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Making a difference with Spic Macay

THE ASIAN AGE. | LEELA VENKATARAMAN
Published : Jun 27, 2018, 3:13 am IST
Updated : Jun 27, 2018, 3:12 am IST

Epitomising Bharatanatyam grace and exceptionally communicative abhinaya, Priyadarshini Govind charmed the audience.

Margi Madhu and Nepathya Srihari Chakiyar. (Anish Mishra)
 Margi Madhu and Nepathya Srihari Chakiyar. (Anish Mishra)

Led by the missionary zeal of the founder Dr. Kiran Seth, Spic Macay’s voluntary endeavour  over three-and-a-half decades,  of exposing  Indian youth to the heterogeneous tapestry of our cultural heritage embodying the wisdom, aesthetics and values of generations of artistes and thinkers,  has survived and prospered in the teeth of limitless obstacles.  Watching over 20 youngsters sitting on the sides of the stage as legendary musicians perform, hands engaged in keeping taal — or watching  chubby 10-year-old Class V student  Krishna from Indore, sitting through the all-night music concert unblinkingly absorbed from 8-30PM to 8AM, one cannot but feel that Spic Macay is somewhere making a big difference, in kindling  cultural awareness. In what arguably was the most efficiently mounted sixth International Spic Macay Convention, held  in  the 2,100 acre township of  IIT Kharagpur, located at the historical Hijli Detention Camp ( set up in 1930 because jails could not accommodate youngsters participating in the Non-cooperation Movement against the British raj ) with staff members too leaving no stone unturned in providing help and assistance, the week-long event featuring over 300 artists conducting 40 workshops with several crafts and seven different kinds on Yoga and meditation alone, along with 30 live concerts, one saw India’s mind-numbing diversity in artistic, physical and mental disciplines, helping create evolved citizens.

The why of Spic Macay was best underlined by the Director of IIT Prof. Partha P. Chakrabarti while inaugurating the week-long convention- mentioning myriad examples of knowledge/research emphasising the interconnectedness of science and arts, no longer existing in isolated glory.  Hours of watching the unending creation/destruction process of sand particles comprising vibrating molecules and atoms,  carried by the waves hitting the rock on the shores that mystic scientist Fritjf Capra (read Tao of Physics) realised how Nataraja’s cosmic dance is a metaphor suggesting the endlessly moving energy particles.

Young students at handicrafts workshop.Young students at handicrafts workshop.

In traditional mode, the warm tones of the “mangala vadyam” Nagaswaram provided the curtain-raiser, with Sheshampatti Sivalingam playing the Tyagaraja Kriti “Kanukontini Sri Ramuni nedu” in Bilahari. The melodious journey  through ragams like  Jayantasree (“Marugelara O Raghava”), Revati (“Bho Shambho”), Behag, and a peppy “tani” percussion on the two tavils, concluded with the Western sounding band-inspired music.

The second part in Hindustani classical featured students of Shrutinandan school of Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, singing Raga Hamsadhwani, proving  that talent honed to excellence requires imaginative teaching.

With sahitya in Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, English, melodic instrumental accompaniment through the violin, flute, veena, and percussion provided by  tabla, mridangam, ghatam, Mizhavu, Kanjira etc, this composition, like a lakshana geet,  with gamakas, taans, solfa syllabic passages, rendered in perfect “sur” control and unison, provided a rounded immaculate melodic experience of the raga.

The dance component had many forms. Between Guru Ghanakanta Bora and disciple Anvesha Mahanta, whose assertive nritta goes with highly communicative abhinaya, it was Sattriya of dignity and excellence, through items like Gurughat (an orchestral cymbal and drum opening with salutations to Sankaradeva) and Vandana, followed by  Ramdhani and Geetor Naach based on a “bhatima” of Sankardeva , namely  “Jaya Jaya Jadukula” describing the heroic exploits of young Krishna.

The highlight was Anvesha’s superb presentation of Harihar Leela,  a recent creation, based on Shankaradeva’s  HaraMohan, the music in raga Vasant inspired by Kirtan Gosha prescriptions. Knowing Shiva’s Yog/Bhoga character, Vishnu, on Shiva’s desire to again see him, as Mohini the enchantress, tests him. Suddenly eyeing a beautiful woman amidst nature’s bloom in enchanting spring, Shiva, his yogic vows forgotten, starts stalking her. Mollifying a repentant Shiva, Vishnu later explains how Maya and Shrishti (that he and Shiva embody), co-exist as attracting polarities symbolising all creation, with  Bhakti the only means of triumphing over both. Anvesha’s   expressional vitality, made each image come alive — docile deer, alluring woman, and the metaphor of the Bee and flower suggesting the inevitable attraction of male for the female.

Priyadarshini GovindPriyadarshini Govind

Epitomising Bharatanatyam grace and exceptionally communicative abhinaya, Priyadarshini Govind charmed the audience.  Sans the workload of Kalakshetra as its ex- Director, she is regaining her old form as revealed in the combined rhythmic/interpretative passages in the Devi Stuti, following the Subrahmanya Kavutvam in Shanmukhapriya. Divinity in the feminine aspect comprising manifestations like Ardhanariswari, Maha Kali, Annapoorneswari, invoking the Goddess in both benign and destructive attitudes, was textually compiled from different Sanskrit texts, with Raj Kumar Bharati composing the Ragamalika score.  

The rest of the recital comprising Priyadarshini’s favourite numbers saw the dancer in her element. The Tulsidas Bhajan “Thumak chalat” evocative of vatsalya (motherly love), saw mother Kausalya’s ecstasy watching the first unsteady steps of her little son Rama. Evocatively natural was the mother drawing the restless child’s attention to the beautiful moon, quickly using the moments as he looks up to apply the tilak on his forehead. The Javali in Poorvikalyani “Nee matale mayanura” in a contrasting tone portrayed the nayika reprimanding her lover for his tall invariably broken promises, firmly shutting the door on him. Tirugokaranam Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar’s  Tillana in Poorvi, provided the finale. The competent melodic support had Lokesh providing nattuvangam, K.P. Nandini contributing melodic vocal support, with Shivaprasad  on mridangam and Srilakshmi on the violin.                      

That excerpts from Karnabharam in very slow moving  Koodiyattam, the only survival of ancient Sanskrit theatre, should have commanded such an attentive audience was surprising to say the least. The arresting start on the copper drum Mizhavu positioned at the back saw Margi Madhu Chakyar as Karana and son Nepathya Srihari Chakyar as King Shalyar, the charioteer, both actors anchored at the same spot, conveyed feel of a chariot speeding to the Kurukshetra battlefield. In a throwback to the past (a dramatic device nirvahanam) Karna relives Kunti’s  visit to him, revealing herself as his mother and pleading that he not kill the Pandava brothers.

As in Koodiyattam Margi Madhu took on on both roles — a tucking of the side frill of the skirt making him a woman, while the open stance with chest out sees him as Karna. Unable to refuse a mother’s request, while agonised over letting down Duryodhana, whose generosity has made him King, Karna promises to spare all the Pandavas barring Arjuna.  Karna’s  response to Shalya’s enquiry about his arms training  (again pitching into the past) sees another narrative recounting the training under Parasurama in the guise of  a Brahmin (Parasurma was a sworn enemy of Kshatriyas), till the stoic unflinching act of bearing a Bee sting on the thigh, not to disturb the guru sleeping on it,  gives him away.   Parasurama curses him that what he had taught him would prove ineffective when most needed.  

The performance action spelt out on two large screens on either side of the stage helped a lot. Margi Madhu’s  mukhabhinaya with mudra expertise comes from eminent gurus like Ammannoor Madhavachakkiar, Moozhikulam Kochukuttanchakkiyar, P.K. Narayanan Nambiar and Madhavanunni.

Young Srihari Chakyar promises to be a chip off the old block already. Kalamandalam Manikanthan and Nepathya Ganesh on Mizhavu provided the strong tonal emotive pulse for the presentation with percussion on mizhavu. On Edekka was Kalanilayam Rajan.

Eminent painter Anjalie Ila Menon, for years a kind of fairy godmother for the Spic Macay donating many of her paintings, in her lecture on “jugad’’, with excellent visuals from her work, showed how odd items from here and there, like a broken window frame badly in need of polish, just morphed on to a painting could create the most innovative pictures.

Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar in a presentation on Kaifi Azmi, Shabana’s father, reciting excerpts of poetry, with gripping dips into Kaifi’s life story held the audience spell bound. One only wished that the singing of the poetry with all those high decibel level accompanying instruments had lived up to the same sensitivity, evoking that quiet intimacy touching an inner chord in the listener.

The music manifestations defied expression. Memorable was the exquisite melody of N. Rajam’s  violin from Desh to the Benarsi Dadra, the wrenching sweetness of Jhinjhoti alap by Ustad Shaheed Parvez Khan on Sitar, the mellifluous Khayal in Shuddh Kalyan Khayal by Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar, Jaipur Atrauli Gharana’s Shruti Sadolikar’s rich voice in Nand and  Kafi Kanada, allowing no virtuosity “chamatkar” even in drut laya  diluting the raga elegance.  Alak Das Bandish in Mukhi (now termed Shivaranjani)  was also sung. Delightful was Dr Ashwini Bhide’s  savoured elaboration of Yaman  and Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarthy’s rendition in raga megh, unique not only for his own treatment but for the way his two disciples,  at the rear showed requisite excellence for a musical interaction with the guru. And what a fine presentation of raga lalit in the wee hours of the morning by Kumar Mardur!

Ghatam Vidwan Vinayakram, with son Selvaganesh (Konakkol) and grandson Swaminathan (Kanjira) and A. Ganesan (Morsang)  through easy examples communicated rhythmic intricacies. Much appreciated, verve and total spiritual involvement marked T.V. Sankaranarayanan’s Carnatic vocal concert, through ragas like Mohanam, Kannada Gaula, Bhairavi to the concluding  lyric “Yeppo Varuvaro” in  Jonepuri.

If the Qawwali of the Chisti Brothers brought the house down in applause, the quieter Gurbani Kirtan by Bhai Baljit Singh Namdhari was no less in a class of its own in exquisite classical richness.

Going round the many workshops, experiencing the sheer enthusiasm of students was heart warming.

Students In Sharmila Biswas’ Odissi workshop observed “We are woken up at 3-30 a.m. and how is it that we are not tired during this workshop?”

Treasure moments were listening to Dhrupad specialist Ashoka Nandi’s experiences as Aminuddin Dagar’s disciple and to hear  Fado (Goa’s musical legacy from Portuguese past), rendered in the unbelievably rich voice of Sonia Shirsat! And how intelligently, through the Ramayana Sabdam, Vasantalakshmi Narasimhachari made raw Kuchipudi hopefuls give a fine theatrical presentation!

About returning to their routines after such a hectic week students observing “We can’t explain it, but there will be a difference,” said it all.                               

The writer is an eminent dance critic

Tags: bharatanatyam, shabana azmi, spic macay