A review by Anvita Pandey

Lead: An engrossing, well researched and beautiful interplay of dance, poetry and music. This is what I witnessed recently on Janmashtami at the ISKCON temple (Zürich) as Sowgandhika Krishnan & Ensemble presented their new piece – Bards, Ballads and Beauty, with Tripti Abhijata on vocals and Lavan Rasiah on the violin.

This new creation explored the concept of ‘beauty’ through 5 traditional compositions dedicated to Lord Krishna and Lord Vishnu from 5 different composers. The concept was explored through different styles of poetry – lyrical, narrative, and dramatic styles. The poets had embellished these stories of beauty with drama, imagination, emotions and rich language. Each composition was set to a specific raga (music and rhythm pattern) by the respective composer, which enriched the mood and the character of the storyline.

Sowgandhika, in her signature style, decoded these classical compositions with ease and clarity, bringing out the literary aspect of her work. One could not miss the attention given to every detail. From the ‘mudras’ (hand gestures), to choice of ragas by the poets, to the lyrics, to the costumes, all aspects were explained lucidly sharing the essence and depth of the work, simplifying and enhancing the experience of viewers coming from different cultural backgrounds.


The first composition was an Ashtapadi – ‘Sancharadhadhara’ by Jayadeva, an example of narrative poetry where the poet narrated a story of Radha and Krishna. The composition described the beauty of Krishna’s hair using the imaginative metaphor of black rain clouds. From the young, attention-seeking Radha to the calm Krishna, Sowgandhika smoothly transitioned into the roles, depicting both characters beautifully.
The first part of the poem, focused on Radha, was set to Raga Mohana (Raga of beauty and love), while the second part revolving around Krishna was set to Raga Vasanta, indicating ‘gambhirya’ (personality).

The second piece was ‘Krishna nee begane baro’ by Saint Vyastirtha, an example of perspective poetry where the composer puts himself in place of Yashoda describing the joy of decking up the little baby Krishna, or Udipi Krishna, with ornaments. This composition portrays Vatsalya Shringara depicting the love of a mother for her child.
Set to Raga Yamuna Kalyani (which signifies fresh, full of life, like a child), the wonderful rendition of this composition by Tripti started with a slow ‘alaap’, evoking the emotions of a mother’s love. The blue skin of little Krishna decked up with all the ornaments was the aspect of beauty covered here. Against his blue skin all the ornamentation stands out. The poem also describes ornamentation in detail – ‘payal’ (anklet), sapphire bangles, waist band, finger rings, ‘Vyjayanthimala’ (flower garland).

The next composition was ‘Madhava Mamava’ set to Raga Neelambari by Saint Narayana Teertha, from Shri Krishna Leela Tarangini.
There is a background story to this poem: the Gopis had left their families to be with Krishna. Lord Krishna, however, reminds them about karma yoga, explaining the circle of life and death, further requesting them to go back to their families. After getting enlightened, the Gopis thank the Lord and sing praises for him before leaving.
This particular Tarang, an example of narrative poetry, deals with the acceptance and sadness of the Gopis having to leave and move on, despite their non-fading love for Krishna.

The composition emphasised the beauty of the Lord’s face. Despite enlightenment, the Gopis were mesmerized by him and described his features with lotus eyes, conch-shaped neck, moon-like face and sharp nose like the ‘Champaka’ flower.
Through specific ‘mudras’ (hand gestures) and Sowgandhika’s subtle yet profound ‘abhinaya’, one could visualize the beauty of Lord Krishna.


The fourth composition was a typical Carnatic composition ‘Yochana’ by Saint Thyagaraja set to Raga Darbar. An example of lyrical poetry, the aspect of beauty explored in this poem is ‘Kamala Lochana’ or lotus eyes of the Lord. Sowgandhika, describing it as “the pinks and the whites in the eye with the blackish iris in the center look like the lotus flower with a bee sitting on it”, did the interpretation of ‘Kamala Lochana’, through a beautiful Sanchari. She further displayed a playful interaction between the lotus and the bee through a graceful rhythmic ‘jugalbandi’ and footwork.

The last composition was the ‘Rangapuravihara’ by Muthuswamy Dikshithar in Brindavana Saranga. An example of descriptive poetry, this poem brings out his experience of visiting Lord Ranganatha at Srirangam. The composition revolved around the overall beauty of the Lord, specifically his lotus feet.
However, Sowgandhika here used her personal experience of visiting the temple taking ‘Rasikas’ (Aesthete) through the experience that Dikshithar would have had when he saw the Lord in the temple. The ‘darshan’ of the reclining lord in the temple sanctum sanctorum starts with ‘deepa’ (light) shown first to the snake on which the Lord sleeps to his face, Sridevi and Bhoodevi on his chest, his finery and ‘vastra’; and finally to the lotus feet of the Lord.
In this composition, Lavan performed a beautiful ‘’Manodharamam (spot improvisation) on violin, an aspect of being a seasoned artist.



To conclude, I feel that all the artists did complete justice to these timeless compositions through their insightful interpretation. With soulful singing by Tripti Abhijata, melodious violin presentation by Lavan Rasiah and powerful dance narrative by Sowgandhika, this performance was a treat to watch.



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