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The sound of the beeja mantra echoes in space as the dancer appears in an abhang posture. The shloka seamlessly woven into a jathi marked the beginning of the dance recital devised by dancer Prathibha Prahlad to trace the origin and evolution of worship in Bharatanatyam through centuries.
In the stage designed to look like a temple courtyard, Prathibha praised the divine feminine forms of Shakthi (untamable), Sri (domesticated) and Tara as invoked during the vedic times.
This recital was presented at the JSS auditorium on March 20th, on the occasion of Nirantara Narmada Festival organized by Kalasindhu Academy of Dance, Bangalore. Prathibha Prahalad, a well-known exponent of Bharatanatyam presented the concert with a youthful zest coupled with decades of wisdom. She was accompanied by musicians T Rama (lead vocals), Pulakeshi Kasthoori (nattuvangam), Jayaram (flute), Prasanna ( rhythm-pad), and Ganesh Kumar (violin).
The next piece, an ardhanaareshwara shloka ‘Shivatvam and shakthithvam’ a representation of the union between the masculine and feminine energies of the universe reflecting the tantric phase in Hinduism. With the confluence of Shiva and Shakthi, the performer described an era where equal importance was given to both genders in the society.
Prathibha then featured a time where the emphasis of worship drastically shifted to a male deity post ‘manusmriti’. This reflected the male dominated society where women were valued less. The worship of the form (guna) in the feminine form (shaktha) and masculine form (shaiva/vaishnava) or neutral form (nirguna) changed with changing political, social and religious ideologies.
A varnam in Raag Bhairavi supposedly composed by one of the brothers of the Tanjore quartet describes the supreme lord as ‘male’ and the devotee as a ‘subservient female’ and delves in shringara rasa. The aspiring union with ascetic shiva as the ultimate goal of the mortal devotee who battles with emotions and worldly suffering formed the core essence of this composition.
In the next phase, Hinduism stripped itself of all its ritualistic complexities with the growing popularity of Jainism and Buddhism. This giving rise to the Bhakthi era where divinity acquired human avatars making it more accessible to the common man. Anchoring herself in devotion, the dancer sailed through poems of the Alvars, Vyasaraya, Purandaradasa, Meerabhai and Surdas.
The performer transforming herself from being a child krishna to a caring mother Yashoda, sails through the personality of lover Radha to a devout Meera seamlessly. The entire recital compiled of pieces that traversed through the literary works from the vedic yore, the tantric times until the more recent era of Bhakthi and concluded with a verse describing the completeness of the universe.
It was a thematic performance portraying the changing aspirations in Bharathanatyam. Prathibha made the point that though Bharatanatyam is accepted as a secular art form in today’s world, it has always had its roots in Hinduism. She also maintained that the approach to the art that has always encapsulated the Indian mind has been divinity and spirituality.The chronological representation of worship and its influence on art educated the contemporary audience. Indian art that was nurtured and evolved in temples has always incorporated rituals and modes of worship as an integral part of its presentation.