An evening of Bharatanatyam

On April 28 2024, Dr. Vasundhara Doreswamy, a renowned Bharatanatyam artist performed Bharatanatyam at X TU Delft. The performance was extremely well curated and presented to the audience. Although the audience comprised of various age groups and backgrounds, everyone appreciated the fine representation of “Vasundhara Bani”, a style in Bharatanatyam that’s naturally evolved over 50 years and practised by three generations of dancers.

The performance started by invoking Lord Ganapathi through a shlokam, ‘Shuklam Bharadaram’ followed by Melaprapthi. Melaprapthi is a dance piece where the dancer warms up the body before diving into a full-fledged performance. The piece is usually brisk, rhythmic and connects with the audience by establishing right amount of anticipation and excitement. Melaprapthi belongs to “Nritta” or “pure dance” where only rhythmic body movements is focused on. It’s Dr. Doreswamy who brought this “poorvaranga vidhi” or backstage ritual to the front stage. She performed it so skillfully that the whole auditorium reverberated with her rhythmic steps. The Melaprapthi was followed by a Shiva stuti, an excerpt from Yajurveda, bowing to the Lord of dance for all the blessings and showing gratitude for everything the world is blessed with. Melaprapthi was in Raga Revathi set to Aadi Taalam.

After a crisp and fulfilling Melaprapthi, Dr. Doreswamy dived straight into Ramayana Shabdam. Shabdam, as the name suggests is the first piece of dance where the words are involved. Therefore, it’s the first one where the dancer learns and performs “Abhinaya”. Dr. Doreswamy performed Ramayana Shabdam which captured the entire gist of Ramayana and highlighted the significant events that occurred. Sita swayamvara (Sita wedding Sri Rama), Mareecha vadha popularly known as “hunting the golden deer”, Ravana abducting Sita, Hanuman’s quest of Sita in Lanka, Sita’s Agnipareeksha (Sita’s trial by fire) and Ravana vadha (the final kill of Ravana) were the sancharis presented very authentically. The core strength of a dancer can be seen when an Abhinaya piece is performed. Dr. Doreswamy gave the taste of this nectar to the audience and left them in a state of awe. Shabdam was in Ragamalika set to Mishrachapu talam.

The breathtaking Shabdam was followed by a very unique piece of dance. This piece was a perfect blend of two authentic Indian texts and very artistically choreographed. One of the texts is “Hariharana ragale” an anthology of the 12th century Kannada poet Harihara who was known for his “Ragale” metre and the other one being Nandikeshwara’s “Abhinaya Darpana” which is till date considered as a standard text/treatise on Indian classical dance.

The particular chosen ragale throws light on a potter Gundanna who visualises Lord Shiva dancing while sculpting his earthenware and then describes the whole divine sight to the world. Dr. Doreswamy’s artistic experience and maturity stood out while performing this dance. She exceptionally fuses this text heavy piece which is usually Abhinaya prominent with Nritta, pure bodily movements. While showcasing Shiva’s “tandava” she incorporates the gaits of different animals as mentioned in Abhinaya Darpana. Peacock gait, elephant gait, horse gait and snake gait were brilliantly shown and the audience were ecstatic when the snake gait was performed immaculately. Dr. Doreswamy’s behind the stage practice, her passion towards Yoga and sheer dedication on this art form were so evident when she performed the gaits and also when she struck the Shiva tandava pose.

This piece also depicted the story “Gangavatharana” where Ganga, a mighty river jumps from the heaven to purify the sins of King Bhageeratha and his ancestors in turn causing catastrophe being uncontrollable. Lord Shiva steps up to control the damage and finally ties Ganga in his “jata” (unkempt long locks of hair). From then on Shiva was called as “Gangajatadhara”, he who is adorned by Ganga on his head. This item stood out as a perfect example of Natya, where Nritta and Nritya were effortlessly combined and presented to the audience. Hariharana ragale was in Raga Vasantha set to Adi talam.

After a thunderous Shiva tandavam, she slid elegantly to a world famous krithi ‘Krishna nee begane baro’ composed by Sri Vyasathirtha. Dr. Doreswamy was very convincing as Yashoda as well as little Krishna. The love towards her baby, joy of holding his sweet little body, anger when he does something very naughty and sheer happiness of his simple presence were so well shown. Krishna as naughty as he is, eats a fistful of mud and enrages Yashoda. While being asked to show his mouth, shows an entire universe and who he actually is. Nevertheless, Krishna casts a spell and makes Yashoda forget what she witnessed so she could become a mother simply who fusses and loves her child no matter what. These are the pieces of art which makes a performance from good to great. Perfect abhinaya strikes a chord in each and every one and makes the performance memorable. The abhinaya induces emotions i.e., Rasothpatti. Each and every audience was given that contentment.

The performance ended with a Mangalam. Dr. Doreswamy bowed to Lord Nataraja and the audience for being there for her and radiating strength and support through their presence. The whole performance was exceptionally chiselled right from introducing Vasundhara Bani to authentic Ramayana shabdam, to a vibrant Harirana Ragale, to soothing Krithi on Lord Krishna.

Dr. Vasundhara Doreswamy during her Bharatanatyam performance at TU Delft

The event had organized an interaction session with the artist soon after the performance. The audience were very active and had wonderful questions to ask. One of the questions was directed towards the relationship between Yoga and Bharatanatyam. Dr. Doreswamy demonstrated a few asanas like “Trikonasana” and how it helps in achieving the perfect “Nattadavu”, “Vrikshasana” in striking poses with balance and “Tandavasana” in hitting the spot in “Tandavaadavu”. She also explained how Yoga helps in having a balanced mind which is very important for everyone irrespective of their profession.

Another question was aimed at age and its consequences on learning and performing dance. Dr. Doreswamy answered that age is just a number and doesn’t affect much if one is focused n tenacious enough to learn anything new for that matter. She is also a living example of the above statement.

One other question was asked on how the Guru shishya paddathi is going on in this era. She threw light on how she treated her guru and how today’s generation treats the Gurus. Since the Gen Z and millennials gravitate towards modernisation, the relationship between the gurus and shishyas is changing drastically. However, is modernisation a boon or a bane is still a question that lingers in everyone’s minds.

The event concluded with a humble felicitation to the artist. Vidushi Chandrika Sundararaman presided the event and felicitated the artist. Vidushi Chandrika runs a dance school in Zoetermeer which has produced some of the wonderful Bharatanatyam artists in the Netherlands.


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