Radhika Vairavelavan’s inspiring imagery
Challenging the Natya Shastra and its Rasa Theory as the first known work on theatre arts, is Sattanar’s Koottanool, an ancient Tamil text on dance, music and drama, dating to the third Sangam period (maybe 3BCE-3CE). The author Sattannar is believed to have been a contemporary of Tolkappier, the author of the Tamil grammar text, Tholkappiyam. Sattanar and Tolkappier were contemporaries and disciples of Agathiyar, considered the author of Akattiyam, the primary source of Tamil literature, music and drama and the creator of the Tamil language or to one whom Shiva gave knowledge of the language to.
Koothanul was written in nine parts. Two were recovered by 2007 and three others subsequently, according to scholar S. Raghuraman, who has mentioned about them in his book, ‘History of Tamizh’s Dance’ (translated by Lakshmi Ramaswamy). We have to thank him for bringing Koothanool and the dance component of Tolkappiam and other texts to light through the book. Most recently, under his guidance, dancer-scholar Radhika Vairavelavan has meticulously translated the first part of Koothanool, ‘Cuvainool’, that deals with the origin of ‘Om’ as sound, origin of dance and rasa, and more.
Radhika had one more reason to celebrate — the 30th anniversary of her arangetram. She is a senior student of Ambika Buch, the well-known Kalakshetra stalwart and yesteryear heroine of Rukmini Devi’s dance dramas. Radhika is inventive and a mature dancer-teacher. Her Bharatanatyam recital at Rukmini Arangam in Kalakshetra was peppered with interesting moments.
The opening alarippu, broken into segments and set in different nadais, each segment alternating with prayers from Kalakshetra, was crisp and refreshingly different. The varnam was, likewise, unusual — ‘Malayamaruthamu che mathi jhalluvanera’ (Malayamarutham, Adi, Vummidi Setty Venkataswami Naidu) with visualisation ideas inspired by Swapna Sundari and nritta by Radhika.
The theme of a lovelorn nayika was presented as, ‘a young coquettish heroine, whose passion is fanned by the mountain breeze, seeks the attention of the Lord of Guntur’, with the poetic flamboyance of Swapna Sundari. The sancharis were roundabout and full of similes; just as the mountain breeze ruffles the flowers, it ruffles the sad nayika. Another simile compared the crocodile hurting Gajendra to the breeze hurting the nayika. There was more, but they could not be developed due to time constraint.
Radhika’s jathis were mostly conventional, using rhythm in an unhurried way. This allowed for grace with azhutham in execution. Sharp nattuvangam by Sri Sudarshini and mridangam by Vedakrishnaram, with his occasional sarvalaghus and tailor-made fillers to steps, enhanced the theermanams. Vidhya Subhash (vocal) was a treat to listen to along with melodists T.V. Sukanya (violin) and Sujith S. Naik (flute). Their Bhairavi accompaniment stood out. Coordination between all on stage was flawless.
Draupadi’s lament ‘Ninnin sabatham’ at being treated like an object to be given away, shared and pawned off by those around her, penned by Professor Raghuraman and tuned by Rajkumar Bharati in Kalyanavasantham, talamalika, was a mood piece. The Ninda Stuthi on Tiruvarur Tyagesa, ‘Mugathai Kaatiye’ (Bhairavi, Mishra Chapu, Papanasa Mudaliyar) visualised by Rukmini Devi, had the dancer questioning the deity about why he never reveals himself.
The last ‘Kaminimani’ (Purva Kamodari, Saveri, Mishra hapu, Swati Tirunal) was a delightful conversation between the nayika and her sakhi, where the nayika tries to explain away telltale signs of her having had a tryst with Padmanabha. A defensive nayika answers some searching questions, and has to almost own up eventually.
These pieces require some depth and Radhika was a convincing nayika in all three. She closed with a Surya thillana (Adi, Rukmini Ramani) choreographed by Ambika Buch. Every aspect of the performance had been worked on to perfection.