Dance Unparalleled

 ‘Ananya – the unparalleled’ is a festival of classical group dance choreography. The venue of Old Fort, lit up as the backdrop, is unparalleled. The breezy evenings in Delhi at this time of the year are a respite. The hundreds of diyas flickering at the entrance are a sight to behold. ‘Ananya’ is a dialogue of Indian classical dance with a heritage monument. The event was organized by department of art, culture and languages, government of Delhi, Sahitya Kala Parishad and Seher in collaboration with Doordarshan, from the 2nd to the 6th of October, 2013.

On the 3rd of October, Pallavi Krishnan and group from Trichur performed Mohiniattam. Pallavi Krishnan is a noted exponent of Mohiniattam. She is known for her versatility as a performer, choreographer and teacher. She is the alumnus of Shantiniketan and Kerala Kala Mandalam. She has trained under Guru Kalamandalam. She has performed in India and abroad. Pallavi has been the artistic director of Lasya Academy of Mohiniattam since 1994.

About the concept of the performance, she said, “Panchabhuta or the five elements have been connected to the human body based on Adi Shankaracharya’s Saundarya Lahri and Ananda Lahri. When Shiva and Shakti unite, the whole universe is created and the highest evolved animal is human being. The human being is then connected to panchabhuta – mooladhara chakra to earth, manipooraka to water, swadishtana chakra to fire, anahada chakra to air, vishudhhi to sky and then the agni chakra between the eyebrows is connected to the mind. In the brain is the sahasrara chakra where a thousand lotuses are abloom. Devi lives in solitude with her consort, Shiva. The solo in the performance is based on Swati Tirunal’s composition, which was very traditional since we are asked to stick to traditional pieces only.”

The evening was a very breezy one, so much so that it became difficult to light the ceremonial lamp. The ambassador of Afghanistan, Shahid Mohammed Abdali, was the chief guest for the evening, who, with great difficulty, lit the lamp. The first piece of the performance was a Ganpati Stuti in raga Puraneer, aditalam, invoking the blessings of Lord Vighneswara. Lord Ganapati, the elephant God, is depicted by swaying elephant ears and trunk. He is chaturbhujam, prasannavadanam, vighnopshantaye, parmanandam. The Lord was shown as moving in a procession of dundubhi players and devotees with chavar and chhatra, blessing all.

Next, Pallavi did a solo padam in raga Vrindavani sarang Aditalam - “chaliye kunjan mo Shyam hari.” The nayika is requesting Lord Krishna to accompany her to the garden. Pallavi showed the flowers and the bees hovering over them. “Dekho Yamuna re bahi sunder.” She showed the fullness of the Yamuna while enacting stepping in the water playfully, “ati neer bhari”. “How you can take your hand away, Lord, while I am still holding it,” the nayika says in a hurt tone. She draws His attention to the songs of the cuckoo - "suniye koyal ke bol, piye kya kehri.” Pallavi depicted the embrace, romance and kiss through abhinaya.   

In the end, Pallavi and her group presented Panchbhuta-the five eternal elements. The choreography begins with the concept of Shakti, the universal energy. The union of Shiva and Shakti yields the Panchbhuta – ether, wind, fire, water and earth. The life forces come from these elements. The most evolved of the natural world, man is the prototype of the macrocosmic universe. Seven energy centres or chakras are housed in him. Adi Shankaracharya says in Saundarya Lahiri that the five cosmic elements correspond to the lower five chakras. Kundalini resides at the base of the spine, the mooladhara chakra in three and a half coils. Rising up through the psychic centres, it reaches the top of the head, the sahasrara, as man experiences the final truth. While depicting the theme, the dancers did stances to show the union of Shiva and Shakti – Shiva shaktaya yukto. Then they went on to show the five elements – the sky, the flowing movement of the wind, the flaming movement of fire, the drops of water collecting to form a rivulet and then a river moving in waves, the earth with its plantation, the trees that house the birds and the animals. The five chakras of the body were shown to correspond to the five elements. The energy rising from the spine to the sahasrara in the form of a lotus and finally the performance ended with the group portraying Shiva with his damru in one hand and Shakti blessing all. Technically, an excellent piece to portray a very abstract theme.

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Maitreyee Pahari’s objective has been of preserving, promoting and propagating the traditional culture of rural India. She has received training in kathak from Smt Vaswati Mishra and Pandit Birju Maharaj. She has majored in Manipuri dance from the Rabindra Bharati University. She has performed extensively all over India and abroad and participated in prestigious dance festivals. She was awarded the Charles Wallace Fellowship in 2003. She has her own repertoire, the Lok Chhanda Cultural Unit. About the choreography for the evening, she said that she wanted to present an amalgamation of the two forms – kathak and chhau.

The performance for the evening was titled ‘Maharaas’. It was a traditional presentation integrating Kathak and Chhau. While the two forms are quite distinct from each other, the dancers portrayed the feminine aspect through kathak and the masculine through chhau.

Maharaas is traditionally performed on sharad poornima, or the brightest poornima after the rainy season. The three part presentation of Maharaas began with poorvaraga, enacted during the varsha ritu or the monsoon. The nayikas dance under the beautiful cloudy sky, enjoying the pitter-patter of rain and the sweet fragrance of drenched earth. The kathak dancers were dressed in blue and green costumes. ‘Baadal re umad ghumad barsan laage, jhan-jhan boondan barse, chhan-chhan payal chhanke.’ The peacock (morva) is calling from the terrace. This was followed by the peacock dance in kathak.

But soon, joy turns to despair as the rain turns into torrents that bring devastation. The nayikas yearn for the rain to stop and the moon to emerge – Aayi re kaari badariya, garaj barse mohe darave. The ferocity of the rain was depicted effectively by the spins and leaps of chhau. The kathak dancers then took the stage with a composition showing the pain of separation of the nayika. ‘Sajana, barse hain kyun akhiyan, sawan aaye tum na aaye.’ The chakkars in this piece were predominant.

Anurag – the second part – was the union. The monsoon is over and with the sighting of the crescent, preparations begin for the special night of the full moon, the night of Maharaas. While the nayikas adorn themselves, Krishna appears and dances with each one of them. The costume change was red lehengas for the kathak dancers and white dhotis for the chhau dancers. The depiction begins with description of the beauty of Shri Radha – ‘mohini, sunder, sohini, vaa ki chhav ko varne sake naa.’ She is referred to as ‘vrindavaneshwari, ujjwala, rasika, rasapriya, haripriya’. In the piece, to show the maharaas, the kathak dancers played manjiras. ‘Raas mandal gopi gopal baal’ - then the group danced in the raas formation. Suddenly Krishna disappears from amongst them. The pride of the gopis makes him go away. The pain-struck sakhis look for him everywhere. ‘Piya bin nahin aave chaina, viraha satave ab din raina.’ Viraag explains the pangs of separation and then yearning for reunion.

The final part of the performance was ‘Moksha – the ultimate reunion’. The soul yearns for this union with God. ‘Sarvadharmaan paritajya maam ekam sharanam vraj’. The dancers came on the stage in white and saffron costumes holding flaming lamps in their cupped hands. A cloud of fumes engulfed the dancers, giving it all an ethereal look. The performance ended with some fast chakkars.