Kanha School of Dance Debuts Amugdha Malyada
The Kanha School of Dance, a Bay-Area non-profit organization dedicated to teaching and performing Bharata Nrityam, debuted its innovative production ‘Amugdha Malyada’ on Jan. 22, at the Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto.
In Sanskrit, ‘Amugdha Malyada’ means ‘one who offered a worn garland.’ The show is based on the story of Andal, an 8th century poet-saint who was steeped in Bhakti (devotion) for Lord Krishna and wished to marry him. Legend says, that as a little girl of 8 growing up in the South Indian town of Srivilliputhur, Andal heard stories about various avatars of Lord Vishnu from her father Visnucitta. Secretly, she began wrapping herself in garlands meant for the next day’s puja for Krishna. When her father found out, he began performing the pujas without the garlands his daughter had used. Then one night, Krishna appeared to Visnucitta in a dream, saying that he favored Andal’s ‘used’ garlands.
The events that followed culminated in the magical union of Andal and Krishna. Andal was eventually elevated to a Goddess, becoming the only female Alvar of twelve Vaishnava Alvar saints. She is also represented in temples as an incarnation of Bhudevi – the second consort of Lord Vishnu. To this day the temple in Srivilliputhur continues the tradition of adorning its deity with a wilted garland from Andal’s shrine from the previous day.
Bringing Amugdha Malyada to Life
Kanha’s Artistic Director Ashwini Srivatsan brings the magical love story of Andal to life in Amugdha Malyada, using literature and poetry written by the poet-saint.
Srivatsan, an Indian classical dancer with 25 years of experience, trained in Bharatanatyam with the renowned Guru, Smt. Nirmala Madhava of Pampa, and in “Bharatanrityam” with the Late. Guru. Smt.Sundari Santhanam; both perspectives gave Srivatsan a deep understanding of the Natya Shastra. She also has extensively studied dance forms such as Kathak, Jazz and Contemporary dance at UC Santa Cruz.
Srivatsan’s appreciation of these various traditions are evident in the seamless blend of movement in the unique and innovative ‘Amugdha Malyada.’ She creates one-of-a-kind dance techniques based entirely on Natya Shastra. The show deviates from the Bharatanatyam form but interprets Andal’s story using a movement vocabulary that is at least 2500 years old. The choreography is based on Natya Shastraic Charis and Karanas. Karanas are full body movements that are used to convey meaning and emotion. This Angika Abhinaya – or the use of the whole body to give a reverberative suggestion, brings about an Alaukik or transmundane experience for the audience. These movements, frozen in time, were sculpted on the temple walls of Chidambaram, Tanjore, and Kumbakonam. Piyal Bhattacharya, a dancer and research scholar has also immensely contributed to the study of the Natya Shastra.
Bay Area Talent
A unique aspect of the show is the top-notch Bay Area talent featured in a collaborative amalgam of music, dance, photography and lighting. The performance is set to original music by Malvika Sriram, a Bay-Area based Carnatic and Western classical musician, who created compositions rich in melody and emotion. It featured the dance talents of Leema David, Surya Ravi, Vaishnavi Rajagopalan and Ramitha Manjunath.
Other Bay Area musicians included Jayadev Bhaskaran on mridangam, Adithya Satyadeep on violin, Tejasvi Chakravarthy on flute and Hrishikesh Chary on veenai. In addition, D.V Prasanna Kumar composed the Kamsa and Hamsa jatis, Mala Sridhar composed the Angahara, and, Smt. Dwarki Krishnamurthy wrote the lyrics for the Andal Tulasi Varnam.
Introducing Bharata Nrityam
Srivatsan established the Kanha School of Dance in 2018 to introduce the eastern tradition of Bharata Nrityam to the west. Her goal is to make this ancient art form relatable to both young children and modern audiences. Srivatsan’s vision is to provide students with a strong understanding of the theory and practice of dance, and to produce performances with precise technique and emotion.
Today the school has over 70 students, who, along with volunteers and advanced learners from across the globe, have made Kanha a premier teaching institution for classical Indian dance. A community outreach program ‘Chitkala’, launched in 2022, gives fledgling musicians and dancers and dance a platform on which to perform.
Response to Amugdha Malyada
Srivatsan was pleased by the response to the show.
“After many months of hard work putting the show together, it feels so gratifying to receive such an overwhelmingly positive response.” she said on a FB post. “The word most commonly used to describe the show has been ‘magic’. This is what we set out to achieve and couldn’t be happier!”
This story was produced in partnership with CatchLight as part of the CatchLight Local Visual Storytelling Initiative. To learn more about this collaborative model for local visual journalism, sign up for CatchLight’s newsletter.