From the pages of history
A book on Odissi and one on Annamacharya make absorbing reading. LEELA VENKATARAMAN
In praise of Odissi Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi.
Scientist and acknowledged grand dame of Odissi (her dance in the Delhi Youth festival in 1954 providing the first Odissi exposure for non-Oriyas), Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi’s book “Odissi” (Aryan Books International) is not a run-
of-the-mill type. The historical perspective with the inevitable architectural landmarks — temple panels from Hathigumpha cave, Parasurameswar, Rajarani, Konarak, etc., includes an intriguing drawing of the Kandarpa Ratha from Jagannath temple at Puri. The pyramidal formation with a pot (kalasa) as apex has Krishna in the centre, and female figures of dancers and instrumentalists in different attitudes. The profusely sculpted female panel illustrations, so much a part of Orissa’s architecture, are substantiated with brief descriptions of the various attitudes — Alasa (indolent), Torana (leaning on the doorway), Mugdha (unawakened woman), Manini (offended ), Dalamalika (garlanding herself with a branch), Padmagandha (smelling a lotus), Darpana (looking into the mirror), Vinyasa (meditative), Ketakibharana (adorned with a Ketaki flower), Matrumurti (as mother), Chamara (holding fly whisk), Guntha (veil covered face, with back of tribhangi figure showing) , Nartaki (dancer), Sukasarika (fondling a parrot), Nupurapaadika (with feet clad in ankle-bells), Mardala (drummer).
The mahari chapter details of make-up and functions rendered by the Bhitara Gauni, Bahara Gauni, Nachuni, Patuari, Raja Angila and Gahana Mahari. Quotations from old British documents like that of Hunter in 1872, and O’Malley in 1908, reveal interestingly varied responses to the mahari. The “Record of Rights” (comprising several sources) visualises maharis as virgins wed to the temple Lord in a “saribandha ceremony”, the institution continuing through adoption of a daughter whose parentage was of no significance. While acknowledging the contribution of Gurus Pankajcharan Das, Kelucharan Mohaptra ad Debaprasad Das, Priyambada has taken care to mention the earlier contributors like Bankabihari Maity, Singhari Shyamsundar Kar, Durlavchandra Singh, Kalicharan Patnaik, and of course the Gotipuas who provided the scattered base contours of the dance, which the Jayantika forum considerably enlarged upon and codified into a disciplined format. Chapters on Odissi music and texts and some excerpts from great Odissi poetry make for researched information. Very reasonably priced, the book is accessible.
“Flowers at his Feet”, a book on Talapaka Annamacharya, the Telugu composer of 1408-1503, is for poetry and music lovers. Author Pappu Venugopala Rao with a Masters in Telugu, Sanskrit and English, a Doctoral Degree in Sanskrit and Telugu and an All India Gold Medal in Business Management, ecstatically applauds this great devotee of Venkateswara who after a darshan of the Lord when 16 years old, pledged to compose and offer at the Lord’s lotus feet one song every day. The first to structure lyrics in the pallavi and charanam mode, 14,000 lyics are available of his staggering 32,000 compositions! Anonymous with no signature, the lyrics, tucked away in the “Sankeertana Bhandaram” of the Tirupati temple, were discovered only in 1922 when the Devasthanam authorities stumbled upon the copper plates on which the songs had been engraved by Annamacharya’s grandson Chinna Tirumalacharya! Blending devotion with erotic love, the compositions embody subtle Vedic, Tantric and scriptural references. Imbedded in them are also mantras and even astrology that the initiated can decipher.
“Naa Naalika pai nundi naanaa sankeertanalu, Pooni naache ninnu bogadintichivi (You resided in my tongue and made me sing in your praise),” Annamacharya says. The erotic imagery describing consort Alamelumanga glowing in the lustre of the Lord’s love in “Emoko chiguruta dharamuna”, when rendered by the composer, so moved the King Saluva Narasimha Raya that he wept, demanding that a similar composition be made about him. On Annamacharya’s reply that his poetry and music were dedicated to the services of God alone, the King had him imprisoned.
The poet’s “Muddu gaaru yashoda”, “Bhavayami Gopala Balam” with its sonorous lines like “Kati ghatita mekhalaa Khacia mani ghantikaa...” and other songs are favourites of singers and classical dancers today. Annamacharya’s lilting poetry also encompassed folk compositions.
Cross references from Sanskrit texts of Adi Shankara, Gita and Vedas and Jayadeva by the author show the ideational pollination amongst our poet/lyricists. Despite repetitions (the book comprises lectures by the author) and the Telugu and Sanskrit in Roman alphabet leading to discrepancies in the absence of diacritical markings, the book is a collector’s pride.
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