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Anandotsav: How a new Bharatanatyam festival in Mumbai gave a sneak peek into the future of one of India’s ancient dance forms

To be able to resonate with the common man, even when they may or may not understand the intricacies of an ancient dance and art form like Bharatanatyam, is an achievement in itself.

On a drizzly Saturday evening (30 September), when the maximum city generally turns into one big ball of blinding disco lights, the new seeds of Bharat’s ancient art and culture were sprouting in one of the suburbs of Mumbai. Chimes of ghungroos echoing with every taalam (rhythm) reverberated through the alleys of Vile Parle.

“Aanandotsav”, the first annual Bharatanatyam festival organised by Kalaadnya Dance Academy in partnership with Nrityankur, marked the arrival of a new generation of Bharatanatyam performers. Both Kalaadnya and Nrityankur are affiliated with the Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya till Alankar Poorna (the final stage of Bharatanatyam training).

Students of Kalaadnya and Nrityankur

Kalaadnya was founded in 2016 by Sayali Sutar, a Girnar Ratna awardee and Master in Bharatanatyam, who has performed across cities in and outside India. Sayali Sutar is a disciple of the great Vaibhav Arekar, founder of Sankhya Dance Company.

Students of Kalaadnya with their Guru Sayali Sutar

The 163-seater auditorium of Sathye College was fully occupied by guests, friends and families of Devis, most of whom were delivering their debut performance. Gracing the occasion amongst the guests were Gautam Marathe, ace Bharatanatyam dancer and founder of Angika, and Pooja Pant, ace Kathak dancer and founder of Pooja Pant Dance Company.

The show began with three young girls presenting their first piece called Todaimangalam, an invocation piece in praise of Shri Ganesha. The young performers were still just tracing their steps from the training but attempted to put their best foot forward aspiring to give a physical form to the Shlokas dedicated to Gajanana, Maa Saraswati, Mahalakshmi, and Bhagwan Shiva.

The nervousness in the budding talent was evident even as their beautiful red costumes and vibrant shringar (make-up) enthralled the audience. This was the first time that many among the audience were witnessing their daughters perform Bharatanatyam, which many pursue as nothing more than an extra-curricular activity or a hobby but only a rare jewel makes it to the global stage.

The show took the spectators through the journey of Bharatanatyam training. How yogic steps including sukshma vyayam (light exercises) are practised by Bharatanatyam dancers for muscle strengthening and toning to get the perfect posture were expressed with a tinge of humour in the performance called Natyobics.

From hereon began the introduction to Bharatanatyam through Bharatanatyam. The youngest to the eldest dancers of Kalaadnya performed a piece called Adavumala, meaning a chain of basic movements of Bharatanatyam, choreographed by Sayali Sutar. The performance was followed by another piece called Alarippu, a flowering bud, which aptly describes the performers themselves.

Nrityankur students performing to Kasturi Tilakam

Vatsalya Padam, performed to the melodious bhajan ‘Krishna Ne Begane Baaro’ in Kannada language in Ragam Yamuna Kalyani and Talam Mishra Chapu, showed how Maa Yashoda is enchanted by the divinity of playing hide and seek with her son, Krishna, The Jagadguru. The blissful and wholesome choreography is credited to Vaibhav Arekar. It was performed by Kalaadnya student Mrunmayi Malpekar.

Kalaadnya student Mrunmayi Malpekar performing Vatsalya Padam

The show then dives deeper into Bhakti, a state of divine trance if you will, with group performances to Achyutam Keshavam – a Hindi bhajan translated from the original Sanskrit rendition by Shri Adi Shankaracharya; Shri Ram Stuti, written by the supreme devotee of Bhagwan Ram, Goswami Tulsidas and choreographed by Sayali; and Kasturi Tilakam. Special mention goes to the sole boy dancer amongst a large group of girl dancers, like Krishna among Gopis.

Kalaadnya students performing Shri Ram Stuti

The Mallari performance was like a grand Ganesh Chaturthi celebration taking centre stage. It added a fun twist to this journey of performances dedicated to Devis and Devatas. The rendition conveyed India’s vibrant and magnificent religious processions when a temple deity is carried by an ocean of devotees out of His and Her humble abode on special occasions.

Kalaadnya students Pritha Bakshi (L), Srishti Ganesh (C), and Mrunmayi Malpekar (R) performing Mallari

Performed in Raga Nattai, Tala Aadi, this piece – performed by the terrific trio Srishti Ganesh, Pritha Bakshi, and Mrunmayi Malpekar – through Bharatanatyam, beautifully packaged the colours and excitement that Hindu religious processions bring to society.

What came next was the show-stopper of the evening. From the music to the Bhakti in the performances listed above, there was a sense of familiarity. But the most intense aspect of Bharatanatyam revealed itself when Kalaadnya’s Srishti Ganesh performed Javali, a light classical love song with strokes of romantic gestures, something that the layman is used to witnessing only in movies most times. Such renditions are not easy to guage and understand unless the performer has used their expressions and mannerisms with precision. Srishti Ganesh achieved that beautifully.

Kalaadnya student Srishti Ganesh performing Javali

When she entered the stage, Srishti seemed to be on the backfoot owing to her light make-up, but from the very first to the last movement of her performance, Srishti had captured the attention of the spectators in its entirety. Her poetic mannerisms and the effortless ease with which she expressed a woman in love, being teased by and getting lost in the thoughts of her lover would make anyone want to fall in love.

Kalaadnya student Srishti Ganesh performing Javali

The order of the performances designed by the organisers deserves appreciation. The Jatiswaram performance, a purely Bharatanatyam recital sans abhinay, ensured that the flow of the show remained undisturbed as did the sentiments evoked by the previous performances.

Instead of bringing the evening to a close, the festival concluded by welcoming Navratri and paying obeisance to Mahishasur Mardini and the ever-existing and all-knowing forms of Maha Shakti. The best part was the battle between Maa Durga and demon Mahishasur followed by the various forms of Devi Shakti.

Kalaadnya students Mrunmayi Malpekar (left) and Pritha Bakshi (right) performing to Ambashambhavi

To be able to resonate with the common man, even when they may or may not understand the intricacies of an ancient dance and art form like Bharatanatyam, is an achievement in itself. That Kalaadnya’s Sayali and Nrityankur’s Arundhati through Anandotsav have taken it upon themselves to realise the aspirations of young and bright Bharatanatyam performers assures that the best of Indian culture is nowhere nearly lost and there’s surely more to come.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Pragya Bakshi Sharma
Pragya Bakshi Sharma
Journalist with a journey from print to TV to digital news. Multi-tasker. Unstoppable Type 1 Diabetic running on insulin.

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