Madurai R. Muralidaran set a record with the presentation of 50 jatis by 125 dancers who came online from around India and the world
There was palpable tension and excitement as Bharatanatyam dancers around India and the globe nervously rehearsed, adjusted costumes, cameras and lights, as they waited for the cue to start. With a prompt from nattuvangam artiste-teacher Madurai R. Muralidaran, the well-co-ordinated Chennai studio group commenced the strenuous 50-jati presentation.
There was no respite during the 75-minute effort. Around 125 dancers, ranging from the age of nine to 60 made history with an event that went on to be certified by the India Book of Records and the Asia Book of Records for the ‘Maximum Participants Performing Bharatanatyam jatis (50 jatis) on Virtual Platform’. It was a well-rehearsed and coordinated attempt.
Muralidaran had numbered the jatis and introduced the sollus before the start of each. The approximately 1.5 minute jatis were lilting and rhythmically appealing. Muralidaran varied the speed of rendering sollus, using emphasis, karvais and usi, to create varying jaati patterns, with the same sollus repeated again and again. “I stuck to the traditional format. We have only the pancha jaatis to play around with. Most jatis were in Adi tala and the rest in tisra-nadai Adi tala and khanda-nadai Triputa tala,” said Murlidaran. His well-modulated voice made for a pleasant listening experience. He was accompanied by veteran mridangists Kesavan and Dhananjayan.
The ‘50-jati challenge’ was Muralidaran’s brainchild. He was teaching nattuvangam to about 450 artistes across the world when he thought of this challenge and asked those interested to come on board. About 150 did. For three months, as Muralidaran created jatis week after week, he taught it to the dancers with the help of his senior student Deepa Mahadevan and daughter Kavya Muralidaran.
Well-coordinated effort Students of Madurai Muralidaran presenting ‘50 jati challenge.’ (Below) The choreographer receiving the Asian Book of Records honour
He said he did not just teach them the adavus. He taught them the sollus, modulation, nattuvangam and the genesis of the jatis along with their mathematical intricacies. He also trained them for the challenge — conditioning the bodies, strengthening the knees and conserving energy and building stamina. The dancers were not just his disciples, they were interested students from various dance schools.
This is not the first time Muralidaran has created a record or set up a challenge. In 2019, he taught 359 students the Sankeerna Jaati Dhruva Tala Alarippu (29 aksharas) in Bharat Kalachar and had them perform it for the Guinness Book of Records, that very morning. That evening he presented Chaturvidam — four margams in different talas — for the Guinness Book of Records, Asia Book of Records and India Book of Records.
Early 2020, when all his foreign assignments were cancelled due to the pandemic, he wrote and composed 25 varnams, composing one a day for 25 days, written in the morning and sung by a musician at the end of the day. He posted it on social media and made it to the Asia Book of Records and the India Book of Records. Muralidaran is not done yet. He is waiting to hear from the Guinness Book of Records for the ‘50-jati challenge’ and plans to stage the programme again for them. Clearly, he is an artiste who is happy to push the envelope.
The Chennai-based author writes on classical dance.