Six male dancers bring Shiva’s tandava to life in all nine rasas

Usha RK has perfected the art of conceptualizing innovative dance events showcasing the classical forms. The literature and the concept are thoroughly researched and explained, and young dancers and musicians take them forward to magical elaboration. ‘Navarasa Nayaka’ was another such event presented by Usha RK at the Kathak Kendra in Delhi. Guru Kanaka Srinivasan, Parvathy Dutta, Soma Ghosh, Rama Vaidyanathan and other gurus and dancers graced the event. It featured six Bharatnatyam male dancers presenting the dance of Shiva in all the nine rasas.

As is her practice, Ushaji began by explaining the concept in her very lucid manner. In Vedic literature, ‘rasa’ basically means an extract, a flavour, the sap of a grain. In the Upanishads, it is the essence of something. According to the Natya Shastra, rasa is produced from a combination of determinance (vibhava), consequence (anubhava), and transitory states (vyabhichari bhava). The goal is to create rasa so as to transport the spectators to the expression of ultimate reality and transcendent values. Each rasa, according to the Natya Shastra, has a presiding deity and a specific colour. Basically, for me as a layperson, just as a good feast leaves a taste that lingers, rasa is an emotion that stays with you after watching a performance, or that which the performer might feel. Originally, there were eight rasas, and the ninth, shanta rasa, was added later.

Pavitra Bhatt
The first rasa to be depicted was shringara, by Pavitra Bhatt, who wore a white dhoti and a green angavastram. The tale told was Meenakshi Kalyanam. Meenakshi is an avatar of goddess Parvati, the consort of Sundareshwar. She was born from the fire of the yagya performed by King Malayadhwaja. She grows up capable and beautiful, adept at the martial arts, but has three breasts. However, when she meets Shiva, she becomes her true self, the feminine Meenakshi amma, and loses her third breast. The dance by Pavitra was about the emotions that Shiva experiences when he sees her.

Pavitra was able to bring out the technique in this nritta movements and the emotions of love in Shiva through his abhinaya. How Shiva looks at her with love and wants to pull her closer to him, embrace her – Pavitra could bring out these emotions in Shiva while still retaining his shivatva. Beginning with the shloka ‘Shambhu umapati suruguru vande jagatkaranam’ with nritta, he enacted the role of Meenakshi with the sword.

Shiva was depicted with his damru. He is struck by her beauty when he sees her fish-like eyes, cheeks and beautiful lips. She is the bhuvan sundari. Shiva then dresses up with snakes as his ornaments, Ganga on his jata, totally consumed by her love. The hastas and footwork were very expansive, as is Pavitra’s wont. The two get married in a kalyanam and swing on a jhoola, as is the custom.

Parshwanath Upadhye
The second rasa to be portrayed was hasyam by Parshwanath Upadhye, depicting the competition between Ganesha and Kartikeya. He wore a white dhoti and an ornamental band around the waist, since the colour of the rasa is white. The tale has it that Ganesha and Kartikeya were told by their parents, Shiva and Parvati, that whoever first circled the world three times would get the fruit of knowledge. Kartikeya on his peacock set out immediately and was very fast, but little Ganesha, on his mouse, was slow. However, he made up for it with his intelligence. He makes his parents sit in the middle and encircles them three times, because, he says, they are his world. The plump child’s rolling gait and slow progress on the small mouse makes Shiva laugh. Parshwanath began with nritta, which had immaculate hastas and footwork.

The act of Kartikeya coming on his peacock was done with a lot of elan. But my favourite was the portrayal of little Ganesha, who is dismayed to learn of the competition because he thinks he will not be able to defeat his brother because of his girth. His gait and innocence was depicted by Parshwanath with a lot of humour. While Shiva nudges Parvati to look at her son’s expressions and tries to hide his laughter behind the snake around his neck, Ganesha is being innocently looked at by his steed, the mouse. A very humourously depicted act. Shiva experiences uncontrollable laughter and when Ganesha encircles his parents on his mouse, his ride was depicted with a lot of versatility to show both the girth of Ganesha and the speed of the mouse. The two sons arrive at the same time. Shiva divides the fruit into half, gives one half to each child and leaves on his Nandi. A very impressive performance by Parshwanath.

Suhail Bhan
Suhail Bhan depicted the rasa bhayam. He wore a white dhoti with a blask angavastram. The tale says that the demon Bhasmasura tricks Shiva with his tapasya into giving him the boon that anything he touches would burn to ashes. So here is a demon out to destroy everything, which includes Shiva. Shiva is scared and is running hither and thither to save himself. Finally, he seeks the sharan of Lord Vishnu in the Mohini avatar to trick the demon into destroying himself.

Suhail started with nritta and his depiction was very powerful, showing the demon performing tapasya, offering flowers, chanting Om Namaha Shivaay. His balance in the Shiva stance was perfect. Then, he went on to show Shiva granting the boon. Suhail’s act of touching and turning everything to ashes as the demon was again very evocative. The demon laughs at Shiva, who is then shown to seek refuge with Bhagwan Mohini. The speed and strength of his dance was appreciable.

Parshwanath Upadhye
Parshwanath next depicted veer rasa, which was very appealing to me. He wore a white dhoti with a light saffron angavastram. The tale depicted was the descent of Ganga from the heavens into the locks of Shiva. His mukhabhinaya has a lot of finesse, catching all the nuances of the character. Bhagiratha prayed and brought Ganga to the earth. But then, someone was required to contain the destructive flow of the Ganga and so Shiva was beseeched to hold the river in his matted locks. Parshwanath again entered with nritta, going on to depict the jata of Shiva with his hands.

Shiva is worshipped as the yoginatha. He has to contain the flow of the river, ‘sur nadi Ganga pravaal’, in his jata. The forceful flow of the river was shown with waves. It flows down in scattered streams and Shiva collects them. The river was shown as flowing and cascading through leaps. He ties his locks in a knot and bears the force of the Ganga on it. The dance was done in a broad plie. Parshwanath’s expressions were exuding veer rasa. The highlight was when Shiva flicks a lock to let the Ganga flow down and moves the snake in his neck to the other side to give way to the river. Finally, he depicted Shiva in a squat with one leg outstretched. A completely engrossing performance.

Mithun Shyam
Vibhatsam was depicted by Mithun Shyam. He wore a white dhoti with a blue angavastram. The episode chosen was the immolation of Sati. Sati goes to her father Himachal’s palaces for a havan, to which she was not invited. There, she is insulted and humiliated, told that she is a beggar’s wife, and so she decides to immolate herself in the agni of the havan and destroy the havan, too, by doing so. Mithun’s act did great justice to the story. He depicted the yagya being performed and everybody looking down on Sati condescendingly. She has to face the criticism about her husband, the bhasma on his body, his living on a mountain, the strange rund mala that he wears around his neck, and being called a beggar. Mithun expressively depicted the anger of Sati as she shuts her ears to all this criticism. She jumps into the fire. The yagya is totally destroyed. Far away, on Kailash, Shiva senses that something is wrong and comes riding on Nandi. He is anguished at seeing ‘priya sakhi deham’. He dusts the ashes from the body and lifts it on his shoulders. Shiva, in his destructive mood, scatters her limbs all over.

This particular act, again, needed a lot of expressiveness and Mithun’s act of rotating his torso in a squat every time touching his back to the floor was almost unbelievably difficult. The vision of Shiva’s mood created by Mithun, his face contorted with anger, his jata all scattered, carrying the burnt body of Sati on his shoulders, was a truly gory image exuding vibhatsa rasa. His dance was truly very powerful.

Himanshu Shrivastava
Himanshu Shrivastava portrayed the adbhuta rasa. He wore a white dhoti with a yellow angavastram. The mythological tale behind the rasa is that an arrogant Ravana tries to lift and shake Kailash mountain with his entire might. Shiva is disturbed and presses it down, though for him, a touch of his toe is enough. Ravana keeps trying, but is trapped under the mountain. So he cuts off one of his heads and makes a veena out of it, and with his intestines as the string, he plays the veena and sings Shiva’s praises. At this, Shiva expresses wonderment at him, and lifts his foot. Himanshu’s nritta began with the stances for damru, rotations and leaps.

 He depicted Ravana lifting the Kailash with his entire strength. Shiva is perturbed and presses it down gently. Ravana feels the distress of the pressure, portrayed perfectly by Himanshu’s expressions. He collects his strength again and tries again. This time, Shiva has just to twist his foot a little and presses it down again. Ravana, with all his might, gets trapped and chops off one of his heads, and with his intestines, he plays the veena, which invokes adbhuta rasa in Shiva. He is pleased by Ravana and lifts his foot. Himanshu’s nritta was very strong, but it was his abhinaya, both as Ravana and as Shiva, that was commendable.

Parimal Phadke
Karuna rasa was depicted by Parimal Phadke, costumed in a white dhoti and a grey angavastram. Parimal’s footwork in the beginning in nritta, with the swaying movement of the foot, was worthy of a mention. He depicted Shiva riding the Nandi.

The tale he depicted was that of a Dalit bhakta, who is the only untouchable saint. He is said to have moved a giant stone Nandi figure with his prayers. He is counted as the eighth in the list of 63 Nayanars. His entry to the Chidambaram temple was prohibited because of his caste. He purified himself in the holy fire to enter the temple. Shiva here was shown as the kripanidhi, dayanidhi, karunamurti, to allow his bhakta to have a darshan of him.

Mithun Shyam
The eighth rasa was raudra portrayed by Mithun again, in red pleated angavastram and white dhoti. Mithun began his nritta in a broad plie. ‘Mahadevaye tryambakaye neelakanthaye sadashivaye mahadevaye’ were the lyrics and the depiction in dance. He began the tale of Rishi Markandeya with a tapasya, where the choice is given to the rishi, his father, to have a son with deerghayu of a long life, but with durgati, or a son with a short life but with a good character. The father chose the latter. As the son grows older, he becomes an ardent Shiva bhakt. Mithun depicted him as doing seva for his parents, pressing their feet, fanning them. He does the abhishek of the Shivalinga with milk, chandan, flowers, with the recitation of ‘tryambakam yajamahe’ shloka.

Then, Mithun takes on the act of Yama, who appears on his buffalo with a lot of attitude. The child Markandeya embraces the Shivalinga. Shiva wakes from his meditation in raudra roop with his scattered jata. Mithun then danced the raudra tandava. Yama is scared away by the trishul. It was the abhinaya of Mithun that gave a meaningful depiction to the episode.

They finally depicted Lord Dakshinamurthi together, showing the ninth rasa, the shanta rasa, through various hand gestures and stances, which were abhaya hasta, nandi, the snake, damru, agni, chandra on his forehead etc. ‘Om Namah Prannava-Arthaaya Shuddha-Jnyaanai[a-E]ka-Muurtaye |
Nirmalaaya Prashaantaaya Dakssinnaamuurtaye Namah’ was the shloka used for this. Dakshinamurthi is Shiva facing the south. He is the benevolent teacher of yoga, music and wisdom. He is seated on a deerskin throne, right foot on the demon, left foot folded in his lap, a snake or a rosary in his upper right arm, a flame in the upper left hand, lower left hand with kusha, the index finger of his right hand sometimes bent and touching the tip of his thumb in gyana mudra. Sometimes, this could be the abhaya mudra, at other times he could be shown riding the Nandi. So each dancer took one hand gesture to depict.

Finally, the six of them together were truly nayakas in their own field and in their own right. Together, they exuded the rasa of dedication, which is unique to humans.

The concept developed by Usha RK was novel and each of the dancers she chose were fully equipped to depict the rasa that was appointed to them. Each of them proved to be very proficient in their technique, and at the same time, telling the tale through their abhinaya. But an integral part of any such performance is the music and the rhythm. Wthout the rhythm, the essence of the dance could not have been brought out. The singing too was very versatile and suited the mood of each rasa. So it’s kudos to the entire team for developing such a gripping performance. The costumes corresponded to the colours associated with each rasa. On their foreheads, the tilak was drawn in different styles and colours according to what Shiva wears on his forehead.

The excellent music composition was by Karthik Hebbar, with Satish Venkateshwaran on vocals, Chandershekar on mridangam, Akshaya on nattuvangam and Rajat Prasanna on flute.

Pics: Anoop Arora


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