The Brahmotsavam celebration of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Mandir blends ancient tradition of dance along with the various rituals of the temple.
RHYTHM DIVINE A thematic presentation by artistes
A more idyllic scenario cannot exist. Time seemed to have moved backwards a few hundred years allowing us a glimpse into the glorious past when temples were veritable places of socio-religious congregation. What made the Brahmotsavam celebration of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Mandir (Rang Bagh near Nanakramguda) a very unique feature was the accompaniment of an ancient tradition of dance to the various rituals of the temple from dawn to dusk. Though the Devadasis (clan of temple dancers) are long extinct, the aura was recreated, thanks to the untiring efforts of Guru Swapna Sundari and the Pitti family.
The Vilasini natyam (temple dance) though adapted to the stage as a performing classical art, now found its real spirit in the precincts of the Ranganatha temple. Swapna Sundari's troupe of dancers, dressed in resplendent attire reproduced the ritualistic mode of dance as the deity was taken out in a palanquin procession around the sanctum sanctorium and the threshold leading to the temple. The Ashtadikpalakas (the eight directional lords) as well as Brahma, Vishnu and Pasupathi (creator, preserver and destroyer) were invoked through verse and mime to instrumental accompaniment while the priest chanted the required mantra. It was heavenly to watch the palanquin stop at each of the eight quarters of the main temple while one of the dancers faced the directional deity and acted out the chant in praise of the respective direction. A slightly elaborate invocation and dance followed the termination at the Dwajasthambam (threshold). Yashoda Thakore gracefully represented the might of the trinity with suitable hasthabhinaya (gestures) and optimum footwork.
The swelling crowd moved excitedly along with the deity, dancers and priests in an orderly fashion. The Bali Harana, another ritual of offering cooked rice at specified areas of the outer ring of the sanctorium was also preceded by a brief dance by the Vilasini. The divine premises of Rang Bagh was pulsating with an 18th century tradition in live. It made for an exhilarating experience for all those present there at that moment, for time seemed to have stopped short somewhere-nobody had any notion where. The woody Rang Bagh, glistening under the crescent moon and star studded sky also played host to a few traditional dance performances to enhance the festive celebration. Bharatanatyam danseuse Smitha Madhav gave a thematic presentation-Sri Venkata Gireesham Bhaje - a song and dance of the pilgrim's progress through the holy seven hills Tirumala.
A steady step-by-step rise to the divine presence with both physical and spiritual connotations- Smitha was able to build the tempo with apt kritis and verses as she took the audience along with her to the destination, the darshan of the lord of seven hills. The forty-five minute presentation traced the significant quarters inhabited by crucial deities who stand as guardian angels as the pilgrim traverses through the seven hills. To depict this in gradation, she chose Saint Annamacharya's keertanas, intermingled with a few slokas and a Devarnama culminating in the waving of diyas as an offering of final salutation to the deity (as well as the viewers in this case). The effect was not only aesthetic but in tune with the occasion and the surroundings. Her teermanams at the end of the stanza to the song Sriman Narayana, her graceful execution of the jatis to Mangambhudi Hanumantha episode reflected her dexterity with pure dance while on the abhinaya front she excelled as the bashful, blushing bride Padmavathi
and the devoted Hanumantha, bringing the viewers near to tears. Nandhini Nandan's Kuchipudi recital took off to a lacklustre start despite the verbally powerful Devi incantation but gained momentum with Bhama Kalapam. Nandhini's strong point was her abhinaya. She emoted the
varied moods of Satyabhama convincingly though the footwork and gestures were partly repetitive. In general her footwork was disappointing as it fell short of clarity at times. A certain style of muktaimpu (teermanam) was not as impressive as it should have been. Her costume looked slightly weird especially for Bhama Kalapam. A little explanation about the nayika for the javali that followed would have enlightened the audience for better appreciation. The week-long religious cum cultural festival that has just begun has a lot more to offer.
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