Mahati Kannan performing ‘Krishnaya Tobhim Nama’ during Margazhi Festival in Bharat Kalachar in 2022. Photo credit: Special Arrangements
Padma Subrahmanyam’s ‘Krishnaya Tabhim Nama’, composed, tuned and conceptualized by him in 1974, was unconventional and endearing. The audience saw before their eyes a theatrical depiction of Krishna’s life.
Carrying the torch of Padma Subramaniam-Shyamala Balakrishnan, the dancer-musician combination is Mahathi Kannan and Gayatri Kannan.
It is difficult to follow in the footsteps of a legend. But Padma’s granddaughter Mahati doesn’t seem to carry the burden – she’s a natural. She’s charming, beat-perfect, and she’s great with subtle nuances.
‘Krishnia…’ was a beautiful mosaic of well-loved stories and skilful acts. He presented various aspects of Krishna, and began with the story of Krishna’s birth. Mehti, as Vasudeva, frightened and cold, wades into the waters of a Yamuna, lifts Krishna on his head and prays for the child’s safety.
A memorable scene is with Yashoda’s child Krishna, and his joys and frustrations—when he makes a fuss about food, she stuffs food into his mouth, which he promptly throws out. She is putting Krishna on the bed and patiently rocks the cradle. Her arms begin to ache and she does so using one arm at a time. Krishna is still wide-eyed. Fed up, Yashoda mutters to herself, and falls asleep with one arm over the baby.
Some may call it theatrics, but it was beautifully done and accompanied by the beautiful lyrics and melodies of Andal Pasurams ‘Uruthi Magnai’ and ‘Pillai Tamiz’, giving it a classical base.
It’s not like Mehti has become a mature dancer overnight. She will accomplish this with experience, but she shows extraordinary sensitivity in understanding and portraying human nature.
‘Krishna…’ plays in rhythmic jathi with different tempos. What is unusual is the soliloquy used and the change in tone, according to the characteristics. In the ‘Kalinga Nirthana’ episode, Padma re-purposed the Angharas (arrangements with rays) from ancient texts such as the Bharatanava, along with Narayaniyam’s verses.
The fight sequence sounded stronger, while the final post-fight sound was a soft ‘kin kina’ similar to the sounds produced by his ankles. With the rise and fall of Gayatri’s tempo, the natvangam and intonation in the song is one of the reasons for the success of the production.
Mahati’s agility was visible through the show, be it the Nagan moves or the Adurita Karna, just like Shiva’s Urdhava Tandava.
From Bhagavatham was the episode of the ‘valiant husband’ Krishna. The music (Humir Kalyani) was most emotional, and the scene was full of romance—Rukmini asks a brahmin to take a letter to Krishna, so he will save her from a marriage she doesn’t want. An embarrassed Rukmini sits down to write a letter… ‘Achyuta’, which she uses to address Krishna, was used as a code word, and every time it was perfectly timed.
The experts assisting the orchestra were: Vaishnavi Anand (Vocal), Nagai P. Sriram (Mridangam), Bombay V Anand (Violin), Chittoor Patanjali (Flute), Kannan Balakrishnan (Vena, Shadha Mudlam).