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Arangetram: Sayontika Battacharya And Annette Varghese

Anisha Dantam

Arangetram of Sayontika Battacharya and Annette Varghese


After more than a decade of extensive training and preparation under Guru Smt. Jayshree Bala Rajamani, the day that Sayontika and Annette ascend the stage has arrived. On July 8th at Littleton High School, family and friends gathered to witness a unique Arangetram that would be a world premiere, yet also a fulfillment of a Guru’s dream to use the art style of Bharathanatyam to showcase the beauty of all the religions of the world. With Sayontika being a Bengali Hindu and Annette being a Malayali Christian, this Arangetram was a dedication to this ultimate concept, especially through three of their dances: the Mallari, the Murase Varnam, and the Krishna Yesu Padam, all specially composed by Vidushi Sudha Raghuraman of Delhi, India, for this particular occasion. With the musical support of their Guru on Nattuvangam, Smt. Harini Darbha on vocal, Smt. Sushmitha Ravikumar on violin, and Kumar Hariharan Shanmugham on Mridangam, these two students from the Barthakalai School of Dance were more than ready for their marvelous presentation.


Sayontika and Annette commenced their spiritual journey with the Mallari, which is an invocational piece where the dancers salute Christ in the Lord’s prayer. Both dancers manifested extreme talent in this piece and executed it with ease, despite its varying tempos and speeds, and their swift, yet graceful, footwork and effortless synchronization immediately kindled the attention of the audience. Next, they steadily transitioned into the Alarippu, however, preserving the theme of celebrating two religions, this was not the typical Alarippu. This specially choreographed composition was a representation of the forms of worships in the Hindu and Christian religions with respect to the five senses,starting with the sight through diyas and candles; the sound of ringing bells and playing of the conch in the Hindu temple and the playing of the trumpets in the Christian church; the smell of incense in Hinduism and in a Christian church; the touch of applying sandal paste or ash on the forehead: and receiving the holy water and dipping the bread in wine for taste. Sayontika and Annette displayed very complex steps along with steadfast technique in this Alarippu while opening their bodies to spiritual release in the likes of a blossoming flower.


Next, Sayontika and Annette continued with a pure dance piece known as the Jathiswaram, which is intertwined with rhythmic patterns and melodic notes that requires much exertion. However both dancers flawlessly executed the various jathi sequences, nailing the rapid footwork. In addition to this, their expressive abilities were tested by the following dance, the Shabdam in praise of Lord Nataraja. They fascinated the audience with their depictions of the young Nayika entranced by Lord Nataraja’s dance in the temple of Thillai and her flourishing affection for the Lord. With their impeccable storytelling, it seemed that the audience did not see them as dancers portraying characters but as the characters themselves.


Next, they proceeded on to the most sensational composition of the event: the Murase Varnam. The Varnam is by far the longest and most strenuous piece in the Arangetram, however this Varnam was especially crafted for this Arangetram in particular so that Sayontika and Annette could share their experience and their religious origins. Both dancers narrated the four stories

with so much ease that it seemed like the audience was experiencing history right beside them and they completed the intertwined jathis with astounding swiftness and coordination.


After a brief intermission, Sayontika and Annette resume the performance with the famous Aigiri Nandini to illustrate the strength and power of the warrior Goddess Durga, prominent in Sayontika’s Bengali culture. This was demonstrated with much vigor and intense fervor and both dancers mastered the representation of the demonic forces with their rage-filled and bold eye movements. Their ferocity was enhanced by their showcase of the battle between Durga and the demon, Mahishasura, and the unforgettable concluding pose of the demon’s gruesome defeat inflicted by the strike of Devi’s trident, which certainly left the audience in awe.


Sayontika and Annette then presented a unique dance that reconstructs the reputation of the snake; from a reviled and feared creature to a pure, holy life form that attains salvation when atop Lord Shiva’s head, the adornment of his beloved consort Parvathi, and the protector of Krishna from the elements. The dance was performed with utmost poise and their embodiment of a snake with the flexibility and wave-like motions in addition to their menacing glares was extraordinary. The union of Sayontika's unmatched, effortless agility and Annette’s ethereal technique and energy undoubtedly revived the snake as a whole.


The dancers advanced with what was another world premiere: a Krishna Yesu Padam. Derived from the lyrics of a Bengali Rabhindra Sangeet and verses from the Bible in Malayalam, the piece emphasized the similarities between the life of Krishna from Hinduism and Jesus from Christianity. Sayontika mesmerized the audience with her exhibition of the majestic birth of Krishna, the lord’s battle with his evil uncle, Kamsa, and his counseling of Arjuna to eliminate evil and bring back peace. Similarly, Annette’s representation of Jesus’s blissful birth, his urgence for merchants to pray to God, and the transition from the Lord’s crucifixion to his resurrection as a savior was truly captivating. The piece ended with a stanza from the Mahabharatha conveying that when there is evil and when holy men are troubled, divine force will establish righteousness. Through this, Sayontika and Annette surely moved the audience, as it invoked a beautiful sensation of unity among different religions as one.


Finally, Sayontika and Annette reached the last two items of their Arangetram repertoire: the Thillana followed by the Manglam, a prayer to all of the world’s religions. The Thillana, a pure dance piece composed of complex, rapid footwork and exuberant choreographies, was performed with immense ecstasy and scintillating smiles on both of the dancer’s faces as they praised the ever-righteous Lord Rama. The fact that Sayontika and Annette were able to endure through this challenging piece despite it being the finale of an undeniably arduous performance lasting several hours genuinely proves not only their unwavering resilience and stamina but also the strength of their spirits.


The standing ovation that erupted from the audience after the conclusion of the Mangalam was unquestionably deserved, as Sayontika and Annette spent toilsome hours and effort to make such a successful event flourish. In a reflection of their Arangetram journey, Sayontika says,

“The past ten years have been amazingly affected by my dance journey. Not only did it bring me closer to my heritage, it also allowed me to explore the dance form of Bharatnatyam. I am so grateful for being able to do an Arangetram, and hope to carry the experiences with me for the rest of my dance journey!” Annette asserts, “As a bharatanatyam dancer, completing my Arangetram was joyful and momentous. My Arangetram made me push the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of, and I learned more about myself through it. I am especially grateful to my dance teacher for collaborating with me to create a truly unique Arangetram that combines two different religions! It was an honor to perform something so unique and personal!” This world premiere was an honor of Guru Smt. Jayshree Bala Rajamani’s dream to deliver this beautiful religious concept and it is with her outstanding choreography that Sayontika and Annette have definitely made it shine. From what was witnessed on this day, the cohesion of not only Hinduism and Christianity, but all of the religions in the world should be embraced and celebrated. “It does not matter if one is a Muslim praying to all the four directions, a Hindu praying to an idol, a Christian reading from the Bible, or a Jew reading from the Torah.” In the past, there have been many disputes over whether a religion is more righteous than the other or if it is seen as different from the rest, but this Arangetram has given enlightenment to a new perception: that everyone shares one common goal regardless of the religion. Whether praying to a mother that purges evil or a father that eliminates suffering, we all walk on one common path toward spiritual goodness and happiness.

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