Shankar Kandasamy’s Bharatanatyam piece is highlight at Thyagaraja Aradhana
The anniversary of the legendary composer St Thyagaraja is marked as Thyagaraja Aradhana, and is celebrated wherever South Indians with interest in classical (Carnatic) music, settle down in numbers. At his birth place in Thiruvaiyar in Tanjore district, it is held in January, coinciding with the day of his samadhi, when hundreds of musicians sing his compositions en masse. Shruthi, Adelaide’s carnatic music outfit, has been conducting this event in February-March for the past 23 years. In the typical format followed elsewhere, the event involves the singing of many of his compositions, particularly five of his famous compositions known as ‘pancharatna kriti’, meaning five gems.
Departing from tradition, this year’s Thyagaraja Aradhana was held in mid-May since Shruthi presented a music and dance extravaganza in March as part of Adelaide Fringe Festival, joining the big league. A major feat for the new committee indeed. With many of the regulars having moved interstate for employment and a few others currently overseas, the singing was mostly by youngsters – from tiny tots to teens. This also helped to fulfil the organisation’s current mission to promote youngsters and showcase their singing skills. Understandably, the very young ones, tutored by Sowmya Anand, who herself is new to Adelaide, gave their best shot and scored points just for their courage in coming to the stage. The teenagers, many of whom are tutored by Raji Krishnamoorthy, showed remarkable improvement, proving their years of training are worthwhile.
The opening itself was a departure from tradition. Suma, Sowmya and Abishek, all talented singers, each rendered in rotation, a couple of stanzas from seven different kritis in as many ragas. Geetha Sadagopan performed a brilliant piece of Bharatanatyam combining three of Thyagaraja’s kritis. That was on top of her presidential duties in organising the whole event. I wonder where she gets the energy from.
A very traditional item of the Thyagaraja Aradhana though, the rendering of ‘pancharatna kritis’, was missing, perhaps due to the absence of many regulars. It was to my dismay. But this feeling was dispelled by the last item of the evening – a scintillating Bharatanatyam ballet on the life of Hanuman by Shankar Kandasamy, dance director of Temple of Fine Arts International, headquartered in Kuala Lumpur with branches in a few cities including Adelaide. It was Shruthi’s good fortune he happened to visit here as chief examiner of the Adelaide chapter’s students.
If anyone had doubts how Hanuman, the monkey god, could form the subject of a ballet, that dissipated in a matter of seconds once Shankar stepped on the stage. He gave a brief prologue of the ballet spanning the birth of Hanuman, his grabbing the Sun, hopping across the sea to Sri Lanka in search of Sita, challenging Ravana and setting Lanka ablaze, uprooting the mountain to bring the herb Sanjeevani to revive Lakshman and eventually becoming the ever-present devotee of Ram. The ballet in four episodes lasted 45 minutes and consisted of non-stop dancing to the accompaniment of Tamil song ‘Adiyarkellam Adieyn’ meaning devotee of the devotee.
Shankar Kandasamy’s footwork was fast and furious, ‘mudras’ meticulous and masterly, and facial expressions flawless. His seamless progression from one episode to the other was interspersed with a vigorous bout of ‘jathiswaram’ that drew repeated applause from the audience. Although the background music was in Tamil, his earlier introduction helped the audience understand his move from one episode to the next.
He glided gracefully like a gazelle, leapt like a leopard, twirled and tweaked like a twister. He hardly stopped for a second throughout his vigorous and vibrant dancing, with pearls of sweat adding a glistening sheen to his slithering frame. He reminded me of two of India’s famous male dancers of yore, Ram Gopal and Uday Shankar (brother of Ravi Shankar). Perhaps the name Shankar has a magic spell of its own. The show was indeed spellbinding and awesome.
That the audience enjoyed Kandaswamy’s performance greatly was evidenced when a few spectators rushed to touch his feet in reverence, to his embarrassment – and mine too.
There were others who preferred a selfie, and he happily obliged.