Three dance forms create drama and magic in Vanashree Rao’s Trayambakam

Rasa United premiered Trayambakam at the IHC in Delhi last year. Rasa United is a joint venture by three classical dance gurus – Vanashree Rao in Kuchipudi, Dr. S. Vasudevan in Bharatanatyam and Kuleshwar Thakur in Chhau. Each of these dancers presented this choreographic work by Guru Vanashree Rao in such tandem that the music, rhythm, footwork and moves all blended together without losing their identity and the final output was an unforgettable experience.

Trayambakam, as we know, is the name of Shiva, the lord with three eyes. But here, on the stage, the word ‘tri’ had many other connotations. There were three dance forms, three great dance gurus, and the production also had three tales about the personifications of Shiva.

The first part of Trayambakam showed Shiva as an aghori. Shiva, in his yogi roop, stays in the cremation grounds as the god of destruction and death, or as we say, ‘shamishan nirvan roopam’. The dancers had the trident or the trishul painted on their backs. Dr. Vasudevan as Shiva and the Chhau dancers as the ganas took various stances in leaps and rotations to the beats and rhythm which were very forceful and had the audience spellbound.

The Chhau dancers covered the stage, running around in unbelievably high leaps, with Dr. Vasudevan jumping almost as high as them. One Chhau dancer did a headstand to the chants of ‘Om namah shivaye’. Shiva is depicted as smeared with ash, having the abhaksha. Dr. Vasudevan posed in broad plie, showing the agni of the pyres around him, Nandi, trishul, bhasma ang, gang, bhujang bhushan, mundamala, damru and the chandra on his forehead.

The energy and the agility of the movements was awe-inspiring, with rotations and leg lifts and the bass drone of ‘dim dim dim’. The rhythm and the beats recreated the dark environs of the cremation grounds. Dr. Vasudevan’s final stance in the centre, balancing another dancer on his shoulders and the rest standing around him making the hastas for damru and agni, powerfully evoked the yogi roop.

The next aspect of Shiva that was depicted was Ardhanareeshwara, where Shiva and Parvati are one in body and mind – ‘Namo namah shankar parvati maya’ – where purush and prakriti merge and yet, maintain their identities. Prashant Kalia danced as Shiva in Chhau and Moutushi Majumder as Maa Parvati in Kuchipudi.

Prashant, with his hair tied in a knot and his fair complexion, looked every bit like Lord Shiva, who is karpoor gauram. Moutushi, with all her beauty and grace, looked every bit like the goddess Parvati. They moved together in synchronized footwork, taking leaps together, with intermittent freezes and stances. It was an awe-inspiring experience. It was very imaginative of Vanashree ji choreographer to make them move in footwork patterns that were common to the repertoires of Kuchipudi and Chhau.

One step particularly was very impressive, where they rotate and twist their foot and then raise it together. Every word was as if sakaar here – bhavam bhavani, shivam shivani, param parami, kamesh kameshi. The weaponry of Shiva was depicted by Prashant in Chhau and then, they together did the episode of the immolation of goddess Sati in the yagya performed by her father in his palace. Prashant, through his gait and postures, depicted the raudra roop of Shiva as he unties his jata and dances the tandav while lifting her body.

The third part of Trayambakam was Kirat Arjuna. Kirat is a forest dweller, a wild hunter. Shiva takes on the guise of a hunter to test his bhakta Arjuna, who is performing a penance to attain the pashupatiastra. Arjun Deva danced as Arjuna and S. Vasudevan as Shiva.

The Chhau dancer depicting the boar did an amazing job, rolling along with pace with agility, like a running animal. Arjuna and Shiva shoot arrows at it. They engage in a battle which the two dancers depicted with great agility in their leaps and the battle moves. The audience looked on with open mouths as the leaps got higher and higher. They watched in rapt attention as one dancer in Chhau and the other in Bharatnatyam displayed excellence in their technique.

 Finally, Shiva is pleased with Arjuna and gives up his guise, blessing him with the pashupatastra, as Ayana looks on as Parvati. Finally, in the end, Dr. Vasudevan and Ayana took stances for Parvati and Shiva. Dr. Vasudevan covered the entire stage in his damru act. Finally, the three forms of Shiva, or the trayambakam, were enacted on stage in steps from the three different forms.

After Trayambakam, the next piece to be depicted was Dwadashjyotirlingam through ragamallika. Five dancers stood taking stances and then revolved as panchamukhi Shiva with jata, poison, trishul, damru, agni, chandra and other attributes. The dancers moved in a circle, taking up their stances depicting the various forms of Shiva. In the dwadashjyotirlinga, the dancers took various stances with trishul, Nandi, chandra, setubandhan for Rameshwaram, snakes for Nageshwaram, and mountains for Kedarnath. Then they depicted the tale of Markandeya.

The young Markandeya, a steadfast devotee, had been blessed with a long life by Shiva. He takes a dip in the river, does the seva of the shivalingam, applies chandan, tripund and then finally does the aarti. This was done to chants of the mantra ‘Trayambakam yajamahe’.

As Yama comes to take the life of the child Markandeya, Shiva appears as a saviour and saves his bhakta. The chanting and the bells – vishweshwaraye, mahadevaye, neelkanthaye, sarveshwaraye, sadashivaye – created a divine aura.

Finally, the dancers again came, together moving around in a circle, taking stances for Shiva amid the sounds of bells and conches.

Shiva and Shakti complement and complete each other. And so with one naturally comes the other. Vanashree Rao and her disciples did a piece in Kuchipudi. This ode to the devi began with a stuti, ‘Ya devi sarva bhuteshu’. The attributes of the devi depicted were mahishasuramardini, sharatchandravadana and kumbhastana.

The dancers took postures and stances that were very aesthetically choreographed. The eight-armed stance, with the trishul and other weapons and the lion as her steed, was impressive. The performing of a yagna, offering ghee and samagri – chandraghanta, astradharini, jatamukut, shringar, bangles, earrings, the weapons, trishul, dhanush and chakra.

Finally, the dancers together created the posture of the mahishasura vadha as the devi tears him apart. Here, Dr. Vasudevan enacted the mahishasura. The posture for shailasute, riding a lion as her steed, was executed with great precision.

In this dramatic production, Aghori, the first piece, stood out for its rhythm, Ardhanareeshwara for its aesthetic subtlety, Kirat Arjuna for its agility and Devi for its postures. Vanashree Rao’s choreography and the postures that she envisioned with her disciples were commendable. Dr. Vasudevan stands out with his prowess and agility in Bharatanatyam. K. Venkateshwaran (Satish Venkatesh) gave very vital inputs in music and vocals. It was a complete performance that left the audience totally awestruck. For me, the Ardhanareeshwara left an impact for its exceptional footwork in Chhau and Kuchipudi.

The music was by various musicians including Dr. S. Vasudevan, R. Kesavan, Satish Venkateswaran, Rajat Prasanna and others. Lighting was by Sharad Kulshrestha.

Pics: Anoop Arora