Book Reviews

A Dancer on the Wings of Poesy

Prakruti Nrityam – The Dance of Nature”
A book of poems by Dr. Geeta Radhakrishna is a collection of 30 poems which fall under four broad groups viz:

Love, Music and Dance; Prakruti or Nature and Indian Philosophy. The title of the book “Prakruti Nrityam – the dance of Nature” is based on the third group of 13 poems. The Sanskrit word “Prakruti” has much wider and deeper connotations, religious and philosophical, than its English equivalent - Nature. The Vedic seers of great antiquity intuitively apprehended mighty forces behind the natural phenomena. They identified them with several Gods such as Indra, Varuna, Vayu and Agni, recognising at the same time that they were manifestations of single supreme spiritual entity Sat-Cit-Ananda or Brahman. The Gods (or God) were religious conceptions. Later, philosophical speculations yielded the idea of Prakruti with the three distinct qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – Purity, Passion and Passivity. All objects of Nature were said to possess three qualities even at birth in such a disproportionate manner as to cause fundamental, spiritual inequalities (adhikaribheda). The attainment of spiritual perfection (Moksha or Liberation) through the equilibrium of the natural qualities or the predominance of Sattva was set as the spiritual goal for all human beings.

Heir to this religio-cultural legacy, the talented dancer-cum-poet Dr. Geeta Radhakrishna does not labour to bring out the divine essence of natural phenomena; an Indian takes that for granted. (This is also the reason why Wordsworth and other poets of the Romantic age were taken con amore by the Indian students of English literature in the past.

Geeta is more objective than subjective. She observes nonetheless with a poetic eye, and transforms her observations into charming narratives with an unmistakable original touch, in tune with the times. Her poems are in unrhymed blank verse. Of the lotus she says:

“Sweet heart of the radiant Sun,
Blossoming at his tender touch,
Smiling at his playful gleam,
Blushing at his amorous embrace”

The sun and the lotus (jalaja –born of water) are treated as lovers, typically human in their natural responses. Factual accuracy is combined with poetic reflections. (The poet has similar fascinating verses on the lotus described as ambuja, kamala, padma, pankaja and saroja. The charming original strokes cannot be missed.)

In Tulasi - the holy basil, she finds an egoless soul yearning for union with the divine soul. The Atman is not different from Brahman and their ‘ekatva’ (unity) is proclaimed in the Upanishads. The Tulasi as a symbol of that ‘yearning for union’ is illustrated in the legend of Andal or Goda, one of the twelve Alvars or vaishnavite devotees of God as Narayana. It is only the pure, egoless soul that can aspire for eternal union. The use of the term ‘egoless’ is very appropriate.

In dealing with the coconut tree, the Kairalee as Dr. Geeta is, she hits upon an inspired idea that it is the beauty of all the branches together that attracts the breeze. Reversing Rousseau’s* averment that man is born free but everywhere he is in chains, she says of the coconut leaves that ‘they are bound yet free’. How one wishes for such bondage among the people of the world!

The birds of nature (Prakruti) fascinate her no end. Of the Cuckoo she says:

“You remain a hidden enigma,
A sound only – like a Mantra!
A voice so pure – yet so distant,
The elusive –Cuckoo bird!”

Only an Indian can link the Cuckoo’s voice with a Mantra – the sacred hymn. Compare this with Wordsworth’s ‘To the Cuckoo’

“O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee Bird
Or but a wandering voice?
But he did strike a spiritual chord when he addressed the Skylark:
“Ethereal Ministrel ! Pilgrim of the Sky!
Does thou despise the earth
Where cares abound?”

While the peacock is a symbol of ‘unity in diversity’ for Dr.Geeta, the swan is of ‘learning and wisdom’, the eagle, of ‘power’, the ‘ubiquitous crow’ is the ‘carrier of a good tiding /of gracious visitor to your sweet home’.

There are three pieces on trees; two of them on the banyan and the peepal. The third is an appeal to the people - ‘O no! Never cut a tree!’

Echoing Tennyson’s** reflections on the eternity of the brook, Dr.Geeta pictures the banyan (perhaps, more convincingly) as an eternal witness to the passing show of men and events. Its ‘heart-shaped leaf ’, a recurring image, suggests to her the warmth of affection and benevolence. All kinds of people, she says, including ‘innocent children’ and ‘scheming thieves’ get together under its ‘shade’ only to be taken care of, not upbraided. The Peepal (ficus religiosa) linked to religion even by name, is suggestive of the Vedas and knowledge of which helps one ‘to know God and His intentions’ and ‘take refuge’ in Him – the poet’s appeal not to cut trees rests on her conception on them as ‘teachers of generosity, humility and altruism.’

Do trees contemplate? If so, on what ? The poet’s answer is: ‘ever peaceful, always calm, they contemplate on the cosmic Architect’. (It is also said that God is the Author of the Book of Nature )

Mother Earth is portrayed as representing the eight ‘Rasas’ which dancers depict through facial expressions and movements of their limbs. These Rasas are delineated appropriately and charmingly by the poet in eight separate pieces. Earth is conceived as personifying love, laughter, sympathy, heroism, anger, ferocity, disgust and wonder – sringara, hasya, karuna, veera, roudra, bhayanaka, bibhatsa and Adhbuta. What could be a greater wonder than Mother Earth cradling on her lap beautiful babies?

“The little darling with a cute face
Two eyes like the twinkling stars,
A tiny nose like a shiny button,
Wet lips like a juicy plum,
Playful little feet tapping rhythmically,
Little fingers curling and holding on to
A destiny so tight! ”

To turn to the other poems in this collection. There are two poems on love at the beginning. These are two aspects of love – as an experience and as a concept: countless are its definitions. There is an amazing compactness as well as suggestiveness in the following lines:

“Love is like an open blue sky
Where thousands of stars twinkle and smile
Brightly and beautifully, at the same time.”

Love as an experience of joy and the numerous nuances of feeling it engenders are well brought out.

Mother Teresa is personified as love as follows:

“When Mother Teresa held in her arms
The sick and the forsaken,
She practised true Christian virtues
Of service with love
And sacrifice without a murmur.”

Tyaga (sacrifice) and Seva (services) are also the immemorial basic values of Indian culture.

Four poems on dance follow. The hand gestures –Mudras – are explained in eight stanzas of ten lines each. The twenty –five line drawings in illustration of these Mudras help easy understanding.

The picture of a Mohiniattam danseuse comes to view in the second verse of the 15 stanzas with six lines each. The poem gives in a nutshell as it were the form, substance and style of Mohiniattam. As a long time performer of this style of dance and a believer that it ‘evolved in resonance with nature’, the dancer-poet holds that:

“The dance is all about restraint and control
A meditative journey towards perfection!”

To be so committed to the art one pursues is to be Arjuna like in his concentration and purpose.

The third poem, which is about a dancer (Nartaki) brings to light the universal but little known experience of artistes and writers. The ‘Nartaki’ dances in ecstasy before the audience but, at the end of the performance, she ‘stares at an emptiness’ and finds herself in a desolate cave, dark and silent’. Tolstoy and Charlie Chaplin have expressed a similar experience of a void at the end of a spell of their creative labours.

The fourth poem is about the ‘The dancing wonder’, The Lord of dance – Nataraja. The poet hints at His omnipresence thus:

“He is the dancer, the dance and the audience.”
“He is the actor, the director and the theatre.”

There are two small pieces on music. One of them deals with Jayadeva (Padmavati who wrote the immortal poem ‘Geeta Govinda’ and the other with ‘Sopanam’ the music with a lingering resonance associated with the temples of Kerala. Jayadeva’s ‘Ashtapadis’ are sung in this style which is unique and has a charm of its own. Here bhakti predominates.

A set of nine verses, with a philosophical import and partly didactic in nature, forms the concluding portion of this anthology. The concepts or values covered are: Intelligence (Buddhi), Truth (Satya), Forgiveness (Kshama), Compassion (Karuna) and Bliss (Ananda). The poet weaves into the texture of the poems contemporary men and events. Thus Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Lady Gladys Stains figure in appropriate contexts.

“We need to cultivate compassion,” she says, “to suffer the sorrows of others”.

The piece de resistance of this last group of verses is ‘My Upanishadic birdie-pie’, a dialogue with a small bird which, as the poet imagines, has many lessons to teach us, the mortals - living in unity and harmony with patience, sense-control, egolessness etc.
The bird asks:

“It must have taken marathon effort,
By the leaders of the country to unify into one!
How come you are dividing it again into bits?”

Its parting counsel is that man’s ultimate destiny is spiritual -atmasakshatkara or self realization. The physical, mental and the moral should be transcended to attain the divine.

Optimism, a sense of the beautiful and the holy, reverence for tradition, and insistence on the cultivation of values characterise the poems of “Prakruti Nrityam”.

“Prakruti Nrityam – The Dance of Nature” A book of poems by Dr. Geeta Radhakrishna
Published by MNK Trust, 
501 – Shiv Sadan, Gokhale Road, Dahanukar Wadi, Kandivli-west, Mumbai -400 067.
email: Price Rs 500/- Pages 168

* Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 -1778) whose writings influenced the French Revolution of 1789 and the Romantic poets of England.
** Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 92), Poet-laureate of England in 1850.


More by :  V. Sivaramakrishnan

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Views: 3453      Comments: 3

Comment Ramesh ji, Thank you for your kind words. Very happy to know that you too are a romantic poet. would like to read your poems.

Dr. Geeta Radhakrishna Menon
31-Jul-2015 23:48 PM

Comment a very thoughtful collection of poems
a nice review
both good reads
all the best
ramaraa vadapalli

dr v v b rama rao
19-May-2015 07:10 AM

Comment Review of the book, Dance of Nature by V. Sivaramakrishnan is wonderful to read to know in detail about an Indian romantic poet, Dr. Geeta Radhakrishna. it is very interesting to me as I am also a romantic poet very much inspired by Nature Poet Wordsworth and other romantic poets of English Literature.

19-May-2015 02:38 AM

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