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A regal composition

Manjari Sinha |

The International Academy of Mohiniyattam, founded by Jayaprabha Menon, presented their annual Swathi Thirunal Festival at the India Habitat Centre this past week. Swathi Thirunal, the Maharaja of Travancore, is known for his love for literature, music, dance, art and culture. A contemporary of the Carnatic Trinity ~ Thyagaraja, Shyama Shastry and Muthuswamy Dikshitar ~ Maharaj Swathi Thirunal was a prolific composer. He composed Varnams, Padams, Javalis and Thillanas in many languages, including Sanskrit, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi and Hindi. The two-day festival, dedicated to the memory of the late Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, comprised two subsequent evenings of dance and music, based on the compositions of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal.

The inaugural evening showcased various dance styles like Mohiniyattam, Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Mayurbhanj Chhau in solo and group performances. It opened with Ganapathi Vandana in Mohiniyattam dance style by Madhuri Deshmukh from Mumbai. Groomed under Kanak Relle at the Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, Madhuri is a graded artiste of Doordarshan and an empanelled artiste of the ICCR. She proceeded to present an Abhinaya piece, a Padam composed by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, where the Nayika, or heroine, pleads her confidante Sakhi to go and bring her beloved since the cool breeze is scorching her body, making her restless. Madhuri concluded her performance with a Thillana in ragam Hindolam, where the composer has used Hindi for the concluding verse.

The scintillating Kathak duet by Abhimanyu and Vidha Lal, the brilliant senior disciples of Guru Geetanjali Lal, incorporated the traditional repertoire of Kathak like the Thaat, Aamad, Tode-Tukde, Paran and Chakardar in the invocatory composition by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal "Veshveshwara darshan kara…" in raga Miyan ki Todi, set to Teentala. The live orchestra added a musical touch to the dynamic dance, where the duo depicted the Tandava and Lasya Ang of Kathak, complimenting each other.

The third and the concluding item was a mesmerising group choreography on the famous Dhanashri Thillana of Swathi Thirunal. The three female dancers in Odissi, Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam and a male Mayurbhanj Chhau dancer entered as a group, dancing to the Thillana in their own individual style. Thoughtfully incorporated in between Padams of the great composer Swathi Thirunal, the item depicted the Khandita Nayika, gracefully emoted by the Radhika in Bharatanatyam on "Aaye Giridhar more dware…" and in Mohiniyattam by the disciple of Jayaprabha Menon, before the Odissi dancer, a disciple of Madhavi Mudgal emoted the Sanyog Shringar in "Chaliye kunjan mon…", in raga Brindavani Sarang. The Chhau dancer took his solo turn, showcasing his provess in his own dance style, mesmerising the audiences with his Akash Bhramari in continuous twirls around the stage. Then all four of them came together and danced to the concluding Hindi verse "Padmanabh tumhari leela…", of the Dhanashri Thillana together.

The next and concluding evening of the festival had a vocal recital by Ilangovan Govindarajan and a Flute recital by Chetan Joshi, who sang and played the composition of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, completing the "Tauryatrikam" of vocal, instrumental and dance that completed the definition of music, according to the musical treatise.