PUSHPANJALI - Ragam Arabi - Thalam Adi - Composer Dr. M Balamuralikrishna
Pushpanjali is a floral tribute with folded hands and is generally the inaugural dance of a Bharatanatyam recital. This Pushpanjali is dedicated to Lord Ganesha, or Ganapati.  The dancer is about to embark on a journey for which she offers her salutations to Ganapati to remove obstacles from her path.  Here the dancer performs Namaskaram, which starts and ends every dance session with the purpose of paying her respects to Lord Nataraja.  The dancer touches the earth to pray for forgiveness and to ask for permission to stomp on the ground while dancing.

VALLABA NAYAKASYA - Ragam Begada - Thalam Rupakam - Composer Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar 
Vallaba Nayakasya praises the beloved god and leader, Lord Ganesha.  He is mounted on top of a vehicle of his choice, a mouse, and bestows desired boons upon his devotees while he is adorned with garlands of jasmine and champaca flowers.  Lord Ganesha is equipped with a pasha, or noose, to seize all of one’s problems, and an ankusha, or goad, to lead a devotee down the right path while removing all hurdles.  He is also responsible for the marriage of his brother Muruga with Valli and is worshipped by Kalaamalini, also known as Goddess Saraswathi, as well as Kamalaakshi, the lotus-eyed Lakshmi.  The dancer pleads to Ganesha to take her as his devotee and to bless her.

SIVAKAMA SUNDARI - Ragam Jaganmohini - Thalam - Rupakam - Composer Gopala Krishna Bharati  
Sivakama Sundari depicts a devotee pleading to Goddess Durga, the demonic fighting form of Shiva’s wife, Parvati.  These demons are not just physically tangible but additionally embody negative emotions including pride, anger, and jealousy.  Durga is an avatar of Devi, the female form of the divine.  This goddess has eight arms, which carry weapons and a lotus flower, and she rides on top of a lion.  The weapons represent meditation, perseverance, knowledge, humility, and will power, while the lion incorporates inner strength and resilience.  Mother Durga bestows happiness upon her devotees and wears a meditative smile, which accompanies her mesmerizing beauty and endless knowledge.  The devotee pleads to her, “Oh Mother!  Please rescue me from this endless cycle of births and deaths, for I am a hapless sinner and have no one else to save me!  I know that I am a burden on you, but I am not able to see the banks while swimming across this ocean of miserable worldly existence.  Please support me and treat me with kindness!”  In this piece, the dancer becomes Goddess Durga, who prepares for the battle of existence.

VARNAM - Karuni Vadivamana - Ragam Revathi - Thalam Adi - Composer Pandanallur Sri Srinivasan
The Varnam is one of the most challenging and elaborate items in a Bharatanatyam dance performance.  The dance displays mastery in both Nritta, or rhythmic footwork, and Abhinaya, or facial expressions.  This Varnam portrays the devotee’s bhakti, or devotion, toward Lord Shiva, who reveals himself through the five elements, or Pancha Bootha: earth, water, fire, air, and space.  The beginning half of the Varnam is decorated with scintillating Jathis highlighting the uniqueness of the Pandanallur tradition in which complex beat structures in three speeds are rendered to lightning-fast footwork and complex patterns. Different stories are depicted throughout the Varnam honoring Shiva.  The story of Markandeya tells of the time when Shiva gifted a barren couple with a child named Markandeya who would be extraordinary, but who would only live until age sixteen.  An accomplished sage at sixteen, Markandeya was greatly devoted to Shiva and one day, while praying in a temple to Shiva Lingam (an icon of Shiva), Yama (Death personified) came to kill the boy.  Markandeya held on to the Shiva Lingam so that when Yama threw the noose around Markandeya, it trapped the Lord as well.  Shiva, filled with rage, appeared and killed Yama.  He then granted Markandeya eternal life and declared that he would be sixteen years old forever.  Another story, that of the Tripura Samharam, demonstrates the power of Shiva.  The story goes as follows: the three sons of the demon Taraka endured penance toward Lord Brahma and thus were granted a great quantity of power and three forts, or the Tripura.  The one condition was that if a cosmic arrow were released, bringing the three forts together, they would be set on fire and destroyed; when the demons began to wreak havoc upon the universe, Shiva was begged by all to stop them.  Using the earth as his chariot, the sun and moon as wheels, Brahma driving the chariot, and Lord Vishnu as this cosmic arrow, Shiva shot the arrow and destroyed the Tripura.

JAAVALI - Nee Matale Mayanura - Ragam Purvikalyani - Thalam Adi - Composer Pattaabhiraamayya
Nee Matale Mayanura portrays a woman angry with her partner for making her fall in love with him through his bluffs and praising her with empty words, and for making promises he can’t keep.  She recollects all of those times when he promised her earrings, necklaces, and bangles.  She then remembers when he told her how great she would look in that fine jewelry and she asks him where it all is!  She sarcastically expresses how impressed she is at how skillfully he charmed her and won her heart.  After voicing her distress and begging him to stop and go away, she bolts multiple locks on the door and shuts him out of her life.

Folk - Kurathi dance - Malai Aruvi Valaikulungum
The dancer in this Gypsy folk dance, also known as the Kurathi dance, acts as a gypsy from the hills of South India expressing her pride of the places the gypsies visit as they move from place to place.  The dancer begins by illustrating how gypsies are fortunetellers and then goes on to describe the rich and fertile lands they come across, where the water tastes like fruit nectar.  The gypsies demonstrate their pride through vibrant songs and folk movements of South India.

PADAM - Om Namo Narayana - Ragam Karnaranjani - Thalam Kanda Chaapu - Composer Ambujam Krishna
Om Namo Narayana is a powerful tribute to Lord Narayana, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, who is referred to as the Supreme Lord, according to the Vedas, or Hindu scriptures.  One story illustrated in the dance narrates the tale of Narayana protecting his devotee Prahlad from a demon named Hiranyakasipu.  Lord Brahma had granted Hiranyakasipu a boon that made it impossible for him to be killed by man or demon, during night or day, on the ground or in the air, inside or outside of his palace, or by any weapons. Prahlad tells Hiranyakasipu that Narayana is everywhere, and the demon grows very angry and hits a pillar with his club to prove that the Lord is not everywhere.  To protect Prahlad while still meeting the conditions of the boon, Lord Narayana comes out of the pillar and proceeds to kill Hiranyakasipu as a half-man-half-beast, at dusk, in the doorway of his palace, and with his nails.  In another story, the dancer acts as a devotee depicting the powers of Narayana by explaining how he cured a poor man from leprosy when the man prayed to Narayana and went to the Temple of Guruvayurappan.  The devotee goes on to say that without Guruvayurappan’s name, there would be no salvation, health, or prosperity.  She describes the beauty of his coral lips, his lotus eyes, and his ears dazzling with earrings.  His hand holds the conch shell, and there are tinkling bells across his waist and around his ankles.  The sight of the lord makes the devotee ecstatic, and she sings his praise; and with a melting soul, the devotee celebrates Narayana.

THILLANA / TARANA - Ragam Ragamalika -Thalam Adi
The Thillana, a rhythmic dance element, is usually performed just prior to the end of a Bharatanatyam performance. With the dancer’s feet firmly grounded in her roots, culture, history, and values – but simultaneously, with a vision soaring upward brilliantly, as a pioneer looking forward toward a luminous future, this Thillana is truly an experimentation in creating harmony from diversity.  The creative elements in today's Thillana include the construction of a song amalgamating two genres of music (Hindustani and Carnatic), as well as featuring a vibrant Jugalbandhi, or musical duet, in which the rhythm is maintained through the cascading performance of the percussion and the dancer. The Carnatic portion will be rendered in Kalyana Vasanta Ragam, with the Hindustani component set to Rag Hamir.

Mangalam, symbolizing an auspicious ending, is the dancer’s way of completing the Bharatanatyam recital, closing with her Namaskaram.

Copyright © Aleesha Srinivasan