Silambam Sisterhood: Carrying Forward the Legacy of Classical Dance

By Lavanya Prabu

HOUSTON: The rubies of Guru Sudharani Raghupathy’s silambam are spread all over the world and on a glorious night in Houston, four of those rubies came together to provide a sparkling evening of splendorous dance. Smt. Smita Magal, Dr. Srimathy Mohan, Smt. Priya Murle and Dr. Lavanya Rajagopalan, all students of Padma Shree Guru Smt. Sudharani Raghupathy and Artistic Directors of Silambam institutions in Dublin (OH), Phoenix (AZ), Chennai (India), and Houston (TX) respectively, presented ‘Milestones@Silambam’ – a collaborative performance as a part of the ArtStream series of Silambam Houston, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The program was held on April 9, 2022, at The Silambam Cultural Arts Center in Pearland. The month of April has seen a number of cultural events hosted in Houston and this was one of the most awaited events due to the caliber of the artistes. The performances by the artistes exceeded expectations and thrilled the assembled audience which included the Mayor of Pearland Mr. Kevin Cole, and Pearland Councilmember Mr. Luke Orlando.

The event which was well attended by art connoisseurs and dance fraternity in Houston, commenced with a melodious Krithi, ‘Shaarade Karunanidhe’, in praise of goddess Saraswathi in raga Hamirkalyani. The gracefully presented invocatory item was a perfect beginning to what was a well thought out line up of pieces. The next two items were both compositions of the famed Tanjore quartet. The first being the jathiswaram in Saveri raga, showcasing the strong nritta of the dancers in perfect adherence to the Tanjavur baani and the next being the famous Huseni swarajathi. This was the centerpiece of the margam and was performed elegantly by the four dancers with ease, command, maturity and subtlety in expressions that comes only with years of training and experience. Both the jathiswaram and the swarajathi were group adaptations of the original choreography by the Tanjore Quartet passed on to the dancers through the guru sishya parampara.

The second half commenced with a solo presentation by Dr. Srimathy Mohan wonderfully depicted the greatness of Lord Nataraja of Chidambaram as described by  Muthuswami Dhikshitar in his Panchalinga Krithi ‘Ananda Natana Prakasham’. Following this was Dr. Rajagopalan’s brilliant presentation of the very famous ‘Theruvil Vaarano’ which evoked the audience’s sympathy for the heroine who longs to have a glimpse of her beloved Lord Nataraja. Next was padam ‘Yaarukkaagilum bayama’ presented by Smt. Priya Murle. Smt. Murle’s depiction of the fearless heroine was outstanding. The last solo piece of the evening was the javali ‘Chelinenetlu’ in ragam Paras. This piece was rendered by Smt. Magal in which she beautifully depicted the heroine pining for her union with her Lord. Following this was a delightful medley of thillanas, all compositions of Vidwan Madurai N. Krishnan, specially compiled and arranged for this event, performed by all the dancers with great synchronization and precision. The event concluded with a Mangalam incorporating a short verse from Guru Sudharani Raghupathy’s performance at the United Nations in 1981 for Human Rights Day.

The event spotlighted ‘A Wish For Hope’, a San Jacinto South Theater Department project inspired by the experience of several refugees of YMCA International.

It was heartwarming to watch the spirit of sisterhood amongst the artistes and their happiness at each other’s success. Credit must go to their Guru for nurturing and encouraging them to stay united while carrying forward their tradition. Evident throughout the event was the love the artistes exhibited for their Guru. Wishing all the Silambam Institutions the very best in their future endeavors.

Lavanya Prabu is a dancer, dance teacher, and founder an of the Tatvam School of Dance in the Sugar Land area of Houston.