Krishnaarpanam: The Dance of Devotion

Anuradha 1in

By  Dr. Ritu Raju

HOUSTON: ‘Krishnaarpanam’, a superb Kuchipudi recital by 69-year young Anuradha Subramanian, an accomplished Carnatic musician was offered as homage to her mother, eminent Carnatic musician Smt. Savitri Satyamurthy and to their favorite deity, Lord Krishna on Saturday, August 22, at the Stafford Center.

With a classical rendition of the invocation to Lord Ganesha, Anuradha set the stage for a performance that was as flawless and dedicated as it was intense and devoted. With the flexibility of a 16–year old, Anuradha executed the intricate steps and flourishes with perfect symmetry. From the first number, Swagatham Krishna, Anuradha enthralled the audience with elegant footwork, elaborate abhinaya, and sheer devotion. In “Venugaanaloluni gana,” she presented minute details of the wistful yearning for Krishna with great grace and precision footwork.

Each composition, lovingly chosen, reflected the various aspects of the esoteric nature of Krishna. The choice of composers, similarly, echoed the danseuse’s devoutness—Oothukadu Venkata Kavi, Thyagaraja, Annamacharya, and Purandara Dasa—each of whom has earned a distinctive place in the Bhakti pantheon.

Anuradha delivered a brilliant exposition of the Tarangam, the most complex item in a Kuchipudi recital characterized by balancing on the rim of a plate, in “Alokaye Sri Balakrishnam.” Guru Rathna Kumar’s narration in English allowed the diverse audience to experience the majesty and mischief of Krishna’s avatar.

If the bhava (emotion) in “Bhavayami Gopala Balam” melted the hearts of the audience even as butter melts in the warmth of one’s palm, the adaptation of the popular “Aadathu Asangadhu Vaa Kanna” captured the charm and naughtiness of Krishna with feisty footwork and expansive mudras.

The Purandara Dasa Kriti “Kanden Naa Govindana“ depicting Krishna as Vishnu was exceptional. The plethora of emotions on beholding the Lord–exhilaration, awe, gratitude, bliss–Anuradha captured and portrayed them expressively. Nowhere in the performance was the instrumental support as brilliant as in this number–the musicians used the flute and mridangam to evoke the ferocity and grandeur of the Narasimha Avatar and the pathos of the disrobing of Draupadi after a deceptive game of dice.

In a surprise element, her grandson Kiran came on stage as little Krishna and sang a beautiful song with her. Clearly, we have a budding musician who will carry forward Anuradha’s musical tradition! The final Thillana was everything Dr. Balamurali Krishna would have envisaged when he composed it–energetic, spirited, elegant, and lively–with Rathna Kumar’s nattuvangam providing the perfect foil for Anuradha’s perfectly-executed mudras and lively adavus.

The support from the musicians was very impressive: Srikanth’s sonorous voice and rich vocals brought the exquisite compositions to life. ‘Krishnaarpanam’ could not be completed without the melodious notes of the flute–Krishna’s chosen instrument. And Adyar Muthukumar did full justice to the divine reed; his evocative notes took the audience to the land of verdant valleys and undulating pastures where the gopis cavorted with Krishna. Kesavan’s crisp percussion, especially his use of two mridangams to produce the sounds of Narasimha Avataram and Draupadi’s Vastra Haranam, was amazing and drew sustained applause from the audience. Guru Dr. Rathna Kumar’s lively nattuvangam provided excellent backing to the recital. In sum, the musicians did everything in their melodious power to support the dancer resulting in a memorable performance.

The evening served to highlight the strength of Houston’s classical dance and music landscape and the wealth of talent that our city holds. Rathna Kumar choreographed each of the dances while undergoing grave personal crisis as her husband Anil Kumar was critically ill. Anuradha, who is a musician of considerable merit, earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records in 2006 for being the oldest Kuchipudi dancer at the age of 59.

The 700-strong audience (including guests from Canada, Colombia, India and various parts of the United States) was inspired and enthralled–as evidenced both by the prolonged standing ovation and by the comments of the guests. Guest of Honor Dr. Marie Goradia talked about how “dance and music have always been front and center” of Anuradha’s life and praised her for dancing “not just with her feet but also with her heart, her eyes, and her spirit.” Sugar Land Council Member Harish Jajoo presented a proclamation from the Mayor of Sugar Land recognizing Anuradha’s contribution to dance and culture.