Gifting a grand sequence of Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam, the virtual Arpanam festival unveils the beauty of female and male presence in Indian classical dances

Suja Pillai

The world of Indian classical performing arts saw recently an impressive dance festival conceived and curated as an online series amid Covid-19. ‘Arpanam’ staged eight programmes by as many exponents in three months. Conceptualised as “born from the heart”, it gave therapeutic access to culture-lovers the world over in the times of the global pandemic.

All credits go to classical dancer Dr Sunanda Nair, the founder and artistic director of Shrutilaya Institute of Fine Arts in Mumbai and also of the US-based Sunanda’s Performing Arts Center. Beamed through her popular online channel, ‘Arpanam’ did fulfil its literal meaning: “offering”. Each performer — of Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam —shared one’s art and craft with evident devotion.

The festival began on October 26, premiering a dynamic duo: Vinitha Nedungadi (Mohiniyattam) and Uma Sathyanarayanan (Bharatanatyam). The second chapter, on November 21, featured a male trio: Kasi Ayola (Kuchipudi), Shankar Kandasamy and Deepak Mazumdar (both Bharatanatyam). The series concluded on December 12, featuring again a talented trio: Purva Dhanashree (Vilasini Natyam), Bhavana Reddy (Kuchipudi) and Roja Kannan (Bharatanatyam).

Vinitha and Uma

Mohiniyattam has, into this century, begun to break with vigour the pre-conceived notion of it being just lasyam-confined. Today, this dance refreshingly reminds the viewer about the scope of portraying feminine energy in shades beyond mere tenderness.

Palakkad-based Vinitha, in her October 26 show, carried the audience seamlessly through her movements — the deep bends and sways so distinct of the style. Interspersed were moments of stillness in which she looked like a sculpture of the goddess herself. Her captivating eyes have the capacity to draw the viewer along her journey, highlighted by Devi stuti, Ranganayaki. Adding to the effect was the vocal by Kottakkal Madhu, primarily a Kathakali musician.

Taking cue, Chennaiite Uma began with an Adi Shankara shlokam leading to the Ganga Kautuvam. With veteran Chitra Visweswaran on the nattuvangam as the choreographer, Uma continued with the theme of the divine female energies in her engaging performance. Capable of communicating with grounded footwork and joyful expressions, she moved onto her second presentation: Sama Gana Lole. The Carnatic kriti found sweet and soulful depiction of Devi. Within it, an interlude depicting Ardhanareeshwara was pure bliss. The musical accompaniment lifted the performance in every aspect.

Three Men on Stage

Even as the place of men in classical dance continues to be discussed in the country, three of them performed with elan at ‘Arpanam’. Kasi, Shankar and Deepak proved their merit as a devotee who takes the plunge with passion.

Young Kasi showcased the classicism of Kuchipudi by presenting Bhama Pravesa Daravu, choreographed by late icon Vempati Chinna Satyam. Precise footwork bore the essential dignity when Kasi portrayed a proud Bhama. With a solid foundation in the dance, he seems set to bring in further freshness and diversity to Kuchipudi.

Shankar presented a Surdas bhajan. Mein nahi makhan khayo unveiled wonderful choreography, delving into the unconditional mother-child love of Yashoda and Krishna. The dancer portrayed the innocence, mischief and energy of the little boy, often bringing smiles to the viewer and, at the end of the antics, a chuckle.

Deepak presented a piece by his guru Kanak Rele. Rama Viraha, soaked in sadness, pulled the viewer along the depths of despair that the hero of the Valmiki epic must have felt when separated from his wife. Every minute detail was essayed with clarity. The memories of Sita do bring in glimpses of happy times. In the end, the dancer used a simple cloth, depicting Sita’s uttariyam, which was definitely striking.

Trio of Women

Vilasini Natyam, with its Andhra origins a millennium ago, faced a slide into the 20th century before renowned Kuchipudi dancer Swapna Sundari revived the form. Purva, in her December 12 show, performed a choornika, followed by a pallavi in the tradition. Her lyrical prowess added grace to Purva’s Choornika that focused on the devotion to Devi.

Then happened a beautiful transition — to the crisper nritta of the pallavi. The unique step patterns, mudras and sequences were brought to life in a way that accentuated Purva’s stage presence as a Vilasini Natyam exponent.

Next came Bhavana. True, she has a strong lineage with gurus Raja and Radha Reddy being her parents as well. Yet, her own growth as an artiste was reinforced yet again at Arpanam, when Bhavana chose a piece on Shiva bhakti that brimmed with natural energy based on firm footing.The festival ended with the inimitable Roja’s presentation ‘Hari and Haran’. The first part began with Annamacharya’s Sriman Narayana, where music, abhinaya and adavus complemented each other so well. The dancer brought each lyric to life, in detail, letting the devotion percolate to the audience as well. In tune with her reputation as a seasoned artiste, Roja followed her verbal prelude with detailed abhinaya and dance movements.

A physician by profession, Suja Pillai is a classical dancer and orator-writer. With her teacher Dr Sunanda Nair, Suja has co-founded Sakhyam, a Mohiniyattam performance group.


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