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Arangetram: Soni Kumar

Sanjana Kumar

On July 1st, 2023, I watched my little brother, Soni, perform his Bharatanatyam Arangetram exactly 10 years after I did. Soni has been learning Bharatanatyam from his Guru, Jayshree Bala Rajamani, for the past 9 years in preparation for this momentous occasion. Leading up to the Arangetram, my family and I watched as Soni diligently practiced almost every day with a dedication that was enviable. 


On the big day, we had family and friends come from across the United States to support Soni and watch his hard work finally come to fruition. We were grateful to be able to hold the event at the Sri Lakshmi Temple in Ashland, MA. For those who could not be there in person, there was live streaming of the event which was much appreciated and well received. Prior to the program, Soni, our family, and friends walked in a procession from the auditorium to Lord Nataraja, the God of Dance, to offer flowers and fruits, and receive blessings. The priest performed a small puja of the “Salangai” (ankle bells) and handed them over to Soni. Soni then received blessings and good wishes from his Guru and family. 


To begin the event, Jayshree spoke about the history and significance of Bharatanatyam and the Arangetram. This was followed by an introduction of the live musicians who were all local to the Boston area: Uma Shankar (vocalist), Sushmitha Ravikumar (violinist), and Mahalingam Santhanakrishnan (mridangam). The musicians started with a beautiful prayer song, after which, Soni ascended the stage to begin the performance with the Thodaya Mangalam. Soni mesmerized everyone from the very get-go. His dance movements were precise yet fluid when needed. He displayed immense strength and grace while performing.


Throughout the performance, Jayshree captivatingly introduced each dance number, engaging the audience and allowing us to become fully a part of the musical experience. As Soni performed Alarippu, Jatiswaram, and Shabdam, I was amazed by his energy and technique. However, he surpassed all expectations with the next dance piece, the Varnam. He truly impressed everyone in the audience, especially me, with his expressive power and pure stamina. The Varnam is the longest piece in the Arangetram repertoire, and it involves storytelling using both pure dance and expression. During Soni’s Varnam, we watched in awe as he gracefully transformed himself into various characters, telling two stories of Goddess Meenakshi - one where she lovingly created her two sons Ganesha and Karthikeya, and the other where she transitioned to a fierce goddess who killed a demon. Soni did justice to all the characters in this dance with his captivating expressions and alluring performance.


After the intermission, Soni started with Adikondar, a dance number dedicated to Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance. He displayed his flexibility and strength with challenging poses and creative movements. Soni then paid tribute to the North Indian side of our family and performed two Hindi songs: Jag Mein Sundar and Namo Anjanee. While the upbeat Jag Mein Sundar compared the greatness of Lord Krishna and Rama, Namo Anjanee was a peaceful and melodic dedication to Lord Hanuman. Soni finished his performance with a pure dance piece, Thillana, followed by the Mangalam, during which he offered thanks to God, his Guru, the musicians, and the audience. The entire event was an exemplary musical experience with Jayshree’s nattuvangam (beats), an amazing music ensemble from the local musicians, and Soni’s outstanding performance!


Soni described this experience in his own words “The whole morning prior to the performance I couldn’t shake this feeling from my stomach, I wasn’t nervous but the pressure was getting to me. However, as I started dancing on the stage, I felt confident and fully engrossed in my dance. Even when I made mistakes, I kept smiling and dancing. During my Mangalam I felt true happiness and gratitude. Finishing my arangetram is the most fulfilling feeling I have ever felt. I was proud of myself. Although I am happy to have completed my arangetram, part of me wants to do it all over again because of how exciting and gratifying this experience was”


At the end of his Arangetram, my family and I were overcome with pride for our Soni. It was an especially poignant, full-circle moment for me, having completed my Arangetram years ago with little Soni in the audience. 


Written by: Sanjana Kumar


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