Manjula Viswanath’s latest production is devoted to bhakti
For Guru Manjula Viswanath, bhakti is the life force of Bharatanatyam, helping us understand the manifestation of the divine in human form. As dance and music go hand in hand, so too are dance and devotion inextricably interlinked. Without bhakti or bhaava, Bharatanatyam is incomplete, she firmly believes.
Rasika Dance Academy’s latest stage production Sadhana: Nine Modes of Devotion, paid tribute to this integral aspect in all its myriad forms, in the process creating a spiritually uplifting experience for the artistes and audience alike.
The live orchestral support provided by Sruthi Balaji and Nirupama Raman (vocals), Manjula (nattuvangam), Balaji Jaganadhan (violin) and Pallavarajan Nagendran (mrudangam) transported those gathered to a truly divine realm.
Steering away from traditional ballet format, Sadhana has been skilfully choreographed to showcase the talent and prowess of senior Rasika students through scintillating solo performances.
Demonstrating mastery over the medium, the individual segments struck a delicate balance between strong thematic content, effective storytelling and technical proficiency. Each student crafted a unique tale, while displaying stamina, poise and expertise that come with years of dedication to the art form, from both the guru and the shishya.
As Manjula’s senior students evolve into competent dancers in their own right, mastering the margam has been a core component of tutelage, forging their own individualistic style as they imbibe the ideals, values and vision of their guru.
“When the lone Bharatanatyam artist performs on stage, she is the cynosure of all eyes,” explained Manjula. “The focus is complete, the pressure is immense and the danseuse, given that she is tirelessly dancing all alone, is in fact one with all. To look beyond and dream, to see creativity and express it subjectively is vital to the dance experience.”
Under the watchful eyes of their doting guru, the talented students acquitted themselves beautifully, living her dream and theirs. Having now carved a niche for herself both as choreographer and dance teacher, Sadhana also marked the comeback of Manjula, donning the salangai once more for ‘Vandanam’, a soul-stirring rendition of ‘Jagadodhaarana’, portraying the multi-faceted maternal love as interpreted by composer Purandaradasa.
The nine aspects of devotion – Archana (worship), Keerthanam (praise), Daasyam (service), Smaranam (remembrance), Paada Sevam (adorning the lord’s feet), Sravanam (listening), Atma Nivedanam (surrendering soul), Sakhyam (companionship) and Vandanam (thanksgiving) – explored the complex esoteric and metaphysical relationships between man and his maker as embodied in Hindu philosophy through popular tales from our mythology.
Illustrating the sanchari, the inaugural sequence by the nimble and energetic Anitha Vytheeswaran paid obeisance to Ganesha, the God of auspicious beginnings, while the capable Madhumita Jayaram’s artistic rendering of ‘Kaana Kann Ayiram’ demonstrated her mastery of many emotions, as she extolled the infinite traits of Saravanan.
The sprightly Dinisha Devadasan as the bubbly effervescent Hanuman, whose insatiable appetite for knowledge and experience soon transforms into unconditional devotion explored Daasyam. Latisha Manilal beautifully recreated the twin tales of Prahalada and Draupadi, whose unshakable faith in Narayana eventually proves that good will prevail over evil. Aananda Nattanam in praise of the Nataraja, God of Dance served as a perfect platform for Rasika’s senior-most student Lalitha Bala to display her mastery over the genre, acquired through dedication and discipline to her chosen profession.
Anjana Chandran’s immaculate postures and graceful expression were the highlight of ‘Krishna Chindu’, illustrating the miracles of Krishna as he quells Kaliya and lifts the mighty Govardhana on his little finger. Surrendering to the sublime, the purity of simple devotion and unconditional love was the central theme of Abisri Negi’s performance, immortalised by the legendary Mirabhai (‘Paga ghungroo baandh’).
The series of solo performances culminated with Sakhyam, a delicate piece celebrating companionship, dedicated to Subramanya Bharathi (the delightful raagamalika ‘Paayum oli nee enaku’). Combining the myriad abilities of all dancers, it was an ode to devotion.
The evening concluded with an energetic ‘Thillana’ and customary ‘Mangalam’.
Using Sadhana as an effective medium, Rasika seniors have certainly achieved a personal milestone, taking the audience on an ego transcending spiritual journey and doing their guru Manjula Viswanath proud.