Divine dances on the steeds of the gods

T Reddi Lakshmi, Shivranjani Harish and Arupa Lahiry
On a pleasant evening in November in Delhi, the Sadguru Sri Thyagabrahma Aradhana Kaiukarya Trust conferred the Nataraja Samman on dancers who have excelled in their field. Rama Vaidyanathan (for Bharatnatyam), Gopika Varma (for Mohiniattam), Deepika Reddy (for Kuchipudi) and Rajendra Gangani (for Kathak) were felicitated by Bharati Shivaji and Veda Brahma Sri Radhakrishna Ji.
The performances for that evening were on the subject or theme of Divya Vahana, part of the trilogy of divine accompaniments, the first being Divya Astra. The event was conceptualized by Usha RK and held at IHC in Delhi. A vahana means a vehicle of the Lord. It’s mostly an animal or a mythical entity; each vahana has its attributes and a tale to relate it to the deity it is associated with. ‘Vah’ in Sanskrit is to carry. The relationship is often reciprocal, and the vahana represents certain qualities which are complementing the deity.

Garuda is the large mythical eagle and the mount of Lord Vishnu. It was performed by Shivaranjani Harish in Bharatnatyam. She wore a golden yellow saree for the piece, which was appropriate for garuda. She started the presentation with a garuda kauthavam. Garuda is described as golden-bodied, white-faced, and having a rounded sharp beak. He has large wings and a massive form. He is the son of Vinathi and Kashyap and wears the snakes Adishesha, Vasuki and Gulika as his adornments.

 The tale has it that Garuda flies to Indralok to get the pot of amrita to free his mother from the slavery of his snakes. His courage during his fight with Indra and the snakes impresses Lord Vishnu, who then takes him as his steed. Shivaranjani’s depiction of the rounded sharp beak and large wings with leaps and apt movements was impressive, especially the stretched one-legged stance of the garuda in flight.

Svarnakaye (golden-bodied) shvetavarna (white-faced) pakshidhara mahamati vahana gaganeshwar (lord of the skies, the biggest bird) vishnurath (the steed of Vishnu), Adishesha as his adornment, Vasuki his yagyopaveet, veeraputra, anupamteja – these were the attributes depicted.  The word Garuda was used as a bol.

The stance taken by Shivaranjani of Lord Vishnu squatting on the garuda was very well-balanced. . The imagery and abhinaya were all skilfully rendered. The choreography was by Guru Kiran Subramaniam, lyrics and music by D Srivatsa.

The dancer portraying Gaja was Arupa Lahiry. She is a talented dancer and a disciple of Chitra Visweswaran. Here, the elephant is not the steed of Goddess Gajalakshmi, but she is seated on a lotus with elephants on all four sides pouring water on her as an abhishekam. Mahalakshmi was incarnated out of the churning of the ocean surrounded by her four elephants. She is the one who fulfills all desires and removes them. In 5th and 6th century murals, she is depicted as washing her hair with this water, and the droplets fall on the swans who are pure souls.

Arupa has a very deft technique in Bharatnatyam. She entered the stage holding one hand like the elephant’s ear and the other raised like the trunk. The jathis and movements were slow and flowed smoothly. The movement for the waving of the ears was very wide and jerky, to depict their flapping. Lakshmi is worshipped as the durgativinashini, phal pradayini (removes obstacles and gives the fruit of prayers).

The Trinity (Hari, Hara, Brahma) worship her – supoojita ambika (mother), she was depicted as emerging from the Ksheer sagar with the four gajas pouring water on her from their trunks. As Arupa took the stance for loosening her hair and washing them in the water, the lights were dimmed and the vision of the beautiful goddess washing her hair emerged as if magically. Amrit mod karini, mukti kaarini - the goddess is worshipped as the giver of the nectar.

The next vahana depicted was the Hansa, the vehicle of Goddess Saraswati. The swan symbolizes knowledge and self-realisation. The white colour is the symbol of excellence. It lives in the Mansarovar lake near the Kailash mountain.

T Reddi Lakshmi, another gifted dancer and a disciple of Vanashree and Jayarama Rao, explored the format of pravesha daravu. The bird is born from the beejakshara or the first word. She is pained and looking for the purpose of her life, and is drawn to Goddess Saraswati through her veena nada.

Lakshmi’s portrayal had the gait of a hansa and the postures made a real impression, particularly the flying action. She was wearing a white saree. Goddess Saraswati is described as mata gyananetra pradata – she is the one who gives the eye for knowledge. The performance ended with the chant ‘Soham Hans’.

Nandi, the steed of Shiva, was depicted by Shivaranjani again in a red saree. Nandi is famous for his mastery over rhythm and accompanies Shiva on the mridangam during the celestial dance. The piece began with a shlokam on Nandi, followed by a Nandi chol. Here, the piece finally reaches a crescendo with the word ‘Nan-di’. Shivaranjini could capture the gait of a bull in her dance. Namami nandisha shivantarangam – in a Shiva temple, Nandi sits right in front of the shiva lingam.

The story here says that a bhakti, Nandanar, who has come for darshan of the Lord, cannot see him because of Nandi sitting in front. So he requests the bull to move a little. But Nandi sits tight – it is only after Shiva pleads with him that Nandi moves just a bit, proclaiming, ‘I may have moved, but I am still his first devotee.’ The depiction of the piece was done with a lot of flair and was humorous as well as riveting. Shivaranjini would, each time, kneel and slump backwards to show the stubborn squat of Nandi. The condescending attitude of Nandi when he moves a little to allow a view of the lord was also depicted with a lot of expression. It was a particularly skilled performance that left the audience spellbound.

The musicians for the evening were Srivatsa on vocals, Ramya Janakiraman on nattuvangam, Saraswati Rajagopalan on veena, Sreedhar on violin and Rajat Prasanna on flute.

Note: This article first appeared in narthaki.com

Pics: Anoop Arora