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    Alarmel Vallia��s Bani is back with a celebration of bhakti in song, dance and verse

    Not everything is written in stone, especially not tradition. What many consider sacrosanct is fluid for dancer Alarmel Valli, thanks to her guru Pandanallur Subbaraya Pillai. a�?He made me realise that innovation is built into tradition. So what could have been a straitjacket, because of his encouragement, gave me the freedom to be myself,a�? begins the Bharatnatyam dancer. And Bania��initially conceived as a performance in homage to her guru in 2013a��has since become an arts festival that celebrates growth, change and legacy.
    18.12The third edition, co-curated by Akhila Krishnamurthy and the Aalaap Foundation, looks at the various articulations of bhakti (devotion) in music, verse and dance. a�?No matter how many times you focus on it, there is always a new dimension because each artistea��s journey is so personal,a�? says Valli, describing how the book, God on the Hill (a compilation of bhakti poems by saint Annamacharya) had set her on the path. a�?(Poet) Arundhathi Subramaniam had pointed me to it before I performed at her Stark Raving Mad festival in Mumbai in 2013. But what clinched it for me was another book, Eating God (translations of bhakti poetry) that I was immersed in last year,a�? she recalls.
    Yin and yang
    18.13The three-day festival kicks off today with a conversation between Subramaniam and author Devdutt Pattanaik. a�?As Arundhathi was a muse, I was keen she speak of bhakti through poetry. And I wanted Devdutt as he addresses it through story,a�? shares Valli. And since music forms such a vital part of her performances, day two will have two concertsa��Hindustani by Pandit Venkatesh Kumar and Carnatic by Ranjani-Gayatri. a�?Pandit Kumar is a remarkable talent, and both Akhila and I wanted him to be present,a�? says Valli, who also admits to being a big fan of the Carnatic singersa�� music, especially their viruthams. a�?Bhakti is very intrinsic to our music, and the different ways it is expresseda��niraval, viruthams and abhangsa��make it powerful. For Bani, it will be palpable throughout,a�? adds Gayatri.
    Lyrical interpretation
    The finale, of course, will be dance. A Bharatnatyam performance by veteran Lakshmi Viswanathana��inspired by three bhakti poetsa��and a Mohiniyattam performance by Neena Prasad. a�?Lakshmia��s abhinaya is very intellectual and musical. She has a profound understanding of the layers of subtext, so I knew she would interpret it in her unique way,a�? explains Valli, adding she is an admirer of Thiruvananthapuram-based Prasada��s a�?lyrical approacha�?. In fact, Prasad will be premiering Sakhyam in Chennai. a�?It explores the friendship between Arjuna and Krishna, and it is a contemporary take on bhakti as it is more real, dealing with the practicality of the relationship,a�? concludes Prasad.
    Conversation (today) at 6.30 pm at The Folly, Amethyst. Music (October 3) and Dance (October 4), from 5.30 pm, at Kalakshetra Foundation. Details: 45991633, 24520836

    Surya Praphulla Kumar

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