Beautiful ranga inside and out in Rangoantaratma: Kamalini Dutt brings out the best in Purvadhanashree, Divya Goswami, S. Vasudevan and Hemanta Kalita

Divya Goswami, Hemanta Kumar Kalita, Dr. Sridhar Vasudevan and Purvadhanashree

On the 1st of April, the vast stage at Kamani Auditorium in Delhi became the seat of an exploration of the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism using the interplay of paintings, pictures, music and two classical dance forms to decipher the emergence of kala from Shiva and Shakti in Rangoantaratma, conceived and directed by Kamalini Dutt. I missed an initial part of this production – a lecture by Dr. Kaul about the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, and I thought that this was a difficult event to decipher and report since each time I tried, I would face a mind block. So reporting this event is also my effort at a journey of understanding it and taking it inward. I would like to apologise to all the scholars who were present at the event and who have reviewed the production since my knowledge of the concept is very limited. It is only when I could bring myself to the truth that raas mandala is the seat of utpatti of naad and the maharaas by Radha and Krishna is the seat of all kala that I got a little comfortable with my thought process.

An image of Shiva and Shakti in the AV presentation

Dr. Vasudevan with the jarajar
In present times, life is a strife and violence is pervasive. Kashmir Shaivism, on the other hand, is an inclusive and non-dualistic philosophy. Kashmir Shaivism or Trika Shaivism, as it is referred to, is a non-dualist tradition of Shaiva Shakta tantra. Abhinavagupta is its primary proponent. It explains how the formless supreme principle is Shiva or naad. The vast expanse of the universe saw the emergence of naad or the soundless sound which rules the world and comes even before vak and arth. Earlier, dancers would begin by purifying the ranga, which, according to the Natya Shastra, is a sacred space, one dancer emerging with sprinkling water and the other with an urn carrying the dhwaja, also known as jarajar, consecrated for poorvaranga with the shad-devta on it for protection.

Arshiya Sethi, Guru Kamalini Dutt, Pt. Birju Maharaj, Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan and Dr. Sonal Mansingh

Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan announced the beginning of the performance with bols with the nattuvangam. Birju Maharaj ji recited a bandish and Sonal Mansingh ji recited lines from the Lalita Sahastranam.

The two Bharatnatyam dancers, Purvadhanashree and Dr. S. Vasudevan, began the performance with an alarippu. They were costumed in almost totally white aharyam with hints of red. The ranga pooja has been condensed into the alarippu. Here, the anga-upanga and pratyanga are used to construct the abstract architecture of a temple. This was done in a nine-beat cycle. In the backdrop, you could see the picture of a temple. The two dancers commenced with very well-defined, expansive movements which were very finely tuned. The Shiva Sutra says that Shiva is naad, and if you think of it scientifically, sound waves travel in matter. When there was no matter, it’s only Shiva who could have been the naad or the soundless sound.

An image of Thyagaraja in the AV

Thyagaraja, one of the trinity of the great composers in the 18th century, was very strongly inspired by the tantra philosophy, like all the bhakti poets. He was inspired by the vigyan bhairava tantra.

 The painting of Shiva with five faces

The composition used invokes Shiva as the naad tanum, with five faces – aghor, vamdev, ishaan, tadapurasha, sadajyot. These five faces show the five sacred states of the self, and Thyagaraja says that the seven notes of music emerged from these five faces. In the background was a painting of Shiva with five faces.

Purvadhanashree in her very flawless movements and technique presented the attributes of Shiva – jata, snakes, the trinetra, damaru, the poison in his throat, a lotus in his hand, finishing the piece by offering flowers to the lord. Shiva in the picture behind her had multiple hands, ‘bhavodbhayay namo namaha, rudraye namah, rudra roope namah’, showing the agni, the lightning, storm and rain, ‘tatpurushaye mahadevaye, sarvavidyanam’.

She depicted the five forms of Shiva with their elements and the swaras that emanated from each. Sa ma pa are the sounds of birds, re ga dha ni are the sounds of animals.

The image of bindu in the AV

In the third section, the philosophy that was presented was that naad awakens the shakti bindu. Dr. Vasudevan and Purvadhanashree took different stances of Shiva and Shakti. Bindu is the divine mother, the cause of creation. Though the two are not separate, yet they are the shaktiman and shakti.

The vocals began with an alaap invoking the shakti as ‘amritayenamaha, manorama, kalpavriksha vanasthaye namami ekyamandape, navaratnamaye shri singhasane trikonatsamasinamgatambhuje, kotikalpa lavanyam, ardhanarishwaram shivam roopam vasudevi satchidananda lakshanam’.

In the background, the bindu was shown as a huge golden orb from which golden droplets amanated. Purvadhanashree and Dr. Vasudevan, while taking various stances for Shiva and Shakti in the ardhanarishwara stance, rotated back to back, signifying that they were abheda.

The image of Adishankaracharya in the AV

Adishankaracharya, influenced by Kundalini chakra tantra, created the Saundarya Lahiri, where the first 41 phrases or shlokas make the Anand Lahiri, which is based on Kundalini tantra. The 41st shloka describes shakti dancing with Shiva in mooladhara chakra. Kalvak and Samyachar are the two dancers of shakti. Music and dance, if practised with surrender and devotion, have the power to invoke the chakras inside, unveiling the nava varna to reveal the essence of the bindu, which is the mother’s abode. The mother or bindu is deep-seated within every human being, filling them with compassion . Parameshwar and Parashakti are one, or their aikya is established.

The image of Muthuswamy Dikshitar in the AV

Dr. Vasudevan chose a composition by Muthuswamy Dikshitar to define the golden light of the Mother – ‘Kankambari karunya’ from Amrit Lahiri. Dikshitarji is a follower of Shri Vidya Upasana. The composition is in raag Kanakambari. The jatis composed are meant to show the kundalini rising like a serpent with the sound of ‘hum’. The background showed a pyramid.

The lyrics ‘kanakambari karunyamritlahiri kamakshi’ and the music and vocals were ethereal. Here, we had in the background a painting by Himanshu Shrivastava where Shiva is holding a golden canvas on which Shakti emerges. Here, the connotation for me is that Shiva becomes the canvas for the golden bindu to emerge or Shiva is the holding power for Shakti. Dr. Vasudevan shows awe towards the mother since every pore in him shows the devotion that he has towards his ishta. ‘Dinakar chandra tej prakash kari’ – Vasudevan shows very expressive eyes, hair tied into a knot on the head and the beauty of the ardhachandra on the head of the devi. Mahatripurasundari is shown with a very firm bust, ‘shankari muktipradankari’, drawing the space of the yantra, ‘parameshwari sthiti laya nash kari’ – here again, the singing evoked bhakti rasa.

He drew the space as in the yantra with the sound of ‘hum’, the kundalini rising shown by the intertwining serpentine movement of the hands and meeting at the top in a trembling movement to rise in the sahasrara chakra in a lotus where devi and dev are united.

In the fourth piece, the narration says that once naad and bindu were manifest in the universe, kala was created. Kala and kaal or time are both aspects of Shiva. He is the mahakaal because he is in the unlimited kaal since there is no beginning or time beyond him. The dance of the kaal is the dance of the planetary bodies, day and night, and the solar system. The numbers 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9 are known as the panchajati. The interplay of time cycles and the emphasis on the numbers creates rhythms. The rhythms take us to the journey to the temporary ‘sam’. Sam is of importance in music and dance as it releases the tension made by complex rhythmic patterns. As the sam comes to a silence, rasa is created.  It points to the bindu in everyone. Samarasya is the rasa which is equal in all. The silence that follows is peace.

Various aspects of devi were chosen according to the panchajati. All the numbers – 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9 – have a symbolic meaning. Divya Goswami in Kathak demonstrated the numbers, the attributes of the devi and the talas. As we add 1 to the two dimensions, another dimension is added and devi is known as tisra, trayi, trivadagidana, tripurabhagini, trikuta, trinayana, triputada, trijannavandaya, tripuneshi, trikonanti, trimurti, trigunateeta, trayakshani. Divya expressed each of these attributes of the devi through Kathak, and then, beginning with leaps, she elaborated on the teen taal by parmelu, paran, the trishul act, toda, chakradar toda. She was also costumed in white and gold and looked a picture of serenity. Her Kathak, very graceful and restrained, did not compromise on the technique. In fact, her dancing added to the depth of the theme. Triangles were shown floating on the screen behind her.
Elaborating on the attributes of the devi, the number 4 was used – chaturbhuja, chaturvakta, charu chandrakala, charupaye, chaturthapradayani, charachar sharanartha.

 Elaborating on the taal, Divya performed a tez aamad, parmelu, paran, footwork, leaps, stances for holding the talwar and the Dhanush-baan. In this, squares were shown floating on the screen behind her. Elaborating on the number 5, she depicted panchabhuta, pancheni, panchakrityapradanam, panchabrahma swarupini, and again, elaborating on the taal, her nritta had paran and footwork. Elaborating on the number 7 and attributing it to the devi, she showed saptini, saptavarna, saptavarneshi, saptamatrika swarupini, saptalokaviharini. This is the taal that colours life with joy, or the mishra taal. She depicted the movements of the damru, nagada, paran, the kundalini rising and in a unique manner, she made the petals flick open. Moving on to the number 9, the devi was shown as navavarna, navani, navagatihi, navya, navavakachhandpramodini.

The sankeerna tala was shown with footwork. Nau is nava, which is new and magical, finishing with a tihai and finally, addressing the devi as rasatmika - ‘rasovai sa’.

Abhinavaguptacharya said that life is rasa and natya is rasa, hence life is natya. The Shiva Sutra calls it the rangoantaratma or nartakah atma. Here, the space within us is also a ranga, where we act out our lives. To a yogi, it is simply the flow of life with a perspective of detachment. In order to experience the rasa within, we all have to leave our identity behind and enter our inner performance space as a reflection. Shiva and Shakti are abheda or one, but they act as each other’s consorts. The emotions of Parvati towards Shiva are embodied in the 51st shloka of Saundarya Lahiri. They play out the leela. The composition used here was ‘Shive shringaradra’. The background had a picture of Shiva Shakti and their children Ganesha and Kartikeya. The lyrics described patit janani, sarosham, gangayam. Naad recitations of shlokas on Shiva followed – ‘Jai mahesh jata joot, kanth sohe kaal kanth... bhara hibhyo, bheetam, sarsarihsuobhagya janai...’ Purvadhanashree and Dr. Vasudevan walk in holding hands, Shiva lifting Gauri’s face, and a playful sequence follows where Parvati makes the Ganga in the jatas go away and the snakes leave since she wants Shiva to herself. She is in a ghoonghat as the saubhagya janani, and she plays on the veena – ‘prassan sakal rasaiv natyam’, she spreads happiness. In the background was a painting of Shiva and Shakti in a yantra as a lotus.

The penultimate piece was presented by Kathak dancer Hemanta Kumar Kalita in a white costume. The narration went on to say – ‘rasaiva natya’. Natya is rasa. The end result of natya is rasa. The rasa that remains at the end of the natya is called the ‘Maharasa’. Bhakti and Dharma are the greatest gifts our seers have given us. A yogi watches life around him with detachment but with awareness. Natya is also called yoga, since it requires chitta vritti nirodh, or the control of our sensory desires. Hemanta Kalita presented a piece from Mahopdesh Bhairavashtakam – ‘Sthir chitt ka diya jalaye, saras hua sansar’. Hemant exhibited great prowess in his technique in nritta.

Elaborating  on the lines – ‘Iss shivmay, rasamay spandan ko apne man mein spandan karo. Tum tum nahin, main main nahin, main hi tum ho, tumko mujhko naman naman. Man mein spandan, tan mein kankan mein, mere bhairav nath, tumhare saath priya taal dhamaar.’ The picture in the background had a damru. Hemanta used paran, aamad, natvari, chakkars, footwork and tihais with mridangam. Coincidentally, his white costume had Kashmiri embroidery on it.  ‘Tum swayam prakashmaan ho, vibho tumhara diya jala kaise karoon’ – again using technical Kathak in dhamaar.

In the background, you could see a painting by Himanshu Shrivastava in which Bhairavnath and Anand Bhairavi were shown in a  circular pattern, as if rising above in a dance. ‘Anand bhairavi twam vishesh roopa, twaam vande aham vande’ – the two are present in every man and woman.

The image of Nirala and Subramania Bharati in the AV

 Here, two poems, one by Nirala in Hindi and the other by Subramania Bharati in Tamil, foregrounded the complimentary nature of man and woman and their ultimate oneness. The clarity of technique by Hemanta infused energy and pace into the taal and the piece.

The four dancers appeared in red costumes for the final piece, a tillana in Raga Bindumalini. ‘Tum tung himalay shring aur main chanchal gati sur sarita’ said the Hindi poem. The Tamil poetry described the flower and the bee. ‘Dinkar aur Sarsij Ki Muskaan’ reminisced upon the birth of their child and its palana, comparing it to the love relationship of the rain and the peacock, then of jyoti and deepak, using tandav for the unmaad nritya. The Kathak dancers used paran, aamad and tihais. ‘Tum naad ved omkar saar, main kar shringar shiromani.’ The four dancers ended the piece with alternating bols and nritya in Kathak and Bharatnatyam. They finished with chakkars and pushpanjali. The last stance had them standing in a line to depict Shiva and Shakti.

For Bharatnatyam, the musicians were  Late Karaikkudi Shivkumar on nattuvangam, Lalgudi Ramamoorthy Sriganesh on mridangam, nattuvangam and khanjira, Manohar Balatchandirane on mridangam, khanjira and mandala jati composition, K. Venkateshwaran on vocals and music composition, Dr. Vasudevan on vocals, nattuvangam and music composition, G. Raghuraman on flute, Rajat Prasanna on flute, G. Raghvendra Prasath on violin and Saraswati Rajgopalan on veena. For Kathak, the musicians were Rakesh Pathak on vocals and music composition, Pt. Govind Chakraborty on padhant and rhythm structure, Utpal Ghoshal on tabla, Mukesh Kumar on sarod, Akram Hussain on sarangi annd Rajat Prasanna on flute.

The grandeur of the stage, the pictures behind them, the music, the vocals, the four dancers totally submerged in the theme actually made it a surreal experience. It took a while to unhook your inner ranga from the outer one. Great scholarly work by Kamaliniji. To all the scholars who created and watched this presentation, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Pics: Anoop Arora