By Suresh Bodiwala
CHICAGO: Sri Venkateswara Swami (SVC) – popularly known as Balaji Temple of Greater Chicago (Aurora, Ill.) -held Bharata Natyam dance drama called “Krishna – a Divine experience” by a visiting Indian troupe on Sunday.
Lead dancers and husband-wife couple, Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon, the Bharata Natyam duo from Kalakshetra who have set various classical musical compositions, choroegraphed the performance.
The young dancers comprised four males, including Nidheesh Kumar, Bhavjan Kumar, and Srinath Nair, and four women, including Divya Shivasunder, Saranya Varma, and Sruthy Jayan. Stage lighting designer Sri Venkatesh Krishnan did an excellent job of adapting the color schemas to the varying anecdotes, scenes, and moods of Krishna’s life. The purpose was to go beyond retelling these already well-known stories to immerse the spectators in the experience.
The narration began with the depiction of Lord Vishnu reclining on the ocean milk under the protective hood of the endlessly (ananta) coiled serpent Adi-Sesha before the dawn of creation. His various descents (avatar) to redeem the Vedas and the world in decline followed in rapid pace. Ingenious devices were used for group representations of the fish, tortoise, man-lion, dwarf, and subsequent human forms, before the focus narrowed down to Lord Krishna.
Among the anecdotes and moods depicted were Krishna’s birth, the doting of mother Yashoda and the wives (gopi) of the cowherds, stealing the ghee hung above with the help of his fellow cowherd boys, punishment at the hands of his foster mother, dallying with the gopis to the music of his flute, vanquishing the multi-hooded serpent Kalinga that resides in the depths of the lake, lifting up Govardhana mountain to protect the village from torrential rain, multiplying his form to perform the dance of sentiments (raas-leela) with the lovelorn women, leaving his grief-stricken companions for Mathura, wrestling Kamsa and Canura to death, and finally ripping asunder the veils of illusion (maya) to reveal his true universal form on the battlefield to Arjuna.
“Krishna is a beautiful youth with glowing complexion the color of rain clouds. He plays a flute, attracting the hearts of all. His cheeks are brilliant, his smile is enchanting. He wears a peacock feather in his curly black hair and a flower garland around his neck. His beautiful garments are the color of lightning. His toenails resemble the light of the moon… Krishna is all pervasive; he is in the sky and in the forest; he is within the heart, and he is always everywhere. The name Krishna, which means all attractive One, implies that each of us has an eternal relationship with God and we are always drawn either to Him directly or to his energies.” As the flyer puts it, the center of gravity of the performance was indeed this attractiveness of the God in human form, which was foremost in the love-scenes but sustained throughout the heroic and other episodes.
“Shijith has used the traditional classical compositions of eminent musicians to literally transport connoisseurs (rasika) to the divine realm of spirituality. He has combined his theatric experience with Bharata Natyam to make the journey through Gokulam, Vrindavan, and Mathura. He has choreographed Krishna with the sole objective of sharing his experiences with the rasikas.”
The lyrics in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Hindi, included such classics as Vyasatirtha’s Krishna Nee Begane Baaro (ragam Yamuna Kalyani) and Narayana Tirtha’s Govardhana Giri Dhaara (Darbari Kaanada). Music arrangement was by Sri Easwar Ramakrishnan, while concept and choreography was by Shijith Nambiar.
The event was generously sponsored by Sudha Srinivasan (Nrithyalaya School of Dance), Vijayalakshmi Shetty (Natraj Dance Academy), Sushmita Arunkumar (Nrithyanjali School of Dance), Vanitha Veeravali (Bharatam Academy of Dance Arts), Sangita Rangala (Anand Dance Academy), Jinoo Verghese (Soorya Dance School), Ram Raghuraman (RR International), Poonam Mahesh (Nrityanant Bharatanatyam Academy), and Anupama Rajesh (Nrithya Geetanjali School of Dance). After the performance, they were invited on stage in recognition by MC Usha Pariti and requested to honor the performers. Menon and Nambiar were presented sashes, while the other dancers received token gift baskets in appreciation amidst much applause.
Sri Balaji Temple has played a significant role in promoting, preserving, and celebrating the various Indian art forms. Since music and dance are an integral part of Hindu worship and rituals, the Temple celebrates Indian culture with an objective to fulfill traditions and also meet the present needs of the community. One of the ways of achieving this was by sponsoring and presenting top artists from India: ‘Krishna” is a part of this endeavor.
(Suresh Bodiwala runs Asia Media USA)