The Swathi Thirunal Festival is a show dedicated to the Maharaja Swathi Thirunal of Travancore, Kerala.

Shantha Ratii Initiatives (SRI) & Kairalee Kala Nilayam collaborated to showcase a few of the acclaimed works and compositions of this prodigy.

On Sat 30th September at the Singapore Repertory Theatre, the audience was treated to a visual feast, consisting of curated art works and three styles of dance. It was performed by the foremost exponents of Bharathanatyam – Rama Vaidyanathan, Mohiniattam – Gopika Varma and Kuchipudi – Shantha Ratii, to thunderous applause.

Shantha Ratii, draped in a beautiful traditional Kerala outfit, gained our complete attention, with her description of dancing to unheard music at the Kuthira Malika Palace. I realized that as well as being a dancer she is an amazing story teller! Expressive eyes and gestures, voice modulation, perfect lighting and the mood was set for the rest of the evening.  A brief biography of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal with a reference to the famous lullaby ‘Omana Thingal Kidavo’, brought home to the audience this child prodigy, who was linguistically as well as musically gifted and had more than 400 compositions to his name, by the time of his death at too early an age of just 33 years.

Rama Vaidyanathan an acclaimed Bharatanatyam exponent, performed to “Pannagendra Sayana”. Beautiful, graceful, with expressive eyes and complete finesse she vibrantly displayed both love as well as devotion or bhakti with abhinaya honed to perfection. The gist of each of the main parts of the composition that was beautifully explained at the beginning of her performance by Rama, made it easier for the audience to relate to what was being performed on stage with greater ease.

Gopika Varma, eminent Mohiniattam exponent, shared the life experiences that shaped her choreography for the popular ‘Vishweshwar darshan kar”.  Her explanation of the composition, which I’ve grown up hearing at home, brought a completely new perspective to it. One could experience a journey through the heart alone, without physically travelling to a place, she revealed. I am sure every person in the audience would have experienced life and death as depicted by her either directly or indirectly. Gopika Varma’s emotion wringing performance moved the audience from tears to blushes in a span of a few minutes! This was when she moved on to presenting the sensuous, passionate yet divine love through the Padam,  “Ramyanaya purushan”.  The Naayika dissects her romantic dream and decides that it cannot be Lord Shiva, nor Kama, it can only be Lord Padmanabha’s handsome form that came to life in her dreams.

Shantha Ratii, performed a light hearted Kuchipudi to “Chaliye Kunjaname”, which she depicted with grace and flirtatious movements. Her “Aliveni” where the Naayika confides and seeks counsel from her trusted ‘Sakhi’ was a treat to watch. The adrenalin rush brought about by being in love finds wonderful expression through Kuchipudi. She concluded with the famous Thillana by Swathi Thirunal where she danced on a brass plate to a big round of applause.

The panel discussion, moderated by Priya Maholay-Jaradi, post the programme acted as a debrief and gave the audience an opportunity to request the dancers to come together again and present a tribute on Swathi Thirunal’s composition on Goddesses. What better proof of an amazing show than when it leaves the audience asking for more even after two and a half hours of heart-wringing performance!

  • Photo: Manoj Photography