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Presentation Of Classic Bharatanatyam Choreographies

Ranjani Saigal

Uma Maheshwari, granddaughter of the music legend T. Mukta presented complex choreographies created by her Gurus maestros Swamimalai Rajarathinam Pillai and Kalanidhi Narayanan.at Wheaton College on September 9, 2005. The audience consisting of students from Wheaton College watched in rapt attention as Uma presented creations that emphasized both Nritta and Abhinaya.

The event was presented as part of the Navarathri festival at Wheaton coordinated by Ethnomusicology Professor, Matthew Allen. Allen is the student of the flute maestro Prof Vishwanathan. Uma had been allocated only an hour for her presentation and she made optimum use of the time to to present the complete spectrum of the complexities of Bharatanatyam.  The presentation was perfectly complemented by the music provided by her husband and his family. Her husband Mridangist Vasudevan and his brother Flutist Raghuraman  are the sons of the great dance Guru Govindarajan. The vocalist Sudha, who is Uma’s sister-in-law is the daughter of the great singer O.S Sridhar.

Uma opened the program with a traditional Todaya Managalam (Ragamalika, Talamalika) Jaya Janaki Ramana. She then moved on Aden Amma, a piece dedicated to Lord Shiva. The next piece “Indhariki Abahyambu”, an Annamacharya  Krithi describing the ten incarnations of Vishnu was the highlight of the show. This is a famous and unusual choreography by Swamimalai Rajarathinam Pillai where he uses sollukattus rather than swarams or nerval  to tell the stories associated with the Dashavataram. Creating this in Khanda Chapu is no easy task and the greatness of the maestro shines through in this item. 

Kalanidhi Narayanan’s training also shone through as Uma presented Chikkavane in Ragamalika and Samayamithe in Behag. Whether she was presenting complaints about Krishna to Yashodha or being the Parikiya Nayika,  inviting her lover to her house when her husband is out of town, Uma's Sancharis had great variety and the Abhinaya was creative yet dignified.   She concluded the program with a Tillana in Kalyanavasantham. The Bharatiyar poem “Kakai Chiraginile Nandalala” as a Charanam for the Tillana was a lovely touch.

Vasudevan was brilliant on the Mridangam as were the vocalist Sudha and the Flutist Raghuram. The effect they were able to create with such a small orchestra was a testament to their expertise. 

As I watched the performance I felt glad to note that the gems created by the maestros have been preserved and future generations will be able to perform these classics. It is great also to see the artists who come from great lineage working hard to keep up the good work created by their ancestors. 

Thanks to people like Dr. Allen, the music and dance of India is not only kept but is becoming an integral part of the mainstream American education.


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