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Jothi Raghavan Dances To Thirumangai Alwar's Verses

Ranjani Saigal
07/24/2007

Analogy is a powerful tool that have been used by poets the world over to convey deeply spiritual thoughts. Bhakti poetry uses the analogy of the union between a man a woman to symbolize the union between the Atma and Parmatma. Since Shringara – or love is considered a “Raja Rasa” or the king of all Rasas, the emotive quality of these poems has great appeal for the reader. Jayadeva  in his Ashtapadis, Manickavasagar in Thiruvempavai and Thirumangai Alwar in his Pasurams have assumed the persona of the lovelorn maiden to through her loging for her human lover expressed their love and devotion to the Lord . Thirumangai Alwar was the last of the twelve Alwars who composed poems in honor of Sriman Narayana.  In "Nayaki.. a poetic journey" Jothi presented the ideas put forth through the  works of Thirumangai Alwar in his Pasurams.

Rajkumar Bharathi had set the music for the production which opened with Thirumangai Alwar's first work – “Vaadinen” from Peria Thirumoli. Thirumangai Alwar is supposed to have been a bandit who accosted a couple and tried to steal the woman’s jewelry.  The couple was none other than Sriman Narayana and Mahalakshmi the encounter transforms the bandit and makes him a saint and the words of this poem are supposed to have burst forth. In Nayaki, the opening with the singing of “Om Namo Narayana” was powerful and Jothi’s abhinaya aptly brought out the agony that Thirumangai must have felt as he realized his follies of the past and the ecstacy he felt when he heard the Narayana Mantra. Jothi used the idea of Gajendra Moksham to beautifully to bring for the concept of Agony and Ecstacy.  The contrast between the agony felt by Gajendra when he was caught by the crocodile and the ecstasy at his release by Narayana was palpable.

The second part of the presentation used the verses from Thirunedunthandagam. After the initiation, the poet had adopted the persona of Parakala Nayaki. In this piece there is description of Parkala Nayaki meeting and falling in love with a handsome hunter (Narayan Himself) who helps her as she is bothered by a bee in a forest.  The two fall in love. Nayaki speaks of her union with her Lord to her friend presenting sensuous details. Later she asks the bee to tell  the cowherd Lord  about her Love for him.

In Siria Tirumadal Thirumangai speaks of an ancient tradition called Madal Oorvadu. Here, a boy, who has fallen in love with a girl, is not able to get her hand in marriage because of circumstances. He writes his love for her on a Palmyra leaf makes a figure of a hobby-horse with a Palmyra stalk and while it is being drawn through the streets laments her love for her.  In the verse Parkala Nayaki has fallen in love with a street juggler who juggles pots and says that she would commit the forbidden Madal even though she is a woman.   The verse includes a Soothsayers comment that the Juggler is Narayana indeed. Jothi ended the presentation with a Tillana with the charanam drawn from the Peria Thirumozhi.

The work was a great insight into the poetry of Thirumangai Alwar. Bhakti poetry especially the kind where the man dons the personality of a woman is extremely difficult, not only to absorb but to present in dance form with all its subtle nuances. The Shringara and Bhakti rasa run concurrently through the verses.  The pasurams also speak of times where the culture is very different. Tradition like Madal Oorvadu are very distant and incomprehensible to many. Kudos to Jothi for working on this challenging project.

The music by Rajkumar Bharathi was beautiful. The vocalist G. Srinath brought a lot of feeling into his singing. Flute Raman and his brother violinist Mysore Srikanth as usual dazzled the audience with their fabulous music. B. Ravishankar had a particularly challenging task as the Mridangam player for there was no Nattuvangam to coordinate the orchestra. He did an admirable job. Revathi Ramaswamy provided wonderful Veena support. The narration was done by Lakshmi Anavajela.

Why did Jothi feel so drawn to the Pasurams and choose to perform them? “What I performed was only a drop of the ocean. One can find Pasurams to suit any subject. These are highly philosophical at the same time accessible to lay people depending on the level of their knowledge or frame of mind. I feel very fortunate that I am drawn to them on so many levels. You ask why I enjoy them. It is hard to explain. Why do you enjoy sun rise? Why do you enjoy a cuckoo bird singing? Why do you enjoy sitting and listening to the sound of the ocean? There are some things that one cannot explain with words. Words can be very limiting” said Jothi.  

It perhaps is better  let dance speak for itself!



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