Sakhiye Snehithiye - Janani Narayanan


Sakhiye Snehithiye

All dance occurs in the three dimensions of space and the fourth of time — but it can be a beautiful experience to feel the invigorating intensity with which Bharatnatyam brings all those dimensions to life. On Friday evening at 5.30pm, in R.K. Swamy Auditorium, it was Janani Narayanan, presenting her own ‘Sakhiye’ to an eager audience. 

Sakhiye the confidante ! we all as women, have that one special friend who knows all about you and your deepest secrets, intimate desires. Who would do anything for you, or sometimes wouldn't do keeping your welfare in mind, a friend who guides you, teaches you a thing or two about life and friendship. She is who you would call a ‘Sakhi’. She would be ever available to listen to you, who is anguished when you cry, joining in when you laugh or understanding when your mind is troubled and confused, often sometimes being a source of clarity.
In today’s language ... she is your go-to person, your Confidante!
It can be a different friend at different points of your life . This does not necessarily imply any betrayal or a break up in the friendship, it’s just that as we go through life’s journey there are different people who play significant roles in our lives. Their contribution is often immeasurable and they remain in our hearts. For example, when in school, I had two very best friends Lakshmi & Kalpana. Then I had some close friends in college, Uma & Kousar Jahan. Then at work there was Sujatha who shared her secrets & lunch with me. Marriage took me to Chennai and with my new life came new friends Sita, Payal, Girija, Vinita, Banu and Sathya who have rejoiced in my happy times and cried along with me in my sorrow. We as women form great bonding with our own gender and it is from such personal relationships that Janani herself has 
drawn inspirations. Also from famous friendships from our mythology no it is become friendship that blossomed in to teenage friendship and much more of MS amma and Bala Amma from our Carnatic and Bharathanatyam fields, Ace tennis players Martina Navaratilova and Chris Everett, American Female Revolutionaries Susan B Antony and Elizabeth Staton and more…… Janani has taken inspiration from stories of these people, her friends and herself to depict the various aspects of friendship. Her choreography for this production encompasses stories from mythology, of historical figures and personal experiences to highlight the evolution of friendship in different stages of our lives. Through her choreography Janani educates her audience, especially the younger generation on different mythological and historical stories. One example of that can be seen in the Varnam she presented, where Janani had integrated stories in her jathis, which are abstract dance routines. 
Janani Narayanan is an accomplished dancer trained under Bengaluru based couple Guru Kiran Subramanyam and Smt.Sandhya Kiran. And later under Guru Smt.Vidhya Subramanian from Cupertino, California. She has been performing since 2000 and has created a name for herself. 

Her Varnam was titled ‘The Confidante’. This Varnam ‘Saamiye Vara solladi’ set in Ragam Purvikalyani and Adi thalam. 
It is a well known composition of Natyacharya Sri Dandayudhapani Pillai. 
In this central item, the heroine, who met her beloved lord and fell in love at first sight is anxiously waiting to meet him as promised. When he doesn’t show up at the specified time, she reaches out to her best friend and requests her to go and bring him. She says,’ Don’t you know that you are my best friend, the one who knows all my secrets. He is that handsome Lord Kumara, one who resides in his 6 abodes.” Intentionally the Sakhi asks her back “Are you sure he is the one for you? - the one who rides on his peacock, the one who is praised by all in this world, the beloved son of Goddess Sivagami. With trees showering flowers, birds tweeting melodiously, young boys looking up to him as a hero, young damsels shying away, women taking off the evil eye and wise men praising him and blessing him, you want me bring That Lord?” The heroine admits it’s him and asks her friend not to delay any further, to describe how the romantic space and time is fading away, and in the bright moon evening, scented flowers have blossomed spreading their fragrance in air intoxicating and deepening her desires to meet him. She further expresses “The lord of love - Cupid or Kama - is also showering his arrows and tormenting her”. The friend responds to her saying that Kama has no other job other than looking for young damsels who are love struck and showering arrows on them. 
The heroine further convinces her by narrating how she yearns for him every day. Understanding her plight the friend decides to help, but takes her time. The helpless heroine asks her friend if her heart is like a rock. Nevertheless, the heroine convinces her friend by sharing one of her dreams with her Lord. Finally her Sakhi decides to help the heroine. 

Janani Narayanan, an accomplished Bharathanatyam dancer from the Bay Area California brought this theme to us which 
premiered earlier in October 2019, she worked with leading Bay Area musicans for orchestration support for the performance. Couple of the items had been specially composed and written for this presentation.

One other remarkable presentation of hers, was ‘Parama Purusham’ in Ragam Hamsanadam set to Adi thalam. She referred to this composition of Sri Narayana Theerthar, as ‘Young Companions’ Here young heroine, or Nayika is all decked up and goes along with her friends to see the young Prince’s arrival. She hears from her friends about the handsome prince, the one with sharp chiselled features, who is the most benevolent one and is easily approachable by all. He enjoys the music of young women and plays the flute to mesmerize all. Now, there is no prizes for guessing who is this prince ...,,It is Lord Krishna !! Now hearing that the young prince is none other than Krishna, the heroine is eager to meet him. Their eyes meet…..and rest is an inevitable romance. 
This dance was precedend by a traditional Nrittanjali set to Kanda Triputa thalam. showcasing various stages of Sakhis in a woman’s lifetime.
                                                            
What was special is that the lyrics that reflects Janani’s personal journey in life and the role her female friends have played in that. Janani and her vocalist Asha Ramesh worked on the lyrics together making it relatable. 

Her next piece was called ‘The Close Associate’ which was a 
Kshetreya Padam ‘Evvade Evvade’ in Ragam Shankarabharanam set to Mishra Chapu Talam, 
choreographed by Guru Bragha Bessel . The Padam explains a true friend knows you so well, that no matter what you try to hide, they can see through it. In this padam, the heroine tries to trick her best friend. Having spent the night in secrecy with her beloved, she plans to send him away at dawn. However, her friend happens to see this. To avoid being judged by her friend, the heroine pretends that she doesn’t know her lover and says “Who is that guy? Do you know him? He came into my house at night like Cupid’s arrows and caused mayhem. The other time, one hot summer afternoon, he entered my house like a thief, asked for water and when offered he hugged and kissed me. But I must say he was handsome and he confessed he was none other than Lord Krishna. Is that true?” 
Haven’t all of us tried to hide our early affairs or infatuation initially and much later share them with our dearest friend. 

Janani ardently addressed the air above her; next the floor below her; and also the space’s various diagonals and horizontals.
Thus her body filled the surrounding box of empty space with energy, all while maintaining a full-bodied flow of pulsating rhythm to a score featuring percussive vocal syllables. These are among the most basic pleasures of Bharatanatyam, but by any standards they are extraordinary. Janani delivers them and much more complex aspects with terrific skill. 

Then came a piece that she called as ‘The Unconditional Supporter ‘ a composition by Akka Mahadevi ‘kelavva Naanu ondu kanasa Kande’ in Ragamalika also a Talamalika. 

Akka Mahadevi a 11th century female mystic saint, who the Lingayat community revere. Her story is similar to that of the more popular Mirabai. Akka Mahadevi believes that Lord Shiv’s is her husband and beloved from a very young age, so her marriage to King Kaushika was almost contractual, since she laid down some conditions to marry him. One of them being freedom to pursue her spiritual path and uninterrupted time with Lord Shiva. So just as Mirabai’s songs has love towards Krishna as the premise and Mira considers herself as a lover of Krishna, so also Akka Mahadevi thinks she belongs totally to Lord Shiva. In this composition she narrates to her dear friend about her dream with her beloved Chenna Mallikarjuna (Shiva). One night in her dream he appeared as a mendicant. As he moved away she ran behind him and held his hand - he was her charming Chenna Mallikarjuna, just as she had imagined him to be ! She describes how her Lord enamoured her and accepted her happiness, love and devotion and she wants to be with no one but him. Her friend though initially upset and shocked at hearing the heroine’s intentions provides her support and helps her to reject family life and worldly attachment and be one with her beloved Chenna Mallikarjuna.   
A lovely sentiment depicted in a lovely manner by Janani. 
I was particularly impressed by her choice of Akka Mahadevi, who I feel is hardly known except by the Lingayat community. Maybe because Kannada still is not so wide spread as Tamil or Hindi. 
Hope I am not starting a controversy by this observation. In any case, I am fast learning that controversy is the sure path to get eyeballs ! 
The last piece was a Thillana which she called ‘An Ode to friendship’ in Ragam Rasikapriya, set to Adi Talam, composed by was Asha Ramesh.
The joyous finale to the recital, the thillana is a fast paced number composed of a mixture of nritta and natya aspects. The words describe the celebration of friendship. The one who makes you laugh, enjoy your company, the friend who shares your happiness sorrows and worries, one who is understanding and encourages and finally the one is none other the reflection of Me. It ends hoping that the frienship will last forever ! 

Janani’s performance made me feel and understand that while the exquisite footwork of Bharatanatyam is beyond my grasp, the ways in which form and communication connect are infinitely subtle, and my knowledge Bharatanatyam is slight; but the sensuous beauty of these arts draw me deep in. It’s a good way to feel, as a spectator submerging into a vast realm of unknown beauty.


About the Author:

Sandhya Shankar belongs to a well respected business family in Chennai. She is a Life Skills & Corporate Trainer by profession. She is an avid reader and a natural writer, who has written several poems and articles. She even presented her poems as a reading at the British council. She has keen interest in all art forms  and has explored many different forms of painting like stained glass and Tanjore being among them. 

Music being her first passion, she had her formal training under Terakotti Chandrasekharaiah at Bangalore and later briefly under Mrs Champa Kumar. She is a regular visitor of concerts, theatre and other live performances. Her witty reviews have gained a loyal and interactive readership for their sound technical commentary and relevance for every kind of melophile, from the casual-goer to the ragam expert, frequenting Chennai’s rich music scene.

(*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of Music of Madras.) 

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