Reliving Krishna

BY: VATSALA VEDANTAM


Sep 16, BANGALORE, INDIA (THE HINDU) — Bangalore will witness a weeklong devotional dance drama festival at ISKCON.

The artists of Kalakshetra are all set to capture the hearts of the city's rasikas with a weeklong repertoire of ballets depicting the various bhavas of Krishna. Krishna Sringara promises a spiritual experience. In six stunning productions, they will revive stories of Indian mythology. The highlight of this year's festival will be a new production in Kannada specially created for ISKCON. Based on the lyrics of Kanaka Dasa and Purandara Dasa, it is set to music by Rajaram, the flag bearer of Mysore Vasudevacharya.

While selecting 12 lyrics out of 1200 depicting the leelas of Krishna, Rajaram has used only those which lent themselves to dramatisation. Including "Jagadhodharana" for its timeless appeal, he has retained the original tune made famous by B.S. Raja Iyengar and M.S. Subbulakshmi. He has composed new ragas for all the lyrics except that one song where, "I did not dare to change the original!" Making the music for these eloquent lyrics by the great haridasas was a 13-year-old dream come true for Rajaram.

This year's festival will be flagged off by Rukmini Kalyanam. Created in 1964, it belongs to the genre of the Bhagavathamela Natakas, which were traditionally staged during temple festivals in the Tanjore district of Tamilnadu. Rukmini Devi has borrowed from Pothana's Bhagavatham for this ballet. One of the most alluring of her creations, it surpasses the most daring of love stories in history. Scenes like Rukmini writing a love epistle to Krishna against the incredible background of five ragas make this dance drama an experience in aesthetics. Although the theme of Andal Charitram is similar, this ballet has been crafted on purely classical lines to tell us the story of the Alwars and the devotion of one who finally reached the god residing in Srirangam.

The story of Bhakta Jayadeva taken from the Bhakthamala is a rich and colourful dance drama set in Jagannathapuri. The story of the saint poet Jayadeva is portrayed in all its moving nuances against the backdrop of his own masterpieces, Gita Govindam and the Ashtapadi. Again, Kurma Avataram, with the inimitable music of Papanasam Sivan, brings to life one of the most theatrical episodes in Srimad Bhagavatham. Right from the opening scene this ballet combines grace with power - an extraordinary achievement by the dancers.

One of the lesser-known productions is Kuchelopakhyanam, originally composed by Maharaja Swati Tirunal of Travancore with a Kathakali flavour to it, but modified later with slokas from Srimad Bhagavatham and set to music by Semmangudi Sreenivasa. The result is a beautiful ballet which portrays the sakhya bhava of Krishna with his childhood friend, Sudhama.

Although Swati Tirunal had composed this story in a harikatha format, with song and speech, Semmangudi has rendered it into impeccable music which brings out the bhakthi bhava as well such as in the opening verses "Nigama Kalpatarorgalitham" sung in praise of Sri Padmanabha.

The new generation of artistes in Kalakshetra have managed to preserve the traditions of classicism passed on by their mentors. Sheejit Krishna, one of the star performers in this year's festival says he owes a lot to gurus like Janardhanan and Balagopalan who taught by example. According to Sheejit: "I can don the role of a Jayadeva or Purandara or Bali with ease, because I am not acting that role, I am living it." This was one of the lessons he learnt from his seniors like Narendran who could slip into any role with finesse.

Although Narendran himself finds it easier to portray real life characters like Purandara Dasa - in which he excels - than to live the role of imaginary ones like Rama, where, surprisingly, he also excels.

Excels so much that rasikas lined up after his performance in the Maha Pattabhishekam last year to seek his blessings!

The ISKCON dance festival begins on September 21 at the temple auditorium on Hare Krishna Hill, Bangalore. For details contact 98455 31333 or 93414 50310.



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