Divine dancing portrays the rituals of celestial weddings in Divya Vivaaha

The invitation to this programme looked just like a wedding card, with the shubh mahuratam (time) and the mandapam (venue) mentioned. The invitation also mentioned the rituals to be followed, and it also said very politely that no gifts were allowed, though I truly wished I could take at least some flowers with me to wish the bride(s) and the groom(s). The stage had a very large backdrop standee to show the wedding decorations. All the celestial couples, the gods and the goddesses, descended on the stage that day from their abodes to be married on earth with all the rituals that are performed for human couples, to be tied together for the sacred knot. Usually, they are called witnesses and sanctify human marriages, but this time, their reasons were different. Dressed in their wedding trousseaus, they looked every bit the to-be-married bride and groom. Lucky were the audience to such a grand event. The foyer had a flower rangoli with diyas flickering around it. The stage had been decorated with strings of rajnigandha and marigold flowers — just the right ambience for a shubh wedding. 

Usha R.K. has successfully  conceptualized a series of dance performances in her ‘Divya’ series in Bharatanatyam – Divya Pushp, Divya Astra, Divya Vahana etc. This event was a furthering of her concept as the Divya Vivaaha, the weddings of the gods and goddesses. She chose to have six couples of dancers depict six rituals, which are an essential part of any Indian wedding. These rituals are meant to sanctify the grihastha ashram and help to enhance the romanticism of marriage. The magic of gently touching  shoulders, brushing hands and exchanging looks and smiles is known to all. The rituals are based on Vedic knowledge given by the rishis to prepare the couple to take on the responsibility of their married life by refining their minds, disciplining their lives and fine-tuning their thoughts. According to Kalidasa, the rituals are awe-inspiring and give sanctity and meaning  to the grihastha ashram, which then supports the other three ashrams of the life. They are not just about pomp and show. 

Each ritual was depicted by one couple and the story would then be depicted as an introduction of the characters, the premise of the marriage and the ritual itself, ending in the aarti of the couple. 

Parimal Phadke and Arundhati Patwardhan as Kamadeva and Rati

The first to take the stage were Parimal Phadke and Arundhati Patwardhan as Kamadeva and Rati. Kamadeva is desire incarnate and Rati is the delight of companionship. Kamadeva realizes that it is not enough for him to shoot arrows and evoke love among the mortals. Rati is born out of his desire to have a companion. They are both enamoured with each other and entangled in amorous love but then ensues the first tiff among the lovers. Kamadeva says that desire is superior and Rati says that desire without physical delight is useless — it is a battle for superiority. They decide to separate on this issue but realize that without desire and the consequential physical delight, there would be no procreation. So they instead decide to unite as desire and intimacy, the physical and the psychological, the visible and the invisible. 

Parimal Phadke

The piece, titled ‘Shubh, Mangal, Savdhan’, shows the ritual of mangal snaan and pooja. This happens before the actual preparations to give the bride and the groom a ritualistic bath to purify and beautify themselves. The sandal paste, turmeric and flowers are the ingredients of the cleansing rituals. Usha ji makes great effort to research before all her productions and this is how she elaborated upon each of the rituals in her very eloquent manner. The melody of the flute filled the senses and then began the Ganapati Vandana. And then with the sound of farrr or the sound of the wings of a flying bird, Parimal makes an appearance, shooting arrows all around. With the jathis, the names of Manmatha were recited, which describe his attributes — manasija, manohar, pushpa sayak, pushpa baan, shukasarthi, kusumvaan, panchbaan. Parimal wore a yellow dhoti with a green katibandh. He covered the stage with agile nritta and then waited for his mate. 

Arundhati Patwardhan

Arundhati as Rati, dressed in a red sari, appeared. As she walked in gently, her attributes and names were recited: vaamkanti, devi maya, smitvadani, shukvahani, sukhdayani, vardayani. Her nritta was very agile, with leaps and left-right movements. The two come face to face and it was love at first sight. Kamadeva shoots his arrows and Rati blows them away. And then begins the fight for supremacy. While fighting they realize that the continuity of life will require them to make peace and marry. Their lovers’ tiff ends in holding hands, then an embrace and finally, a kiss. It was a sensual portrayal by the two dancers.

Parimal Phadke and Arundhati Patwardhan

Rati collects flowers, applies chandan on herself,  bathes, beautifies her eyes and eyebrows to make them looke like bows, her beautiful hair is braided, she wears her sari and ornaments and applies a bindi to her forehead. The two dancers wore delicate mundavalyas on their foreheads, which was the final touch for them to dress for the wedding. 

Parimal Phadke and Arundhati Patwardhan

They held a cloth between them, and according to the rituals, the cloth is pulled away to make the bride and the groom come face to face. They went around holding the cloth with alternating hands, going around the stage. They pluck different flowers and buds for arrows which they shoot at each other. Finally, they get entangled in an embrace. In the final stance, Rati sat while Kamadeva stood in a posture. The nritta and jathis between the two dancers was an indicator not only of their prowess and coordination but also of the chemistry between them, since they are both seasoned soloists.

Prachi Save Saathi and Anand Satchidanandan as Sita and Ram

The next stage in the wedding ceremonies to be shown was the kanyadan or panigrahan through the story of Ram and Sita. The tale has been told by many sages and Usha ji took a kaleidoscopic view of it through the verses of Ramayan written by Kamban and Manas by Tulsidas. Prachi Save Saathi portrayed Sita and Anand Satchidanandan portrayed Ram. 

Anand Satchidanandan

Ram, with his guru Vishwamitra, and Lakshman go to the swayamvar of Sita in Janakpur. Even before he enters the arena for the Dhanush yagya, he meets Sita in the vatika or the garden where they are both present to collect flowers. When their eyes lock for the first glance, they know that they are connected through ages as the jagat janani maa Lakshmi and as the parampurush Mahavishnu. 

Prachi Save Saathi

Sita reminisces about her being the daughter of Raja Janak, how she had lifted the bow while cleaning and now the swayamvar has been called for her marriage. Anand looked elegant and tall in his green dhoti and Prachi in her magenta aharyam. She the nayaki, he the nayak, he the son of maa Kaushalya and she the daughter of the earth. As the two dancers rotated around each other, their gaze locked. The two are stunned by the other and are drawn to each other. When they become aware of their surroundings, Sita pulls away and hides behind some vines. She keeps looking at him as she sways with the bliss of the moment. As she turns her back to him, she can hear her heart racing as she recognizes him. 

Anand Satchidanandan

Prachi went on to depict Sita’s childhood, how she was born from the womb of the earth and Janaka found her as he ploughed the fields. As he fed her with his hands, she would playfully tug at his beard. He would take her finger and teach her to walk. Sita playfully picks up the Shiv Dhanush and puts it down, and so Janak announces that the one who can lift the Shiv Dhanush will have Sita’s hand in marriage. 

Prachi Save Saathi

During the swayamwar, Raja Janak makes the announcement and invites the contenders. Ram walks to the Dhanush, takes the blessings of all, picks up the dhanush, strings it and breaks the bow to the chants of Ram, Ram. And then follow the rituals for the marriage. Anand and Prachi walked in the passages on either sides of the audience to reach the stage. The moment had its magic and could give you goosepumps. In the end, they took the stance of panigrahan. The two dancers, so graceful, royal and expressive, gave the spectators an experience of elation and spiritual bliss with serenity at its core.

Shruti Gopal and Parshwanath Upadhye as Parvati and Shiva

The next step in the marriage rituals was maangalya dhaaran. This was performed by real-life couple Shruti Gopal and Parshwanath Upadhye as Parvati and Shiva. As Usha ji narrated, Shiva and Sati had immense love for each other, but their life was brought to an abrupt turn when Sati immolated herself in the Daksh yagyashala. Virbhadra, the Shiva gana, kills Daksha, but Shiva becomes distraught and he starts to live the life of a recluse. Meanwhile, Sati is reborn as Parvati, the daughter of King Himalaya. She remembers her previous birth and starts to do penance to attain Shiva at the Gaurikund. Shiva comes as a brahman to test Parvati. He advises her not to marry Shiva, since he stays as a recluse and looks scary, with his matted locks, third eye, blue throat and body smeared in ashes. Instead, he says, she should marry a good-looking god like Indra. But a steadfast Parvati tells him to go away, not say another word about Shiva and stop hurling insults at her husband, after which she performs an austere sadhana to attain Shiva as her husband.

Shruti Gopal and Parshwanath Upadhye

During this particular ritual, the elders in the family and couples who are married bless the mangalsutra with good wishes for a happy and long married life. Then, it is tied around the neck of the new bride. The power and sanctity of the mangalsutra is such that brides are superstitious about taking them off and showing them to anybody. Such is the sanctity of the wedding thread that it is tied around the bride’s neck by her husband.

Shruti Gopal

Parshwanath was dressed in a red dhoti and Shruti in a red sari. To begin, Sati and Shiva were shown residing happily in their abode. Sati steals the damru to get his attention and asks Shiva to comb her hair. He goes and picks flowers to adorn her hair and while he romances her, he steals the damru back. This romancing and teasing was shown between nritta interludes. Parshwanath took the stance of holding the damru with a left leg lift. It is then that Sati hears of the yagya at her father’s palace. Sati is eager to go but Shiva refuses to come along. Sati is saddened but chooses to go ahead, but when she reaches, she is ignored and hears bad things about Shiva. A distraught and angered Sati jumps into the fire of the yagya and immolates herself, putting an end to the yagya and also to her happily married life. Parshwanath depicted the pain and the extreme anger of Shiva when he realizes what has happened. He lays Sati’s half-burnt body on his shoulders. With his back to the audience, Shiva picks up his damru, which they had been playing with together a while ago. He leaves with his body smeared with the ashes of the yagyashala which Sati had immolated herself in.

Shruti Gopal and Parshwanath Upadhye

After a period when Shiva is mostly in dhyana, smeared with ashes, Sati is reborn as Parvati. She looks at Shiva and knows him immediately. She collects and offers flowers, touches his feet. She picks up his dhanush and tries a few shots, but fails to get his attention. It is only when she plays his damru that he looks at her and then he plans to test her identity. He disguises himself as a brahmin and goes on to insult Shiva in comparison to other gods. He says Shiva is three-eyed, that he is smeared with ashes, and looks disgusting and like a beggar with his matted locks. He carries a trishul and a damru. Parvati is distraught and tells him to go away. He still insists on finding someone better for her, but she just shows him the way out.  
The flute provided a very appropriate background for the abhinaya, getting into the soul of each emotion to be expressed. The couple had a great rapport in their technique; their footwork and hastas were very well-coordinated. The abhinaya and chemistry between the two was excellent, throbbing with romance. Parshwanath as Shiva was forceful and energetic and Shruti as Parvati was graceful and agile. The format was for a thillana. The two tie their saris for the wedding, wear their ornaments and head to the wedding arena on their steeds. Shiva rotates his leg to get on his Nandi. Maa Parvati goes and sits on her father’s lap. The groom ties the mangalsutra around her neck.
It was a piece beyond words. The flute in the music reflected the  mood of each act.

Pavitra Krishna Bhat and Rasika Kiran as Krishna and Rukmini

The next ritual to be presented was the jaimala or the exchange of garlands, through the story of Krishna and Rukmini. The dancers were Pavitra Krishna Bhat and Rasika Kiran. Pavitra was dressed in a blue dhoti and Rasika in a green sari. The tale says that Krishna and Rukmini had known each other as Vishnu and Lakshmi even before they met. Rukmini, the daughter of King Bhishmaka and the sister of Rukmi, was proposed to marry Shishupal. She sent krishna a secret message that she wanted to marry him and that he should come and abduct her when she was on the way to a pooja of goddess Indrani as part of her pre-wedding rituals. Krishna comes with his forces and meets Rukmini at the appointed place, abducts her and flees with her in his chariot. They marry secretly in a Gandharva vivah by exchanging garlands in a temple, and she remains his beloved wife.

Pavitra Krishna Bhat

Pavitra, with his very pretty head ornament with morpankh, looked just as attractive as Krishna. They started the piece with nritta. The jathis were in the thillana format. Pavitra is very adept at nritta and commenced with very expansive and exact moves. The verses were in praise of Lord Krishna – Vasudev, the son of Vasudeva, Nand nandan, ratisadan, smitvadan, jaladhar varn (the colour of the clouds). Pavitra carried around his murali, twirling it. 

Rasika Kiran

Rasika as Rukmini, in a dark green sari, is introduced as the Bhishmak putri, the daughter of Bhishmaka, hansagamini, induvadani, Lakshmi rupen, the incarnation of goddess Lakshmi. The two dancers held a cloth at opposite ends and drew closer as they folding it smaller and smaller, playfully wrapping it around each other. 

Pavitra Krishna Bhat

Rukmini is Madhav anurakta and hriday samarpita. She has surrendered her heart even without seeing him. And so, when her brother announces the marriage to Shishupal, she  pleads to her brother. She secretly writes a letter to Krishna, addressing him as priye Madhav, pran nayak aagachha. She sends the letter with a bird, signing off as Rukmini. When the wedding preparations are going on, she goes with her friends to worship the goddess Indrani. As she calls out for him at the appointed place, he comes riding a chariot. The two elope and at a quiet and beautiful temple, the two dress up and exchange garlands as groom and bride. 

Pavitra Krishna Bhat and Rasika Kiran

A nritta interlude followed, where the two dancers exchanged glances and covered the entire stage to show the romance between them, finally standing as man and wife, Krishna playing the flute as Rukmini looks on. Pavitra moves with the ease of a gazelle back, forth, sideways and across the stage. Rasika more than matched his pace and coordination. His smile makes him just the right dancer for Krishna and the headgear lent him that special aura as he went around playing with the flute in his hand.

Shreyasi Gopinath and Aditya P.V as Draupadi and Arjun

The next ritual to be shown was saptapadi, which was portrayed through another celestial couple who were also married under unusual circumstances. During their exile, the Pandavas lived in disguise. The swayamvar of Draupadi, the daughter of king Drupad, born of fire, was announced – she would marry the person who could pierce the eye of the golden fish swimming in a pond with an arrow, by looking only at its shadow. It was only Arjun, the great archer, who could do it. Draupadi was married to him with all the rituals and the seven circumambulations came with seven vows. The seven steps represent that she will be the queen of his house, will bring prosperity and unity to the family, will be responsible for keeping the rituals and culture intact, will bring wealth to the family, will be responsible for the physical and economic health of the family by consulting each other and finally, that they would be friends to each other. You will both walk hand in hand, sharing your joys and sorrows, like the sky and earth, word and mind, music and song complement each other.

Shreyasi Gopinath and Aditya P.V

The dancers, Shreyasi Gopinath and Aditya P.V., began with nritta, with Aditya dressed in red and Shreyasi in green. The notes of the flute continued to flow. The two had expansive movements. On one side was Dhananjaya or Parth, the sakha of Krishna, and on the other, Panchali, the daughter of Paanchal naresh, the sister of Krishna or Krishna sakhi. 

Aditya P.V.

The preparations for the swayamvar are going on – torans being tied, rangolis being drawn, drums and nagare being beaten to announce the event. Many princes arrive  on horses and elephants. Krishna and Draupadi are discussing the merits and demerits of all the kings who arrive. One is fat and the other old. Arjun comes disguised as a brahman. When Draupadi arrives and greets them all, she is apprehensive about who would be able to meet such a tough challenge. Arjun lifts the dhanush and pierces the eye of the fish in one go. She puts the jaimala around his neck and then follow the seven steps in marriage vows.

Shreyasi Gopinath

The seven steps or saptapadi are taken by the bride and she promises to look after the health, well-being, mental health, bearing and rearing the progeny of the family, bringing prosperity and wealth to the family, and in return, she gets to head the family. She is promised that she will walk hand in hand with her husband in everlasting friendship and companionship. 

Shreyasi Gopinath and Aditya P.V

Both Aditya and Shreyasi looked gorgeous in their wedding finery. Their technique and expressions were flawless and the saptapadi was brought out in all its sanctity. It was the mix of the flute and the manjira that created an exhilarating experience and the vocals that recited Arjun-Draupadi that completed the ambience. Each step was made to coincide with the sapta sur of the sargam, ending in sakhya-saptapadi.

Aditi Sadashiva and Mithun Shyam as Valli and Karthikeya

The next ritual of nalangu, or the post-wedding games between the newlyweds, and the composition had a lot of humour attached to it. The tale was that of Valli and Karthikeya, danced by Aditi Sadashiva and Mithun Shyam. Their courtship was enjoyable and playful. Shanmukha knew that Valli had chosen him to be her husband all the while, but he disguises himself as a hunter to woo her. He then comes as an old man to tell her why Shiva’s son is not a perfect match for her. Finally, they get married. The marriage ritual portrayed here was nalangu. The bride, when she finally comes to her in-laws’ house, is engrossed in fun games with her husband in order to break the ice. The ritual is followed all over India in some form or the other. 

Aditi Sadashiva

Aditi was in a dark green chequed costume and Mithun was in a light green dhoti with a colourful kati vastra. During the season of spring or vasant, when the atmosphere is laden with love and the bees hover over the flowers, Muruga comes disguised as a hunter with his bow and arrow. He plants a kiss on her cheek and puts a flower in her hair as she sleeps. When she sees it is not Muruga, she threatens to cut off his moustache. And then an old man comes to her to ask for water and she pours water for him. He expresses his desire to marry her. She refuses him, saying that he is old. His brother Ganesha helps him embrace her when he appears as  huge elephant to scare her. Kartikeya, having tested her, presents himself to marry her. The two exchange flowers to become man and wife.

Mithun Shyam

What follows next are these friendly games called nalangu. A ring is put into a vessel with milky water and the two have to grab it. The one who does it first wins. And Valli wins it all the time. The next portrayal, of Kartikeya dressing up Valli, is quite humorous. He combs her hair, puts a flower in them, kohl in her eyes and colour on her lips and gives her a mirror to admire herself. Once she is satisfied, he plucks a huge flower to  put in her hair. He winks and puts extra kohl in her eyes, making them very big. He draws a huge bindi on her forehead. 

Aditi Sadashiva

The colour on her lips is made to run so that Valli, unknowingly, is looking positively ugly now. It is only after he pulls her braid and runs away that she realizes that something is not right. She runs after him, annoyed, and he embraces her. Mithun Shyam’s smile, with a hint of naughtiness, was infectious. A very enjoyable piece it was, with both the dancers bringing humour and playfulness to their technique and abhinaya.

In times when the entire concept of a marriage is being undermined, with careers becoming the priority and the society accepting relationships outside wedlock, the concept by Usha ji was a breath of fresh air. The celestial couples also romanced each other and entered into wedlock with the sacred, pious and pure rituals in our texts. They enhance the bliss of married life and they can be fun too. Usha ji has perfected the art of conceptualizing an event. Her stories do not at any point divert from their theme and her very lucid narration enhances them. The dancers all suited the characters they played and each one them was proficient in their nritta and nritya. The chemistry between them worked to make the act convincing. Kudos to the entire team for a background that enhanced the mood of a wedding and the costumes. Finally, all the couples came on stage together for the final stuti. The vocals were very appropriate and enhanced the mood of each piece. The flautist was impeccable, using trilling, tremolo and other effects to enhance the mood.

Pics: Anoop Arora