Mumbai, a city that generally has a vibrant cultural scene, but has been muted in the last few months, came alive once again with a Bharatnatyam performance that everyone is talking about. It was the ‘arangetram’ or ‘ascent to the stage’ of Radhika Merchant, the ‘bride to be’ to Anant Ambani, the younger son of Nita and Mukesh Ambani.
Everyone who is someone in the city was there at the Grand Theater in the Jio World Centre at BKC on Sunday to support and encourage the first on-stage solo performance by Radhika. The Merchant and Ambani families turned out in full strength and so did their friends from the worlds of public service, business and the arts. The excitement among the guests was worth watching as they passed through the magical Dhirubhai Ambani Square into the Grand Theater at the Jio World Centre. Most of the guests turned up in their traditional bests with brocaded and embroidered Silk Sarees and elaborate Sherwanis and Kurtas adding to the grandeur and elegance of the event. The Ambanis and the Merchants were there to warmly welcome each guest. Of course, all Covid protocols were followed to the strictest, including testing prior to the event, which the guests readily agreed to in the interest of everyone’s safety and good health.
In all this razzmatazz, the star that really shone bright was Radhika Merchant herself with her electrifying performance. This was the time of success for her and her guru Ms Bhavana Thakar, who trained Radhika in Bharatnatyam for over 8 years to be ready today for her Arangetram – her first solo stage performance – which also marks the entry of a new artist into the rarefied world of an ancient art form and the continuance of the tradition of the art and the guru-shishya parampara. Incidentally, Radhika will be the second Bharatnatyam proponent in the Ambani family after Nita Ambani, who herself is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and continues to perform in spite of her tremendous national and international responsibilities.
Radhika’s performance consisted of all the traditional elements of the Arangetram performance – starting with the Pushpanjali to invoke the deities of the stage, god, guru and the audience to seek their blessings and immediately followed by Ganesh Vandana and the traditional Allaripu – prayers for the success of the performance. The invocations were set to traditional ragas and rhythm of aadi tala.
This was followed by the popular bhajan ‘Achyutam Keshavam’ set to raga Ragamalika and telling three stories – of Shabri’s longing of lord Rama, the dance of Lord Krishna with the gopis and a story of mother Yashoda and baby Krishna.
A powerful rendition of Shiva Panchakshara followed the bhajan and portrayed the eternal dance of Lord Nataraj.
Radhika then performed the complicated ‘AstaRasa’ – or the eight basic emotions inherent to human being as described in the natya shastras. These include the Shringaar (love), Hasya (laughter), Karuna (sorrow), Bhaya (fear), Veera (heroism), Raudra (anger), Bibhitsa (disgust) and Adbhuta (wonder). The audience was impressed by Radhika’s ability to emote with her expressions as well as through the various dance mudras.
The culmination was with the Tillana – a dance with intricate footwork, complex hand movement and statuesque postures. It was no surprise she received a long and thunderous applause at the end of the show. A moment of satisfaction for her and her Guru and the world of art receives another artist to carry forward the tradition.
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