January Chronicles

January Chronicles

By Bhavani Ravindran

The latter part of the season (in January 2024) witnessed several individual dance performances. A few of them I attended deserve mention both for their variety and for the age range of the artists, from highly seasoned performers to relatively fresh faces in the dance firmament of Chennai.

Shobana Balachandra

Shobana, one of the senior most disciple of the Dhanajayans, also serves as the Artistic Director of Bharata Kalanjali, an institution founded and nurtured by her gurus.

Her performance took place on 5 January 2024 under the auspices of Brahma Gana Sabha at the TAG Auditorium. Her first item was a Muthuswami Dikshitar kriti popularised by G.N. Balasubramaniam, Swaminatha paripalaya in Nata raga. This is an unusual item which does not generally form a part of the dance repertoire. Shobana efficiently handled this abstract theme. This was followed by a varnam of the Tanjore Quartet in navaragamalika. Her footwork, expressions, and energy on stage were impressive as she seamlessly combined all these aspects in her performance.

Shobana presented A Soul’s Journey, a new addition to her repertoire. Penned by Prof. Raghuraman, Shobana traced the journey of a departed soul from the time of the funeral till the final arrival at an indeterminate place. The choreography was apt in that it affected the viewer, which led to introspection and unearthed memories of loved ones who have made this journey. Shobana concluded with a mangalam, a departure from the usual tillana, in keeping with the sombre mood of the last piece. Music was led by the mellifluous voice of Radha Badri and the orchestra.

Suryanarayan Murthy

Murthy is another senior dance performer who has been active in the circuit for many years—a Kalakshetra alumni who later worked with the Dhananjayans’ Bharatha Kalanjali. He performed at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan this year on 8 January 2024 under the Bhavan’s dance festival series.

He started with a tisra alarippu followed by the main piece, the varnam, composed by Raji Narayanan of Mumbai. The dance, choreographed by the Dhanajayans, is one of their highly acclaimed presentations. Murthy danced with energy, and his experience was evident in both the footwork and expressions. He performed the piece efficiently. He concluded with a Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam’s first ashtapadi, Pralayapa yothichale in ragamalika. Music was recorded and of good quality. Vocal by Srikant was good, with competent orchestral support.

Swati M. Kumar

Swati is an upcoming dancer with a lot of promise. A disciple of Radhika Shurajit, Swati is also a singer and a teacher of Bharathanatyam and Carnatic music. Her performance was for Karthik Fine Arts conducted at the Narada Gana Sabha mini hall on 24 January 2024.

She started with a mallari, an invocative number. This was followed by Shanmuga shabdam, choreographed by the Dhananjayans. Her central item was the varnam, in raga Athana, a composition of Turaiyur Rajagopala Sarma. Her performance of this varnam was good, with clean footwork and expressions in the abhinaya portions. Her dancing was confident and energetic. A Surdas bhajan was next, depicting the pranks of baby Krishna, again well done by Swati. The conclusion was with a tillana in Kuntalavarali. Instead of the standard mangalam, Swati danced to verses from the Hanuman Chalisa in celebration of the consecration of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya.


K3 – Kandha Kadambha Kadhirvela

K3 was a Unique natya production celebrating Muruga with Kanda Sashti Kavacham by Radhika Shurajit.

Rooted in Tamil sensibilities this production's theme has universal relevance. Kanda Sashti Kavacham is a 19th century hymn composed by Devaraya Swamigal and is one the most popular and oft-chanted hymn to propitiate Lord Muruga. Though Muruga is universal, going by different names depending on the region, He has been adopted by the Tamils as their own; hence, this hymn is very special to them.

A hymn by nature is usually chanted, not sung; hence, translating it into a dance feature is a bold and unique concept excellently executed by Radhika. The production celebrates the Lord of the Hills, Muruga, the epitome of beauty, which is what his name means (azhagu). The feature is an offering of prayers to the beautiful Tamil Lord. 

The word sashti, which means six, denotes the sixth day of 'Suklapaksha' in the Tamil month of Kartigai. On this day, it is believed that the Lord defeated the demon Soorapadman, after a battle lasting six days. After vanquishing Soorapadman, one half of his body was transformed into a peacock, which became the Lord's vahana (vehicle) and the other half into a rooster which adorned His flag.

This unique project was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on lives and livelihoods. Radhika's deep introspection led to a dance narrative focused on a hymn promoting global health and peace. The 'kavacham,' meaning armour, is believed to have medicinal qualities addressing mental, physical, and psychological ailments and bringing wealth, happiness, prosperity, and peace—qualities crucial during those challenging years.

The production, with the kavacham being the central piece, also had some rare compositions on Lord Muruga, choreographed beautifully. The first piece dealt with the creation of the Lord by His mother, Parvati, and it depicts the six Karthigai girls who are said to have helped raise the six infants before they were amalgamated to the one Lord, a Tiruppugazh, who followed this. The next piece depicted the six abodes of Lord Muruga, their various locations and speciality. This seamlessly eased into the episode of the slaying of the demon Soorapadman. The lyrics for the fight sequence was written and performed by Sivadas Rajan. Then followed the main piece, Kanda Sashti Kavacham; the hymn was popularised by the Soolamangalam Sisters, who are credited with the way it is being sung presently. Without deviating from this version, Radha Badri beautifully sang the hymn, and it was handled with passion and sincerity by the dancers, who may not have fully grasped the deep meaning of the hymn but still could convey their involvement. The performance culminated in a tillana. From the sequence of items, it can be seen that Radhika has created a narrative with each piece telling the story of Lord Muruga, from birth, the establishment of the six abodes, the slaying of the demon, and the kavacham. The show concluded with another Tirupugazh and a procession where the dancers carried items most favoured by Lord Muruga around the auditorium to give a festive feel.

Radhika used 20 dancers from her school, Thrayee, who performed brilliantly. Their costumes were wonderful, the lighting effects were appropriate, and the orchestra led by Radha Badri was brilliant. Off-stage narration by Arrur Sundaramurthy, with his deep voice and excellent diction, added to the overall effect.

The production premiered at the Narada Gana Sabha on 18 November 2023, aptly the Kanda Sashti day. After this, there were a few more stagings during and after the music season.

 (The author is a connoisseur of music and dance)