Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Going On And On... Brilliantly

Eminent Bharata Natyam danseuse Padma Subrahmanyam enthralled an audience at Kochi with her performance on the Bhagwad Gita

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the valedictory function of the centenary celebrations, at the Sanskrit College at Tripunithara, eminent Bharata Natyam danseuse Padma Subrahmanyam was presented with a gift. But instead of a plaque, she was given a silver band. “This is worn by the women characters in Koodiyattom and Kathakali,” says Padma. “They first tie the band on their forehead, before they apply the make-up. It is a typical Kerala tradition. I felt very moved.”

On her part, Padma presented a unique dance: a bird’s eye view of the 18 chapters of the Bhagwad Gita. “It was an ambitious presentation,” she says. The former Vice-Chancellor of the Kerala Kalamandalam Dr. KG Paulose gave a brilliant introduction in Malayalam, so the audience could understand what was being portrayed.

I played both Krishna and Arjuna,” says Padma. “The people were completely with me and I was completely with them.”

Not many people will know that this is Padma’s 63rd year of non-stop public performance.God has been kind to me,” says the Padma Bhushan winner. “All my gurus and parents have blessed me. The admiration of my fans has sustained me. You need to have good health and lead a disciplined life. You also must have a passion for the work that you are doing. Lastly, I manage the physicality of it, through constant practice.”

And Padma gets inspirations all the time. Last year, she met the great Kathakali dancer Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair. “At 100, he is still dancing. He is the oldest living performer in the world. So, I have a long way to go,” says Padma, who is in her early seventies.

Asked to give tips to young dancers, Padma says, “Try to live life devoid of ego. If you feel that you have achieved everything in life, you will not work hard any more. As for me, I try to ensure that I am always like a student. There is a saying in Tamil: ‘What the goddess of learning has learned is the size of one finger. What has yet to be learned is as big as the world’. There is so much that needs to be explored.”

But, today, Padma is focused on a new project. She is setting up the Bharata Ilango Foundation For Asian Culture as a centre for artistes all over Asia to interact with each other. “We are going to have a museum, as well as a seminar hall, auditorium, and library,” she says. “There are many common features within Asia which needs to be recognised.”

The building, near Mahabalipuram, is coming up on five acres of land, donated by the Tamil Nadu government. “I am looking for monetary help from corporate and other sources,” she says. “Lots of artistes have come forward. Shobhana, Priyadarsini Govind, the present director of Kalashetra, and actor Vineeth, who was my student, have performed for free at fund-raisers.”

Meanwhile, she has placed the band that she got from Sanskrit College on the forehead of the idol of Bharata Muni that they have at Mahabalipuram. She also has plans to put up 108 granite sculptures of Shiva and Parvati, all of which have been designed by her. But Padma got a surprise when she discovered that her design tallied with the dance sculptures at the temple of Prambanan in Central Java, Indonesia, which she had not seen earlier. “This was an eye-opener,” she says. “I knew that India’s imprints are there in other parts of Asia, but this confirms it. It will make people understand that all of Asia is one.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)  

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