Commercialism in Bharatnatyam. Bharatanatyam copycats. And copyright in Bharata natyam. True Bharathanatyam gurus vs Bharathanatyam dance instructors.

Have you ever wondered about the difference between a Bharatanatyam guru and a Bharatanatyam dance instructor?

Due to the mushrooming of Bharatanatyam schools and exploding number of dancers, the competition has been growing from tough to ultra tough. Who will be the winners of this rat race? This post will explore the issue of copying, copyrights, professionalism and commercialism.

The history of the Indian culture does not know of anything like intellectual property and royalties. Many, if not most, great pieces of art and literature of the past have remained unsigned, their authors anonymous, while the more recent composers make it a point to insert their signature everywhere. This dirty stamp of ahamkar (ego) has marked the advent of Kali Yuga.

Every Indian has an unconscious conviction that knowledge, just like flowers in the Himalayas, cannot belong to an individual. In fact, it is thanks to the enthusiastic copying that the ancient scriptures survived thousands of years. Had they been so popular and successful if their authors insisted on getting royalties from each copy? Indeed, how much did Valmiki charge for each copy of his Ramayana?

The Hindu surprised its readers with the foreboding of the aggressive advance of the western $ culture:

Lalgudi G. Jayaraman (renowned Carnatic musician) of T. Nagar and Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and Radha, both of Chennai, filed an application seeking an interim order of injunction restraining the respondents Cleveland Cultural Alliance, Ohio, U.S. and A. Lakshmanan of Annanagar here from staging the dance ballet and infringing their copyrights…

They (Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and Radha) owned the entire copyright over the ballet and they staged it in several places in India.

The Indian art, including Bharatanatyam, has long been considered as a religious offering, a gift for the gods, something that belongs to gods only. Other than offering such a gift, the artist had not even thought of making any copyright claims. Such claims would be considered as shameful.

Now, when some works of art are no longer considered by their authors as a sacred offering but rather, as a commercial commodity (or even junk), we can speak of the difference between a true Bharatanatyam guru and a merely Bharatanatyam dance instructor, the difference between an artiste and a craftsman:

Earl Hunsinger explains:

Artists are now respected as gifted, as geniuses, as divinely inspired. Crafts people just make stuff. In an ironic twist, artists are considered professionals, while crafts people may be viewed as amateurs that sell stuff on the weekend at the local fair. Does it matter? Probably not if you’re considered an artist. For someone that has been labeled as a crafts person, maybe so. In addition to the matter of respect, it’s been said, only half jokingly, that the difference between an art object and a craft object is several thousand dollars.

I’ve seen paintings hanging in modern art galleries that look like an child made them for his mother, and not a very talented child. My personal criteria has always been, if it looks like I could have painted it, it’s not art. The aesthetic value of a piece should be determined, not by the label given to it, but by the creativity seen in its design and execution. Ultimately, isn’t that what art is supposed to be, a product of the imagination brought to life for all to see?

Arul Francis gives us his opinion:

A dancer may have put in lots of years and finally have earned an advanced piece in exchange for her ability and seniority. Of course she’s not going to want to give that away to copycats by putting it on video. Others will simply copy the piece and perform it themselves and tweak this or that and ruin the piece. The person who created the piece will not get any credit or mention. It will just be plagiarized. There has to be a way around it though.

Let us single out each point:

no guru will teach the newcomer an advanced piece

Most gurus retain their senior students by creating an expectation that these students will – some day – be taught “advanced and rare items”. What is “advanced”, you may wonder? Do such items exist at all? Have you ever watched such “advanced” pieces performed by your guru’s seniormost students? In what way is it “advanced”? Is this piece something that your guru learnt from their own gurus, or is it what he choreographed himself?

These are the questions that most out-of-shape gurus – whose only body part that somehow manages to move is their “dancing face” – hate to answer.🙂 But then, if it is only some cheri “mukha abhinaya” that is left to be taught, you’d better run away as soon as you can. After all, since the cat (or rather 8 of them) of Mami’s Magic is out of the bag, everybody can buy those DVDs and see that the king is… naked!

Well, if these “advanced” items are ever performed for an audience, a truly advanced student can just go there and watch, and note down the choreography. That’s, if you don’t have a good cameraphone with video recording capability🙂

Well, why do they call dance instructors “gurus”? Well, if there are IT, farming and banking gurus, there must be Bharatanatyam gurus too, right?😦

Minakshi Ajay puts it this way:

The Upanishads have profoundly underlined the role of the guru. Mundak Upanishad says to realize the supreme godhead holding samidha grass in his hands one should surrender himself before the guru who knows the secrets of Vedas.

If your guru knows the secrets of Vedas, you are lucky, as such a guru has attained to the physical immortality as well as all the other siddhas. (We will give you a Rs.10000000 gift voucher if you tell us where to find such a person). Well, why did Minakshi mention all this in her article on Bharatanatyam??? As if she knows any Bharatanatyam gurus who can at least read the Vedas, not to mention understanding them!

One ancient tradition we still keep: the Bharatanatyam gurus will always try to promote their well-paying, high-status but inferior students at the expense of putting down the more talented students. The gurus create all kinds of obstacles for their “less important” students. For example, in case of Bharatanatyam competitions, if the gurus send more than 1 students to contest a prize, sometimes these gurus have to bribe the judges so that they would not give the 1st prize to the most talented dancer but to some other, VIP student. If you are among your guru’s most talented students, don’t be surprised to learn that your guru used the mean and dirty methods to promote other, less capable VIP students, at the expense of your dance career.

Unbelievable? Read what Minakshi tells us:

The most popular legend is that of the amazing young tribal boy Ekalavya on being rejected by the ace trainer Dronacharya, raised his statue and with great dedication practised the art of archery and left behind Arjuna, the master archer, who actually learnt the art under the living guru. And the heartless guru asked for his thumb as gurudakshina or fees, and made him inferior before his royal disciple.

a lot of dancers copy each other’s pieces

“I take my Handycam every time I go to the Natyanjali and other festivals”, confesses one professional Bharatanatyam dancer. “Otherwise I watch Bharatanatyam on TV or YouTube – there is more than I have time for it!”

Some Bharatanatyam gurus give their students the videos of a dancer’s performance and ask them to merely copy it. The question is, how well can they actually copy?

My most advanced students have been trying to copy this piece (performed by an outstanding dancer) for the past 5 years but so far they have not been able to copy more than 80%. They can’t copy the nuances, the smaller details. Well, they can’t even do the mudras properly or the bhedas“, – complained a senior guru.

It takes an exceptional virtuoso to copy a genius successfully. But then, if you are a genius, you will never even think of copying others!

Even if we make a poor replica of a masterpiece, how many people will be able to tell the original from the fake? 2%?
For the ogranizers of the corporate shows, all items will appear identical as long as the title is identical.
Re-packaging, re-labeling, re-mixing and re-branding is now in vogue.

some copycats will “ruin” the “original” choreography by “tweaking this or that”

Other gurus are more cunning: they modify a bit here and a bit there and sell it as “original”.
The question is, isn’t choreography supposed to be evolving?
And, didn’t the traditional Sadir choreography degrade beyond recovery 300 years ago?

there is a person who “created the original piece”

What is “original”????
Can any author really make a claim that he has not used bits and pieces from some other people’s work?

Sirisha believes that:

dance should be an art that should spread with zero inhibitions, and specially to people who cant afford it.

How many students in your Bharatanatyam dance schools are studying for free? If you are learning with a true Bharatanatyam guru who is untarnished by the emerging commercialism, you are lucky.

12 thoughts on “Commercialism in Bharatnatyam. Bharatanatyam copycats. And copyright in Bharata natyam. True Bharathanatyam gurus vs Bharathanatyam dance instructors.

  1. what is sadir attam? to be precise, how did it look when one danced in that style,an alaripu or a padam,and may be not the present day bharatanatyam style? who dances that way now? how can one know? how can one say that that is only nice and not wat we do today? if one teacher charges some amount as a fee, but teaches more than for the said hours, is it wrong? is a bharatanatyam teacher supposed to teach free, when the student is someone who can afford the fee? what is the avg fee for bharatanatyam, rs.300-500 monthly for thrice a week hourly classes? how many students cannot afford it? how many children who cannot afford such money really find bharatanatyam interesting? should one just pull everyone into dancing, whether or not its his interest? like one is pulled into academics?
    who is a ‘true bharatanatyam guru’? if we have ‘sa, ri, ga,ma,pa,dha,ni’ ,we create ragas based on these seven swaras. now all the ragas will contain only these swaras, then what is original- this is without going into the details of the origin of the swaras themselves?

  2. A guru is an expert. A person who knows everything there is to know about a field/all of the available knowledge can be called a guru. Bharatanatyam includes such a vast amount of information from hasthas to bedhas to abhinaya to music to theory/history to costume to spirituality, etc. The list goes on and on. Only a few of the eldest Bharatanatyam artistes are truly gurus. The rest are teachers or choreographers or directors. That’s not a bad thing though. They just need to recognize it and know where they stand and if they would like to become a guru, just keep studying and researching and practicing. Such an ancient art form with so many details cannot be completely mastered in just a decade or two, which is why I say this.
    Concerning copyrights, it is impossible for anyone to copy another person’s dance. They may try, but they won’t succeed. There will be some differences. And this should not bother the creator of the “original” piece. They should be proud of what they did and proud that someone admired it enough to try and copy it. They should know that what the copycat did is not the same anyway so it doesn’t matter. Only you know the choreography of that piece unless you take the time to teach it to someone else. All pieces of art (music, dance, paintings, etc.) are collages of bits and pieces of old and new. Junior artistes learn from those before them and based upon what they have learned and what they have seen others do, they may add to it and come up with their own combinations which turns into pieces of art. It’s nothing bad…..this is the situation of EVERY SINGLE ARTIST TODAY. There is nothing you can do about it – it’s natural. Only a newborn baby can avoid this.

  3. how did it look when one danced in that style,an alaripu or a padam,and may be not the present day bharatanatyam style?

    You can pretty easy figure it out from the temple scupltures, paintings, and a lot of texts. you can be pretty sure it did not look like flamenco.🙂

    Who dances that way now?

    The bharathnrithyam dancers attempt to move into that direction. If 99% of them look clumsy, and if padmaji looks ugly, it doesn’t mean that the 1% will not achieve greater heights. They influence other Bharatanatyam and Odissi styles. It’s a collective effort.

    how can one say that that is only nice and not wat we do today?

    Dear, even chips are nice. So what? You will get liver cancer from this nicety sooner or later.

    if one teacher charges some amount as a fee, but teaches more than for the said hours, is it wrong?

    No. Mallika, do you think I am trying to undermine your personal economy or what?🙂

    is a bharatanatyam teacher supposed to teach free, when the student is someone who can afford the fee?

    No. I am only saying that it is wrong to charge very talented students the amount that they cannot afford.

    what is the avg fee for bharatanatyam, rs.300-500 monthly for thrice a week hourly classes? how many students cannot afford it?

    80% of Chennai’s parents may have to choose between tuition (maths, biology, English) and dance. What will they choose?

    how many children who cannot afford such money really find bharatanatyam interesting?

    There are probably between 50000 and 100000 such Bharatanatyam-curious 6-11 year olds in Chennai. Maybe more. The interest develops (by the way, I am compiling an article on how a guru can motivate and encourage the students). Up to 11, I think. Their parents are under lots of social/economic pressures.

    should one just pull everyone into dancing, whether or not its his interest? like one is pulled into academics?

    Yes. It has to be part of the curriculum for the 6-11 year olds. After that, if they develop an interest, they can do it as extra-curricular. Usually, by the age of 11 or 12 the child will display his/her potential/talents.

    In Chennai the Narasimhacharis charge Rs.1000 per hour in a group of 4-5. So they make Rs.5000 per hour.

    who is a ‘true bharatanatyam guru’?

    There are 100 criteria. Read my blog. Make a compilation and post it on yours🙂

    now all the ragas will contain only these swaras, then what is original-

    The originals you can find in Sama Veda.🙂

  4. its very easy to point towards direction, rather than walk into the path, just like the way you pointed towards temple sculptures for alaripu. infact i was expecting you to make differences in the tishra alaripu v do today- say for eg, the hand should be like this here, the adavu should be like that etc.
    another thing about temple sculptures is- i think even they include a figmant of imagination, no matter how small and idealism, like any art form. they are not exactly how people looked/danced then.
    u can point to me which sculputres and where can i find depicting the exact sadiattam alaripu- i will be thankful.
    unlike you darling, my ego is nill for learning, so no matter what one tells me, i respect it by giving it a thought.
    to think only the narsimhacharis of chennai are gurus and are talents -is shit. i will tell u abt my teacher- sangeeta. most of the time she forgot how much fee i have to pay her and this was the case with most of her children- she forgets to keep track of time and number of classes. i think its much more than bharatanatyam i learn from her. her fee – rs 500 per month.
    what should be in the cirriculum is something that can prepare the child to earn bread and butter. Bharatanatyam is boring. bollywood sells. thats why i said before- iam very happy to dance and enjoy my dance in my kitchen area. i care a rats ass whether or not someone is seeing me or appreciating me- there are other people and areas for those dances and interests. if given respect and chance i would not say no. but thats not the only factor. that is why, may be, bhartanatyam comes out strong even after all this shit and muck.
    for all the number of children in chennai who are interested in dancing- well iam coming home. can u pls send them to me?
    bhartanatyam- to have food, one has to get his own plate. all those children if they are really interested, what is the effort from their side and their parents’ side to learn? nothing i suppose.
    to compere chips and dance- is the most naive thing. i dont want to comment on it.
    The originals you can find in Sama Veda.

    i know to answer all th above , u will take some time- to surf the net and google for answers- yes yes, i can understand that..

    rgds
    mallika

  5. i was expecting you to make differences in the tishra alaripu v do today- say for eg, the hand should be like this here, the adavu should be like that etc.

    I have too much of work to to do this kind of research and elaborate the details. I am not a Bharatanatyam guru, by the way!🙂

    another thing about temple sculptures is- i think even they include a figmant of imagination, no matter how small and idealism, like any art form. they are not exactly how people looked/danced then.

    You have to see the common principles behind the variations. Even today’s dancers are vastly different. So?

    u can point to me which sculputres and where can i find depicting the exact sadiattam alaripu- i will be thankful.

    You have to do this work yourself.😦

    to think only the narsimhacharis of chennai are gurus and are talents -is shit.

    I am not saying they are good gurus at all.

    i will tell u abt my teacher- sangeeta

    Which sangeeta?

    what should be in the cirriculum is something that can prepare the child to earn bread and butter.

    The reason I took the 6-11 year olds is because at this age they normally cannot master computer engineering or banking. They have more time for learning other things like dance.

    Bharatanatyam is boring. bollywood sells.

    Make your Bharatanatyam interesting and stop complaining. If you want to attract the rasikas, you have to understand there are different ways to attract different rasikas. If your Bharatanatyam is excellent, even the cheri folks will turn their heads away from Bollywood and will be captivated by your Bharatanatyam.

    for all the number of children in chennai who are interested in dancing- well iam coming home. can u pls send them to me?

    Are you coming to Chennai to take care of these 100000 kids?🙂

    all those children if they are really interested

    I told you that the lotus of their consciousness only starts opening by the age of 10, so how can you expect a 8-year-old to know if they are interested or not?

    If you are a good guru, you can tell if a 8-year-old has the potential or not. I cannot see it. Sorry.😦

    what is the effort from their side and their parents’ side to learn? nothing i suppose.

    Most often. Go, motivate and inspire them!🙂 This is your job.

    to compere chips and dance- is the most naive thing. i dont want to comment on it.

    Just as there is junk food, there is junk dance. Junk food can be nice, junk dance can be nice. Junk is a short-term garbage that will make you sick (cancer…) ) and will be out of vogue in 15-20 years’ time. The classical will stay.

    i know to answer all th above , u will take some time- to surf the net and google for answers- yes yes, i can understand that..

    If I googled for each answer, 24 hours a day would not be enough.

  6. now u will see that it is much more easier to infuriate you- i just need to point out where you are weak in your arguments or points.
    I have too much of work to to do this kind of research and elaborate the details. I am not a Bharatanatyam guru, by the way!
    then with what authority of knoweldge are you commenting on dancers and their dancing styles?
    u can point to me which sculputres and where can i find depicting the exact sadiattam alaripu- i will be thankful.
    you make me feel like u r a fake. i hate this considering the amount of respect i have for your honesty.
    Which sangeeta?
    please read the sentence above.
    The reason I took the 6-11 year olds is because at this age they normally cannot master computer engineering or banking. They have more time for learning other things like dance.
    well they can. and didnt i say the word-prepare?
    Make your Bharatanatyam interesting and stop complaining. If you want to attract the rasikas, you have to understand there are different ways to attract different rasikas. If your Bharatanatyam is excellent, even the cheri folks will turn their heads away from Bollywood and will be captivated by your Bharatanatyam.
    i dont believe in dancing to attract people. i let it be a natural choice and when i perform- i dance i enjoy and it is not for the people sitting and watching- hell no, is bharatanatyam not supposed to be a dance offering for the gods? there is other name for people who dance to attract……
    Are you coming to Chennai to take care of these 100000 kids?
    since u r so concered..i thought of helping u and the interested kids and teach some bharatanatyam- now will u pls line them up?
    If I googled for each answer, 24 hours a day would not be enough.
    is that why u sometimes take more than a day or 2 to answer?
    well bhartanatyam, we can rip each comment and answer back- but should our brains, knowledge, energy and time be spent on this? should we not introspect and do a better job out of our resources? this is something each of us to think and decide. u r free to rip even this comment of mine, but iam not going to waste my time on continuing it. pls be aware that what u say, is not a complete truth.
    rgds
    mallika

  7. This is actually a really good piece of writing because i’ve been thorugh this. My former Guru, Vasu Sinnarasa who is based in Toronto really had a limited amount of experience in bharatanatyam. He would give you peices from DVDs (LIke Priyadarsini Govinds DVD Collection) and would make us do them for our arangetram. He would not compose even on piece for your arangetram, and he does have that cunning quality mentioned above by change very small Steps in the dance and taking credit for it.

    great Writing again.

  8. You said: “In Chennai the Narasimhacharis charge Rs.1000 per hour in a group of 4-5. So they make Rs.5000 per hour. ”
    What is your opinion of this pricing system? Thanks.

  9. well what you say about certain ‘gurus’ is true that they tend to encourage the not so talented at the cost of the very talented just cos they have got more money than the ones who have more talent but no money. praksh yadagudde is one at the bhavan in uk.throw money & he’ll promote you even if you are the worst student on earth.

  10. I so agree to what you have said.. I have myself been through a horrid phase of 2 years of doing Bharatanatyam from a “self-proclaimed KALA GURU”…..well, to say honestly nothing more than an average crafts person!!
    And still, so many people relentlessly pursue her for “advanced” items.

  11. look at youtube, the dancers seem good in the first look, then you look at other videos, all are equally horrible. and all the dances are same. they copy so much. now color faded off my glasses. initially i liked most of the vids i saw on youtube and i was impressed. now its the opposite.
    in recent times , taht is in the past one year. i have seen only one video that i have seen twice, one by i guess leela samson’s student, she did a padam. beautifully. so much that i just noticed the dance and nothing else.

  12. Guru Minakshi Ajay’s article is not actually on Bharatanatyam Gurus but a Guru only who is a spiritual Guru. I cannot find anywhere she mentions a Bharatanatya guru in specific at all. Yes, she is one of the best Bharatanatya Gurus in the west & one who promotes all her students at the same time. At a point during the recession in Uk, I had lost my job & unable to pay any dance class fees for my small daughter. Guru Minakshi Ajay encouraged my daughter by teaching her absolutely for free for over a year until I myself was able to pay again after getting another job. Gurus like her are indeed very difficult to find.

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