Sanskrit, though no longer the language of the masses across major parts of the country, is a medium that holds immense significance with links to our rich past. Several texts in the ancient language are imaginatively structured with unique literary devices, rich in their imagery and dramatic value, that are relevant even today. It takes skill and painstaking research to pick elements from several such historic texts, set it to a talam, reimagine it in the form of succinct dance pieces that could pique the curiosity of a literary enthusiast and a dance connoisseur alike.
Sanskritotsavaha, a celebration of Sanskrit over the previous weekend at Saptaparni, Hyderabad was a brief yet effective culmination of such efforts. With a dance presentation by Anupama Kylash, Ajeissh Menon, Vamsi Madhavi and S Jayachandran, all belonging to various disciplines, the pieces were categorised on the genres that the literary texts focus on – including Natya, Alankara Shastra, Itihasa, Kavya, Nataka, Stotra and Padasahitya.
S Jayachandran’s performance to Pushpanjali Upayojyaanam, an extract from Nandikeshvara’s Bharatarnava, was a dedication to the three supreme deities — Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. The piece threw light on the various categories of flowers that were offered to the deities and their consorts, highlighting their significance as a floral offering besides their decorative value. Using hand gestures to highlight the floral motifs, bringing alive the feeling of true submission to the almighty, Jayachandran brought forward tenderness to the piece.
Valmiki’s Ramayana was the text in focus in the next piece, where an extract brings to the fore a conversation between Narada and Valmiki, where the former describes all the physical attributes and significant facets that contribute to the magnificence of Rama. Performed by Vamsi Madhavi and Ajeissh Menon, the decision to divide the piece between its word-to-word meaning (in the sloka) and the event in Rama’s life that brings forth a particular quality, added to its appeal. Vamsi Madhavi was easily the more fluid performer among the two with the transparency in her expressions, intricacies in her postures and movements.
However, the next piece by Anupama Kylash, an interpretation of an extract from Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhavam was a true dancer’s light for the sheer drama in the description. Structured like a conversation between Parvati and Shiva, the latter suggests that her deep penance is of little value in comparison with his unflattering appearance sans any embellishments. Parvati takes it upon herself to remind him of the deeper truths beneath his appearance – be it the snake around his neck, the poison that he’s held in it (neck), the animal skin that he uses, the positioning of the Ganga atop his head et al. The metaphorical and physical parallels made for an intriguing presentation, where the abhinaya of the dancer came through.
Vamsi Madhavi yet again stole the show with a piece from Rasamanjari, slipping into the skin of a newly-wedded wife tirelessly waiting for her husband to arrive, while stringing together a garland of pearls. She was at ease in expressing the femininity, the shy-innocence of a bride and the longing for the man of her dreams as the slow-paced composition helped her elaborate the emotions vividly. The other two pieces from Rasamanjari too appeared largely relevant in the modern-day context.
Ajeissh sang and performed in one of the pieces where a wife literally shows the mirror to a husband who is involved in a relationship with another woman. The next presentation too was as interesting (probably highlighting the importance of consent), where the nayaka is surprised by the disinterest of the nayika to his advances, equating her discomfort to that of a person who’s confronted by the various elements of nature during a painstaking journey.
Vamsi Madhavi and Anupama Kylash’s emotion-centric segment focusing on an extract from the Abhijnanashakuntala, had Shakuntala (along with her sakhi Priyamvada), expressing her sorrow at having to part from the grove she grew up amidst.
Bilwamangala’s Sri Krishna Karnamrutam and Srita Kamala Kucha Mandala a rare bhajan-like ashtapadi of Jayadeva put Krishna on the forefront in the final stretch of the performance that ended with a mangalam Vijayagopalathe Mangalam. The crispness in the choreography, the organic quality of a live music setting and bhava-laden singing of the TK sisters (Saroja and Sujatha), ensured the evening was a starting point for many who wished to dwell deeper into Sanskrit literature. Though not a dance purist’s delight, the experiment orchestrated by Anupama Kylash bore a mix of contemporariness and tradition.
Jayakumar Achari’s expertise at multiple instruments in addition to K L N Murthy on the violin added value to the setting.