Mohiniyattam exponent and Guru Smt Nrimala Panikker speaks about Saptham and its significance

Not many have explored the potential of Sapthams in Mohiniyattam which was introduced in the modern Mohiniyattam repertoire by none other than Smt Kalayanikutty Amma hailed as the mother of Mohiniyattam. It is thus not surprising that one of her foremost disciples Smt Nirmala Panikker finds Saptham a great way to present elaborate stories in Mohiniyattam. She recently choreographed and presented through her disciples an Ashtapadi, Dasavatharam in Saptham format following  a 200 year old text: ‘Gitagovindam Nrithyalakshana Sahitham,’ which gives instructions including hand gestures for presenting Gita Govindam through dance.  

 

She talks about her experience and thoughts on Saptham, its importance and the scope it has in today's Mohiniyattam repertoire, her production "Geetha Govinda Dasavthar" and Mohiniyattam in general.                

Saptham

Saptham is Natya; this is what I was told by my Guru. It can be based on Carnatic music or can be just chollus/syllables sung melodiously with Bhava. Many Ragas and Alaaps can be used in a Saptham to suit the composition. Swaras and Jathis are sung with the accompaniment of musical instruments. The music used in Saptham can be termed Abhinaya Sangeetham. When we explore, we can find that all the technical elements of Mohiniyattam come into play in a Saptham.

 

Classical art forms by default act as a record of history. The practices and life style of olden times are embedded in these art forms.

The concept of Kutcheri or Margam according to me is as that of union of Jeevatma with Paramatma. When we talk in terms of spirituality, we begin from the base; the gross body. The dance of the body alone done to Chollus/Jathis or syllables that doesn’t convey any meaning is pure Nritta or Cholkettu in case of Mohiniyattam. This sound/syllable is the representation of the element wind and begins from the base Chakra. With this dance, the dancer’s body is purified and then moves on to Jathiswaram which has Swaras and Jathis; mind and body. Padam is presented next. The basic context of Padams is the desire of the Nayika or Nayaka to unite with Paramatma. Traditionally, there has not been any restriction on the number of Padams a dancer can present in a concert.

 

Varnam is the piece where Body, Mind and Soul are activated which leads to the state of bliss in Thillana. This system of presentation might have come much later; initially there would have been just Padams. One can’t be very sure.  

It is after attaining the state of Bliss that Saptham is presented. The dancer gets a new found Atmashakti or confidence. This is the seventh stage which relates to the seventh chakra; the Saharsrara. This state is representative of the union of Shiva and Parvathi or Purusha and Prakirti or the Absolute and Maya. In Natya, Shiva is connected with pure dance or Nritta and Parvathy with Natya or dramatic presentation. It is when Goddess Parvathi dances that life takes place. Hence, her dance is the dance of the origin of life. Though Mohiniyattam is associated with the dance of Vishnu in Mohni avatar, it would be more apt to say that it is the dance of Goddess Parvathi and represents the dance of of life. In fact God Vishnu took the form of Mohini and propitiated Parvathi to acquire her grace and skill of Nrithya.

Dancers may not be aware of this philosophy but the structure of a Mohiniyattam margam can be connected to the spiritual theory.

 

One must not mistake Lasya, one of the main characteristic of the dance form with Sringara. Lasya merely denotes graceful movements. Since Sringara is effectively enacted through delicate movements, Sringara Bhava got associated with Mohiniyattam. But there is no restriction or limitation on the emotions and characters which a dancer can represent through Mohiniyattam.

"Mohiniyattam is not for little children. Twelve to thirteen years is an ideal age to start learning Mohiniyattam. Initially, I train them in Thiruvathirakali to get the required disciple in their body": says Nirmala Panikker. 

Geetha Govinda Saptham

For the Ashtapadi choreography which she presented through her students, she had to do a lot of preparation. There were many discussions with Sanskrit scholars and also referred Guru Nithya’s books to understand Gitaa Govindam. It was first premiered in November last and later staged in many cities. The lead dancers, the dedicated students of the Guru, Parvathy Sreevallabhan and Sandra Pisharody brought out the essence of the Dasavthar though their deliberate moves and in-depth abhinaya.

 As is the practice in Mohiniyattam, in this production of Gita Govindam Saptham, the concert began with a Devi Stuti which reflects the Devi Aradhana custom prevalent in Kerala.

Radha and Krishna are wandering and romancing through the groves on the shores of the Yamuna river. The deeper implication of it is that there is light in all human beings. The body has concealed it from the mind. That is the real meaning of Radha-Krishna romance and the self is journeying to find that light. The dancers depicted the entire Dasavathar episodes with well versed movements and abhinaya techniques.

She stumbled upon a text which gives instruction on presenting Gita Govindam in the dance form;  ‘Gitagovindam Nrithyalakshana Sahitham,’ a 200 year old manuscript which was found in  Sarabhoji Saraswati Mahal Library of Thanjavur. Many mudras as mentioned in Hasthalakshana Deepika were found in this text and also many Mudras not in use in Kerala artforms were found in the text which Nirmalala Panikker found useful in depicting many characters and words through Mohiniyattam. 

The production is an example of how Sapthams can be a good format to depict dramatic and elaborate stories. The thematic productions of today can be adapted as Sapthams which has more meaning and which can be accommodated into a traditional format. 

 

Smt Nirmala Panikker spoke to Supriya Rajan at the guru's residence where she has a Kalari, Natana Kaiseki dedicated to the training and research in Mohiniyattam, in Irinijalakuda.



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