Vaishnava Bharathi- a dance pilgrimage by Urmila Satyanarayanan

Urmila Satyanarayanan’s solo thematic work, ‘Vaishnava Bharathi,’ was a compilation of devotional hymns from across the country tracing the path of the Vaishnav insignia and the map of the Indian peninsula simultaneously.

The journey started from Bengal with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Hari naamsankirtan, to Puri Jagannath with Jayadeva, to Tirupathi with Annamacharya, to Srirangam as visualised by Andal, to Kerala with Irayaman Thampi, to Udipi with Purandaradasa and to Maharashtra with an abhang.

The production had a few additions: a Meera bhajan (‘Paga Ghungharoo Re’), a Dhanashree tillana (Swati Tirunal, Adi talam) and ‘Vaishnava Jana To’ (Narasimha Mehta).

There were about ten compositions in this exhaustive list. It was a musically rich production and Swamimalai K.Suresh did a good job with his sincere rendition. The problem was with its visualisation. This is a challenge at the best of times, and more so in a situation where the scope is limited to one predominant rasa, in bhakti.

‘Vaishnava Bharati’ opened on a slow and meditative note with Annamacharya’s kriti, ‘Sriman Narayana’ (Bowli, Adi).

As the curtains went up on the darkened stage, the modified Vaishnav insignia with a white ‘v’ (Thirumann) and the red line (Sri Choornam) in the middle, created with clever lighting by Murugan, was visible in the background. It made a dramatic statement and remained visible through the evening, serving as a constant reminder of the theme.

The ‘dance pilgrimage’ as Urmila called it, was dedicated to the memory of noted music and dance scholar, T.S.Parthasarathy. The soundscape was the most significant part of the production.

The choice of melodious and evocative songs was one aspect; the other was the layering of the track with Vedic chants like the Purusha Suktham and the Sanskrit prayer, the Venkateswara Suprabhatam, among others. These familiar add-ons gave a sense of immediacy to the devotional hymns bringing them closer to the rasika.

One of the most beautifully rendered was Andal’s sixth Tirumozhi, ‘Varanamayiram’ (ragamalika, Adi) describing her dream of the wedding ceremony. Another gem was ‘Enthamathramuna’ (ragamalika, misra chapu, Annamacharya).

Suresh was backed by a skilful set of musicians: Sigamani (violin), T.Sashidhar (flute) and Nellai D.Kannan (mridangam).

While the music was pleasant, the dance choreography lagged behind. The opening ‘Pralaya Payodhi Jale’ (ragamalika, Adi, Jayadeva), the Dasavatara poem from the Gita Govinda, for example, was exhaustive but time was not a luxury. Urmila could afford with such a long line up. Some others like ‘Karuna Chaivan’ (Yadukulakhambodi, misra chapu, Irayaman Thampi) would have benefited with more involvement. The production requires better planning from a collective standpoint, as literal interpretations of individual pieces lead to a sense of sameness.

There were some well-visualised ones as well, such as ‘Mella Mellane Bandene’ (Mohanam, Adi, Purandaradasa) and the abhang (‘Jeevaprane’). The production needs more of them to take off.

Source: Review of the Program in Kartik Fine arts by Rupa Srikanth in the Hindu

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