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A Soul-Filling Debut By Nithisha Prasad

S. Ramamoorthy

A Bharathanatyam arangetram (dance debut) may well be equated to an academic graduation. The well-set curriculum with specific syllabus, spanning over long learning period, speaks for the consideration. The aspirant's various performances during the tutelage could be associated to semester assessments and the final graduation, to the stage performance before a learned audience, (the Examination Board or Committee) presided over by the Lord of Dance, Nataraja (the Chancellor). That being said, Nithisha Prasad, disciple of Guru Jeyanthi Ghatraju at the Natyanjali School of Dance definitely scored a "glorious double" during her arangetram on August 11th, 2012 at the Littleton High School auditorium in Littleton, MA.

Nithisha has had her dance education under Jeyanthi Ghatraju for the past eight years and has grown well with the institution. With her sincere commitment and dedication to perform at various fund raisers and spiritual events, she was well-set for the grand recital. It was a pleasing welcome for the audience as they were greeted to a tastefully decorated reception and stage, reminiscent of a South-Indian environment. Nithisha’s guru, Jeyanthi, had carefully selected precious pearls as songs for the arangetram and served as the EmCee, giving each item her own personal touch in her item introductions.
Nithisha launched her program with a traditional Pushpanjali in Ragam Vijayavasantham, a composition of Madurai R Muralidaran, followed by an invocation to Lord Ganesha in Sri Ganapathini, composed by Saint Thyagaraja in Ragam Sourashtram set to Adi talam.

Next item in the agenda was Alarippu, which traversed in Misra Nadai of seven counts. Nithisha exhibited this number in fine display with the rhythmic movements marking precisely the distinct time cycle. Following Alarippu, a Ragamalika/Talamalika Jathiswaram, composed by K.Lalitha was presented. Nithisha gracefully comprehended the Swara (musical notes) passages in the different Ragams and Talams. The transition between them was seamless, a testimony to her feat, thanks also to the exceptional musicians, who kept up the tempo and pace.

Murugan Shabdam, another composition of Madurai Muralidaran followed next. This marks the changeover from the emphasis on pure dance to expressional aspects of the dance, depicting a scene or two from an episode in subtle Abhinaya. Nithisha narrated the fall of the mighty demon Soorapadman at the hands of valorous Lord Murugan with amicable ease.

Nithisha then embarked on Bhavayami Raghuramam for her Varnam, the piece de resistance of a Bharatanatyam repertoire. This is a composition of Maharaja Swati Thirunal, describing the essence of the age-old epic, Ramayana.  Nithisha completely immersed herself into the roles she played and portrayed with ease the various complex emotions underlying the lyrics of this item. She elaborated three episodes with deep understanding and maturity – Seetha’s swayamvaram, Mandhara’s malicious advice to Kaikeyi sending Rama into exile, and the war between Rama and Ravana. Nithisha’s depiction of Guha and his boatman before deciding to help Rama cross the river Ganges added some light moments to the item. Jeyanthi’s sensitive choreography and clear nattuvangam, combined with the bountiful efforts of the musicians kept the audience spell-bound through this long presentation! Over the intermission, one could feel the bliss in the air of listening and watching Ramayana that it was the talk of evening!

Following the short intermission, Nithisha performed Nada Thanumanisham, a timeless composition by Saint Thyagaraja in Chittaranjani ragam set to Adi talam. The kriti is sung in adoration of Lord Shiva who is personified as an Embodyment of Nadham (sound). The choreography introduced the five initial musical instruments as music evolved and highlighted the features of the seven musical notes. It was sweet and refreshing for the music lovers to witness the essence of the dance executed with brilliance.

Next Nithisha dwelled on a couple of lighter pieces. First came, Maa Telugu Talliki, the State anthem of Andhra Pradesh, India. In this she described the greatness of the state with vast resources contributing to the material and spiritual richness of the land. Incidentally the song was composed by a Tamil Poet Sankarambadi Sundarachari, in adoration of the greatness of the Telugu language and culture in 1942.      
Adding to the amusement, Nithisha performed Sirutha navvula vadu sinnakka, an Annamayya composition next.  In simple colloquial words, the poet describes the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu from a laywoman's perspective. The depiction was quite impressive bringing out the feelings of the hard working villagers finding comforting solace, singing and dancing in praise of the Lord. With simple props, Nithisha brought a typical rural setting in front of our eyes beautifully.

The acme of the program was Thillana - a dance of pure joy radiating the bliss of the performance.  The thillana presented by Nithisha was one of the master pieces of the legendary musician, Dr. Balamuralikrishna in the joyful Ragam Garudadhwani. In this piece replete with rich jathis set to fast pace, combining rhythmic twists, Nithisha exhibited her finesse with perfect timing, thus mesmerizing the audience.

The customary Mangalam was given a little twist in the Bhoomi Mangalam piece, from Chants of India by Pandit Ravishankar. While Nithisha presented her humble offerings to the Lord Supreme and thanked the Guru, the musicians and the audience for a successful performance, she also prayed for global harmony, the synergy in Nature and Universal Peace.

Nithisha thus concluded her arangetram in flying colors, keeping up a diverse audience entertained and enthralled - a true reward for her sustained efforts and sheer dedication to the art.

The live accompaniments comprised of eminent artists who have made a mark in their field of music. The illustrious musicians included Guru Jeyanthi Ghatraju who was clear, concise and pleasing on the nattuvangam, Maitreyi Sharma provided her melodious voice with perfect timing, Gaurishankar Chandrashekar on the mridangam yielded strong rhythmic support, Surya Sundarararajan on the violin provided brilliant flourishes to the melody, and Dr Suresh Mathur on the flute was soothing. Teenager, Pranav Ghatraju added his embellishments for two padams on his tabla and was widely appreciated for his part.

As the old saying goes, “Art is boundless”.  Nithisha should avail her dancing prowess to achieve many more heights and I wish her continued blessings and success.

(S.Ramamoorthy is a Retired Joint Director of Agriculture, State Dept. of TamilNadu, India and is a freelancer on subjects related to Indian culture, dance and music. )

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