The second day of Amritanjali festival on Rama Navami started with the soulful rendition of a stotra in praise of Purandaradasa, the father of Carnatic Classical music.
Nandini Rao Gujar, set the tone of the evening with this stotram in Raga Khamaj followed by a Rama stuti in Sahana Raga. The young singer who is often seen accompanying many Bharatanatyam dancers in the city, was indeed refreshing in her solo vocal presentation. Nandini’s love for Purandaradasa compositions is well known. The bhakti is so entrenched in her that the honesty reflects in her renderings. The Nattai Todayamangalam in Khandachapu, another trademark of Purandaradasa at the start of the concert and the brilliant ending of the concert with Ramamantrava japiso was captivating.
A mention here is a must of the excellent jugalbandi between Nandini and Anantraman Ravi on Violin as they brought alive the notes of Hindolam.
The Tyagaraja kriti chosen was Sobillu saptaswara in Rupakam Tala. Tyagaraja has composed this masterpiece in homage to the divinity of music residing in the seven notes. He worships the divinities resident in the navel, heart, throat, tongue and nose. Set to the beautiful raga Jaganmohini (that which charms the universe), it is a favourite amongst Carnatic Music fans. Sure enough, it had some members in the audience keeping tala and singing along.
A very interesting inclusion was the Dixitara Nottuswara in Shankarabharanam Anjaneyam Sada Bhavayami.
The Nottuswaras charming as they are, are not often seen taking place of pride in a concert. But it was good thinking by the singer who probably added it on the spot to cater to the large turnout of children in the audience. Although in the first line Nandini fumbled on the swar a little, she was endearing when she involved everyone in singing the chants of Shri Rama jayarama.
Blessed with a silken voice and strengthened by the training of none other than the famous duo Ranjani Gayatri, Nandini’s performance, a few enunciation errors aside,won the hearts of the audience.
The next segment of the evening was a special showcase by the veteran Kathak danseuse, choreographer, scholar, the very erudite Guru Shama Bhate.
A diminutive figure, just shy of 70 years of age, sporting grey hair with panache, she took centerstage clad in a simple off white and maroon saree with the pallu tucked into her waist. Those rare few who were seeing her for the first time were a bit nonplussed by the lack of preamble. Then in her characteristic calm manner she announced her first benediction to Lord Shiva. The very somber Shiva Ashtaka Stotra by Adi Shankaracharya ensured the audience had their eyes locked on the stage. It was in the Thumri that followed in Raga Pilu and Tala Dadra (6 beats) that the wah wahs flowed unchecked. The ada of the gopi, so mesmerizing, was only matched by the absolutely exquisite footwork. Shamatai’s signature Taalim and Layakari was so vivid, the technique would put any young danseuse to shame. Seeing Shamatai on stage was an electrifying experience.
All one could feel was the vibration, all doubts evaporated and the figure on stage loomed over the auditorium with the grandeur of her craft. The standing ovation she received was just an extension of the euphoria felt.
Her concluding piece, Guru Nanak’s bhajan Saadho Rachana Rama Banayo was lovely in its details. I, personally loved the showcase of the Shadaripu (the inherent six evils in Man) and the depiction of all bodily attachments perishing on the funeral pyre. What an artiste! In the brief interaction that followed Shamatai’s candid reply to what gharana she followed brought the house down.
“Kathak is my gharana”, she said, and that for all was the most defining moment of the evening. As she reiterated that for her ‘Values are more important than technique’.
The final segment was a thematic Bharatanatyam performance by the Festival Director and BHaratanatyam Guru Dr Shashikala Ravi and her disciples. An interpretative presentation of the famous Ragamalika Bhavayami Raghuramam by Maharaja Swati Tirunal began with Shashikalaji being the pivot in the depiction of the Ramayana. Shashikalaji’s trikala teermanam was absolutely flawless and well-choreographed too. Her clean lines and saushtavanga was indeed laudable. For the abhinaya pieces her disciples joined her. The scenes of Viswamitra taking Rama to help rid the forest of the petty demons and that of Manthara filling Kaikeyi’s ears with hearsay were very well executed and the disciple essaying the two roles, Anu was indeed very impressive.
Shashikalaji herself was outstanding in her portrayal of Kaikeyi, in her shade of grey. Very well intoned as she brought out the goodness of the character as well. The other disciple who stood out in her various roles was Smriti.
The many teermanams added in between each charanam, although superb in form, did take away the rasa of the Ragamalika change in Ragas as they broke the Raga establishment each time. A slight misunderstanding with the orchestra in the last swara and some scenes bordering on histrionics were the only downsides. However, Shashikalaji’s strong lineage of Bharatanatyam was evident and made the classic highly enjoyable.
Kudos to her for organizing the festival. It had a mix of the experienced and the newbie. The winner is always the art form!
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