Voyage of discovery
The 12th edition of Natyarangam’s annual event opens on August 4.
Photo: K.V. Srinivasan
ENRICHING EXPERIENCE: Dancers in discussion. (From left) Jyotsna Jagannathan, Sujatha Srinivasan, Shijith Nambiar, Nalini Prakash and Mythili Prakash.
“Men may come and men may go but I go on forever…”
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Get ready for a week-long tirth yatra to seven sacred rivers across the country.
Mode of travel: the mind’s eye.
For the twelfth consecutive year, Natyarangam presents a thematic dance presentation at its annual Bharatanatyam festival. This year seven dancers will represent a river each at Tirtha Bharatam from August 4-10 at Narada Gana Sabha.
Senior dancer Malavika Sarukkai will open the festival with a presentation on Ganga. Followed by the performances of young artists Shijith Nambiar (Brahmaputra), Mythili Prakash (Yamuna), Vaibhav Arekar (Narmada), Nalini Prakash (Godavari), Sujata Srinivasan (Cauveri) and Jyotsna Jagannathan (Tamiraparani).
“Every year we choose a theme for the festival. The idea is not just to offer a platform to promising talents, which of course is the focus of our festivals, but also encourage and support them to create. This inspires young dancers to look beyond the margam; read and research and do their own choreography,” says Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, a member of Natyarangam’s organising committee. The Parthasarathyswamy temple tank provides the perfect backdrop.
Knowing well choreography is not as simple as it sounds, Natyarangam helps the youngsters by giving them a theme and also resource persons who provide the literary back-up and lyrical inputs. “The creations should be a point of reference for the future and not a one-day affair. And they cannot be so, unless they are based on authentic sources and relevant compositions,” stresses S. Viswanathan (Charukesi), another member of the committee.
The resource persons are chosen from among scholars, experts in a specific field, poets, Harikatha exponents, musicians, etc. This year’s line-up includes Lalitha Ramakrishna, Kalyanapuram Aravamuda Chariar, Sudha Seshaiyan, Prema Nandakumar, Kudavayil M. Balasubramanian and Chitra Madhavan.
Says Chitra Madhavan, “The more I got to know Tamiraparani (ancient name is Porunai), the deeper I wanted to go. It has been an exciting journey of discovery.” Like the other resource persons, Chitra also has been researching and collecting material on the river that flows in the Tirunelveli district. She thinks it is a brilliant concept to bring together a resource person and a dancer and present the different aspects of our civilisation.
During a tour of the area, Chitra visited the shrines on the banks of Tamiraparani. “There are the popular Nava Tirupati temples, then there’s the abode of Nellaiappar-Kantimati ( ‘Sri Kanthimathi’ goes the Dikshitar kriti) and the Kutralanathar temple. Besides, the Nellaiappar-Kanthimathi temple is also the Tamra Sabha and the Kutralanathar, the Chitra Sabha, two of the five important sabhas of dance.”
To visually depict the beauty of the river, its history and the picturesque ambience through dance, Chitra chose the hymns on the Nava Tirupati shrines by Nammazhwar, verses penned by Tirugnanasambandhar on Nellaiappar and Kutralanathar and of course, Muthuswami Dikshitar’s composition. It has been quite a challenge for both the resource persons and the artists to find written works on the rivers.
“Legends are aplenty but hardly any verses,” says Sudha Seshaiyan, who is working with Mumbai-based dancer Vaibhav Arekar on Narmada. “Except for Narmadashtakam (by Adi Sankara) and Narmada-Chalisa, initially I could not find anything that Vaibhav could use for his choreography. Later, through some friends I found verses in Marathi and Gujarati written by the locals. But the experience has been worth all the trouble. Some facts and figures left Sudha awe-struck, such as the Narmada is the only river for which a parikrama is performed (you start at one point generally the Omkareshwar, go to the other end, where the river meets the ocean and come back to where you began). The journey takes about 13 months.
Says Sudha, “Working on this assignment over the past three months, I realised sometimes silence conveys more than what words can.”
Agrees Mythili Prakash, who thinks good music can help depict these quietly flowing rivers that have immensely contributed to the environment and growth of civilisation. Mythili will be portraying the Yamuna.
“ “Would I have done something like this for a dance recital,” wonders Jyotsna Jagannathan, who seems to have developed a close bond with Tamiraparani. “The thought of the river keeps flowing into my mind all the time. The work that has gone into setting up this performance – gathering information from different sources, putting them together, choreographing poetry to movements and expressions, coordinating with a resource person — is like learning new lessons in the art. For the first time I will not be doing the margam. I am anxious how my new work will be received,” she smiles.
Journeys in the past
Vande Mataram (1997)
Gita Bharatham (1998)
Bharatham Samanvayam (1999)
Bharatham Tilakam (2000)
Katha Bharatham (2001)
Rasa Bharatham (2002)
Kavya Bharatham (2003)
Laya Bharatham (2004)
Ramayana Bharatham (2005)
Dasa Bharatham (2006)
Kshetra Bharatham (2007).
Kshetra Bharatham and Tirtha Bharatham have been compiled into books and will be available at the venue for those interested.
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