Ode to Shiva

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The third godhead of the Hindu Trinity and perhaps one of our most complex deities is at the centre of a new dance production

Hamsa and Vidya. (Photo credit: Binu Photography)

All that begins must end, thereby continuing the cycle of life and death in eternal continuum. As god of yogis, Shiva sustains change, both in the form of death and destruction but more importantly, in the positive sense of shattering ego and illusion. In doing so, he enables the vision of truth, purity and reality – Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

Exploring the complex metaphysical themes of Karma, Gnana and Bhakti Yoga, Yogatrayam, a unique Bharatanatyam ballet brought together artistes from two well-regarded institutions, Kalasadhanalaya (Chennai) and Samskriti School of Dance (Sydney) at the UNSW Science Theatre. Conceptualised by Swami Paramarthananda Saraswathi, it was a celebration of the many manifestations of Shiva and contradictions that constitute the enigmatic third god of Hindu Triumvirate.

Kalasadhanalya founder Revathi Ramachandran and her daughter-disciple Manasvini portrayed Karma and Gnana Yoga in exquisite detail through Laya Nirupanam, while Hamsa Venkat and Samskriti School delved into Bhakti Yoga with enchanting tales from the Puranas. Esoteric themes were innovatively choreographed and succinctly executed, making Yogatrayam a feast for the senses.

The event was in aid of AIM for Seva, which runs an extensive support network for disadvantaged children in rural India.

Representing both action and knowledge, Laya Nirupanam, a thematic presentation in Melatur style of Bharatanatyam examined Shiva, first as Nataraja, the god of dance, who shoulders the all-important tasks of creation, sustenance and destruction, thus keeping the world in harmony; and subsequently as Daksinamurthy, the Mouna Guru and supreme Brahman, who transcends name and form as he resolves doubts through reflection and contemplation, leading the individual towards sat, chit and ananda (truth, consciousness and bliss).

Revathi and Manasvini (Photo credit: Binu Photography)

Juxtaposing movement with introspection, youthful energy with restrained elegance, the mother-daughter duo is indeed a fine torchbearer of the shudha nrittam legacy, bequeathed by Guru Mangudi Iyer.

Beautifully rendered vocals, nattuvangam and orchestral support carried the narrative forward. Novel use of percussion heightened the sense of expectation as synchronised footwork and mathematical precision allowed the duo to demonstrate the splendour of pure nritta. Elaborate sancharis portrayed the cycle of life in all its infinite variety.

Amidst rhythmic chants from Chamakam and Guru Ashtakam, Laya Nirupanam commenced with ‘Guru Vandanam’ and ‘Shambu Natanam’, set to tune by maestros Ganesh and Kumaresh. The sounds that emanate from Shiva’s damaru leading to the creation of the cosmos ensued.

The rendering of Dikshitar kriti ‘Ananda Natana Prakasam’ demonstrated skill and mastery as the virtues of the Lord of Dance were extolled. ‘Nee Aada Naan Aaduven’ yet again showcased rhythmic unison.

The study of contrasts continued with ‘Sankara Sankara Shambho’ from Thayumanavar’s Anandakalippu, culminating in energetic and joyous Thillaana – ‘Deena Karunaakarane Nataraja Neelakantane’.

Borrowing heavily from the wealth of narratives present in ancient Hindu scriptures and mythology, Bhakti Yoga, that followed post interval, was indeed a prayer, a heartfelt offering of utmost devotion and reflected the deepest passion for the art form through self-surrender. Adi Shankara’s soul stirring compositions offered the perfect blank canvas for the very capable artists.

Govind and Vidya (Photo credit: Binu photography)

Ably led by their guru Hamsa, senior students including Vidya, Sruthi and Govind crafted the individual’s personal relationship with god as he journeys along the path of self-realisation, single-mindedly overcoming obstacles. In doing so, the jeevatma ultimately seeks union with paramatma.

Among the tales narrated in lavish detail were those of Sage Patanjali, often regarded as father of Yogasutra and considered an avatar of Adhisesha. Bhakti Yoga thus opened with this beautiful tale. The narrative of Nandi blocking Patanjali from entering Chidambaram temple followed. Elaborate hand and foot movements characterised the ‘Charana Shrunga Stotram’, demonstrating not just Patanjali’s vexation but also his skill and mastery over short syllabic verses while extolling the beauty of Chidambaranathan.

Vishakha Iyer rendered ‘Nandi Chol’, a beautifully choreographed Shreejith Krishna composition, with remarkable grace and dexterity.

A magnificently structured Varnam depicting the tale of Kannappa Naayanaar showcased the power of unstinting devotion that surpasses all barriers.

Bhakti Yoga also paid tribute to the phallic form of worship, symbolised by Lingam as the formless, all pervasive reality. ‘Lingotbhava Vaibhavam’ was a colourful representation of his omnipresence, with beautiful choreography and sound effects.

The auspicious odyssey of Yogatrayam concluded amidst chants of ‘Pranava Naadam’, in a fitting tribute to Omkaara, controller of Life Force.

Be it the song selection, stage set up or thematic representation, Yogatrayam was a deeply uplifting spiritual experience – one that grappled with the nebulous and transformed into a vision of beauty.