Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid
It is that time of the year again; it is margazhi and it is raining kutcheris and dance recitals in Chennai!!
The name Padma Subrahmanyam brings a smile on my face, always. I remember the Thillu Mullu dialogue by Thengai Srinivasan – “Paatu kathukittu nee onnum periya Padma Subrahmanyam aaga vendaam.” His daughter retorts, “Ayyo, Padma Subrahmanyam dancer.”
Padma Subrahmanyam’s name is taken very much like that of P T Usha. She was the first woman dancer to do many different and bold experiments in Bharatanatyam and make it famous.
I watched her performance on Christmas day, 2012 at Bharath Kalachar. The best thing I like about Bharath Kalachar is that Mrs.Y.G.P or someone talks about the performers and acknowledges all the artists/ backstage helpers on stage. This culture is absent in many of the esteemed sabhas.
Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam presented a piece called Stree Kavi Ratna, a set of dances depicting feminine spirituality. She had earlier conceptualized and presented this piece at some United Nations Peace festival in Geneva in 2002.
After the traditional Purvangam, she started off by performing for a devotional hymn written by Karaikkal Ammayyar. Ammayyaar is said to have lived during the 6th Century AD and is one of the greatest devotees of Lord Shiva. She is one of the three women among the 63 Nayanmaars.
Next she moved on to peforming the Aathichoodi by Auvaiyar. Auvaiyar is said to have to lived during 5th Century BC and is credited with close to 60 poems in the Purananuru. Aathichoodi is intended to enable children to easily learn the Tamil vowels and consonants. It consists of simple statements starting with each of the letters of the Tamil alphabet. The statements are simple (they consist of only of 3 words at the max); yet highly weighty and deep in meaning. Each statement is a teaching or a moral and all of them are relevant to this day.
Dr.Padma’s dance for the Aathichoodi was really good. Considering that the song tries to impart morals, it makes for a tough piece. Dr.Padma’s abhinayas stole the show. Her expressions for “En Ezhuthu igazhel” and “Erpadhu igazhchi” were really good.
After this, she performed a verse from the Nachiar Thirumozhi written by that very divine Tamil saint, Andal. Andal lived during the 8th Century AD and is one of 12 Azhwars. Andal’s verses are some of the most beautiful in the plethora of poems that exist in Tamil literature. Their pulchritude makes one’s mind wander between admiring the lines and experiencing the Paramatma.
In the verse that Dr.Padma danced for, Andal addresses Perumal’s conch (the ven sangu) and asks it about the smell and taste of His lips. She asks the ven sangu if the smell of his lips is sweeter than camphor or the lotus. Dr.Padma depicted shyness, jealousy and happiness too well.
Her next performance was for a hymn composed by the Kannada Saint Akka Mahadevi on Chenna Mallikarjuna of Srisailam. The verses were set to tune by one Dr.Ganesh, a shatavadhaani. Dr.Padma then danced to a devotional song composed by a Kashmiri Muslim queen – Khaba Khatoon on Krishna. Khaba Khatoon offers Krishna the thamboolam, showing that the devotee can offer God anything with a pure heart.
The next one was the longest dance. She danced for a song written by one of India’s most celebrated women saints – Mira Bai. Mira Bai lived in the 16th century; her life is part of written, recorded history. The queen of Chittor immersed herself in Krishna bhakthi; no Rana, no poison, no amount of torture by her in laws could stop her. And there was no stopping Dr.Padma from becoming Mira Bai on the stage! Mira had been pining for Krishna’s darshan and after a long while, when she gets, she forgets herself, can’t believe what is happening and is lost. She forgets what to do; she dances with him, feeds him sweets and becomes one with him. The unison with God was brought out splendidly well. Towards the climax of the song, she stopped moving, stood in one place and displayed a lot of emotions that Mira undergoes. Mrs.YGP was spot on when she said, “You brought Vrindavan in front of our eyes today.”
The concluding piece was a Mangalam that was composed by Dr.Padma’s mother, Meenakshi, who was a musician herself. Dr.Padma has made certain additions to the piece to make it ‘danceable’.
The concept, music and choreography were done by Dr.Padma herself. Her troupe was fabulous. Dr.Gayathri Kannan at the vocals and nattuvaangam was really good. What a voice she has! She was ably accompanied by Ms.Radhika on the vocal. Shyam, 12 played the Kanjira remarkably. The veena, flute and mridangam artistes were exceptionally good.
The concept of these dances stood out; the theme was very beautiful and wonderfully explored. Dr.Padma didn’t move much for these songs but danced very gracefully with gentle hip sways that defied her age and some beautiful poses that would delight photographers. Her child like approach to her work (she is all of 69 years old), her modesty on stage and her capacity to think of new concepts for dance is astonishing. Her apetite for dance is phenomenal, she loves it so much, else why would she be doing it at near 70 when she can easily sit at home and make money by teaching someone else. She danced with intensity and passion; at her age, what she is doing is simply unbelievable! Her enthusiasm for work despite having achieved so much is just incredible! It showed me why she is a champion. Maintaining health at 70 is a daunting task in itself, how she manages to travel so much and dance and all, I really can’t fathom. These thoughts leave me spellbound!
It was a wonderful evening; I had watched a living legend perform. I enjoyed the dance; not to mention the exceptionally delicious bonda and thayir vadai served at the canteen. 🙂 🙂