To reconstruct the life and works of a colossus centuries later is no cakewalk and more so to translate it into a stage show much less so. Kudos to Kamala Srinivasan of Hamsini for being able to put together in a ballet format, the life and works of 13th century Tamil Vaishnava saint and scholar Vedanta Deshikan based on history, myth and literature on the occasion of the 750th year of the saint’s birth. His spiritual literary works abound by sheer numbers, poetic brilliance and profound philosophical content. The dance drama, “Vedanta Deshika Stotra Vaibhavam” fulfilled the criteria of a theatrical with the right dose of dance, song and music, dramatic elements, settings/props and characters to carry forward the narrative.
Himanshu Shrivastava as Vedanta Deshikan was picture perfect with a composure and restraint that was uniform throughout the play. His mime through gestures (hasta mudra) conveyed all that there was that had to be said while his facial expression remained calm with distant looks so akin to a spiritually realised soul. The story of the saint’s life from birth was traced through group dances celebrating milestone events like his cradle ceremony, his initiation into study by his maternal uncle, his marriage and so on. The English voice-over and the digital backdrop contributed to the story’s progress making it very comprehensible to a non-Tamil audience.
Adhering to the spirit of the theme which was more about his contribution to the volume of spiritual/religious literature of his times, the dance drama dealt deftly with his compositions, especially his popular poetic hymns to specific deities like the Garuda (mythical eagle), lord Hayagreeva (horse-man, deity of knowledge), Sri Rangnatha to name a few. And the composition and rendition of these verses was picturesquely depicted through song and dance – an aspect where this ballet scored over others of its kind.
As the saint gets initiated into the ‘Garuda mantra’ and begins chanting, we get to see dancer S.Vasudevan as Garuda swoop like a huge eagle on stage giving darshan to Deshikan. Vasudevan’s dancing propensity was at its peak as he emulated the bird in flight flapping its wings as also Hayagreeva where the dancer entered the stage giving the impression of a galloping horse. His brisk dance sequences were superbly staged coming as they were at the appropriate moment and enlivening the episode. His hasta mudras were articulate as was his footwork deciphering the deity being invoked. The Sudharshana chakra (of Vishnu) was epitomised through an exceptional dance which wheeled as it converged and diverged alternately creating an illusion of a chakra rotating in full vigour. The Rasleela which went down well with the audience was like a moving tableau. Not to leave the tradition of Bharatanatyam, the dance drama wrapped up with a tillana executed adroitly to sheer instrumental music. Careful selection of costumes in keeping with the times gave an air of authenticity. The show was hosted at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre.