ONLINE: Divya Ravi mesmerizes with evocative margam performance

Earlier this year, Bharatanatyam dancer Divya Ravi performed at the Bhavan in London. It was a production presented by the Bhavan, London, but streamed digitally for viewers globally. It was a solo Bharatanatyam margam with specially curated pieces choreographed by Mavin Khoo. The performance featured Mavin Khoo and Divya’s husband Sharan Subramanian on nattuvangam, Sharan on vocals, M. Balachandar on mridangam and Balu Raguraman on violin.

Divya has evolved into a mesmerizing dancer. In a performance, there are two identities – the dancer and the viewer. But in some performances, it feels as if the divide just melts away. The audience or viewer is so captivated by the dancer that his or her consciousness becomes one with the dance and they feel they are dancing with the dancer. It is then that the form, the technique, the nritya, the abhinaya all melt away in the ecstasy of the experience and the outcome is pure bliss. That is as much as can be said in words about this performance.

The stage was stark and Divya’s costume was blue and light orange. The opening verse was from Nammazhwar’s ‘Thiruviruttham’, titled ‘Marakathamanimaya Chela’. This was in raag Arabhi, adi tala, and was composed by Oothukadu Venkatasubbayar. In this verse, Lord Krishna’s attributes are described: he is wearing a yellow dhoti which is adorned with marakathamani or emeralds. Sharan began the vocals with an alaap on marakathamanimaya. Divya raised one leg with ease, showing the pitambar and the pleats on it, from which hang the emeralds. Her abhinaya depicted how it is as if the planets have come down to adorn his pitamba. With a charansparsh and pranam to the lord, from whom she cannot be separated, she went on to describe his chhavi – koti saundarya parmananda govinda mukunda. Krishna in his pitambar, which is adorned with the marakathamani, shames Madana, the lord of love. His arms are like the stalks of lotuses and his hands, which hold the bansuri, are like the lotuses themselves. The navneet or the freshly churned butter is in his hands. And then she extended the simile of the lotus to his mukha – mukha kamal, nayan kamal hriday kamal jagannath. The entire description was done with abhinaya which was very expressive, with the eyes and the face doing all the talking.

The verses extended his beauty to his deeds, to being gunasheela, dayala, gopala, deen rakshak, muralidhar and further, mukund Radha mukha madhukar sasikar noopurdharana kaliyanathan and the vanquisher of demons. The lyrics were apt and beautiful and so were the gestures and facial expressions. At one point, Divya did footwork in broad plie and then took a leap. For the nritta interludes, the technique had very expansive hand movements and precision in footwork, with a lot of agility. At the end of each section, she would take the pitambar stance in a different way, showing the gestures for the kor or edge of the garment, how it flows down in pleats, and the manis hanging from it. For the last posture, she showed Krishna standing with one back leg stretched, the dhoti tied to Krishna’s waist and the cloth flowing down with the emeralds hanging to the edge. The imagery was very vivid and strong, enhanced by the melody of the vocals by Sharan. Each time, you could almost see Krishna standing with one leg on a rock on Govardhan parvat, with the wind teasing the pleats of the pitambar and the emeralds swaying at the edge.

The second piece was a Tanjore quartet varnam in raga Kalyani, roopak tala, composed by Sivanandam. The lyrics of the varnam were very evocative – that the apparition of Krishna showed lotuses everywhere. His eyes, nose, lips, chest, palms, feet, all are like lotuses. The nayika says, won’t you make this lotus-bodied one a part of you? Divya sat in a squat as Sharan embarked on an alaap. She depicted water or the ocean all around her, in which there are lotuses blooming everywhere, on which the lord reclines on the shesha. Besides the lotuses around him, there is one lotus with a long twirling stalk which emerges from his navel. The shesha has spread its hood behind him. Through rapid actions, Divya showed the lotuses blooming all around and Krishna as adbhut or sarasijakshulu, the one with lotus eyes. The nritta interlude showed expansive movements, almost like a blooming lotus. The stage coverage in each direction was done with great agility. The nayika then equates Krishna with a lotus. She is mesmerized by his eyes and dazzled by his roop (beauty). His lips, chest, feet and hands are like lotuses, which was depicted through gestures. His curly hair is so beautiful that she is balihari of his beauty and desires to unite with him. The nritta had leg lifts and leaps and various gestures depicting Krishna, the lotus-eyed one. She takes his hand lotus to her face and he gives her a caress. As she sits and waits for him, she is scribbling on the floor. As he appears, her gaze follows him sensuously and asks for the lotus of his body to unite with hers. The vocals by Sharan aptly depicted the sensuous nature of the piece. The nayika leaves her house in the night to meet Krishna. She is hiding herself in her odhni as she finds her way. Finally, she does away with it and moves quickly, but a thorn pricks her foot. She removes it and enters the nikunj, finding her way through the branches. ‘Oh lord, I have come all the way to be one with you. I am the yin to your yang, the moon to your night sky, the lamp in your temple, the words to your song. You are the one who can tame the five senses like one tames wild horses.’ Divya recites the lines, miming the lyrics. Her portrayal of the yearning of the nayika was done very sensitively. The nritta interlude showed Divya’s mastery of her technique. She took a leap with her leg raised.

In the temple town of Dakshin Dwarika, she comes for his darshan. As the flag on the mandir sways and the devotees gather for his darshan, she comes to seek him and puts the dhool to her head. Addressing him as soundarya Gopala, she looks at him, totally enamoured by his beauty, and turns around again and again to have a glimpse of him even as she is leaving. The nritta section had squats, backward turns and leg lifts. The nayika is captivated by his gait, which was depicted with finesse. Her hands in the lotus formation go up and down. She spreads lotuses on his path and offers them to him. The nayika further asks Krishna, ‘Are you going to delight in my music, oh patron of all things musical?’ Here, she interprets the verse to show how her body is the instrument of music and how the music is going to emanate from her body. The gaan vidya was juxtaposed with Sharan’s singing. The mridangam was shown as the mridangist tuning his instrument and so was the violin, and then the veena was played and shown in dance as well. Then Divya depicted smoothening out her hair and tightening them on the veena instead of the strings. She plays on them. This was an interesting interpretation rendered with the participation of the musicians. The nayika further pleads to Krishna, please do not play tricks with me as I am being struck constantly by Madana’s arrows. It is the nayana shar of Krishna which are being shot at her by the pushpa shar of Kamadeva. The cooing of the birds multiplies her pain. So please come to me and make my body the instrument with which you can make the music of love, she pleads. As the lighting narrowed to a spotlight on her, Divya lay down, caressing her lover in abhinaya. What a lyrical piece of poetry it was, with the vocals bringing out the inherent meaning of each word and Divya’s abhinaya taking you to the realm of a sensuous love. Her nritta was exact, with leaps, footwork and chiselled moves with hands. 

The next piece was ‘Jagadoddharana’. This was again a very a very heart-warming piece, and its rendition by Divya was captivating. This was a composition of Purandaradasa in raag Hindustani Kaapi, adi tala. In Krishna bhakti, the bhakta usually does not see him as a god but makes a relationship or sambandha with the parmatma and then worships him according to that relationship. Here, the parallel has been drawn with Yashoda Ma’s sambandha with the supreme lord. For her, he is not the supreme entity within whom resides the three lokas, but just her naughty baby boy with whom she plays and whom she also chides at times. He may be the Almighty, who reclines on the shesha as his shaiyya, but as Krishna, he might get scared by even a toy serpent. The one who mounts the garuda as his steed here mounts his mother’s back to be carried piggyback. He might be the one who makes the sun and the moon move, but here, he plays hide and seek with his mother. Yashoda, when angry with him, chides her child, ignorant of the fact that his essence no scripture, Ved or shastra, can fathom. The one who rules the microcosm and the macrocosm and is the immeasurable, Yashoda tries to tie to a tree for stealing butter. He is the one supreme consciousness who loves to dance to Yashoda’s tunes. Divya depicted this entire act and the lyrics lent themselves to abhinaya very captivatingly. The one who created the entire world is just a child who is sleeping in Yashoda Ma’s lap. As she thinks he is fast asleep, she puts him down in the palna and watches over him as he sleeps. She plays with him, with his toys and sometimes hide and seek. She makes him ride her back as she crawls on all fours. Divya depicted the ball game with sakhas and the victory over the Kaliya Nag, juxtaposing it with his recline on the shesha. His creations were shown to range from being huge as an elephant to small as ants. He can measure the entire cosmos in the distance covered by three of his feet, and then Yashoda Ma tries to punish him by tying him to the trunk of a tree. Divya’s depiction was done with a lot of sensitivity and humour as an innocent mother who tries to tie him and each time, the rope falls short a little bit. The support from the vocals and the musicians was very apt to the act. And then again, Yashoda Ma puts payal on his feet and listens to the sound of the pitter-patter of his feet and the tinkling of his payal as Krishna frolics. When he stealthily puts mud in his mouth, again, she is there as a mother to protect him and scold him and raises her hand to slap him. But the moment he opens his mouth, she is shocked to see the entire bramhand in his mouth. She is spellbound by what she has seen and loses her senses. She is the epitome of madhurya bhakti when she gets scared by what she has seen and holds him tight to her chest. She puts him to sleep and tries to ward off the evil spirits. As the lights dimmed on Divya, she showed a mother putting her baby to sleep. What a heart-warming piece it was, with Divya living every moment of it in her abhinaya.

The padam ‘Chaliye Kunjan Mo’ was the last piece, a padam interspersed with thillana. It was a composition by Swathi Thirunal (Chaliye) and Balamurali Krishna (thillana) in raga Brindavani, adi tala. The sakhi tells Krishna, ‘Let us enter the dark bower together. Just as you are the same hue as Yamuna, the two of you are so intimately united, my heart too desires the same. Please do not leave me now. The cuckoos and birds, like me, want to be one with you into the dark expanse of supreme consciousness’: ‘Chaliye kunjan mo tum hum mili khelain shyam hari, dekho jamuna re bahi sunder ati hi neer bhari. Chhodiye kaise mo ko, main to tero haath dhari. Suniye koel ki boley, piya kya keh rahi.’ This was such an evocative verse, rendered lyrically by Sharan, with an equally lyrical rendition in dance by Divya. She depicted Radha taking Krishna’s bansuri away and hiding it behind herself playfully. She depicted the Yamuna through wave-like movements, covering the stage with ecstatic chakkars. In leaps, she depicted enjoying the water of the Yamuna, frolicking and playing with it. Radha tricks Krishna into holding her hand. Radha shows him the koel and birds who too are cooing for him. And after that, it was as if Divya was dancing in a trance in chakkars in an otherworldly realm. It was her soul dancing in union with the divine soul, which an artist experiences in her art. This experience happens when a dancer identifies with the lyrics, the emotion gets infused into the vocals and the instruments, and is then transmitted to the audience.