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Arangetram: Advika Sonti

Rukmani and Deeptha Ganesh

During Navarathri, a Hindu festival that spans nine nights, the New England area was gifted to witness the excellent bharatanatyam arangetram (Indian classical dance debut) of Advika Sonti presented by Lasya School of Dance under the able guidance of Guru Smt. Sapna Krishnan. This was the grand finale of the 2019 arangetram season for the Lasya School. 

The program began with an invocation to Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles, seeking his blessings for the evening as well as for a complete and purposeful life. Our vocalist Sri Sudev Warrier with his melodious voice brought peaceful, positive energy to the dancer and to the environment. 

Followed by this invocatory piece, Advika ascended the stage to perform Mahadeva Kauthuvam. With her captivating smile, she stole the attention and hearts of the audience and ended the Kauthuvam with a beautiful pose depicting Lord Shiva. The conch effect from our flutist Sri Ramani Thiagarajan took the audience to Kailash instantaneously. Advika’s aunt, a dancer herself was the emcee for the evening and she enjoyed the performance along with the audience very well. 

The next item was a krithi, Brahma Kadigina Paadamu, in ragam Mukhari and talam Adi. This piece glorifies Lord Venkateshwara’s feet, which were washed by Lord Brahma, the creator himself. The violin introduction to the song by Sri Veeramani was heart-wrenching and it was followed by a short flute prelude as well. Advika entered the stage portraying a blissful devotee who was in constant contemplation of the Lord’s feet. The devotee as part of his morning prayer ritual sprinkles the holy water on himself and Advika brought that moment to life with her beautiful expression. In this piece, the dancer narrated the stories of Vamana and Ahalya. She also depicted how Mahalakshmi lovingly enjoys the beauty of the Lord while pressing his feet. When the dancer enacted the scene where Vaman took the Vishwaroopam and king Bali offered his head to Vamana, the combination of Advika’s expressions and the music made the audience go wild. 

The immensely talented musicians provided a short musical interlude, with Sri Sudhaman on the mridangam energizing the crowd as always! 

The next item was the crowning jewel of the performance: the varnam. The varnam is a true test for the dancer, testing her stamina, technical prowess, and storytelling abilities, and I think it is safe to say that Advika passed with flying colors. The varnam that she performed praised Lord Rama and portrayed stories from the timeless epic, the Ramayana. She showed immense control and stability during her initial Trikala jathi, and her leg lifts and poses were remarkable. Advika’s expressions were genuine and beautiful, especially as the smitten Sita when she married Lord Rama and as she portrayed the way all the other kings failed to lift Shiva’s bow during Sita’s swayamvara. Additionally, kudos to Guru Sapna Krishnan for her innovative, rhythmic choreography. It truly was a visual treat. 

Advika kicked off the second half with Maharaja Swathi Thirunnal’s famous composition, Shankara Sri Giri Natha Prabho. The audience was spellbound with her balance and lifts, and the conch effect from the flute enthralled the crowd yet again. 

After that came a keerthanam in Ragam Vasantha and set to Adi Talam. The composition was in praise of Lord Hanuman, and Advika excelled in portraying the Lord’s mischievous expressions as he wreaked havoc in Lanka. There were many beautiful moments during the piece, notably towards the end when she showed Hanuman opening up his heart to reveal Lord Rama inside: the audience had goosebumps and the auditorium erupted with whistles and applause.  

Perhaps the most unique piece that Advika performed came next: Naga Nrittam, or the snake dance. The piece described the fluid motion of the snake, which adorns Lord Shiva’s hair, shelters Lord Vishnu, and beautifies Goddess Parvathi as bangles. Advika exuded confidence when portraying the snake, with her flexibility and grace receiving an overwhelming response and a standing ovation from the audience. The lilting combination of the flute and the violin captivated the crowd like the music of a snake charmer. 

The program concluded with a thillana in Ragam Bahar and a mangalam, where Advika showed her gratitude to her Guru, the musicians, and the audience. Touching speeches from Advika’s family and friends showed how much effort she put into the arangetram and how proud they were of her.  

The arangetram (dance debut) happened to be on the 7th day of Navarathri, which is dedicated to Kaalratri, the seventh of the nine forms of Goddess Durga. Kaalratri is also known as Shubankari (शुभंकरी), meaning auspicious or the one that confers all goodness in Sanskrit, due to the belief that she always provides auspicious results to her devotees. It is believed that she makes her devotees fearless. 

I felt that the Goddess has abundantly blessed the dancer, Advika and her family and the Guru, Sapna with the courage to take up this challenging task of presenting the dance debut, especially after the schools re-opened. Advika, being a junior at Mass Academy, balanced her school and dance commitments very well, and Mohan as a proud father was in all smiles as his daughter was rocking on stage. Sapna, as always, choreographed the dances in such a way that she was able to showcase Advika’s strengths to the fullest. More than a dance teacher she was also a pillar of support for Advika and her family during the arangetram. Kudos to Guru Sapna, Advika Sonti, Advika’s friends and family, volunteers and the lasya school of dance for being supportive and making this event a grand success. Thank you!

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