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Arangetram: Shriya Krishna

Babu Pandurangan

"Dance is the hidden language of the Soul" - Martha Graham

For a Bharatanatyam dancer, Arangetram is a major milestone. This debut solo performance marks the coming of age of the dancer and the consummation of years of training in this sacred artform. On July 14, 2018, Shriya performed her Arangetram. Shriya Krishna, is a student of Smt. Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai, Natyamani School of Dance, Westborough and a rising senior from Westborough High School, showed the entire audience in Medway High School her hard work and training, mesmerizing each of them from the moment she stepped on stage to her mangalam.

An orchestra of renowned musicians from India and the Boston area provided a divine musical milieu, while an elegant backdrop with suspended lamps between two columns recreated the scene of a mantapam from a typical ancient South Indian temple and added to the authenticity of the ambience. After a brief pooja to the gods, the event started with a beautiful invocation of Lord Ganesha sung by the vocalist Sri Mathur Srinidhi.

Shriya began the evening with a Pushpanjali or ‘offering of flowers’ in ragam Hamsanaadam. In this song she sought the blessings of Lord Nataraja, the guru, musicians, and the audience. It was a great rendition of the first verse of the great poem, The Raghuvamsa, by Kalidasa, with Shriya paying obeisance to Parvati and Shiva, the "parents of the universe," who are inseparable—like words and their meanings. This was followed by Nammamma Sharade, in ragam Hamsadhwani. In this piece Shriya sought the blessings of Lord Ganesha, the elephant headed god, while skillfully presenting his different forms.

The melodic and beautiful opening with the pushpanjali & Nammamma Sharade, set the stage for an invigorating Jathiswaram, in ragam Vasantha. The Jathiswaram was executed flawlessly. Shriya’s sense of talam and the precision of her adavus were on ample display. The dance was gloriously enhanced by Guru Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai’s energetic nattuvangam. The ease with which Shriya performed her Jathiswaram was a testament to her years of practice and dedication to this art form. The choreography was rich with rhythmic patterns and intricate footwork, captivating the audience and bringing out the pure joy of dancing.

From energetic, invigorating and flawless nritta to, graceful, soulful nritya, Shriya’s transformation for the next song Nada Murali Gaana Vilola, in ragam Hameerkalyani, was breathtaking. By now the audience was completely immersed in the magical music and a very soulful dance as Shriya and musicians brought Lord Krishna to Medway, Massachusetts. We witnessed in awe as Krishna played his melodious flute, enchanted all around him, and lifted govardhana giri to protect the people of Vrindavan from torrential rains.

After a brief break during which the musicians delighted the audience with divine music, Shriya resumed her presentation with a Varnam. The Varnam is the centerpiece of a Bharatanatyam performance. A detailed presentation, illustrating the vast repertoire of the art form in all its glorious “colors” where the dancers express their skill and mastery of the finer aspects of dance – nritta (pure dance), nritya (interpretational dance) and abhinaya (expression). For her Varnam Shriya performed to ‘Swami naan undhan’ in ragam Natakurunji, composed by Papanasam Sivan. This was a mesmerizing dance with fascinating choreography, narrating the glory of the god of dance Shiva, the Mrityunjaya protecting Markandaya from Yama, and the savior of Nandanar. The dance was performed with such brilliance as a series of crisply executed intricate jathis showcasing pure nritta, interwoven with song narrating the glorious stories of Shiva showcasing nritya and wonderfully expressive abhinaya. Shriya danced with so much grace, delight and aplomb leaving the audience in a trance. This was a dance that was talked about long after the show. The bhavas of the sancharis by the accompanying musicians were truly divine and added flourish to Shriya’s presentation – one felt transported to the scenes of Shiva kicking Yama away from Markandeya, and Nandi moving away from Nandanar’s line of sight. In all, the Varnam was a glorious conclusion to the first half of the Arangetram.

The second half started with a stunning display of nritya and abhinaya in Jagan Mohanane Krishna, a Ragamalika composition by Purandaradasa. One could see the awe and amazement in every face of the audience as Krishna opened his mouth to reveal the universe to Yashoda. There was not a heart that was not touched by emotion when the Asura Bhasmasura was vanquished. Every line of the composer Purandaradasa came to life on stage and touched everyone's heart. This extraordinarily rendered keerthanam was such a delight to watch and the accompanying music was divine.

The next dance, in praise of both Shiva and Vishnu, was Maa Ramanan composed by Papanasam Sivan, in ragam Hindolam. It was a vibrant song and Shriya brightened it all the more with her expressive dance, depicting the poet surrendering and bowing to the feet of Lord Shiva who married Uma and Lord Vishnu who married Lakshmi.

This was followed by an uplifting and delightful rendition of Mayil Vahana, in ragam Mohanam, composed by Papanasam Sivan. Shriya was so elegant and graceful in her depiction of Papanasam Sivan’s various descriptions of the Lord who rides the peacock. Being in the audience it was difficult for one not to share in the joy, beauty and devotion portrayed by Shriya.

Next, was the finale of the show, a thillana, in ragam Mand, in praise of goddess Kamakshi. The catchy melody along with Shriya’s expertise with nritta left the audience in awe. The genius of the Guru in picking these songs and her choreography was compelling, leaving the audience completely engaged to the last second of the dance. Shriya was shining through with perfect execution of this pure dance. The beautiful arrangements of the Jathis and rapid succession of fast paced nritta filled the auditorium with electric excitement, setting it up beautifully for the concluding dance, a mangalam ‘Radha Samedha Krishna’ which brought such delight and surprise to the audience and Shriya’s parents (Radha and Krishna). The audience was up on its feet to applaud what was truly a remarkable and unforgettable performance.

Shriya’s Guru Smt. Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai, her parents and family watched with pride as the Arangetram concluded. The audience was left yearning for more. Long after the performance everyone was reminiscing about the extraordinary dance, the divine music and the enthralling choreography. Like the Guru Smt. Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai mentioned in her congratulatory note, “Arangetram is just the beginning”. We cannot wait to watch her explore and find new heights with performing this art. Here is to wish her the best in continuing this pursuit.

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