Pseudo Bharatanatyam “dancer” Prasanna Kasthuri moving from St.Louis to Afganistan to teach Bharatnatyam classes there.

Prasanna Kasthuri,

Prasanna Kasthuri
promoting classical Indian music

an Americanised Kathak dancer, was stupid enough to write a lot of nonsense in his article on Narthaki. I sent a response to him and to Lalitha Venkat who – to my immense surprise – eventually published it, along with Prasanna’s reply.

Below is the improved and richly illustrated version, and more of our conversations! Enjoy! :)

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Prasanna Kasthuri’s article raises some important questions.

1. If indeed his “main goal (of moving to the USA) was to spread the traditional art” why didn’t he open a Bharatanatyam school in Lahore or in Kinshasa – instead of in St.Louis where “most of the dance teachers still continue living on meager income” funded by grants from Regional Arts Commission of Greater St. Louis and Missouri Arts Council? Were most medieval devadasis looking to become millionaires?

2. Considering that 15.8 million Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga-related activities,  how successful economically was his “workshop dealing with hatha yoga, breathing and meditation combined with dance movements“?


His Holiness guru Prasanna teaching a rich American vanara how to offer a puja to Lord Nataraja

3. If the NRI doctors, business analysts and engineers are required to have a proof of their professional qualifications before they move to the USA, are the Hindu priests and Bharatanatyam dancers too? Are the Bharatanatyam dancers required to be qualified for dancing just as the former devadasis were required a pass in 64 subjects? Does getting a rank in Vidwath exam imply one can handle the 22 sruti system?

4. Has Prasanna Kasthuri tried to convince any Iranian person that the traditional dance of Kathak is traditional Indian dance?  If Japanese could be proud of Kabuki and Chinese can be proud of their classical music, why are the Indians not having the same enthusiasm exploring the ashtottara sata talam system?

5. How exactly are the traditional saxophone and the Italian violin concerts related to a goal to spread the traditional (Persian?) art? Why should the Indians be so enthusiastic promoting the Iranian or Italian culture?
6. How essential was “a meeting of Kathak and Tap”  for “upholding the spiritual values of great Indian traditions“?

7. Is any art sacred, and any artiste a saint? What is the difference between religious values and spiritual values?

8. If “our” (whose??) “dance forms” failed to “get more limelight than what it had previously“, why do some Bharatanatyam videos on YouTube get 1000 views a day, while others only 1 view a day? Are the times of Swarnamukhi’s popularity over as the classical dancers can’t sit in aramandi, control their eye-lashes or perform  Gangaavatarana?

9. As for the “onslaught of heavy media works such as television and movies“, don’t you think the film directors would be bankrupt if their actors were as unprofessional (e.g. in satvika and vachika abhinaya) and had as captivating figures and as fascinating faces as the majority of “professional” Bharatanatyam dancers most of whom can’t even apply make-up properly?

10. What is the purpose of dancing Bharatanatyam 24 or even 60 hours non-stop? Would you trade one good banana for 50 rotten apples?

Prasanna Kasthuri
Padre Prasanna at a mess asking for State funding

11. Are “the classical dances fading slowly” because currently 2 out of 5 NRI girls in the USA undergo some training in classical Indian dance? How can we stop them from attempting to learn Bharatanatyam?

12. Are some NRI dancers’ careers “fading slowly” because their “traditional” dance themes focus on praising the maharajas and merchants of the 18th century?

13. If Prasanna Kasthuri has less knowledge of philosophical and spiritual interpretations of the dance themes, is he planning to expand his knowledge by studying the Vedas in the original and achieving some spiritual qualification and siddhis?

14. If “most working class youngsters are seen spending time in front of television channels, rather than going out and enjoying a live classical performance“, is it partly for the reasons outlined by Mukundagiri Sadagopan ? Or is it because – according to the Kollywood film directors as well as Bharata Muni – the youngsters are attracted to Sringara which was eliminated in Bharatanatyam by Rukmini Devi? Or do Lakshmi Vishwanathan’s reasons apply?

15. If there is “less exposure of classical dance forms in these mass media in India and USA“, isn’t it a sign that now it is high time the dancers should stop promoting themselves (or their associates) and start promoting the dance?

16. If they “avoid any classical performances” because “it is not a crowd puller“, isn’t a proof that Bharatanatyam is meant for small audiences when the rasikas can see the dancers mukhaja abhinaya?
17. How do the “local dance teachers work very hard to bring in the professionalism in the community” ? What kind of “professionalism“? Why don’t they learn a bit of Bharatanatyam themselves first?

18. If “most teachers struggle to create awareness of their relationship with a performing art such Bharatanatyam“, doesn’t it mean that people find it hard to understand which “traditional” Bharatanatyam style these teachers teach after learning the Mysore style from Dr. K. Venkatalakshamma and Smt. Lalita Srinivasan,  the Pandanallur style from guru Narmada, and after the Gurukula workshops of Chitra Vishweswaran, T. Mahalingam Pillai, Adyar K. Lakshmanan and Pandanallur Gopala Krishna?

19. Is “teaching dance to an NRI kid is very hard” partly because the classes are an hour a week?

20. If “the coverage for performing arts either in an American newspaper or on any television or in a National dance festival such as American Dance Festival is too less”, does it mean it is time to bring to the USA some really talented dancers from India?

Hindu temples must fund garba and salsa festivals

21. If “the barrier of culture and race still hogs these areas“, doesn’t it mean that the desi forms are limited, and the dancers should finally think of exploring the margi?

22. If “there are no international art critics in major newspapers across American cities“, isn’t it a proof that Bharatanatyam is not an international dance form but an Indian art?

23. If “the entertainment section of newspapers such as Times of India filled with American icons“, is it because there are too few professional photographers in India?

24. Is it indeed Gurukula when you just visit your teacher’s house for a class twice a week?

25. Do “most of the dance teachers still continue living on meager income, just because of the “bhakti”” or because they are unwilling or incapable to go and get a proper full time job at a factory or on a farm?

26. If there are “so many artists in our area, who can do marvelous productions“, who else – apart from these artists – thinks so too?

27. If “our music and dance, whether it is north or south, are driven by bhakti “, why has Lord Almighty been so unwilling to notice the marvelous productions in the USA and support the dancers financially?

28. If “one cannot see a… Kathak performance without a Hindu deity being prayed to“, is it the proof that the Hindu deities came to like the Persian folk dances and Arab music, as well as Michael Jackson’s performances?

29. Why would the Hindu temples in the USA arrange for Kathak dance festivals and works of famous poets such as William Shakespeare, W B Yeats, Maya Angelou, William Wordsworth and John Keats” if it contradicts the Hindu tradition, according to which only margi dance should be performed in the temple premises?

Finally…

Performing Bharathanatyam with Cymbols … the new trend which Guru Prasanna used in this Kuchipudi-Bharathanatyam fusion dancing“.

with CDs and beautiful pre-recorded music, we can perform really well with very low cost. So, if we can setup a network of performances… If you are coming to St. Louis, MO , please send me your details. Meanwhile, remember, I will be seeking the same help from you. This way we can build a network” With the value of Prasanna’s currency dropping to a near-zero level, nobody wants to arrange for his performances by joining his network. Such a pity: his group has only 10 messages, the last one posted half a year ago has an intriguing heading: “I want to meet you. Give me a chance!” What desperate people are there in the USA!

Roses and Thorns: the thorny facts in “Bharatanatyam competitions: lessons from Concern India”. Narthaki.com and political correctness in the Bharata natyam world.

Bharatanatyam competitions, Concern India and political correctness.

We will analyze and comment upon a curious write-up by Meenakshi Ganapathy that appeared in Roses and Thorns and was evidently irritating some dance VIP’s for 3 weeks. So much so that it was just recently deleted (luckily, Google saved a copy of it :-) ) by the politically conscious Narthaki.com editor. We will also refer to the excerpts from the messages several people sent us about this event.

This topic is related to some of our blog’s previous posts: this one, this one , this one and this one.

The competition started a bit late, with probably 30 spectators most of whom later appeared on the stage: the functionaries, the judges, the musicians, the parents, fellow dancers, and a few stray individuals in Narada Gana Sabha’s main hall.

The competition was not announced in the press. A private event?

A representative of Concern India made a brief introduction, dwelling on the NGO’s work and urging (the 30 spectators?) to contribute to its charitable activities and sponsor Bharatanatyam performances.

Each participant in the preliminary round had to pay Concern India Rs.3000, making it one of the most profitable Islamic charitable activities in India. Of course, Concern India themselves do not sponsor any Bharatanatyam-related performances. Why? Well, why would the Muslim man who was in charge of organizing Concern India’s Bharatanatyam competition in Chennai be seriously interested in promoting Bharatanatyam instead of trying to make even more money (“raise funds”) from dwelling on the necessity to addresss the material needs of the poor Indians. Forget about the Vedic culture and the Hindu spirituality. Allah akbar! Next time if some senior Bharatanatyam dancers organize a psalms recital contest, don’t be surprised.

The dancers, 95% of whom arrived on motorbikes, many of which had 3 riders, have had a hard time trying to sponsor themselves, as Concern India‘s Bharatanatyam competition required them to be able to afford to bring a live orchestra for the solo recitals. Remarkably, the group performances were miraculously exempted from this highly charitable requirement.

The group performances hardly had to do anything with Bharatanatyam.

Before the competition started, a representative of Concern India announced to the dancers that after each solo performance “the judges would speak, give their comments and ask the dancer questions.” The judges in the final were the same (!) as in the preliminary round: Madhumati Prakash, Rajashree Vasudevan and Dakshayani Ramachandran. Why they could not produce any comments on the solo recitals is up to you to guess.

We guess they are just dumb! :-) Or just afraid of the political repercussions. The fact that Concern India could invite such a sec0nd-rate dance guru as Rajashree Vasudevan speaks of the profile of the competition.

The preliminary 3-day elimination round held in November promoted, according to Chitra Visweswaran, “quite a few dancers” (she probably meant the number of the dancers in the groups) to the final competition held on 23 January. At the preliminary itself, out of the astonishing 10 applicants in the sub-junior (below 10) division, only 2 were deemed worthy of dancing in the final: Simran and Aishwarya Raman (of guru Divyasena). It was Simran who danced the first on 23 January, and it was Simran who got the 1st prize. As you could have already figured out, the second prize went to Aishwarya, who was so significantly less impressive that led to the humorous speculations that the first prize winner could have been decided upon in the preliminary round itself.

It’s a great idea to have a competition where there are 2 contestants in the finals and 2 prizes! :-) Curiously, Simran and Aishwarya met at another competition with the same outcome.

The two solos of the youngest contestants were followed by a most baffling mix of solos and group performances in no special order. Was it indeed on a “first-ready first dance” basis? Shuffled like a stock of cards, the order of these performances was presumably to confuse the judges so that they would not be able to remember (for any meaningful comparison) the performances of the contestants in the same age division. Of course, the order did not matter if the prize winners were determined in the preliminary round itself.

The third was Poornima (of Anusham group) who was quite proficient in her rendering of “Padma Ananda Dayinee,” especially in the passage describing how the snake’s poison was coming down in ashes. Sudharma Vaidyanathan (of guru A Lakshman) was dancing leisurely and error-free, mostly due to the fact that the choreography itself was not at all intricate or demanding. The more plain, the better? Nevertheless, she was somehow allocated the second prize in the junior (11-14) division, which had another 3 contestants beside her. A very “big” competition indeed.

More and more people come to know Sudharma as the daughter of Chella who does all videography for… the judges who… like A.Lakshman very much. :-) Leaving the sarcasms aside, Sudharma was a remarkable dancer 2 years ago, and was the only one in A.Lakshman’s school who was dancing with grace. Unfortunately, the health problems and A.Lashman’s Kalakshetra-like schooling left very little of the former – graceful, lively and expressive – Sudharma… How fast life changes us… Not to the better…

The stiff-bodied and frozen-faced girls who want to dance like a man, or rather like a soldier (with the marching soldier’s expressions attached, of course) will like A.Lakshman as a guru. What happened to K.J.Sarasa’s “Vazhuvoor style”? Well, just as she did not want Urmila Sathyanarayanan to unlearn the Kalakshetra style, she just let A.Lakshman to do his version of Kalakshetra too.

Curiously, the solos in the junior and the senior (15+) divisions were supposed to last for 10 minutes each, but some dancers were – for an unknown reason – allowed to dance for over 15 minutes, while other dancers’ performances were cut immediately after 10 minutes had elapsed, by completely switching off the stage lighting. Sudharma’s was followed by Divyasena’s group performance of some kind of fusion or modern dance. The group’s 11 dancers found it a bit hard to move (leave alone dance) when lined across the stage in one row. The smallest, Aishwarya Raman, was given the central role, although Nikita would have certainly been a better choice.

Next there was Subbalakshmi of Anusham. She surely did deserve her second prize in the senior division for her impeccable rendering of Shakti Kautuvam and a thillana, leaving some contestants wondering why they had not been told that they too could include 2 fragments rather than one continuous passage from one item. The 7th slot was Revathi Ramachandran’s ballet full of folk dance, Dayinee. Out of the 5 dancers, the only one worth mentioning was Darshana.

The status of Concern India’s competition is illustrated by the fact that Revathi Ramachandran’s own daughter did not even bother to apply!

It was followed by Sai Swapna’s (of Anusham group) recital. It was already 7.30pm, and the auditorium was filled by at least 200 people by that time.

Next there was S Sahana’s (who recently joined Roja Kannan’s school) impeccable performance of the varnam “Nee Inda Maye.” Sahana had a mobile face and smooth expressions that changed each other seamlessly and naturally. Her style of nritta was very crisp. Every simple nritta step involved a visible and sharp movement up and down, which was well coordinated with the movements of her chin, her eyes and eyelids. Sahana was given the first prize (just as in the 2008 Natyarangam’s competition) in the junior division.

Narthaki.com ‘s editor attached Saatvika’s comment:

“Oddly enough, in the Concern India competition the first was again Sahana and the second was Sudharma”.

If you are looking for a perfect Kalakshetra-style dancer, see Sahana :-) In other words, if I am to write about a Kalakshetra-style dancer, it will be her.  This virtuoso is capable of moving from the super-sharp movements to the ultra-smooth, and in this sense her range of movements is extraordinarily wide.  Even if some dancers did not like her hopping manner of walking on the stage, such sharp vertical up-and-down movements actually accentuated each beat of the cymbals, and kept the audience spellbound. Compared with her, the other dancers dance as if they were trapped in a quagmire! :-) Her neck moves very interestingly too.

Perhaps she deserved it. Or perhaps it should have been given to the 10th contestant, Harinie Jeevitha, who attempted a much harder job to do as she was performing very demanding nrittas, peppered with the most complex moves and karanas that one hardly ever gets to see in Chennai. Well, Harinie’s performance was not as error-free as her videos on YouTube would suggest: the sheer complexity of this highly demanding choreography requires more practice.

It should have been clear that any inclusion of karanas in the choreography will be considered as an error! This is the reason very few Bharathnrithyam dancers ever participate in the Bharatanatyam competitions. The 3 judges have never even read the Natya Shastra, leave alone attempt to do some difficult karana!

Funny enough, if a CCRT scholarship examinee recites the viniyogas in the Natya Shastra-prescribed way, it will be counted as a mistake, because the folkish “Bharatanatyam is supposed to be” performed according to Abhinayadarpanam, not according to Natya Shastra.  This is how our “classical” dancers betray our ancient heritage – and they have the cheek to praise the Natya Shastra in public at the same time! What a hypocrisy!

Sridharini in the senior division (of guru Revathi Ramachandran) was the 11th participant, and she proved that even the worst contestant can still get the first prize. Her performance was followed by Anusham group’s fusion dance dedicated to Shiva and Shakthi, where one dancer, Sulochana, deserves a special praise. The masala fused together modern dance, Bharatanatyam, Odissi and god knows what else. The 13th was a very decent recital by Shivani (of guru Revathi Ramachandran) who was placed the 3rd in the senior division. The 14th was Padmaja (of guru Divyasena) in the junior division who presented keertanam “Om Kara Karini” in a graceful manner, although the skirt costume limited the scope of her nritta. It was the same K.Padmaja who was awarded the 2nd prize at the Indian Fine Arts Society’s competition 2 weeks ago. The competition’s last solo was a very interestingly choreographed Sadaksharam kautuvam performed by the 16-year-old Sruthi Kalyana Sundaram (of guru Manimekalai Sharma), ably assisted by excellent beats of the mridangam. The choreography was very sophisticated and involved frequent use of fast, full-range attamis that blended harmoniously with everything else. Sruthi was masterful in her presentation, and stood above all other contestants in the senior division. Unfortunately, guru Manimekalai Sharma is hardly known even in Chennai.

Last year I wrote about Sruthi in this post. Despite some minor imperfections in her mukha abhinaya, she is surely one of the top dancers in her age range, and the originality of Manimekai Sharma’s choreography could certainly not be appreciated by the 3 dumb judges who are considered as some of the worst choreographers in Chennai.

As recently as 3 years ago Sruthi was listed among Srekala Bharath’s students. So, what happened, may we ask? A possible reason may be that Srekala’s choreography is relatively plain, maybe too plain for Sruthi’s taste, but would be just fine for the 3 dumb judges who would be just scared of Srekala Bharath’s political authority too.  Will you trade an opportunity to learn some interesting Bharatanatyam from an unknown but talented guru for an opportunity of winning a useless prize? :-( Most dancers would not… :-( Well, it seems even under Madurai.R.Muralidharan she was quite a performer even 5 years ago:

SN’s was the last group performance that had a larger share of elaborate Bharatanatyam proper than the previous groups’ items. Most of the dancers, among whom was Harinie Jeevitha again, were admirable, the costumes and accessories were very impressive. Not surprisingly, SN got the 1st prize for its ballet. It was also not surprising to hear one of Concern India’s representatives explain that, “ethically speaking,” it would be wrong to give more than 2 (out of the 4) first prizes to the same school.

The award function started at 9.30. There was a speech by Chitra Visweswaran who was praising the efforts of Concern India and was urging everyone to support its activities. It was quite different from a “speech” by a differently abled gentleman from Concern India when the audience could not understand a word.

“Helping people help themselves” ran the slogan through a huge backdrop just under ‘Concern India.’ How helpful was this competition for the dancers? And how seriously was Concern India taking the dancers’ concerns? If fewer and fewer Bharatanatyam schools care to come and showcase their best students at Concern India’s competition, does it reflect how much importance the dancers attach to this event? Well, if the Blue Cross, Coca-Cola, the Communist Party of India, or the ICICI bank were to hold their own Bharatanatyam competitions, how many dancers would apply?