Sringara Rasa: the most intimate secret of the classical Indian dance, in Bharatanatyam in particular. Mysteries of Srungara in the South Asian dance theatre. Shringara and Tantra. Shrungara…

Sringara…

“one of the reviews of my Rangapooja read ‘not fit to be a dancer’”, says the politically shrewd recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for dance for 2009very attractive: senior dancera gopi whose half-moon forehead is glorious with glistening red sindura dots, a gopi whose blossoming lotus face is graceful with black-bee locks of curly hair, a gopi whose glorious vine eyebrows mock the great powers of Kamadeva’s bow, a gopi whose passionate, languid, amorous glances enchant and bewilder her beloved

How we get attracted to people, things and ideas? What makes us beautiful and fascinating? In this article you will read about the following:

This article is not intended to please those contemporary Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi or Odissi dancers who view Natya as merely a “dance form”, an “Art for art’s sake”, a pastime, a hobby, a career, etc. Such individuals may find the statements made by Bharata Muni to be offensive, inappropriate, inapplicable, undemocratic, threatening their professional dance career, pride, social status, ethical values, personal contacts, business transactions, sex life, etc. Such individuals, especially those suffering from an acute lack of any sense of humour, are advised not to read this article to prevent any accidental heart attacks.

(Special thanks to Smitha Menon for her contributions)

Sringara: Hindu gods vs Mexican film stars

“There are three expressions of Sringara: in words, in dress and in action”. The light green paste on the face of a Kathakali dancer is a common sight, but few know why Sringara’s colour is light green. Colours are not mere symbolisms: Krishna is dark blue because such is his aura, which is the kind of explanations given to the spiritual seeker for a practical purpose. A figure called Aroopa (lit.”bodiless”) Laxmi is in the north circuit facing north. Puranas declare that she got this “ugly” form (formless, rather) as she mocked the dark colour of Vishnu. Vishnu thus having rendered his wife unseemly in a moment of hasty indiscretion showered the red kumkumam of Kamakshi on Laxmi resulting in restoration of her beauty. Vishnu is also seen here enjoying this transformation. This place is called ‘Kalvan Sannadi’. So, why is Laxmi, Vishnu’s wife, seated on a pink lotus and wears red clothes? Of course, we can imagine Vishnu as a light green center of a pink lotus. I always wondered why the flowers’ centre is always of different colour than the petals. The “male” (unmanifested) single principle is in the centre, the multiple petals are the manifested Shakthis. Actually, kAmeshvara or nirguNa brahman is like a sheet of canvas which is completely without any colors. Family relationships can be confusing at times: “Pleased with the devotion of Brahma and Narayana, Sri Kamakshi looked at them respectively with her left and right eyes. From her right eye appeared Sri Saraswati (kA) and Sri Lakshmi (mA) appeared from her left eye.” Ka-Ma… Kama???

So, what about the dancer’s costume? What costumes are best for expressing Sringara? If you look at Kamakshi’s costume in the picture below, you will understand what colour is evocative of Sringara. If the dancer appears in some dirty gray costume, there is no chance…. What about the fashion? Few of the dancers know that the currently popular Bharatanatyam costumes were designed 60 years ago by Rukmini Devi’s… Italian seamstress. (Below we explain in detail why Rukmini Devi wanted to eliminate Sringara from the dance – and from the costume too). Prior to that, the devadasis danced in heavy sarees. The next logical step would be to dance in burkas, which would please Osama bin Laden, for sure. However, after the suppression by the Arabs and the British, the soul of India is emerging victorious: the success of the Indian movies is largely due to the emergence of the Sringara-accentuated costumes where, for example, the dancers stomach and shoulders are not covered. Do you know the reason the senior “dancers” (except, perhaps, for Alarmel Valli and Urmila Sathyanarayanan) would hate appearing in costumes like that?

“Sringara appears in the interaction between men and women, and is connected with the fullness of youth”, the latter being an attribute of the devas and the immortal rishis. No temple scupltor so far dared to portray Nataraja in the shape of an ugly crippled old man on a pair of crutches. Well, Osama bin Laden was wiser than Aurangzeb: he sponsored His holiness Shri Syed Sallauddin Pasha to choreograph Bhagawad Gita On Wheels, where Krishna is presented as a neurotic psychopath. Why haven’t the “specially abled” students of Ambika Kameshwar and George Bush bothered to choreograph a Koran-in-used-Sanitary-Napkins, a Bharatanatyam item portraying Mohammed as merely a cruel pedophile or a schizophrenic victim of an African gang rape?

However hard Aurangzeb and King George tried, Hinduism is still somewhat alive. The naked or scantily clad statues of beautiful devas and fascinating apsaras were meant to attract people. Contemporary classical Indian dancers routinely complain of poor attendance at their performances, yet the same dancers are much more daring than the temple sculptors, though in other ways. When the pregnant-looking Sudharani Raghupathi dressed like a clown in a recent ballet was acting as a wretched “Mammudha” (Cupid), didn’t it look far more grotesque and idiotic than the elderly Veronica Castro from “The Rich Also Cry attempting the role of a 18-year-old girl? Well, “when it comes to the veterans, still forces to reckon with in their seventies and even eighties, minor lapses in tone or movement are often forgiven as natural concomitants of age, by an audience drunk on nostalgia

Ugly old clown struggling - before rushing to the toilet?

Guess this ugly old clown’s “feeling”: or is he struggling – before rushing to the toilet?

“It costs about Rs.10 lakhs (to “produce” Mammudha”). Thankfully, we have got some nice sponsors”, proudly announced Sudharani’s son. The rich old dancers don’t cry: they know where to milk some nice idiots to get the funding to fool around and publicly insult the religious feelings of the Hindus. A French poet noted that Manmadan (or Mammudha) himself probably ran away from most places in India on an extended holiday, leaving the country at the mercy of prudent parents and arranged marriages that don’t require any love or – god forbid! – anything from Kama Sutra.

Kama, of course, should not be erroneously interpreted as merely an erotic urge. “Almost all Rasas proceed from the Desire (kama). Kama is of different types. There are for example dharma-kama (passion for virtue), artha-kama (desire for wealth) and moksha-kama (desire for liberation)”. Those who have desire for liberation are a peculiar sort of audience who are attracted to the margi dance, the one Padma Subrahmaniam wanted to resurrect. Desire is the core engine of the universe. Without desires, we cannot do anything unless we apply the karma yogic approach to actions. Mother has three eyes and rules the world as Raja Rajeshwari as Lalitha, beauty of beauties and as a destroyer of all ‘Kamas’ love and thus as Kameswari

Natya, the classical Indian dance is do be done as an offering to the Divine. Fame-seeking, self-promotion and stardom-hunting are not part of Karma Yoga, yet the classical Indian dance instructors are somehow called “gurus”.

Kama is the son of Vishnu, the governing spirit of Sringara, says Natya Shastra. The lesser gods are the inferior manifestations of their “parents” and inhabit the lower worlds (lokas). In Svarga, the lower heaven, Kama is the master of Manas, the sensational mind. While animals and more primitive people have well-developed manas, they lack buddhi, the intuitive intelligence of Chandraloka (Moon world). Just as the light from the Sun is reflected by the Moon (Chandra), so is Kama’s wife Rati a dim and distorted reflection of Lakshmi. Rati, is the name of the sthayi bhava of Love. Lakshmi is called the daughter of the sea; since the moon also appeared from the ocean during the churning, the moon is called her “brother”. By the by, you know who is the owner of the divine cow Kamadhenu?

Kamakshi

Kamakshi

In Tantra, goddess Kamakshi is a form of Tripura Sundari (also called Shodashi or Lalita or by other names). “She is the one whose eyes awaken desire, “She who has beautiful eyes”. (Below we will speak about glances)

The attraction of divine beauty generates the most sublime desire of union with the Divine. Tripura Sundari as Shodasi is represented by a 16-year-old girl (actually, a 16-angle yantra, each angle of different colour, of course), and embodies 16 types of desire. The Shodasi Tantra describes Tripura Sundari as “the radiant light in the eyes of Shiva“. She is described as of dusky color, and is depicted in an intimate pose with Shiva.

To see the reason that the people of high sex appeal are called “hot” , look at Kamakshi. Red. The reason Bharatanatyam dancers are asked to sit in proper araimandi is because this position stimulates the Muladhara chakra (guess what color it is!), so the subjective (and even objective) temperature rises. Want to see? Bring your infrared camera. Scientifically speaking, red is the colour that we subconsciously notice most, therefore it is used as the most important colour in the traffic lights. Red attracts attention. Full stop. If you want to persuade Bharatanatyam dancers to paint their fingers and feet in blue, think twice.

“The radiance of a thousand raising suns, three eyes, resplendent in red clothes, wearing a crown with the crescent moon, holding in her hands a bow of sugarcane, goad, arrows of flowers and a noose.” Oh, the flower-arrows of desire? And the goad of displeasure? Here we see the reference to the twin egocentric reactions of attraction and aversion (râga and dvesha)

Intimacy is a necessary circumstance of every spiritual practice, this is the reason the temple dancers, devadasis, originally danced unwatched in the sanctum sanctorums. But how many of us would be able to pour our innermost feelings in front of a 300-strong crowd made up of drunk foreign tourists chewing chips, and of the sex-starved local cheri boys? Let’s be realistic: 99% of us try to avoid even thinking of any relationship with God. It is much safer not to focus too much on our soul.

Shringara: The clash of civilizations: the Devadasis and the Kalakshetra times

Rukmini Devi Arundale

Rukmini Devi Arundale

Catholic ideals of divinity

Don’t I look sexy, darling?

The young wife of the bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, Rukmini Devi Arundale, had to please the pious Christian conquerors who were used to the western ballet and cabaret dances, and also the degraded Brahmin caste who had lost Natya Veda, an appendix to Sama Veda. She had no choice but to remove any traces of Sringara in Bharatanatyam.. Unfortunately, this kind of a “refinement” cut off the most essential expressions, the movements of the neck, lips, eyes and many more gestures and body movements, the very soul of Sringara, the life of Natya.

Most hip and the chest movements became a taboo. Karanas and angaharas were replaced by “clean” ballet-like moves. After all, Rukmini Devi originally wanted to learn the Russian ballet from Anna Pavlova. Ironically, it is Anna Pavlova who persuaded Rukmini to destroy Bharatanatyam.

E .Krishna Iyer said about Rukmini Devi, “There is no necessity to say that before she entered the field, the art was dead and gone or that it saw a renaissance only when she started to dance or that she created anything new which was not before”

In Chapter 26 we read, “Women’s moves should be in delicate angaharas. The hands, feet and other limbs should be graceful (lalita). But men’s movements of these should be restrained (dhira) or excessive (uddhata)”. “T</em><em>he Kaisiki dance with the Sringara is related to the interaction between a man and woman when they are in love”, yet hardly any classical dancer of today is able to – or would – portray Urvasi’s attempt to seduce Arjuna.

K.J.Sarasa portraying seductive Urvasi

K.J.Sarasa portraying seductive Urvasi

To please the materialistic Indian elite and the “civilized” British colonialists, the spiritual layer was discarded almost totally, and the new notion of “secular” Bharatanatyam started to be marketed for those who had no moksha-kama whatsoever. “One who will perform well the dance created by Mahesvara (Tandava dance), will go free from all sins to the abode of Siva”, unequivocally states Bharata Muni. He did not bother to specify where the folk, ballet or modern dancers will end up. “The Tandava dance is mostly to accompany the worshipping of gods, but its gentler form (sukumara-prayoga) relates to Sringara”. Interestingly, the two correspond to the 2 spiritual methods: the tapasya and the path of surrender to the Divine.

Tandava dance consists of the 108 Karanas, which were wisely banned by Rukmini Devi. The young beautiful Indian girl certainly did not fall in love with the elderly, out-of-shape British gentleman, so no topics of Sringara were allowed for fear of making George Arundale too horny and committing a marital rape. Love and intimacy were simply out of place. “Kama is the attraction between a man and a woman. For all people, this attraction, may end in joy or sorrow. It leads to happiness even in unhappy situations. The union of man and woman is Sringara. It brings them happiness”.

When Balasaraswati asked, “If you remove sringara from dance, what will people like us do?” Rukmini Devi replied, “I have no problem with sex or love (has Rukmini herself experienced ANY?), nor with portraying sringara, but the dance should not be sexy. Sexiness has no place in our arts.” Balasaraswati lashed out at this cleaned up brahminised dance, calling it in her turn ‘vulgar’. So, what exactly appear as “vulgar” to an individual? Every humanoid creature belongs to a certain type or race (check out what type you belong to), and will consider as vulgar everything characteristic of the lower types/races. That’s why you probably don’t feel particularly attracted to monkeys.

Balasaraswati’s clash with Rukmini resemble the clash between the Left Path and the Right Path of Tantra. The yogic point of view contradicts the western science’s. Yogis say that normal women are naturally brahmacharini’s in the sense that they cannot experience any physical “lust” because there is a golden belt of concentrated prana around their lower stomach. Without a physical contact, a lustful desire has to be extraordinarily powerful to pierce this belt. Practically speaking, until she has actually had a physical intercourse, a woman’s body cannot experience any lustful urge, which applies also to the teenage gopis of Vrindavan who certainly had not been exposed to porn movies. After all, the men of Satya Yuga did not even have sex with their wives: the only thought of conceiving a child was enough for the wife to actually conceive a child. In the next Yuga, in case of most men, it was enough for a man to touch a woman’s stomach to make her conceive.

Balasaraswaty obviously did not read the old Natya Shastra (written lo-o-o-o-o-ng before Tamil appeared), otherwise she would not have said, In the 11 early dance forms (performed by Mathavi), valour and wrath are the predominant emotions. Yet, Sringara – which was later to become the ruling mood of abhinaya – was pre-eminent in the Tamil dance tradition right from the beginning“.

Balasaraswaty, a rajadasi who always dreamed of becoming a devadasi, wrote nonsense like this: In the two important dance forms, the court dance and the common dance, which relate respectively to the inner and the outer life of man. Sringara belongs to the court and to the inner life. This explains the eminence of sringara as a mood.”

Balasaraswaty further exposes her shallow-mindedness: The composer of a Sabdam or a Varnam might have dedicated it to a prince or a noble man. But as far as the dancer is concerned, the hero can only be the King of Kings, the Lord of the wide world. It is impossible for her to dedicate her art, which has sanctified her body and has made her heart sacred, to a mere mortal. She can experience and communicate the sacred in what appears to be secular”.

“Microsoft Corporation and the US dollar are the sacred things to me”, says Bill Gates. In fact, most Americans worship the divinely green buck. The sacred is what is the most important in our life (our career, of course!) Did Balasaraswathy mean that the dancers can communicate the sacred even while dancing to a Pepsi-Cola hymn, and fall in love with a Hero Honda motorbike????? And when the dancers from Andhra developed those condom songs for the live demonstrations on the stage, did they actually imagine lingams and Shiva himself by looking at the condoms? I have a big big doubt. Of course, one can write that a saint-poetcan compare the Lord with a rotten egg, but there is a limit in the metaphor, isn’t there? Interestingly, Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer specifically barred his students from performing items dedicated to the non-divine beings. He probably understood that there was a difference between a Disney Land and the Chidambaram Temple. Balasaraswathy didn’t.

Bala continued, “After all, our composers have been steeped in the tradition of bhakti. While singing the praise of secular heroes, they begin to dwell on his devotion to Brihadeeshwara of Tanjavur or to Tyagesa of Tiruvarur or to Padmanabha of Tiruvanandapuram. The dancer, taking the cue, enters the realms of bhakti, enjoys the play and pranks of the deity concerned, and displays them in her abhinaya. The divine, so far mixed with the secular, now becomes explicit in the dance and impresses itself deep in the heart.

The contemporary “secular heroes” are atheists who have no devotion to Brihadeeshwara or Tyagesa or any god except the god of greed, falsehood and deceit.</em></span><span style=”font-family: Times New Roman;”>The very music and the lyrics determine the state of mind of the dancer and the audience, so when the love-songs dedicated to some mean medieval kinglets are recited by a Bharatanatyam dancer, all this play and pranks will look like a horseplay rather than bhakti. Mixing the divine with the secular… is possible only for those like Balasaraswathy who have never had any real spiritual experiences, and who watched Diisney’s Mickey Mouse instead of reading the Mahabharata!. The idea of mixing the divine with the secular is in vogue at the end of Kali Yuga: in the temples they now play… Bollywood and Mollywood pop songs. Soon Michael Jackson’s divine compositions will replace Thyagaraja’s in the temple’s ceremonies..

Balasaraswathy added, “Various rhythmic movements are intertwined with her abhinaya; this saves her from degenerating into the human, and keeps her fresh and pure in the yoga of the dance”.

What is “degenerating into the human“? Silly, this is what Bala was a master of! Have you heard of the Pepsi-Cola yoga and McDonalds yoga? Everything is now yoga in the USA. Even British prostitutes proudly call themselves… devadasis! Oh, how divine are the hamburgers and beer consumed by 300 000 000 self-styled “Tantric yogis of the Vama Marga” of America! How divine are their SUV cars! Oh, how romantic! No wonder Pamela Anderson is considered a saint, and George Bush an Avatar!

There is indeed no limit to the human imagination and the human talent for self-deception. There is no chance for a contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer to enter into a true Samadhi by focussing on praises to some medieval employers of mediocre poets/composers. If you are such a great yogini, you can concentrate on a piece of garbage and see the Brahman there, but Balasaraswathy was certainly not capable of doing so. Actually, I don’t know any dancer who could. Ok, if you want a challenge, take a commercial song praising inflated mattresses, choreograph to it, and see how divinely inspired will your audience be when they watch you dance and listen to the song. Try, idiot, try. Imagine that the Mattress is Sri Krishna, and try to fall in love with Him. Work hard to convince the audience.

Today’s elderly dancers conveniently ignore how the early devadasis, who were celibate all their life, understood and portrayed Sringara. “Only a woman who gets up in a morning to find her lover gone knows what viraha is,” stubbornly repeated Balasaraswati, a wannabe devadasi. Understanding the symbol does not, however, automatically bring the understanding of what this symbol stands for. Symbolism is lost when metaphors start being taken literally. It is not necessary to become and American astronaut and taste the moon sand in one’s mouth in order to know what kind of life is there in Chandraloka. The modern dance gurus like to complain that even the children in their early teens somehow can’t understand the adults’ relationships and cannot “adequately” portray them. What is “adequate”? There are two warring schools of abhinaya. The “realistic” or even grotesque abhinaya is portrayed by the basest of actors in the Indian movies. Should classical dancers try to be as vulgar and primitive as Bollywood?

Gowry Ramnarayan, like many elderly dancers, was mistaken to believe that Sringara’s expression is somehow limited to a sensual longing: “Abhinaya posed problems peculiar to the times. Earlier, the devadasis had other performers in the family, street and village as role models to serve as the basis of a personal style. But the new upper class entrants had no such visual examples. How could they pick up the techniques of abhinaya from their male te achers to evoke the essentially feminine experiences detailed in the songs they danced to? Especially as the nattuvanars were hampered by the need to curtail the sringara quotient for the new class of trainees. “This art is just emerging out of decadence. Let us keep it dignified,” was the refrain of Chockalingam Pillai. An old student recalls, “Edo oru vahaiyil varugudu” was taught to me as a bland and literal “Something is happening to me”. It was much later that I realised it referred to a woman’s sensual longing!”

Well, what did she understand by “sensual“? And by “longing“? Natya Shastra says that longing (abhilasa) is the first stage of love. The next stages are Anxiety, Recollection, Emuneration of Merits, Distress, Lamentation, Insanity, Sickness, Stupor. If the union has not been achieved, the last stage of such love ends in death. For some reasons Bharata Muni advises that this stage should not be presented on stage. Unlike in Bollywood, in Natya “There should be on the stage no ascending of the bed-stead, no bath, no use of unguents and collyrium, no decoration of the body and no doing of the hair…The prohibited mode of dress will suit only the women of inferior type because of their low nature. But they too are not to be represented as doing what is improper”.

Sringara: Expression of love and the connections with other moods

Natya Shastra puts it plainly that the young audience are only attracted to the scenes of love. The youth happily abandoned the bland classical Indian dance performances for the spicey movies’ abundant love scenes, even though these were normally rendered in the most vulgar and crude manner. The current ever-growing popularity of porn videos among the Indian youth proves that no cinema can compete with something that appeals to the lowest (and strongest?) of the animal instincts. Not all people are just two-legged dogs. We are all different. “A woman of high family is to awaken her beloved by the sound of her ornaments; the courtesan by the sweet scents; the handmaid by fanning the beloved with her clothes”.

Alarmel Valli said, “Though Chokkalingam Pillai often told us not to dance like a jadam (zombie), I suspect that the masters had to shed much of the full blooded quality of the repertoire to be accepted by the `respectable’ Mylapore matrons. I sensed that when they described Pandanallur Jayalakshmi’s abhinaya, for padams like `Velavare.”‘

A courtesan overcome with love should be represented by making her express the feelings by casting side-long glances, touching the ornaments, itching the ears, scratching the ground with her toes, showing the breasts and the navel, cleansing the nails and gathering (adjusting) her hair”. On treating a lover at fault, “When taken by her hair, hand or dress the woman should enjoy the touch of the beloved in such a way that he may not perceive it. The woman should slowly release her hair from the hands of her beloved one by standing first on her toes with limbs bent and then taking to the Asvakranta posture”. The contemporary classical Indian dancers forgot how use their eyes, even though there are 36 glances in Natya Shastra.. “The glance where the eyelids are not fully opened, the look is sweet, and eyeballs are still, and there are tears of joy, is called Snigdha (loving). It grows out of love”. “The glance in which the eyes are playful, tearful, half-closed, upper lid is drooping and eyelashes are throbbing, is called Kamya”. But… will the spectators in the last rows in a huge auditorium see your eyes at all???

Natya Shastra states that “Sringara is of 2 kinds: in union and in separation… Sringara in separation should be represented by indifference, languour, fear, jealousy, fatigue, anxiety, yearning, drowsiness, sleep, dreaming, awakening, illness, insanity, epilepsy, inactivity, fainting, death and other conditions…. Sringara in separation relates to a state of maintaining optimism arising out of yearning and anxiety”. Indeed, any mood – except for the happy Hasya – proceeds from Sringara in separation. The white-coloured Hasya is there in the playful joyfulness of love.

Sringara originates from the sthayi bhava of Rati. Its soul is the bright attire, for whatever in this world is bright, pure and beautiful is associated with Rati. For example, one who is elegantly dressed is called a lovely person, sringarin”. Sringara Rasa arises in connection with favourable seasons, garlands, ornaments, enjoyment of the company of beloved ones, music and poetry, and going to the garden and roaming there. It should be represented on the stage by means of composure of the eyes and the face, sweet and smiling words, satisfaction and delight, and graceful movements of limbs”. In Priyadarshini Govind’s recent workshop on Manmadan in Narada Gana Sabha, did we see any of such expressions and movements? No, we didn’t!

Srungara: age, innocence and little kittens

Gods have 3 stages of life. People have one more: the old age. Why don’t the Divine Beings grow old, and always stay youthful? Krishna is imaged as a little boy or a teenage girl, Manjari, and when we see a clumsy ugly old dancer trying to portray such roles, how disgusting it comes out, even if the this old dancer’s students say, “Wonderful! Fantastic!”.”Dance students learn how to be professional liars, not professional dancers“, aptly noted one person.

The King is Naked, and that’s what we see. Bharata Muni bluntly puts it that gods must be portrayed by young girls only as“the nature of gods is delicate”. Gods are not just delicate but playful and care-free too. These qualities neither.the adult cats nor humans manage to preserve. The little kittens are lovely, but old grumpy cats?

It looks so flirtatious but childish and innocent at the same time“, commented one person on YouTube. The children will look fascinating without sexually arousing the viewers. Innocence is the quality of the ambience we create. Few can clean the atmosphere of all thoughts and desires of the sexual intercourse. In a traditional Bharatanatyam recital, the first items are to purify the ambience. For young children, it is easy. As we know, the Ayappan temples admit only the girls before they attain puberty.

The most disastrous consequences of losing touch with our inner worlds after reaching puberty and establishing “an adult, down-to-earth relationship” are explained by… Oscar Wilde: “

“before I knew you, acting was the one reality of my life. It was only in the theatre that I lived. I thought that it was all true. I was Rosalind one night and Portia the other. The joy of Beatrice was my joy, and the sorrows of Cordelia were mine also. I believed in everything. The common people who acted with me seemed to me to be godlike. The painted scenes were my world. I knew nothing but shadows, and I thought them real. You came–oh, my beautiful love!–and you freed my soul from prison. You taught me what reality really is. Tonight, for the first time in my life, I saw through the hollowness, the sham, the silliness of the empty pageant in which I had always played”.

Adi Shankara has Kanchi Kamakshi in his mental vision. Manmatha also has sugarcane bow and flower arrows. Devi also holds them. The meaning is Manmatha has surrendered his weapons to the Devi. Subtle meaning is for a Devi upaasakar, Manmatha will not come near! Devi carries in her lower left arm, the sugarcane bow with a string of bees and in her lower right arm the five arrows of five flowers. In her upper right arm the goad and in her upper left arm the PasA, the noose. Shining like coral is the devi’s waist which is slightly bent by the weight of her breasts, resembling the frontal ear lobes of a young elephant. Such a form of Devi is favourite of Lord Shiva who is the Tripura Samhara.

Well, there are some10-year-old children’s faces that look as if they were 60. The drug addicts grow older very fast. One of very few things 50-year-old women may manage to preserve well may be their faces. Alarmel Valli’s and Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s faces look very youthful. These are exceptions. Most 50-year-old womens faces look like men’s. Not just the facial features, but the voice’s timbre can either change a lot or change very little, depending on our feelings, thoughts, actions. “You know why I came to look so ugly and boring?”, asks K.J.Sarasa,”It’s because I have been teaching all those clumsy rich students whom I hate!”

Sringara: grace and beauty

Most of the classical Indian dance performances nowadays take place in the evening, yet few know that 27<sup>th Chapter reads: “In the evening, the items portraying Sringara in the Kaisiki style, full of vocal and instrumental music, should be performed”. Soft grace and tender beauty are the expressions of Lakshmi. “Everyone’s ordinary feeling, when based on Sringara and when it reveals itself through graceful movements (lalitabhinaya), is called the graceful expression of feeling (hela)”. What is grace? Easier to say what is not: the funeral procession’s dances resemble a heavy metal rock disco, when people move their limbs mechanically, robot-like. Being able to contract only large groups of muscles will not make you a dancer. “Graceful movement of hands, feet, brows, eyes, lips, etc made by women is known as lalita” . Graceful movements are the free movements of the pranas in our body. With age and with a lack of regular practice, there comes a degradation and loss of the nerve cells as the dancers lose control of more and more muscles.

very senior bharatanatyam dancer

Shri Shri Radha-Krishna who are glorious with the splendor of youth, who are filled with the beauty and handsomeness of youth, who are two monsoon clouds of the nectar of handsomeness and beauty, Shri Shri Radha-Krishna who taste the nectar of joyful pastimes, Shri Shri Radha-Krishna who, gazing at each other’s limbs, give a festival of bliss to each other’s eyes, . . .

She had laughed at him and answered that wicked people were always very old and very ugly”. The ugly things are soon forgotten, but Nefertiti’s and all things beautiful stay for long, very long. If this girl can give a soul to those who have lived without one, if she can create the sense of beauty in people whose lives have been sordid and ugly, if she can strip them of their selfishness and lend them tears for sorrows that are not their own, she is worthy of all your adoration..When she acts, you will forget everything. These common rough people, with their coarse faces and brutal gestures, become quite different when she is on the stage..

“Classical Indian dance” is supposedly “classical” because of something in it that has survived millenniums. In dreams, even the 100-year-olds see themselves as… 18-year-olds. After we die, we look as young as 18- in our subtle body. There are no wrinkles, no bellies, no sinewy hands, no deformed noses and no slouched backs. All that differs is how dark our pranas have become here and there. No need to spend your money on skin fairness creams! ...the face on the canvas bear the burden of his passions and his sins; that the painted image might be seared with the lines of suffering and thought

There is a man the size of a thumb seated in our heart”, mention the Upanishads. “God created man after His Own image”, says the Bible. If you saw your soul (the one in the heart is called Chaitya Purusha), you probably don’t remember seeing any nails or hair on your arms or any teeth. That’s the kind of the body a Bharatanatyam dancer with his makeup and his costume are to look like. We try to make people forget our body’s animality and try to imagine what the next human race – after Homo Sapiens – will look like.

Like madhurya (sweetness) in the vocal music arises out of the effortlessness of the singing, so does grace arises if there is a relaxed and joyful state of the limbs. “The change of limbs (angaja) is of 3 kinds, next the natural (sahaja) change of 10 kinds, and involuntary (a-yatnaja) change is of 7 kinds”. Here is what modern Bharatanatyam or Odissi dancers are scared to admit: they cannot move! “The involuntary (natural) graces of women are Beauty (sobha), Charm (kanti), Delicacy (madhurya), Radiance (dipti), Self-Control (dhairya), Courage (pragalbhya) and Dignity (audarya)”. The success of the Indian movies, not the classical Indian dance, is due to the film directors’ success in selecting the actresses that posess the necessary qualities for a particular role. Anita Ratnam writes, “At least with Shobana, one is not confused with her blatant sexuality and commercial eyelash fluttering, hip swaying style. She is over 35, a movie star and only mother roles being offered to her in films”. About Anita herself, The New Indian Express’ article’s title was “MAKING ‘FACES’ AT BHARATANATYAM“, mocking her attempt to present the clumsy American gimmicks as “classical Indian dance”.

Identifying Sringara as “Beauty” has been the latest trend in the dance community, especially in the US, where the physical perfection has become a national religion so much the gyms with cosmetic surgeons replaced churches and priests.“Decoration of limbs on account of good physical form, youth and loveliness being rendered manifest after enjoyment is called Beauty (shobha)”. Shobha is elsewhere translated as Brilliance. Brilliance is literally the irratiation of the prana. A healthy and happy person irradiates joy.

What are the things the adult dancers have lost? “The 10 natural graces (alamkara) of women are: sportive mimicry (lila), amorous gesture (vilasa), dishabile (vicchitti), confusion (vibhrama), hysterical mood (kilakincita), affection (mottayita), pretended anger (kuttimita), affected coldness (bibboka), lolling (lalita) and indifference (vihrita)”. Most of these things are nowhere to be found in the contemporary classical dance performance, especially this particular element: “Dishabille (viccitti) is the great beauty that results from the slightly careless placing of garlands, clothes, ornaments and unguents”. Well, a few schools occasionally allow the dancers to have lovelocks. LOVE-LOCKS?

If you want to see how the modern (western, to be precise) dance is different from true classical dance, look at the range of movements. “Moderation in the movement of limbs in all conditions, especially in Radiance (dipti) and in Lolling (lalita), is called Delicacy (madhurya)”. After the dancers grow beyond their early teens, their performances lose many of the involuntary changes, and all the delicacy, brilliance, charm and grace is gone, often thanks to the gurus’ over-corrections. Compare this girl and her again 4 years later:

The sahaja kind of changes is often replaced by some artificial (“clean”) robotic moves. “Erotic movements and changes of features which are not deliberate and which grow out of a tender nature, constitute Playfulness (lalita)”.

After 16, such spontaneous and uninhibited movements disappear gradually. “you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away” Even if someone tried to restore these lost capacities, such attemps are as good as trying to attach a prosthesis to a semi-paralized body.

In America, like many people observe, they normally lose everything not by the age of 16 but much earlier: by the age of… 2.

when my mother last week corrected my abhinaya (expression) in a piece I’m preparing for a November performance, I’ll admit I was somewhat diffident about performing the piece at all. This was because I wondered whether there was even a possibility to capture such an emotion: the shyness exhibited by a young bride when her to-be husband touches her hand for the first time. I made several attempts at this expression as my mother repeatedly told me that my expression was far too bold and needed to look more coy. It made me wonder, however, if girls growing up in America are even capable of expressing the emotion at all.

No, the superficial NRI’s normally can’t: they are devoid of lasya. After getting used to the artificial strawberry flavor, they can’t distinguish it from the REAL strawberry. After watching too many Hollywood cartoons, they can’t distinguish hava from bhava. “Bhavas which are full of Sattva appear in the relation to the people of the opposite sex”, explains Bharata Muni in Chapter 24. “And the ordinary expression, hava, should be marked as relating to its various conditions. There emotion (hava) should be known as arising from the mind (citta) and manifesting itself in changes of eye-brows and the Recaka of the neck, indicative of Sringara”. Many Kalakshetra style teachers, such as Urmila Sathyanarayanan, condemn any recakas of the neck as…. “childish”! The reason we like children’s performances more is simple: they move their necks in a far more interesting way than the stiff-necked senior dancers. Children’s faces produce 1000 more expressions too.

Shrungara, bhakti, moral restrictions and religious prejudice

Madhurya-kadambini’s 7th Chapter says, “The devotees relishing different moods are of five types: santa (neutral), dasya (servants), sakhya (friends) vatsalya (parents), and madhurya (amorous lovers). The names of the ratis thus differ in them: santa-bhaktas have santi-rati (neutral mood), dasya-bhaktas have priti-rati (affectionately serving mood), sakhya-bhaktas have sakhya-rati (fraternal love), fathers and mothers have vatsalya-rati (parental love) and preyasi-bhava-bhaktas have priyata-rati (amorous love).”

Priyata-rati (amorous love) may be the highest form of Bhakti, but is also the most difficult to portray in dance, especially if the dancers know only 10% of the Natya Shastra’s arsenal. S Kalidas, former art critic with India Today observed, “When Devadasis were edged out of their traditional arenas by girls from urban middle class families, the art of abhinaya suffered. Middle class mores demanded that exciting sringara be replaced by boring bhakti.” Boring Bhakti??? Even the common uneducated audience of the pit and gallery lost their interest in the play. They got restless, and began to talk loudly and to whistle. The Jew manager, who was standing at the back of the dress-circle, stamped and swore with rage.

Shri Shri Radha-Krishna whose waists are graceful and playfully curved, whose broad hips are decorated with tinkling belts, whose delightful thighs are two graceful boats in an ocean of passionate amorous pastimes, whose lotus feet are decorated with tinkling anklets, the glorious moonlight of whose toenails makes millions of Kamadevas bow their heads in shame . . .

Caitanya-caritamrta mentions that Mahaprabhu came to distribute the four spiritual sentiments of Vraja loka: dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, and sringara. How come the dancers forgot Sringara and were content with expressions of piousness and devotion withing the boundaries permitted in the Middle East? The “morals” (Semitic customs) of the Arab and the British replaced the traditional Indian, Vedic values. Despite being prescribed by Agama Shastras as an intrinsic element of the Sodasa Upacharas, Natya was conveniently substituted by rice offerings. The Arabs invader in Egypt even cut off the falluses (that symbolised the creative power) of the statues of various Egyptian gods.

In the good old tradition of Inquisition when all beautiful women in Western Europe were burnt alive for “witchcraft”, the Pope himself stated that the Hindu gods and especially the seductive apsaras, such as Menaka and Urvasi, are highly immoral nymphs and evil spirits. For Chandralekha, Bharatanatyam itself has become a diabolical art! The pious Christians shrug on imagining Brahma chasing his own daughter. Is Kama Sutra still considered by the Christian clergy as the most dangerous work of Devil? How did the Indians abandon their ancient beliefs – and clothes? GenX believes Draupadi is merely an immoral woman who had too many husbands. But drinking imported brandy and dancing salsa in bars is now a high social status symbol.

Varieties of attraction , sex appeal, role of the imagination and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream

We have to distinguish between the attraction on the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and pranic levels. Someone with a spiritual inclination may be fascinated by a little flower. An idea may appear captivating to a philosopher. A voice may be entrancing to our aesthetic and vital mind. There is also the attraction that can turn on the animal instincts in a horny creature. Dogs are exited to sniff the fragrance of meat. A male spider is exited to discover a female spider ready to mate. What neither dogs nor spiders understand is how on earth (or rather, in the Middle East) the excessive sexual activity came to be looked down upon as a major sin while gluttony and alcoholism and other vices are still considered as “minor” weaknesses!

Prana, or vital energy, reflects the inherent duality of the manifest existence. Prana circulates very much like electricity: its intensity depends on the difference between the 2 extremes. Therefore the strongest pranic magnetism is between an extremely feminine woman and an extremely masculine man. On a full moon day too. Besides, you can experience the attraction on all levels only when that person is of your human type or of a higher type (see more detail below).

Perhaps, you would be curious to see Narthaki Nataraj’s comments on this score, wouldn’t you? As well as on the following, “The third gender of people will be hermaphrodites in whose case women’s gait, with the exclusion of their (partial) male character, should be applied”. At Bharata Muni’s times the third gender people did not have any problems identifying themselves as neutral gender. Today, due to the social stigmas imported from the Middle East, they try to identify themselves as either men or women. Narthaki Nataraj, despite being ineligible by Bharata Muni for performing Sringara items, still claims that he/she somehow “does” it. Pure fraud.

The Arab women wear burkas. Why? Many Sheikhs get sexually aroused whenever they see a woman’s hand or feet, and become totally insane whenever they see a beautiful woman’s face or, Allah forbid, her loose hair. At the same time, you may find on a nudist beach in Holland the demonstration that men there don’t at all get sexually aroused with all those naked beautiful women around. We may remember that the Indian women did not cover their breasts before the Arab invaders started to change our customs. Gradually, the customs of the barbaric invaders came to be accepted as “Indian” moral standards. Cricket became India’s national game.The violin became a “traditional Carnatic instrument”. The nude statues of deities started being covered in “proper” garments.

A visit to San Francisco, the world’s capital of the homosexuals, shows that some men or even women get to feel utterly horny at the sight of a piece of underwear or the sight of a pig. Even a car or a motorbike is presented to us as “sexy” in TV commercials. Will some try to rape their innocent vehicles or refrigerators one day?

Contrary to what you may imagine, it is not people that invented homosexuality, even if the western “culture” is now actively propagating it. Deprived of a female company for a long while, a sex-starved male dog will try to rape even male dogs without bothering first to check out their sex. If no other dogs are to be found, this dog will try to rape even an old rag (here is the origin of sexual fetishism), which probably appears to its imagination as a lovely bitch. Imagination is an essential ingredient in masturbation and homosexuality. With a good dose of imagination (or brandy), one can be attracted even to Kalanidhi Narayanan, Prince Charles or a pig.

lovely senior dancer

lovely senior dancer

When some rasikas enjoy the performances of Swapna Sundari, I get an impression they are eagerly masturbating. Not surprisingly, most of them don’t actually watch Swapna’s dancing but close their eyes and imagine some other dancers.

This type of imagination is rooted in idleness, a state unfamiliar to those seeking spiritual enlightment. These are not interested in any entertainment just to kill the time. In Shakespeare‘s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Oberon punishes Titania’s disobedience by asking the mischievous Puck (who did Kama’s role) to apply the magical juice from a flower called “love-in-idleness”. (Note that Kamakshi’s arrows are made of flowers like kamalam, raktakairavam,kahLaram, indIvaram, sahakAram). Titania magically falls in love with an ass-headed crude laborman Nick Bottom the Weaver. The BBC reports’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4748292.stm ) headlines are: “A Sudanese man has been forced to take a goat as his “wife”, after he was caught having sex with the animal“.

Sringara: not all cultures and sub-races are created equal

Natya Shastra mentions 3 types of human beings, the noble, the average and the low. From the most subtle and refined to the most gross there may be but 6 steps. In the expression of Hasya rasa, a slight smile (smita), smile (hasita), gentle laughter (vihasita), laughter of ridicule (upahasita), crude laughter (apahasita) and excessive laughter (atihasita). Atihasita happens to be Kali’s attribute because Kali does not care to be attractive, she is the opposite of Lakshmi. Kali sports a garland of sculls. Not many women are like her. Every normal woman (except for those whose soul is a unadulterated vibhuti of Kali!) harbours a hidden desire to be considered as attractive.

The blossiming flower of youth

Sringara is associated with the blossoming of youth, says Bharata Muni

not Alarmel Valli

“Priya had left no stone unturned in her quest to be convincing as a beautiful Amba wronged by Bhishma, who is subsequently reborn as man-woman Shikhandi”

Priya Murle put it this way, “I often have quarrels with people who call me “fat”. I really feel bad about it. At times, I feel that I should do something about it and start working out”. Priya Murle said: “Why go after performances? I broke all the mirrors in my home after people started asking me why Sudharani allowed me a quota to try to pretend that I can still “dance” in her DVDs instead of Sri Devi”. The secret of remaining young is never to have an emotion that is unbecoming.

Natya Shastra’s 24<sup>th Chapter classifies women of various nature into different categories – and the sexual habits are one of the most important parameters. It would be a political blunder to publish a classification of the well-known dancers of today according to Bharata Muni’s categories: Devi, Asura, Gandharva, Raksasa, Naga, Bird, Pisaca, Yaksha, Tiger, Human, Monkey, Elephant, Deer, Fish, Camel, Makara, Ass, Pig, Horse, Buffalo, Goat, Dog and Cow. What if Chitra Visweswaran will be classified as… Yes, we are all different

The classification of human beings is further clarified by the following: “Prajapati manifests as Vishnu Upendra incarnate in the animal or Pashu in whom the four Manus have already manifested themselves, and the first human creature who appears is, in this Kalpa, the Vanara, not the animal Ape, but man with the Ape nature. His satya yuga is the first Paradise, for man begins with the Satya Yuga, begins with a perfected type, not a rudimentary type. The animal forms a perfect type for the human Pashu and then only a Manuputra or Manu, a human, a true mental soul, enters into existence upon earth, with the full blaze of a perfect animal-human mentality in the animal form. These are man’s beginnings. He rises by the descent of ever higher types of Manu from the Bhuvaloka—first he is Pashu then Pishacha, then Pramatha, then Rakshasa, then Asura, then Deva, then Siddha”. It means, genetically we are different. The lower you are on this scale, the greater foodie you are (which affects your waist line!), and the more addicted you can become to drugs.

Mylapore brahmin at the end of kali yuga

Mylapore brahmin at the end of kali yuga

Naturally, the more refined human beings will portray any relationship between a Man and God in a very different way from how the Pishacha actors would render it. Moreover, the rendering of a Pashu who has actually had no spiritual experience will be very different from the Asura who may have had some. “Women of the superior and the middling types should not use any lipstick” may sound like a heresy to the contemporary dancer’s ear – only if the owner of these ears believes herself to be wiser than Bharata Muni.

The abolition of the caste system may be a politically progressive step and it is very fashionably democratic to proclaim all people in Kali Yuga as equally shudras. But I cannot take it seriously even if a well-known modern dance Pashu writers like Sunil Kothari wants us to believe that “There is much scope for inter-changeability of the marga and the desi. This only indicates that in aesthetics we need not consider hierarchy – that one is superior to the other”. Well, in what kind of “aesthetics”? The westernized “modern aesthetics” now puts all art on the level of such “compositions” made out of garbage dump items. The true Indian aesthetics has always been founded on the Hindu spirituality which is by nature very hierarchical. In spirituality, we have to find out where the source of a particular inspiration lies, as there are many hierarchical levels.


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Indian Fine Arts Society’s Bharatanatyam competition. Swathy Ashok vs Dhivya Prabhakar. Divya. Bharatanatyam . Bharata natyam . Bharatnatyam . Bharathanatyam . Classical Indian dance and dancers in Chennai.

Bharatanatyam in Chennai

(this is a curious post 🙂
It is related to our post on Bharatanatyam competitions

In this big post I will deal with the following topics:

  • the role and mode of operation of major Bharatanatyam-supporting organizations in Chennai
  • social pressures, political undercurrents, and establishment of standards in Bharatanatyam
  • dancers’ constitution, and extreme varieties of Bharatanatyam (like this one)

Indian Fine Arts Society (IFAS): lessons from the Bharatanatyam competition

Results:

1st prize: Swathy Ashok (16 years old)

2nd prize: K.Padmaja

3rd place: Dhivya Prabhakar

Other contestants:

Kiran Rajagopalan

K.Sneha

Sri Krupa

Revathy Kumar

Jai Quehaeni (15 years old)

Anagha Bharat

Varna Sampath

This year’s competition was judged by Srekala Bharath, Madurai R. Muralidharan and Padmini Dorairaj (I bet you have not even heard of the last one). It should be said that, at least in the past 10 years, the IFAS judges normally try to appear as objective as they can. They try to do their best not because they value Bharatanatyam so much but because IFAS is THE place where the schools establish their reputation today.

Politically speaking, the judges learnt that, next year, the gurus from other schools may be judging this year’s judges’ students, so they try to be fair. “Fairness” is a flexible notion. A few years ago, the top two scorers were given a “fair offer”: “Since both of you performed more or less on the same level, the one who pays a bribe (rs.60000) will be selected as the winner of the 1st prize”.

Auctioning the 1st prize among the top 2-3 contestants is nothing new, and is very safe: the judges can maintain their “clean” reputation as they are not required to disclose and substantiate their marks, nor how the scores for each parameter are weighted against each other. The IFAS does not maintain any video records, so there are no traces, and no ground for an appeal. No chance to embarrass the judges. No investigation.

Some basic visibility of honesty, propriety and fairness is what, I guess, one of IFAS’s heavy-weights, Chitra Visweswaran, tried to import from Britain along with the ballet. This, in turn, is supposed to be the engine of progress, the slow progress of the unification of the standards of Bharatanatyam and their establishment. It is also an encouragement for the contestants: if you want to win the 1st prize, maintain at least a 25% quality margin (when the difference is obvious, the judges will not risk their reputation). If you are only 15% better, the second best may pay the bribe and get the 1st place. Got it? Don’t you know how George Bush won his first election? “If we add more than 10% of plain rice to the Basmati rice, it will be much more noticeable”, said an unidentified rice dealer.

This year Padmaja was slightly less impressive than Swathy, and Dhivya did not even know (as of Jan 6) that she was the third. 🙂 2 of the judges are quite wealthy too, and probably not interested in anything less than Rs.20 lakhs, which is what nobody would be willing to pay.  The richer the judges, the better for the contestants. 🙂

Anyway, the judges came up with 4 criteria (equally weighted):

  1. costume & music
  2. choreography
  3. nritta
  4. abhinaya

The criteria are nothing unusual, but, as you see, only 50% of the total marks depended on the dancer himself/herself. “We are judging the team, not the dancer alone”. Had the contestants been told by which criteria they would be judged? No, they did not know anything.

It is a Top Secret how the 10 contestants are selected (hand-picked rather) for the IFAS competition.The schools, or rather the clans, decide it between themselves according to these clans’ political weight. In other words, if you are an outsider, there is no chance you are going to be selected as a contestant.

IFAS has a policy of expanding its influence geographically – in the way a political party does. Thus, they sometimes invite outstanding dancers from outside of Chennai too. Apart from this year’s Bangalore’s Varna Sampath, the participants included 2 other “geographical” dancers: one is from Coimbatore (the green-eyed K.Sneha) and another from the USA (Kiran Rajagopalan). I suspect IFAS, just like the Music Adademy’s “Spirit of Youth”, does not have a policy of allowing too strong outsiders into its competition, which is purely a “family event”.

While Kiran was obviously thrusted upon IFAS by A.Lakshman (this Malaysian-born guru is a No.1 choice for dancers who need a promoter/manager rather than a guru). Had A.Lakshman not realized that Jyotsna Jagannathan would have been a much stronger candidate? He probably had, but, as a head of a Bharatanatyam “family”, A.Lakshman had to distribute the “opportunities” among his students in a more or less egalitarian way – not according to their talent or skills alone.

The modern gurus face a lot of pressures that they tend to succumb to. The gurus of the past, such as Subbaraya Pillai, were much more steadfast and firm in their ways: art for them was above political or business considerations. This is exactly the reason that the managers of many (or most?) sabhas have a big grudge against the gurus: “These fellows cannot be trusted: they will always have a reason not to send their best student to a competition”.

Amudha Dandayudahpani brought a somewhat inferior dancer, K.Sneha. Amudha’s daughter, K.M.D.Madhula, narrowly missed winning the 1st prize in a controversial judgement in 2006. Roja Kannan, one of the judges, stated, “As far as the IFAS competition is concerned I was not the only judge and so it is not right for me to disclose the parameters on which we based our judgement.. It was a team judgement where all of us had detailed discussions about each competitor and then arrived at the results based on the marks each one had scored on the different parameters, and so I have no right to disclose certain facts in this particular column without the consent of the other judges…Also why a certain candidate did not win and why a certain other candidate won is not for rasikas like you in the audience to ask me. “.Had the judges discussed it publicly, wouldn’t they be red-faced? Suvarchala, the 1st prize winner in 2006, was slightly better at nritta, but that was all.

Instead of R.S.Keerthana (a student of Radhika Surajit), this “slot” was suddenly replaced by Radhika’s guru’s student Sri Krupa, who is, incidentally, prof.Raghuraman’s daughter, totally out of shape. This replacement suggests the existence of the quota allocation system by which each clan is allocated a slot which it fills according to its own (not IFAS’s) considerations.

The proof that these considerations are often purely political can be seen from the fact that the winner of the 2009 IFAS competition, Swathy Ashok, is – even according to Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s own words – quite inferior to another of Urmila’s students: Amrita Varshini Murali (I cannot recollect Amrita taking part in the IFAS competition before). Why was it Swathy Ashok then who was sent to win the 1st prize? That these are the thoughts crossing Amrita Varshini’s mind is beyond all doubt. And that she will not ask this question of her guru is also beyond all doubt. But the grudge will remain hidden deep in her mind. No doubt.

Shobana came with Revathy Kumar. Why did she bring a stiff and quite clumsy student with horrible expressions that looked particularly horrible with the vertical-only light of the Balamadir German Hall? I cannot believe Shobana does not have far better students, or maybe Shivani Shandiliya and Anuroopitha are too young? To bring Revathy was tantamount to a suicide, and Shobana probably was well aware of it. Hmmmm… Or maybe Shobana wanted to shock the judges? She does not care about the mores, after all. You didn’t know that, eh? 🙂

Why did Jayanthi Subramaniam send Anagha Bharat this year (when she is grown out of shape) but not 2 years ago, when Anagha had a real chance of winning? This year Jayanthi Subramaniam’s other students, such as Deepta Jayakar or Ashwini Viswanathan, would surely have stood better chances.

It is difficult to believe that Varna Sampath represented Padmini Ramachandran’s best students. How can Varna compare with Kirti Ramgopal or Navya Natarajan or Shilpa Uthappa? Varna’s abhinaya, in particular, was totally inadequate and disjointed. Even during the song in Kannada. It is because – while dancing – she does not vividly imagine the story, or at least there is no continuation in her imagining. It is easier to imagine with one’s eyes closed, but harder with one’s eyes open. If you imagine well, the images will be clear and colourful (not gray). The stronger your imagination, the more powerful effect it will have on the spectators. This is how hypnosis works.

The IFAS system seems to grant a guru/clan a slot only in a particular year, not more than once in 3 years’ time. So if this guru does not strong students (in the age range of 14 to 20) in a particular year… Interestingly, the expansion of the lower age limit from 18 to 14 lead to the 14-year-old Archana Raja’s winning the second prize. Would the expansion of the upper age limit to 25 bring in stronger contestants too?

Padmaja may be Divyasena’s best student indeed (but Shyamala is not worse).It was clear that Parvathy Ravi Ghantasala did send her best student, Dhivya Prabhakar (who was not given her due prominence in Parvathy’s DVD videos ), – perhaps Parvathy thinks that the fatter and clumsier the dancer, the better. Dhivya is probably the world’s most delicate and tender Bharatanatyam dancer, full of extreme lasya, who sometimes does not understand the difference between Bharatanatyam and Odissi or Mohiniattam.

The reason that it was Swathy Ashok rather than Dhivya Prabhakar who got the 1st prize is quite obvious too. Swathy is far more rajasic than Dhivya, who is a purely sattvic type fit to be a devadasi dancing in a mandappam in some temple. Dhivya is far more elaborate in her intricate movements, and does not understand that the salangai have to produce a sharper sound. She dances like a fairy on flower petals. Very relaxing. You may fall into a meditation or asleep 🙂

Swathy’s dance is scintillating, sparkling with torrents of energy thrown onto the rasikas. I asked Sneha, “How can you hope to win if Swathy does 2 steps where you do 1?”  Clearly, Amudha has to enhance her choreography and music.

There are remarkable differences in the constitution of the dancers (remember Natya Shastra’s classification?). Dhivya’s body is an ethereal combination of air and water, while Swathy is made of fire and earth, and she can do the tandava very well. Dhivya’s “sword strikes” appear to be more like the gentle breeze moving cobweb. Dhivya’s light, low-contrast costume was a good reflection of her nature.

Taking into accound the judges’ minds, the outcome of the competition is not a surprise. In any case, these two girls’ talents are a clear indication that their souls are at least partially made up of the apsaras’ emanations. I was wondering why Brahma took pains to create 26 apsaras and not 1 or 2. Obviously, these 26 are different combinations of the 5 elements and 3 gunas. But then, why Urvasi is considered to be the best one? Probably it is a question of the best ratio of the constituents.

The history of IFAS competition has seen its ups and downs. While some dancers probably felt badly after their hopes of winning the 1st prize were shattered and they were left with the idea of how unjust the world is, the other dancers’ resolve appears to have been strengthened by their “failures” which were blessings in disguise. Had they won the 1st prize, I suspect they would have imagined they had already reached the pinnacle of perfection, and might prefer to rest on their laurels.

December season started: with Bharatanatyam…. and Suddha Nrittam performed by Manasvini Ramachandran!

The mad rat race started! 🙂 Last year 75 sabhas organized 2000 concerts (mainly music) during the December Season, leaving the absolute majority of the performers frustrated seeing fewer than 30 rasikas attending their programmes. The competition is tough, even tougher than the rush-hour traffic in Chennai.

Meet Manasvini Ramachandran

Instead of Kutcheribuzz’s schedule’s “Deepti Ravichandran” (Sudharani’s student, nothing special), The Hindu wrote that the one to be dancing Bharatanatyam at the inauguration function of Brahma Gana Sabha was some cryptic “K.R. MANASVINI”… Never mind, that’s Manaswini Ramachandran, Revati Ramachandran‘s daughter…

The performance started when the function was over. All the VIPs left, hurrying to attend their other functions (who cares about Bharatanatyam????), leaving some 200 people in Sivagami Petachi Auditorium. At the end of Manasvini’s performance, only 60 or so remained… Blind idiots! They missed a lot!

Revathi Ramachandran…

Manaswini Ramachandran is lucky that tailor-made was not only her costume but the choreography of her items. Her intellectual mommy carefully selected the items that Manasvini is good at. Does your Bharatnatyam guru teach you only the items that you will be good at???

Another advantage of having your mommy as your guru is that you can rehearse daily without going bankrupt. Manasvini’s every move was obviously ingrained in her body memory very deeply.

There is one thing that the rasikas are normally not aware of. It is called “bad eye” (“evil eye”) and “good eye”. Have you ever wondered why it is easier to do something well while nobody is watching you? Most rasikas have “neutral eye” in the sense that they do not actively anticipate (in magic it is called “make”) the dancer’s errors. Revathi Ramachandran was so engrossed in actively anticipating Manasvini’s perfection in every movement that it was actually Revathi dancing in Manasvini’s body. If a sledge hammer dropped on Revathi’s head at the time, she would not budge. Good concentration, ma’am. 🙂

Manasvini Ramachandran

No wonder Manasvini looked very confident and mentally relaxed, which probably contributed to her dancing fully: with every movement done unreservedly (she was trying to do her BEST!), with full energy and amplitude (like this dancer), in contrast with Coimbatore’s Lavanya Shankar’s half-hearted students whom she brought to dance in the Mylapore Fine Arts Club at the time of Manasvini’s Bharathanatyam peformance.

Manasvini has a perfect figure. She is not totally perfect. Her face below the eyes is not particularly mobile. Personally, I like that her upper lip is slighly raised, making her appear to smile slightly even when she fully relaxes her mouth. But it makes certain expressions more difficult. Her mukha abhinaya, although not her strongest point, was nevertheless quite subtle, graceful, and often very powerful (I guess the rasikas had goosebumps when they saw the scene when Manasvini was depicting how a deva was rising out of a lake – a perfect Adbhuta!). Well, while Manasvini’s face looks perfectly beautiful even from 2 metres away, it looks pretty average at the closer distance, so I don’t think they will ever show a lof of her close-ups on TV. No need, though.

Fast & strong!

She is. If you had so many rehearsals as she does…When she was rotating her hands before making a “lotus”, it was so fast and so perfect that literally the image of a lotus opening emerged before my eyes!!! If you placed a burning piece of camphor on Manasvini’s fast-moving head, it would blow it off in a second. This girl has a really flexible and very very strong back. Of course, when she is making fast steps she does not lift her heels high, and her knees move forward in araimandi, but these are minor flaws.

What a Laya!

All the senior professional Bharatanatyam dancers should watch Manasvini to learn what is Laya. If Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s abhinaya is hardly ever connected to the music at all, Manasvini’s every little movement of eyebrows, neck, shoulders and so on was so perfectly attuned to the change of every note that it made me say to myself, “Hell, is this dancer’s body a loudspeaker? Is the music itself created by her super-intricate graceful movements???????”

For example, while doing the theermanams, her joined hands above her head and her elbows were not held rigidly (unlike most other dancers’): they moved up and down very fast according to the beats, and along with the slight fluctuations of her chin and the rest of her body, which gave a spectacular effect. If the elderly buffalos “dance” without moving much, Manasvini is the exact opposite: she is Bharatnatyam itself!

If Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s arms can move detached from the rest of the body, giving you an impression of a robot, or a marching soldier or a hysterical break dancer, Manasvini’s body moves in a very natural and graceful manner.  In other words, when you move your arm, your neck should slightly move too. I do not know how Alarmel Valli manages to preserve this ability at her age. Normally, women gradually lose this ability after getting married. 😦

If the musicians are professional and creative, the dancer’s job is already half-done. Does your mrigangist bring just one drum? Here, we had 2, and a kanchira too (not as good as Sudharani Raghupathi’s son’s arsenal, but still…). While most musicians NEVER look at the dancer at all (they actually are supposed to FOLLOW the dancer;  the dancer is not supposed to FOLLOW the music!!!!!), Manasvini’s orchestra were keenly intent on following her. So when Manasvini touched the floor with her hand, the mridangist gave a few very distinct beats, emhasising and underlining her move. It was done so well that the rasikas wanted to give a spontanous round of applause. (the surprised Revathi cast the mridangist a fiery look, but she was happy too).

Suddha Nrittam..

Well, Natya Shastra defines it as “a sequence of karanas”, but in the desi Bharata natyam tradition it came to mean something else… Anyway…

You thought that your salangai can produce only one or two varieties of sound? Manasvini demonstrated that salangai is a musical instrument!! It is very rare to see a Bharatanatyam dancer fully explore the potential of the salangai. The tapping techniques of the Melattur style require an immense strength, control and speed that most dancers lack. Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer was very pleased watching Manasvini from his garlanded portrait. 🙂

Revathi Ramachandran, with the help of Haridos, created a very original piece of music, where Manasvini’s salangai danced in line with the beats of the 2 mridangam very precisely even at the lightning speeds (the drummer has 10 fingers to do what the dancer has to accomplish with just 2 feet!!!). A very interesting passage was the dialog between the mridangam and the salangai, when Manasvini faithfully echoed each beat. So well that a picture of the tap dancing emerged in my mind:

Looks like Bharatanatyam? 🙂

Are all Bharatanatyam dancers so great?

Swarnamalya, who cannot dance Bharatanatyam at all (to judge by her video),  in ‘The mad stampede,’ The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 3, 2007 wrote:

Margazhi for dancers is, indeed, a mad stampede. Are we happy about this? Absolutely. Yet, as I dream about the flavor and fragrance of the forthcoming festival, a small part of me aches. The tragedy is audiences today are only more familiar with the ‘mass scale Bharatanatyam’ and are unable to recognize a first rate performance. Even some of these performers are forced to realign their style to the ‘popular level’ by imitating the tricks and mannerisms of the ‘stars’ for that is how one can draw crowds. Large doses of these have resulted in our acceptance of mediocrity.

If the outright bad dancers like Swarnamalya (who realigned her style to the ‘popular level’ in her cine career) complain about “mediocrity”, what can I say???? 🙂 I can say that she learnt a lot of political thought-twisting for her MA Bharatanatyam degree at Madras University! 🙂
Manasvini is different 🙂

Oh, my… Bharatanatyam! 🙂