera teer” was in itself some achievement for mentor Madhavi Mudgal.
Most challenged were the dancers on the concluding day. Arushi Mudgal’s “Moorta/Amoorta” on form and formlessness of that ultimate state of being one yearns for, gave a memorable start to her Odissi recital — Shiva’s Tandava energy, the enchanting mischief of Krishna with Yashoda’s wonder at what is revealed in the open mouth of the child she is chastising, Maryada Purush Rama as found in Ramcharitmanas verses and the Manduka Upanishad verse “Poornamadah Poornmidam” all strung on one thread showing varied dance tones portraying the ultimate. Mardal player Baudhanath Swain’s utterance of the ukkutas becomes dance of tonal music. After the delicate interpretation of Baldev Rath’s Kha champu, “Kharab tu helure”, mentor Leela Samson’s idea of the varnam “Aat kollavendum Aiyane”, portraying Andal’s desire for becoming one with Krishna, in Odissi interpretation, created mixed feelings — not because of Arushi’s Odissi translation, but more for the music of talented Sawani Mudgal, which though lilting in its way in ragas like Varali, Amritavarshini, Kharaharapriya, had, notwithstanding laudable effort, too much of the Hindustani inflection, lacking the Carnatic classical foundation, providing the real base for the very structured format of the varnam.
Equally tricky was the task before Ragini Chandrasekhar, after a finished presentation of the todaya mangalam in ragamalika with Sudha Raghuraman’s fine vocal support, followed by a sensitive interpretation of the Vidyapati verses wherein Radha in her love pangs addressing Manmatha asks if his flowered darts are mistaking her for Shiva — pointing out the polarities between her get-up and that of Shiva with his accoutrements. Ragini’s mentor Sadanam Balakrishnan, realising how Kathakali’s unique energy cannot easily translate into other dance expressions, instructed Ragini about a padam from “Kalyana Sowgandhikam”, showing Bhima addressing Yudhishtira that but for his brother restraining him, he would have destroyed Dushasana, anointing Draupadi’s open hair with the blood of the villain’s entrails. One acknowledges Ragini’s brave attempt though transforming into raudra Bheema in a few days, despite Sandhya Raman’s tasteful costuming, with gestures and stance invested with that Kathakali energy, is not possible — despite Sopanam music and totally alien rhythmic percussion on chenda/maddalam, ( samam and eduppu different from Bharatanatyam). Nrittaswaravali with swaras in demanding rhythmic permutations in ragas Hindolam, Revati, Mohanam, Kanada and Madhuwanti saw nritta/rhythm perfection. Sneha Chakradhar, Bharatanatyam dancer, as compere was impressive.