Enchanting nayikas, ancient poetry and awesome nritya

The LalitArpan festival at the IHC on the 22nd and 23rd of September was held under the aegis of Dr Jyotsna Suri and Padmashri Shovana Narayan. This year was the festival’s 15th edition. The festival was very well advertised through email invitations and dailies carrying schedules and the dancers’ profiles. There were hordes of enthusiastic visitors queuing up for entry when at 6.45 pm the evening of the event, the gates were shut. Great gurus, who have a big fan following and a lot of disciples, were performing, and so people thronged to the venue, some waiting for entry and others jostling and trying to fight their way in. The manager, who was very strict initially, later apologized and said it would be a question of their jobs if they allowed too many people inside.

The festival was dedicated to the nayikas of Vidyapati. Before him, the famous Sanskrit poet Jayadev wrote about the various types of nayikas in his poetry. Vidyapati, who wrote in Maithili is a poet who comes under the category of ancient poets of Hindi literature. His era was the 14th-15th century A.D. His hand-written manuscripts have been found in Bengal, which shows the influence of Bengali on his language. He was a bhakta poet who wrote about the leelas of Radha and Krishna. The poetry depicts the various moods of Radha as the nayika, like Jayadev did. These were depicted in six dance styles by eight gurus who are all Padma awardees. The concept was by Shalini Rao, a Bharatnatyam dancer. Shri Dhyanendra Mani Tripathi enacted and introduced Vidyapati, while Shalini Rao and Shivani Verma, a disciple of Shovanaji, were the sutradhars who dramatised the concept as apsaras, introducing each nayika through poetry and gestures.

Shalini Rao and Shivani Verma

The various moods of the nayika was first defined by Bharata in Natya Shastra. The Nayika is the feminine energy which is symbolic of the Atma which yearns for union with the Parmatma.

Vasaksajja by Shovana Narayan - Shovana Narayan a Padma Shri in Kathak. In the story, the nayika is adorning herself and her chamber for the union. She is like a warrior of love armed with beauty. She is sure to win the battle. A very romantic description of her physical beauty – ‘tribali tarangini puradungam jani manamatha patra pathau’ – her feet, gait, slender waist, heavy breasts, kundalas, bindi and the chandan smeared on her body are all her weapons.

Virahotkanthita by Madhavi Mudgal – Madhavi Mudgal is a Padma Shri awardee in Odissi dance. ‘Ke patiya le jayat re mora piyatam paas’ - who will take my letter to my lover? The rainy season is the season of union, and the nayika, separated from her beloved, wants to convey her feelings to her lover through a letter. She is tormented by the arrows of Manmatha, which are aggravating her pain, so she addresses Madana with a bit of anger. Does he think she is Shiva, who will bear the onslaught of his arrows? She wears chandan and not vibhuti. She dresses in beautiful garments and not tiger skin.

Jayarama Rao and Vanashree Rao

Swadheena Bhartrika by Jayarama Rao and Vanashree Rao - They are Padma-awarded Kuchipudi dancers. Ghani beli manini, sakhigana manjh anunaya kariyata upajaya laj’ - here, the nayika boasts of her hold on her lover. It is only her glance that brings him to her. She does not have to speak. Krishna plucks a flower and throws it at Radha. Radha steals the flute from him, and the intertwining creepers, the birds, the lotuses with the bees humming on them, all create the mood for love. Manmatha aims his arrows at Radha, who then pines for Krishna, and finally the two meet. The abhinaya by the duo was very subtle.

The next piece they presented was Shankaragiri, a composition by Swati Thirunal in raag Hansanandi aditalam. The devotee is praying to Lord Shiva while the Lord dances in joy. The gestures and stances to depict bhasmadhari, pinakadhari, gale rundamal, gangadhari had a lot of agility and balance in the nritta and was commendable. It was a new thillana mixed with the original song. This composition, though not related to the theme of poetry by Vidyapati, could still be related to, since the Lord and devotee are the nayak and nayika, respectively. The music was by K Venkatesh and Dr Vasudevan.

Geeta Chandran

Kalahantarita by Geeta Chandran - Geeta Chandran is a Padma Shri awardee in Bharatnatyam. This nayika is quarrelsome and critical. ‘Kahe ko mere ghar aaye ho,’ she starts. She fights with her lover for she thinks he has been with another woman. She cannot keep silent about it and a fight ensues. ‘Aadh aadh mudit bhel duhu lochan, vachan bolat aadh aadh’. The music was by K Venkateswaram, nattuvangam by Sharanya Chandran, vocals by K Venkateshwaran, flute by Rajat Prasanna, violin by Raghavendra Prasad and mridangam by R Kesavan.


Geetaji started with another of Vidyapati’s compositions - ‘Madhura madhu ritu madhukar panti’ - which was built into a thillana. ‘Madhuram Krishna Rasraj’ depicted Krishna playing on the flute and playfully roaming Vrindavan, with flowers showered on him. Her nritya captured the playful and rasik mood of Krishna with agility of nritta and exuberance of expressions. The bee (madhup), kusum (flowers), peacock (mayur) all are madhur. The rasraj or the king of all pleasures has a dalliance with a gopi that night.
‘Aadh aadh mudit bhel duhu lochan, vachan bolat aadh aadh’

For the next piece, Sharanya on the nattuvangam did an mnemonic recitation of bols depicting the unstable state of Krishna. Krishna is tired from the previous night’s lovemaking and in that inebriated state, knocks on the door of a sakhi. After no response, he walks to Radha’s house. He is stumbling from sleep and drops his flute, then gathers himself. She welcomes him, fans him and offers him water to drink. ‘Mudit dohu lochan’ - his eyes are half open from staying awake the previous night. His speech is slurred and he is disoriented. Geetaji exhibited some expressive abhinaya. Seeing the telltale signs of the previous night’s lovemaking on him - there is chandan and vermilion on his body - the sakhi tells him to leave immediately.
Geetaji said that she had been doing Vidyapati’s pieces for some time now. “The poetry is good for visual interpretation. The language is not akin to Hindi, but Maithili is very singable and the imagery in the poetry is beautiful,” she said.

On the 23rd the nayikas continued to emote.

Pratibha Prahlad

Khandita nayika by Pratibha Prahlad - Pratibha has been awarded a Padma for Bharatnatyam. She started her performance with Suswagatam Krishna, a bhajan which enumerates the names and attributes of Krishna. Madhava, Keshava, Karuna Sindhu, Vrindavanchar, Vanshidhar, Pitambardhar, Janardan.

‘Lochan arun bujhal bad bhed, rayani ujagar garau nived’ - Radha adorns herself, picks and strings flowers, and lights the lamp in Krishna’s wait. But he appears in a dishevelled state, bearing the signs of making love with another woman. Radha is annoyed - ‘Tahi jao hari raini raho ja ke sang’. Krishna keeps making excuses for his condition and keeps asking for forgiveness. Pratibha’s abhinaya for the piece had a myriad of emotions and the act of Krishna lying was particularly impressive. Vocals and music were by Sudha Raghuraman, which were done excellently to capture the mood of the piece, mridangam by MV Chandrasekhar, flute by G Raghuraman.

Singhjit Singh and Charu Srija Mathur

Vipralabdha nayika by Singhjit Singh and Charu Srija Mathur - They have been awarded the Padma Shri for Manipuri dance. As a prelude, they began with Madhuritu madhukar paati’, a composition by Vidyapati sung in Manipuri vasant raas. Guru Singhjit Singh used a kartaal for the dance. In their conversation, Shivani and Shalini enacted ‘Kahe keeno jhagda unse, main toh viraha tadap rahi re, aao sajan ankhiyan tarse’. Shivani’s rendition of these lines was filled with expressions of a heartbroken nayika.

‘Chanan bhel visham sar re, bhushan bhel bhaari’. Here, they used a symbolic sequence of Krishna’s departure to Mathura, and the nayika beseeching him not to go. The narrative says that the nayika is anguished by intense heartbreak and the misery of separation. The sandalwood paste and adornments are like arrows in the separation. Singhjit Singh exhibited some very controlled and rhythmic footwork for the sequence using the kartaal. It was a lilting piece, executed by wonderful dancing by the two gurus. The poet Vidyapati, in the end, seeing her sorrow, consoles her that Krishna will return.

Bharti Shivaji

Proshit bhartrika nayika by Bharti Shivaji - Bharti is a Padma Shri in Mohiniattam. ‘Lochan dhayal kudayal, Hari nahin aayal re’ - the nayika is waiting for her beloved, but she is giving up hope and blames her fate. She wishes she could fly to be with him. Shivani enacted the lines ‘neend na pare raini jo aave, dard kare tan viraha gambhir’. The nayika prepares to welcome her lover, adorning herself and her chambers, but he does not make an appearance. Disheartened, she scatters her adornments. She is disheartened and tired and wishes she could fly to him.

Bharti Shivaji could very subtly show the change of expression on her face as she faces disapppointment - ‘Lochan dhaye, Hari nahin aaye’. Her footwork and torso movements were very graceful. As the nayika sleeps, she dreams of him and is gratified. Poet Vidyapati tells her to have patience, that it is longing which will give her fulfillment. It was a slow, lilting piece with typical swaying Mohiniattam movements. The recording was by Deepak Samson, with vocals by Rajgopalan, veena by Shyamala Bhaskar and Sri Kumar on edakka.

Ranjana Gauhar

Abhisarika nayika by Ranjana Gauhar - Ranjana Gauhar has been awarded the Padma Shri for Odissi. Her rendition of the poetry, ‘Chanda jani ug ajuk raati, piya ke likhiye pathao paati’. Shivani enacted the lines, ‘Dekho kaisen haal bhayi, piya milan ko taras rahi hai, lok laj tyaj chhup chhup jaye, khole rahasya nupur kinkini’. Ranjanaji entered the dark stage with a diya in her hand and her nosepin glinting in the light. It was an awe-inspiring sight. The nayika tells the rain and clouds to help her meet her lover. Abhisarika nayika here is tamasi, for she is going to meet her beloved in the night. She writes a letter to her beloved to meet her. Poet Vidyapati urges the moon, the clouds and the rain to help her in her tryst. Any time of the meeting is always auspicious. The nayika adorns herself and secretly makes way to the rendezvous, and is threatening and bribing nature to help her. Ranjanaji’s abhinaya was commendable, depicting eagerness on one hand, and slight coyness on the other. Music and vocals were by Santosh Mohanty.


Explaining abhisarika better, Ranjanaji says, “There are eight love stories of eight nayikas, the most popular amongst them is the abhisarika nayika. Abhisarika (the one who moves) is a heroine who sets aside her modesty and moves out of her home to secretly meet her lover.  She is usually depicted at the door of her house and on her way to the tryst, defying all kinds of difficulties - the storm, snakes and dangers of the forest. Her intense longing to meet her lover makes her daring and bold. There are two types of abhisarika nayika: Abhisaarati, also called jyotsni or sukta. She always dresses in white and goes out in bright sunlight to meet her nayaka, and Tamasi, also called Nila. She always covers herself in a black veil and slips off into the darkness of the night. I chose Nila or Tamasi for my presentation, and this abhisarika nayika finds clouds, storms and the night as no deterrent to her rendezvous to meet her lover. I was inspired by the various depictions of Abhisarika in the miniature paintings, which are extremely vocal and narrative of her characteristics. Abhisarika is also my favorite nayika and I am grateful to my friend Shovana Narayan for bestowing Abhisarika nayika on me.”

The evenings were truly magical, and for various reasons. Firstly, it was the text and poetry - so amorous and laden with love and physicality - and then the depiction of the emotions that are attached to the nayika or Radha does not allow the gaze to wander. And to top it all, it was all the Padma awardees on the stage, interpreting the poetry in their respective styles of dance and its language, which cannot be paralleled. The audience was totally mesmerised by the performance.

Shovanaji said that she has done compositions by Vidyapati many times . “Shalini Rao and I were discussing the theme, and the nayikas of Vidyapati just clicked. Vidyapati has written wonderful poetry on Ashtanayika – evocative, beautiful, descriptive and emotional. Jayadevji’s ashtanayika are common to all dance forms and part of their traditional repertoire. It was all decided and executed on a friendly note.”

Pics: Anoop Arora