Bharatanatyam: Present and future at the hands of cunning NRIs

While Kathak dancer Prathiba raises many valid questions and highlights very valid points, there are a few that put a smile on my face. 

What she meant to say is this:

I hardly ever bother to watch any outstanding classical dancers who never make it to the USA as I may start questioning myself where I truly belong and what the hell I have been doing in Texas, and, more importantly, why I learnt the Persian classical dance Kathak instead of the classical American dance of Salsa.  In recent times, I have witnessed several jaw-dropping, pants-wetting modern performances in Dallas and Houston by visiting Indian dancers who, being old enough, still aspire to look like some teenage American ballet dancers. Their academic presentations made me feel like the classical (shastriya) Indian dance has now been made to sound scientific enough to be taught at the Faculty of Statistics and Measurement at the University of North Texas. The problem for Kathak still remains: to call it classical, we are yet to write a shastra (or “discover” some fake antique book) based on which it would be called “shastriya”.

I have left the auditoriums giggling, jumping and throwing pieces of potato chips around like a teenager who smoked pot on a first visit to Disney Land. Today’s PR specialists, even those who promote themselves as dancing under the traditional labels, incorporate interesting, simple and entertaining MTV-style movements  in their dances to add dynamism – an excellent example of devolution, inborn inability to learn anything from Natya Shastra or to perform even a few stretches a day to accomplish what most American teenage ballet dancers or gymnasts achieve with ease and little pride. At the same time, there also seems to be something, such as use of those pretty useless and meaningless hand gestures, that is stagnant in its practice and even an evolution in the wrong direction, if I may be so bold. I feel I am entitled to be bold and question everything because I have an American passport.

While artistes like Uttara Coorlawala, Anita Ratnam and Michael Jackson seem to have taken evolution to a new level far away from the place they started from, questioning the concept of evolution  itself, why are we still defining women based on the Ashtanayikas and not on their church affiliations or sex preferences? Based on the relationship with the hero, the Natya Shastra classifies women as the one who dresses for union with her hero (my daughter always goes to a date in the same torn jeans she wears in her bedroom), the one distressed by separation (everybody knows that once you become separated you are relieved as the costly divorce litigation is near its completion), the one having her husband in subjection (only perverts put their husbands in handcuffs in Texas), the one separated by quarrel (quarrels are needed to show that we have the right to have different opinions), the one enraged with her lover, the one deceived by her lover (cheating on one’s boyfriend is absolutely the norm here), the one with a sojourning husband (who came back from Iraq), or the one going to meet her lover (on a blind date).

What about the NRI woman who thinks she is an intellectual or equal of Sigmund Freud? What about the woman who brings home the bacon, sushi, electricity bills, sanitary napkins, the Tea Party leaflets, and condoms? What about the woman who decides that she is better off as a single parent, a single woman or a lesbian in a same-sex marriage? May I remind that many women in Texas marry 4, 5 or 6 times and many don’t even remember who are the actual fathers of all their children?

May I remind that although the Natya Shastra has provided us a wealth of information and is THE book every NRI dancer should avoid reading, it is religiously believed by all Texan rednecks to be written between 2nd century BC and 2nd century CE? Its views on women and statistics are as outdated as some of our old American texts that classify humans based on their US visa status or propagate the theory of creationism that contradicts the Bible or the beliefs of the Faculty of Physics at the University of North Texas. Why are we, the modern women driving expensive cars and wearing Victoria’s Secret lingerie, clinging to it for dear life if some of us are in danger of being classified by the 14th Chapter not as Goddesses, Gandharvas, Humans but as belonging to other types, such as Pigs, Horses, Buffalos, Goats or even Dogs? How can our democratic society classify people as noble, mediocre or lowly?

I wish Bharatanatyam was truly evolving on all fronts and conformed to the MTV standards. As an atheist and a member of the Republican party who thinks that everyone, not just Spiderman, must wear one’s underwear over one’s pants, I wish we overcame the limits of beauty and religion in its practice. I wish we overcame the male chauvinistic ideas portrayed in a Bharatanatyam performance, and promoted the same-sex marriages in India. I am writing this as a woman who is tired of seeing nayikas who long, pine, and suffer for someone who resembles one of my ex-husbands. For the Muslim purists who will retort that the “lord” represents “truth” and the pining is the search for the impersonal and vague truth, my response is: Is this the only metaphor you can think of for years of imagination since the Prophet consummated his marriage with the 9-year-old Aisha?

Recently, I heard someone call the ardhanareeswara concept not as a reference to some unscientifically genderless godhead, Ida and Pingala, or to American women who are indistinguishable from the American men, but as the oldest example of gender equality and the only instance where Shiva carelessly wears unmanageable matted locks for hair while Parvati has beautiful flowing hair.

Shiva shows rage while Parvati is demure, which is absolutely unrealistic considering how much every American woman has to yell, scream and shout every day. Shiva can lift his leg over his head but Parvati (may be able to but) should not. Considering that most American women ballet dancers are excited about lifting their legs as high as possible in order to demonstrate the stylishness of their underwear, what about this really shows gender equality?

Showing that the male is all male and the female is all female is outrageous. Showing that the female does not exist without male enhances the wrong and irrational concept that the Universe that manifests in time and space comes from some unscientific Brahman that exists beyond time and space and is independent of the US Government.

Despite all the good values of Indian culture and its cuisine in particular, a major rule of our society that creates a stumbling block is “do not question your mom.” We stop evolving when we stop asking questions, and the more foolish questions come into our heads, the more we evolve in the eyes of the US Government. Perhaps that is why we label anything that does not conform to these values as ‘fusion’ or ‘modern.’

You’d think that living in a western society as NRIs would help people push the boundaries of Bharatanatyam even beyond the limits of salsa. You couldn’t be more wrong! As an NRI, I have no choice but to witness painful arangetrams performed like weddings with splendor and showmanship but lacking in content and standard that we find in the old school of the American ballet. As a dancer who dances at home every week, I am tired of NRI parents badmouthing their children’s gurus’ practices (Question: If you hate them so much, why do you continue sending your kids to their classes instead of sending them to Madras?).

As an economic migrant who came to the US to earn money, I see all NRI and the visiting gurus treat the art simply as the business of teaching (read moneymaking) and graduating more mediocre and substandard students year after year. I do not believe in religion or investing in real estate but I believe in Statistics and Citibank where I have my savings account. Neither am I traditional to the point of being able to appreciate anything other than rock-n-roll. Yet I cannot bear to watch kids wearing their salangais along with their sandals and iPods in auditoriums that are not built according to Natya Shastra. I am tired of the standing ovation given to every kid finishing his/her arangetram, irrespective of the standard as if we were at a GOP meeting. I am even tired of the almost ritualistic applause I hear at the completion of every plain jathi, theermanam, and swaram that so takes the focus away from the the glaring evidence of absence of any dance described in 4th Chapter of Natya Shastra.

Living in the western society frees our barriers and opens new horizons. Once our barriers start feeling free, we stop reading books and begin investigating the crucial issues: which of the current US party does Nataraja belong to, and why he is not depicted as the top American bodybuilders?

Sadly, most NRI parents today seem to be focused on how many quasi-traditional or semi-traditional or newly-traditional items they can get their children to believe they learn, how many costume changes one can manage in a given arangetram, how many costumes and jewelry they can acquire on their next trip to India, etc. Lata Pada, in a recent lecture said beautifully, “Do not expect me to be a cultural babysitter for your children just because I teach them Bharatanatyam. I am here to do business with you, and not to establish some Gurukula.”  It seems that this is exactly what several NRIs are hoping. Instead of encouraging their children to believe they already became dancers in the true sense by sending them to Madras, they want to create replicas of Priyadarsini Govind or Rama Vaidyanathan so they can be happy that their children are, after all, Indian who can do lecture but not demonstration.

Challenging someone intellectually is, after all, easier than doing it physically. PG and RV became expert lecturers not by following status quo or by practising stretches, but by learning Business Administration, Marketing, PR and carving their own niche in the American market. Of course, there are exceptions among NRIs such as Mythili Prakash and Bhavajan Kumar, to name a few who became proficient in their business promotion.

Why am I now taking it out on the NRIs as if they come here just to earn money and invest it in Chennai properties? Three reasons exist. I live abroad and got burnt in the US sub-prime mortgage scam. I cannot comment about the current practices in India for fear of being thrown into an open manhole in T.Nagar in the rainy season. While many of them hate to read books, NRIs have the financial resources to take the risk and push the boundaries beyond the limits of the ancient Indian aesthetics and sensibility. Living in a western society, witnessing art forms such as strip dance, ballet, jazz, hip-hop, opera, etc, and receiving constant encouragement to explore and experiment should foster these experiences (or rather experiments?) even more until we start frying our dosas on Shevron engine oil instead of ghee. Sadly, I am yet to see examples of such, although the popularity of McDonalds in Chennai seems promising. And the question, “Will the NRIs who have the money and the cunning to push the boundaries and experiment help Bharatanatyam reach new heights in the eyes of Michael Jackson fans?” remains unanswered to me still.

Ananda Shankar Jayant: the chief pirate in India and Anita Ratnam’s special friend?

Although I am a contributor to Narthaki’s “Roses and Thorns”, I rarely check it out.  This time everyone was sending me their comments (edited and unedited bits of which I will mark in blue) and asking for my reaction to a recent post by Ananda Shankar Jayant. This is  a hilariously brilliant suicide attempt that deserves praise and encouragement 🙂

There is a heated debate among those who are discussing this article. Some comments are pretty inoffensive: “Many of the videos hosted in the site are at least a decade old. There is no other way that youngsters like me would get to watch these videos, but for dancing india“.  A couple of people complained to me that their comments were censured out.

According to a message of  one commentator (Mahesh), his response to Ranjana Dave’s comment (“the misconception that if they [dancers] post videos of their work online, no one will watch them live“) was apparently cut out.

So, what was there that Anita Ratnam could not bear? (Was it her frustration that her most popular video on  Abhinayastore.com priced at $2.99 was bought as many as…. 3 times since… 1 April 2008 ??? 🙂

The main points of what Mahesh sent me deserve to be expanded.

All dancers, despite their paranoid apprehensions of “what if some students record me on their VHS and learn the full item without paying me???”  or, perhaps more frequent “what if people laugh at my crappy dancing?”,  historically strived to be featured on DD because it was some kind of a “status symbol” and marked their entrance into the “elite” of the classical dancers regardless of the quality of their dancing.

The slots for broadcasting classical dance were few and are still sold out like hot cakes. But no commercial TV channels have been interested in total crap like this DD video of Anjana Banerjee even if Anita Ratnam on her site writes that Anjana Banerjee’s “dance forms entirely a part and parcel of India’s cultural heritage“.

And suddenly, all this crap (along with some good stuff) is uploaded onto DancingIndia to be sold to dance junkies, and appears alongside homemade Bharatanatyam videos on Youtube. The “senior” dancers are outraged and scared.

Of what?

Of not being asked a permission for posting their videos online?
Or rather of seeing how few people are watching their videos online while many younger classical dancers receive literally millions of views? The “senior dancers” feel their ill-gotten “status” is threatened. The decade-long artificial hierarchy is challenged and is on its last legs.

One of the comments posted on Narthaki’s Facebook page deserves a special attention.

 Some visitors may have suspected that Ananda is promoting her own videos on Dancingindia. But the posting stirred something in my memory and put a smile on my face.

It was around 2004 when I was searching for Bharatanatyam videos that had not flooded the Web back then. Specifically I was looking for a few Doordarshan broadcasts, and to my immense pleasure the tapes were being sold on ranidevi.com. At steep prices of $25-$75 for a VHS tape or a DVD. Now I can no longer find them there on Rani Devi’s official site, but the “unofficial page” at http://www.geocities.ws/ranidevi/index.html is still active and seems to be doing brisk business! Rani Devi, though, presents her selling these Doordarshan tapes as her social mission of popularizing classical dance in the US and worldwide, almost in a non-profit spirit.

Ananda Shankar Jayant’s suggestion is that “These videos are being made available to DancingIndia unofficially from Doordarshan itself from every Kendra, by a group of people“.  And if she wanted to know who these people are, why didn’t she ask Rani Devi herself?

It was long time before a DVD of Volume 2 (no one knew when or where Volume 1 was released) of Bharatanatyam broadcasts from Doordarshan Archives was officially released. And it was long before the publication of Padma Subrahmanyam’s interview where she said she was urging Prasar Bharti to release the classical dance archives. With announcements like on http://www.friendsofprasarbharati.org/Recent%20newsYA85.htm, some dancers were elated. Dance students were trying to get the Bharatiya Natyashastra DVD and were frustrated. What do they do now? All the full episodes of Bharatiya Natyashastra are offered on Dancingindia for quick download, and for a dollar or two they can download almost anything. Since the times of Rani Devi’s selling the Doordarshan VHS tapes for $75, the prices have gone down so much, and now people don’t even buy DVDs as much as before.

But this is not the point. The point Ananda Shankar Jayant makes is about “piracy”. But when you hear one of her closest friends telling you that Ananda has more pirated software on her computer than most dancers, you start thinking. Thinking if she is planning to start a Pirate Party in India, to join the worldwide movement that is gaining strength. We all know that the intellectual property rights is a concept alien to our culture.

This comment, however, was not posted on Narthaki.com for obvious reasons: Anita Ratnam’s friend is loath to admit that she herself is one of the biggest software pirates in India. She is too shy: “Some of you have also responded with uncalled for belligerence, and personal comments, irrelevant to the topic under discussion. I would love to respond to them too, and will do so if you mail me“.

Piracy it too private to be discussed publicly. Even if some railway clerks have a Dr. title before their name, they risk being prosecuted. 🙂

Gradual death of Bharatanatyam competitions in Chennai

It is not a big secret that Bharatanatyam competitions, however faulty they may have been, are very beneficial. Regardless of who wins and who loses, these competitions help the dancers assess their skills on a more objective level. They establish the standards and create the fabric of the dance community.

Few may have noticed that the Indian Fine Arts Society cancelled their Bharatanatyam contest this year, following Natyarangam’s, Music Connoiseurs’s Club’s, Gana Mukindhapriya’s, and others (e.g. ISKCON’s). We know no reasons for their decisions, no explanations or comments are given by these organizations. Perhaps it is a top secret.

What is not a big secret is, for example, the reason for the 2009 abortive straight-jacketed ABHAI competition where the dancers were severely restricted in what and how they can perform, obviously to suit the ABHAI’s president’s own agenda, as if it was some third-grade contest on Rukmini Ramani’s compositions which nobody attends.

Apart from the Music Academy (Spirit of Youth, very closely resembling Indian Fine Arts Society’s style of handpicking just 10 contestants) or National Bal Bhavan, among the other people who keep conducting Bharatanatyam contests it in Chennai are the TTD. These never announce it (perhaps for fear of their tiny space being overcrowded).

Unfortunately, the Bharatanatyam competitions they conduct are hugely inferior to the Kuchipudi competitions featured on their own SVBC TV channel where the judges are required to substantiate in detail their marks and provide comments on each item performed by the contestant.

See for yourself:



The reason the judges there are more or less honest and try to do their best is simple: they are well aware that their very reputation is at stake since tens of thousands of TV viewers watch the programme.

There is no comparison between the professionalism of the SVBC contest (where we can actually watch the entire classical Kuchipudi items performed by the dancers) and such TV contests as Jaya TV’s Thaka Dhimi Tha or Podhigai’s Konjum Salangai where we can at best see some bits of folk or fusion dances. The only thing we have worth watching on TV is Jodi No.1.

A Telugu friend of mine teases me from time to time, saying that excellence in classical dance or life in general quit Tamil Nadu long ago. Even in Kerala they have very well organized (where the dancers have the option of an appeal in case they are not satisfied with the judges) Kalotsav (www.schoolkalolsavam.in) featuring all classical dance styles, while there is nothing like that in Tamil Nadu.

Now, with so many sabha’s in Chennai claiming that they somehow are not responsible for the decline in the standards in Bharatanatyam, why is it that they they cannot organize regular Bharatanatyam contests and broadcast it easily on the biggest TV channel in the world, YouTube, allowing the viewers to discuss it and post their comments there? Of course, then the sabha’s hidden political agendas may suffer.

Perhaps they may be awakened to a new reality when Anita Ratnam decides to do it on Narthaki one day.

Differences between classical Indian dance styles in terms of Natya Shastra, Tantra, calligraphy, mechanical engineering and psychiatry. Bharatanatyam styles & Bharatnatyam schools & Bharathanatyam dancers

Can you tell if these flowers are live or… latex?

This is the uncensored draft (still being updated) of the article posted on Narthaki.com.

The topics touched in this article will be:

  • Padma Subrahmanyam’s elucidation of Natya Shastra’s Recakas
  • Role of Recakas in producing Rasas
  • What makes the dance attractive, beautiful and interesting
  • Kaisikivs. robotic movements in terms of mechanical engineering
  • Why classical Indian dance proper is a solo dance
  • Laya and 22 Sruthis
  • Why Bharata Muni didn’t allow men to sing (and the proof that most dancers and rasikas are actually deaf)
  • Lines of power, and why Anita Ratnam is fond of her Tai Chi classes
  • Anga Suddham, modes of movements and calligraphy
  • The Tantric explanations of everything in terms of 3 gunas, 5 elements, the vrittis and more
  • Difference between true art, factory-produced merchandize, and garbage

In her book on the Karanas, Padma Subrahmanyam boldly attempted to pinpoint what is dance and what is not. She builds much of her explanation around the term Recaka. To give you an idea of what the mind-boggling variety of, for example, the Pada (feet) Recakas alone include, these “may utilize the space on the sides, move forward, slip or glide, waver, quiver, shake, proceed, turn away, swerve, sway, get pushed, jerk, slide, raise, lower, draw, release or whirl“.

Padma Subrahmanyam says, though, that Recakas “cannot be enlisted or enumerated“. She also uses the terms Prthagbhava (clearly/sharply outlined) and Valana (smooth/blurred) components of movement saying that a performance that makes use of both masterfully “can never be boring even for the uninitiated“. All this makes sense, while I am yet to understand her identification of Anga Suddham with Prthagbhava alone.

Alathur Vijayakumar, the founder of Kalavardhanis, thought he discovered America when he said that he arrived at a formula that detects the “presence of grace” (or rather, the presence of life) in a particular dance sequence. Any robotic movement (which the break dance or army soldiers marching seeks to emulate) can very accurately be described in terms of velocity (V)  and acceleration (V²) and jerk (V³).

Padma Subrahmanyam says, “…if the intensity [of movement] is constant, the actions suffer a lack of variety.The lines may be defined, lucid and distinct in every action with clarity even in the divergence of the movements. In such a convoy of actions, every movement follows disconnectedly, without getting dissolved into one another. Hence there is a danger of killing grace” . She says that the word Valana signifies that “each movement glides into another in a graceful manner“.

The famous guru Muthukumaran Pillai had “no patience for stiff, angular, sharp-edged or what he called “violent” movement: he wanted the movements to be firm, yet appear to be effortless. Then, in nritta sequences he insisted that the termination of one adavu pattern and beginning of the next should be marked, not by a blunt break, but by a gentle overlapping which should accentuate the continuity of the rendering”. Ironically, Rukmini Devi Arundale was one of his students.

 

Any psychiatrist or graphologist will tell you that if the letters in your handwriting are not connected, it means you think incoherently, and you have a good chance of becoming a schizophrenic in the future. Exposure to the schizophrenic dance performances is tantamount to eating food full of chemical pesticides.

Super-compex task for advanced dancers:

match each of these 3 words with a video below



The organic movements full of life, especially the kaisiki (graceful feminine) type movements (dominant in Odissi, Mohiniattam and  Kuchipudi), are extremely complex and each is unique (just like every live flower is unique) as the expression of the dancer’s manodharma. Their presence in dance can only be approximately described in terms of infinite number of components: V, V², V³,…, V∞ , and the speed graph will be way too complex.

The slight deviations from the impeccably “perfect” computer-generated standard are inherent in classical Indian dance. The deviations that create beauty are predominantly Sattvic, though, depending on the character, they may contain a good dose of Rajas. The ugly deviations are the results of the dancer’s laziness or inability to follow the proper trajectory (Anga Suddham). These are the Tamasic deviations (look at the 3 words “Dance” again).

Now, there are some politically incorrect and undemocratic conclusions that the senior dancers who hate Bharata Muni will abhor. Even if you are born with the Sattva as the dominant component of your (“Brahmin”) nature, your body, emotions and mind will be more Rajasic in the teenage years, and will be gradually more and more Tamasic as you grow older. (Yoga is the only method of changing this tendency). Our ability to understand, to remember, and to learn something new depends on the amount of Sattva in us.

I find it very amusing when the “senior” dancers dare to say that they somehow “explore the Sringara rasa” even though their recitals are devoid of many of the 10 kinds grace of the Sahaja type and of most of the 7 of A-yantaja type, all of which are part of the Valana-rich Kaisiki and all of which, according to Bharata Muni, can be found in the movements of the young women only. A very interesting element of beauty is among the 10 Sahaja graces: Vicchitti (dishabille) is “the great beauty that results from the slightly careless placing of garlands, clothes, ornaments and unguents“.

Why is the classical Indian dance proper a solo dance? Factory-produced latex flowers can be compared with the dance styles that are suitable for group performances where the dancers perform identical movements at the same time. To achieve the perfect “synchronization”, the movements have to be as plain (“perfect-shaped”) as the latex orchids (or one of the 3 words “Dance” on the right). Live flowers are never perfect-shaped and never have “geometric” appearance. If you are half-blind, the easiest method of detecting latex flowers is to smell them. No fragrance, no rasa. (Make sure the smell is not coming from your own hair where you had poured half a bottle of expensive perfume). “Recakas impearl the Nritta, make it shine and cause a complete aesthetic satisfaction”, says Padma Subrahmanyam. Recakas are like spices in food. Well, the food has to be bland enough to please the western palate.

In Tantra, the square represents the angular, robust and firm element of earth and Muladhara chakra. The rounded silver Moon crescent represents the element of water: cohesion, smoothness and life and… sexual energies of the Swadhisthana chakra. Swadhisthana is associated with emotion, which means that the dance without Valana is devoid of emotion. And because one of the 6 vritti petals of Swadhisthana represents affection, it means that the dancer who does not develop the Swadhisthana will have a big problem attracting the rasikas, especially the young rasikas of the opposite sex. As Swadhisthana is positioned higher than Muladhara, it means that the movements, before being expressed in the physical body, have to follow the movements of the subtle body (this is why Anita Ratnam is fond of her Tai Chi classes and will explain to us how body movements are supposed to spring from Tan Tien). Essentially, the Tai Chi movements are based on the principle of the least resistance, as the prana (Chi) “flows” throw various nadis like water flows around the stones in the river. The western (earthly) materialistic culture considers only the physical (sharply defined) body (sthula sharira), so their reliance on the muladhara techniques is obvious. Performing the Kalakshetra-style adavus will make you tired, while performing the adavus (at the same amplitude and speed) in the styles that follow the “lines of power” will energize you.

Padma Subrahmanyam compares the Recakas with Gamakas of

Karnatic music, and says that the “Gamakas are the very life of the Raga”. Referring to Bharata Muni’s 22 Sruthi (microtone) system, she says that the “Gamakas are caused through a webbed state of the microtones, built on the semi-tones and tones of the musical notes”. Have you seen many dancers whose laya is so good that their Recakas follow the microtones too?

If body movement can be described by a speed graph, the music is represented by its sound wave graph. Before you read on, you should define the distinction between music and noise, and between singing and shouting. (hint: analyse the sound wave graph).  The graph for the violin will be much more plain than the graph for veena, the instrument essential for learning gamakas in the vocal music . If Saraswathi holds a veena (not a violin, electric guitar or sax) in her hands, it’s because it is the veena that is most suitable for accompanying the Recakas. The arrival of the budget electric amplification greatly reduced the popularity of the veena, as the sound coming from even the best loudspeakers in the Chennai sabhas blurred the music beyond recognition. After the age of 40, normal people become so Tamasic that they can’t hear anything above 14 kHz. The aging rasikas (except the ones who daily try to exercise their ears!) grew hard of hearing and came to prefer the Italian violin.

While there is software that can impeccably mimic any male voice, there is no software that can analyze and generate a female voice. If the male voices relate to the consonants, and the drums, the women’s relate to the vowels, are far more complex, loaded with far more subtle nuances and shades of feelings. After all, isn’t the world of emotion the woman’s world? Bharata Muni explains that “Though men know the rules of singing in their traditional characteristics, their songs being devoid of sweetness, do not create beauty.  (XXXV, 35-36). “Generally, songs are suited to women, and recitatives are suited for men… The good quality in women’s recitation and sweetness in men’s songs should be considered as an acquired skill, and not part of their in-born nature. If men lead [in songs] and the songs possess good characteristics, but have no sweetness, then these impart no beauty… There may be [allowed] a loss of proper note in women’s songs and playing of musical instruments. But this will not be sweet to the ear in case of men” (XXXII, 503-511). Sounds quite discriminatory, doesn’t it? Note, Bharata Muni keeps saying that “The singer should be of a young age“.

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

Prasanna Kasthuri,

Prasanna Kasthuri
promoting classical Indian music

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

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

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Prasanna Kasthuri’s article raises some important questions.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prasanna Kasthuri
Padre Prasanna at a mess asking for State funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hindu temples must fund garba and salsa festivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally…

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

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

Swarnamukhi’s illusory rise and painful downfall: a would-be devadasi that failed her God. Swarnamukhi: the pitfalls of Bharathanatyam/ Bharatnatyam / Bharatanatyam career

Swarnamukhi

In this post you will find answers to the following questions that you may have after watching her video  interviews (the transcripts are inserted in red):

  • the difference between a true Bharatanatyam dancer and a clown
  • what happens when karanas are attempted to be mimicked by shallow-minded acrobats
  • the destructive influence of the vulgar audiences and the consequences of mingling with politicians (supported by quotes from Manu Sutras)
  • superficiality of the  fake “Hindu gurus” from America
  • how Swarnamukhi’s imagination produced an image of Jesus who asked her to be a celibate devadasi, and how she rebelled against God
  • the curse: immediate genetic effects of this rebellion (deformation and degradation of the body)
  • celibate vs married life: beware!

Ironically, Swarnamukhi is still listed on Narthaki.com among “Performing Bharatanatyam Artistes in Chennai”:
Swarnamukhi

113, Santhome High Road
R A Puram, Chennai 600028
Ph: (044) – 24942243

Malaysian police have arrested nine Christians accused of trying to convert Muslim university students – a serious crime punishable by prison in this Muslim-majority country, a lawyer said today.


There was a longing for something in me… I didn’t know what it was… but no matter how much I danced, howmuchever fame and popularity I got, that didn’t give me the ultimate satisfaction
“.

Here Swarnamukhi Veronica Kona explains why so many film actresses suffer from chronic depression and some commit suicides: the more you try to please the vulgar audience, the further away you move from your soul’s goal : the inner peace and bliss. Devadasis were supposed to dance for the gods, unwatched by human audience. Entertaining VIP’s and politicians, drunk western spectators smoking cigars, you are running the risk of moving in the opposite direction, filling your heart with emptiness and restlessness.

There are exceptions, of course. When Sukshma Swaraj was asked what she remembers most from a visit to one town, she said, “It was the Bharatantyam performance by little children that touched me most“. Some remnants of human soul have a chance of survival even under the crocodile skin of a veteran politician. Manu Sutras confirm it:
A king is declared to be equal (in wickedness) to a butcher who keeps a hundred thousand slaughter-houses; to accept presents from him is a terrible (crime). He who accepts presents from an avaricious king who acts contrary to Dharma, will go in succession to the twenty-one hells. Learned Brahmanas, who know that, who study the Veda and desire bliss after death, do not accept presents from a king.

In contrast to Swarnamukhi, Alarmel Valli, who married former Director-General of Doordarshan (just as Rukmini Devi married a much older man…)  put it this way, “Despite all the progress, a single woman’s status is still not a happy one...“. She says,  “I tend to be rather skittish about being politically correct for the sake of being politically correct. I choose my themes because they move me, or touch a chord in me – themes that are universal

So, what is “politically correct”? Something that the influential people around you want you to do! The pressure from the outside. “Performing a dance before the Pope at the beginning of your dance career will surely land you up in Lok Sabha”, said Vijayantimala, remembering Rukmini Devi.

Swarnamukhi was such an imaginative dancer – who never even thought of getting married! – that she had a dream of Jesus Christ being so impressed with her acrobatics and folk dances that he was trying – in vain – to persuade her to become a devadasi and a sanyasini:  “In my dream He revealed Himself so beautifully through Isaah 54, 5 and 6: “Your Creator is your Husband“, he said. “The Lord of Hosts is His name, he said. “The god of the whole earth shall he be called”. Well, do real gods need to quote any old texts, or are they no better than your local professional preacher whose salary is paid by a US-based church?

Anyway, Swarnamukhi cursed Jesus, the dead quotes from the lifeless Bible, and swore that she would rather marry an idiotic karate master than become God’s wife. “I can make my husband do any stupid things, but how can I push God around?”, she wondered? Naturally, Jesus, seeing such recalcitrance, swore and cursed the stupid Swarnamukhi as she tried to call him “father god” instead of “my beloved Husband”.

Padma Subrahmanyam suggested, “She didn’t have the brains to divorce as quickly as she married!”. Swarnamalya adds, “If you divorce too late, you will acquire the same shape as I have”. Leela Samson (still single and available), Kalakshetra’s Director,  seeing Rukmini Devi’s “marriage”, puts it non-denominationally in an innovative way: “You don’t need to be a Hindu to be a modern devadasi”.

Alarmel Valli would probably suggest, “Swarna and her husband could live in different cities, and she could visit him once a month”. Shobana, or rather THE Shobana, a well-known expert in men, said, “There is no point marrying. All men want only one thing from a woman, and they are all the same in this thing, and they soon lose interest in you after they get it. Believe me, I have a vast experience. If you need money, just get engaged to a rich suitor, get a few crores worth of gifts, and – for decency’s sake – part your ways with at least a few tears in your eyes. Keep the gifts, of course. If you want a child, just adopt a beautiful girl like I have done.”  Malavika Sarukkai adds a contemporary theme: “You could marry a tree, for example, and be happy. At least pretend to be so. Otherwise buy yourself a dog”. Narthaki Nataraj has another idea which is too outrageous to be published here.

Swarnamukhi’s failure was triggered by empty awards from politicians and the typical American NRI superficiality:

..the sage (Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami) from America, was given awards from all the major spiritual centers in South India, which he visited in person. He also arranged for India’s greatest Bharata Natyam dancer, Kumari Swarnamukhi, to dance in the 1,000-pillared hall at Chidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu. Her performance was the first in hundreds of years and marked the return of the sacred dancers to the temples from which they had been banned for so long.

Remember, the awards, titles and attentions from the VIPs and politicians, especially the American “Hindus” and the European Christians – who have no idea of what Bharatanatyam is about and don’t give a hoot about the fifth Veda! – is the poison for a Bharata natyam dancer.

One thing, however, may disturb Swarnamukhi’s mind. What if the recession will reduce the opulent flow of the green American dollars from IIBT in New York that have been lavishly financing her and her husbands preaching careers at the institution that offers Doctorate of Divinity? 🙂 Ironically, on http://wordoflifeindia.org/swarnamukhi.htm they seem nevertheless very fascinated with her acrobatic photos. Every Christian will be proud of divine Bharatanatyam dancers.

The illustration how deep the Christian ideas – where all “dancing” is associated solely with the desi (folk) dance – penetrated into Hinduism is here:

Back in the 1800’s a lady approached a revival minister and asked him, “Minister, if I receive Jesus do I have to give up dancing? All of the other ministers I have asked this question have told me that dancing is a sin and I must give it up to be saved”

This wise old minister responded,”They were wrong! You don’t have to give up anything when you are saved. Just repent of the things that you feel are sinful and ask the Lord Jesus to come into your heart and save you and don’t worry about dancing.”

She replied, “Oh that’s so wonderful. I love to dance and I don’t see anything wrong with it. Would you lead me to the Lord in prayer right now sir?” He did this rejoicing with her and about 6 months later when he was back in town again he encountered her again. She came up to him and said, “You know sir, it’s a funny thing but I don’t enjoy dancing anymore so I don’t want to do it anymore. Did you know that this would happen to me?”

“Yes,” he replied, “I wasn’t lying to you when I said that you did not HAVE TO quit dancing to be saved. But I suspected that once the Holy Spirit had His way within you, you probably would not want to do it anymore.

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGxsCJ8vaYU&#t=0m06s&w=320]
This video explains how Bharatanatyam dancers are affected by humanoids bustling around them

Malavika Sarukkai: her disastrous lecture-demonstration that revealed a lot of what Bharatanatyam and classical dances of India are not to become.

Malavika Sarukkai

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Based on a report emailed to us by Latha Sundaravalli – and expanded with further research that proves Latha’s initial perceptions. If you want, you can compare the below report with the Narthaki.com and The Hindu versions

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Her DVD

I would like to share my observations on the first day (12th September) of the National Seminar in Classical Dances organized by Saila Sudha’s “Academy of Excellence in Bharathanatyam & Kuchipudi” (where only mediocre dance students are learning – from a mediocre teacher who has to advertise her dance classes on Kutcheribuzz classifieds). Kucheribuzz reporters don’t even consider Kuchipudi as a classical dance: “Sailaja began this series last year with the focus on Kuchipudi dance. This year, the focus was on classical dances.” Moreover, as you will read below, Leela Venkatraman was convincing us that Odissi is not a classical dance at all.

Not particularly interested in the speeches, I – like many others – arrived at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan at 10.45 as the brochure marked this as the starting time for Malavika Sarukkai’s lecture-demonstration on “Tradition- Transition-Transformation“. As was to be expected, Sri M.A.Babu, a Minister for Education and Culture of Kerala, was speaking till 11.10, enormously taxing the audience’s patience who were drinking coffee outside and wondering if this was the “token of gratitude” which Sailaja had to pay for having her group dance at the dumb Babu’s Nishagandhi Dance and Music festival in Kerala earlier this year.

Having watched Malavika Sarukkai for the past two decades, I was hoping to see some kind of explanation of how classical dancers can so innocently drift into the waters of Kathak, folk dance, modern western dance and computer-animated “dance”. My expectation from a lecture-demonstration was a normal one: the points outlined in the lecture have to be demonstrated in the demonstration. As the topic of the Seminar suggested, I expected to hear some concrete points outlining the tradition, the transition, hoping to pinpoint the transformation. Malavika Sarukkai started by urging everyone to switch off their cell phones and refrain from taking videos of her. She then delivered some abstract cliches, and then proceeded to dancing a nritta piece that left me wondering. Wondering what was that “sheer geometry of lines and precise structural “beauty“”! I was wondering not so much if araimandi is indeed “optional” when danced by “professional dancers”,

but rather why some dancers like Malavika cannot do recakas, even though both Bharata Muni and Abhinavagupta said that there is no dance without recakas. So, why would dancers want to learn karate (is this what she learnt in Europe or America?) or the stiff dances like the one from this video. “Try telling her that her dance has problems, and you are dead”, was a remark of an old rasika who was vainly trying to perceive any traces of talukku and kulukku in her dance.

Is the minimalism of Kalakshetra the latest fad? Malavika is not alone in being “a minimalist; she likes to say as little as possible while using the Bharatanatyam vocabulary in a frugal mannerI don’t subscribe to the theory that the a geometrically regular black triangle on the white canvas can in some way be considered as a great piece of art. How would we have known about our dance forms today, had not the Devadasis preserved them for us?” , says Malavika blissfully unaware that the devadasis danced the margi, karana-based, dance because it is only this kind of dance – unlike jazz or folksy Bharatanatyam – that is entitled to be called “spiritual”. Malavika stressed the importance of imparting beauty to each movement. However hard I tried to see any traces of Lakshmi’s imprint, I could not. In my mind, there appeared images of some dancers, the young and the senior ones, such as Alarmel Valli.  I realised that a movement can be filled with beauty if the dancer is truly relaxed, enjoys herself, as if admiring her body, while delicately elaborating the finer nuances of every single movement, turning it into an elegant, effortless and sophisticated expression that is, most importantly, filled with love and joy of offering it to a deity. Essentially, it is a matter of attitude. The attitude that Malavika lost after doing too many performances for foreign audiences and ugly politicians.

Some Hindu illiterate critics, like Malini White, display their ignorance of the Natya terms (e.g. what is sattva) when they write nonsense like this: the angle of elbow, stance of the foot, the slight inclination from the waist — that made concrete the satvic dimension Sarukkai so values in classical dance Malavika Sarukkai stressed the essential difference between performing mudras mechanically and performing them with a mental “intent” to lend them some “spiritual” power. Either this intent was not there or I did not notice it for some reason.

In this connection, I recollected a story of a man and a brahmin priest. The man paid the brahmin to perform a puja for a newly purchased car. The next day the car got into a terrible traffic accident and the owner was killed on the spot. His wife filed an FIR against the brahmin for “fraud and deficiency in service” and demanded a compensation, which was of course much more pragmatic than Adi Sankara fighting against empty ritualism. Coming back to Malavika’s idea that as long as one imagines something it will surely happen, our personal imagination is, quite on the contrary, most often confined to the realm of our own mind and has no effect whatsoever outside it. Many people with strong imaginations end up – for some reasons – in mental asylums. I remember one person asking Malavika if performing a Jnana mudra would indeed give her any kind of knowledge she wants. You can imagine what embarrassment it caused. While the spiritual effects of the mudras are very clearly described by many scriptures, I am yet to see if any dancer at all can in fact produce any such effects.

Malavika Sarukkai spoke about the importance of placing the Art above the artiste. Yet the nritta fragment, that lacked both the slow and the fast speeds, was filled with tons of stiff ostentatious theatricality and tawdry showiness. Finally, the dancer struck a flashy pose obviously imported from the western dance. “Hello! I am here, look at ME and admire ME. Aren’t you impressed with ME?“, the pose and the expression could not shout louder. Following another dose of generic cliches, Malavika said that everything boils down to one thing: rasa. As a demonstration, a piece portraying Yudhisthira hunting the deers was presented. Remarkably, both Yudhisthira and the deer were moving in much the same manner. If Seetharama Sarma’s sollukattus alone were intended to bring out the Veera rasa, they failed to do it too.

Next, Malavika Sarukkai presented a demo, based on Swathi Thirunal’s composition, that was supposed to bring out the Sringara rasa (see our previous post) and Bhakti. While the singing of the Sanscrit slokas as a prelude did perhaps create some basic atmosphere of sanctity, the karate-like “movements of great beauty” in Malavika’s dance didn’t create any beauty there. If any rasika indeed tasted any Sringara rasa in her demo, I would like to know who it was, and how exactly it happened. Malavika showed her instinctive (or rather, post-traumatic) avoidance of the Sringara in this: “In terms of colour, my costume has changed — from the bright colours with contrasting borders to muted shades” , which is perfectly normal: our pranic body grows more and more dull as we are aging. This is not the first time a dancer, totally unaware of what Sringara is and how it should be expressed, tries to present it on the stage. Not everybody is fooled easily: “A young dancer was dismissive, “Malavika’s abhinaya has no heart.””

Malavika apologized for lack of time to do the demonstration of an item dedicated to… trees and Thimakka. Instead, she took her time to speak that since that woman was barren, she planted hundreds of trees and called them her own children. Even though she confessed, “I simply loved Hrithik in Jodhaa Akbar”, Malavika says she liked the Thimmakka tree item because it was not “man-centric” and did not require any Sringara. I was surprised that nayaki – at least in this ultra-feminist interpretation – did not require any nayaka, defeating the very purpose of the spiritual symbolism where nayaka was actually to signify the Paramatma. I had an odd impression as if she was speaking of her own personal life, godless, miserable, bitter and forlorn (you see in our next post how it made Swarnamukhi convert to Christianity and “settle down”).a trigger is required to set the soul on its quest and, in Varasthri’s case, it is the death of a little girl she has known and loved. This was suggested by a personal loss in Malavika’s life”. Perhaps, this explains why her voice sounds as if she had been sobbing and weeping for weeks. “the courtesan finds release from a male dominated world when she reaches the ‘genderless’ space of spirituality. In the action however, what triggers the courtesan’s search for spiritual comfort is the grief of losing a child she loves dearly“.

I looked around and saw billions of materialistic Jivatmas, obsessed with their personal tragedies, dreaming of a happy, socially correct life without a masculist, oppressive and immoral Paramatma in the picture. How can a chronically depressed dancer, like Michael Jackson, transmit any joy and bliss to the rasikas? In the same way as a cripple can take part in the rescue operations in the flooded Andhra, or a schizophrenic politician governing India. Well, that’s Kali Yuga. Trees are not the only substitute objects for atheist Malavika whose defective materialistic brain doesn’t even understand that the Ganga which flows from the Nataraja’s head has nothing to do with the well-known big stream of dirty water in north India: Some of the crowning moments of the recital comprised Ganga’s lamentation “Punar pavitra karega kaun” at the impurities that weighed her waters, constricting her flow.” What hastha did she use for a lonely sanitary napkin agonisingly floating there? “her (Malavika’s) deep affinity with the river whose never-ending manifestations can rival the eternally unpredictable nayika of classical dance”, wrote the modernized Leela Venkatraman, reviewing the ‘Pakistani Pig” in the next paragraph. Well-tuitored piglets from The Hindu can say any nonsense to fill their purses.

A brief questions-and-answer session followed, when Malavika Sarukkai was answering a few simple questions. I didn’t want to embarrass her by asking to demonstrate, for example, the difference between the Satvika and the Angika abhinaya in the context of “Tradition-Transition-Transformation”. One student asked her how she managed to “steer clear of the celluloid“. (Perhaps she referred to the fact that no film maker was inspired to create a wonderful movie with Malavika in a dancing role!) Malavika replied that the flashiness of the movies – with their stress on seductiveness – desensitize our perceptions. While there was some truth in what she said, I tried to imagine how Malavika would portray apsara Menaka seducing Vishvamitra, and I couldn’t. It was as beyond my imagination as imagining the current Queen of England seducing 1000000 eunuchs in India.

The panel discussion was started by Leela Venkataraman, who wrote, “guru objected to her ‘Revealed by Fire’ being a personal trauma put on stage. Watching shows evolved out of personal experiences, some comment that it amounts to self indulgence and they did not come to see a highlighting of someone’s personal tragedy.While some identify many elements from a work as reflected in their own lives, others feel the artiste is trying to project herself as a tragedy queen.

Leela Venkataraman delivered no abstract cliches. Seeing a notorious scandalist V A K Ranga Rao towering in the first row and rubbing his fists readying to start a fight, she did not wish to create any controversies among the mostly Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi aficionados present in the auditorium. In Ranga Rao’s own first lec-dem about Dance in Cinema” he “demolishes the shibboleths erected by educated charlatans and doctored ignoramuses with logic irrefutable“. Seeing formidable blockhead VIPs, Leela wisely chose Odissi as the subject, saying that she could not define what Bharatanatyam is or was, rolling her eyes, staring into the ceiling and blinking much more frequently than she usually does. Strange, as most rasikas would not find it so problematic.

Within about 15 minutes, she pinpointed with amazing deftness the concrete historic facts and elements that created the contemporary Odissi half a century ago. Leela stressed that the nucleus of the Odissi is something inherent to Orissa itself, the local spirit and the local idiom, something intangible and not definable. Strange, as I thought that Odissi’s essence was the Kaisiki vritti as stated in the Natya Shastra.

Leela masterfully outlined the initial routes the development of the contemporary Odissi took, described how particular elements (from Kathak, folk dance, the Gotipuyas’, and what not) were added at what stage and under what circumstances. She reminded us that it is only when Odissi started appearing in the context of the theatre that it acquired the social acceptance, recognition and eventually, popularity. Has something like that happened to Bharatanatyam, or has Bharatanatyam already missed the train? Leela approved the efforts of Nrityagram to incorporate Chhau leg movements into their “Odissi”. She concluded by trying to persuade us that, despite the initial rejection, Ramli Ibrahim’s creations eventually managed to be “accepted” by the Odissi dancers in Orissa.

Aruna Bikshu tried to make a point that “With change in content (like social issues), body kinetics have changed and so have the aesthetics” of Kuchipudi. What she meant to say is that since the dancers no longer were dealing with mythological personalities called “gods” (we know, all the Vedas and everything else are just myths, and Krishna is a figment of imagination of some crazy medieval writers), the moment they started portraying tractors or condoms or plastic bottles they began moving like Malavika Sarukkai does. And when Vempatti Chinna Sathyam removed the Vachika abhinaya from Kuchipudi, he did not realize that automatically he was removing the most powerful medium for the dancers to learn Satvika abhinaya. Now the dancers’ overall abhinaya is as convincing as some 5-year-old’s political speech in defence of Taliban. Another Odissi “innovation” was pinpointed by Madhavi Mudgal: “The dancer also had to be in chowka position throughout, but that’s not in vogue anymore because it’s difficult“.It seems that simplifying everything has been the slogan of the past 50 years: now everyone in a wheelchair can consider herself a classical dancer: it’s no difficult anymore!

It is amusing that a few individuals, who prefer to be called senior dancers and senior critics, imagine that their “elite” opinions alone somehow determine how Bharatanatyam or Odissi is “accepted”, while their names are either unknown or vaguely recollected by 95% of the contemporary Bharatanatyam and Odissi dancers who don’t ever read the Friday Reviews or attend “National” seminars (with 50 local attendees) or ever get mentioned by the press or featured on TV. While the top of an iceberg may imagine it determines its course, in reality it is the bulk of the iceberg, hidden under the water, that is driven by the ocean currents – regardless of what does Malavika Sarukkai .


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

Bharatanatyam competitions, Concern India and political correctness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The group performances hardly had to do anything with Bharatanatyam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bharatanatyam: “maintaining a competitive edge”! Bharata natyam dancer Harinie Jeevitha and the Natya Shastra’s karana’s. Is Bharatnatyam a classical Indian dance or folk? Bharathanatyam in Chennai

Bharatanatyam styles: winning the war for the spectators’ attention? The competition in the Bharata natyam field reaching its heights.

Bharatanatyam
bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

In the past 10 months as many as 85 (!) visitors to my blog bombarded me with their messages, writings, links and requests to post articles on various upcoming Bharata natyam dancers of the younger generation. As most of these visitors asked about Harinie Jeevitha , we decided to dedicate some space to this famous teenage virtuoso who not only reached the heights of popularity among Chennai rasikas and Bharatnatyam dancers but became ubiquitous on the Internet – even more than Medha Hari. Apart from various blogs mentioning Harinie, such as this one, Narthaki.com recently published another review of her recital (there was one last year) which we will quote and comment upon first. Following Sangeetha’s example who prefers simply to re-post what she finds elsewhere…
Well, tomorrow, we will add more comments and try to find out what makes her so successful.

Review from Narthaki.com:

Why do most dancers performing in early January see nearly empty auditoriums? The 7th of January offered 11 dance programs (apart from quite a few music concerts) taking place at the same time. There were solo Bharatanatyam recitals by Malini Srinivasan, Priya Venkatraman, Suma Mani, Shradha Balu, a ballet by students of Ranganayaki Jayaraman, a group performance by students of Parvathy Mohan, another by the students of Swaralaya, yet another by dancers of Bharata Kalanjali, a Kuchipudi recital by Deepika Reddy and
an Odissi performance by Sujata Mohapatra. The 11th dance program was a Bharatanatyam solo that, surprisingly, attracted over 150 rasikas to Rama Rao Kala Mandapam who came to watch a recital by Harinie Jeevitha, a student of S.U..

Whenever any big Bharatanatyam school’s best dancer is performing, the hall is never half empty. What is surprising about it? Some rasikas who went there told us that there were just a dozen of foreigners.

Bharatanatyam

Harinie’s opening item, Ganesha Kautuvam in ragam natai and adi talam, was full of refined sculpturesque poses, intricate movements and high jumps that her supple body performed with ease, delineating each curve and bend with precision. While many dancers hardly lift their heels or hardly lift their feet while doing fast steps, Harinie’s feet moved fully and sharply, making her salangai produce a variety of sounds.

The next item was Annamacharya’s kirtanam “Vande Vasudevan” in sri ragam and kanda chapu talam, where Harinie’s expressions brought out the depth of bhakti and the devotee’s perceptions of the Lord. Varnam “Aadal Nayagam” composed by Madurai R. Muralidharan in kalyani ragam and adi talam, was full of difficult adavus where Harinie accentuated each beat with sharp movements of her chin and her eyes. Each jathi was choreographed in a distinct manner.

Srinidhi sent in her comments:
If many say that Madurai R. Muralidharan has reached the bottom of his career, it is because of the primitive music and very poor lyrics of pieces like Aadal Nayagam. Incessant repetitions and paucity of substance make it even worse! Why should good musicians and dancers try to salvage his poor compositions?

Bharatanatyam

The varnam had a lot of surprises for the spectators in its complex and
fast nritta passages that contained a large number of the most difficult karanas. “The karanas are here not merely for a spectacular aesthetic effect,” commented S.U., “they are here to evoke the spirit of Nataraja.”

As you could read in our previous posts on the karanas, they also mark the difference between the folkish Bharatanatyam and the classical (Natya Shastra-based) Bharatanatyam. The biggest challenge a choreographer may face is the use of the karanas in a Bharatanatyam piece, therefore most gurus just don’t bother.


vrscikarecitam

vrscikarecitam

vrscikarecitam

After all, even Padma Subrahmaniam made many mistakes, one of which was promoting herself instead of promoting her best students who could perform the karanas far better than Padma. Janaki Rangarajan did appear a few times in Padma’s Karana Prakaranam DVD – to illustrate a few most difficult karanas.

Another, Karana Viniyoga Mallika DVD failed miserably in this regard too, as the late Sundari Santhanam could not perform any karanas fully and gracefully, and did not let her best students do more than 40% of the demonstrations. Shouldn’t the art be treated as something greater than some “senior” dancer’s personal vanity?

karana

99% of the Bharatanatyam students are totally incapable of performing the more demanding karanas, so why torture the poor students?


Padma Subrahmaniam writes, “The Nritta Karanas can be broadly classified as those pertaining to graceful dance, those meant for acrobatic display, and others for buffoons”. Can acrobatic karanas can be performed gracefully? Of course: only if you are in top shape!

Padma Subrahmaniam‘s disgraceful  “demonstration” (which looks more like madcap buffoonery) of Vrscikakuttitam in the 3rd volume of her book is of course the proof of her poor judgement and the miserable state of her body. It is the explanation of why she is not particularly popular among the Bharatanatyam dancers – and the DMK politicians who recently took back from her the land Ms.Jayalalitha (K.J.Sarasa’s student) gave her.

Perhaps Lord Nataraja himself through Mr.Karunanidhi’s action was laughing at Padma Subrahmaniam, showing that dancers do not need to waste their time on useless political and social activities.

Bharatanatyam

These fast changing difficult poses and acrobatic karanas require extraordinary balance and raised a storm of applause every time they were seen. However Harinie should polish some passages before presenting them on the stage, as freezing in a difficult static pose right in the middle of a very fast paced passage is a tremendous challenge to any dancer.

Speaking of karanas, surprisingly, the YouTube video gives the impression that S.U. has succeeded in choreographing and Harinie Jeevitha in handling the karanas in a harmonious and organic fashion indeed. S.U. did not repeat Sundari Santhanam’s mistake: instead of dancing herself, she let Harinie Jeevitha do it! 🙂

The theermanams themselves contained only 3 steps, much fewer than the average, much to the delight of those rasikas who cannot digest the ornamentalism of Shobana’s overstretched 20-step-long theermanams. Actually, Aadal Nayagam’s theermanams themselves did not end in the customary manner but with a brief scuplturesque sequence of nritta.

bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

Papanasam Sivan’s “Ka Va Va” in varali ragam and adi talam was the fourth item. It began – and ended too – with portraying a devotee eagerly waiting for the Lord to appear. It was a pleasant surprise to see such a young dancer convey the spiritual significance of such spiritually significant passages faithfully. Harinie’s abhinaya, with a rich palette of bhavas, was candid and touching. She was the very embodiment of Shiva’s nature in the scene of Shiva burning Manmadan. Her long fingers lent an exquisite artistic touch to each “plain” action.

While Harinie was portraying a devotee pleading with the Lord, each repetition of the same line brought about a visibly different variation in her abhinaya. Some passages were performed with a childlike abandon and innocence, which was particularly handy while portraying delicate coyness. Such uninhibited abhinaya has the power to convince and move the spectators’ hearts and minds. She was masterful at drishya bhedas, her eyelids impeccably following the tune and the rhythm. She moved smoothly and effortlessly between the semi-standing to sitting positions, without any unnecessary moves.

Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

The concluding item was Dr. M Balamuralikrishna’s thillana in Kathanakuthukalam ragam. It was full of complex nritta and sculpturesque poses. Harinie’s long and
flexible fingers assumed the impeccable nritta hasthas at the right moments. Her mukha abhinaya was in harmony with the movements of her limbs, her face sparkling with myriad harmonious and spontaneous expressions. The thillana ended with a “trademark” pose characteristic of the dancers of SN. One of the rasikas, Bharatanatyam dancer Anita Sivaraman (granddaughter of Papanasam Sivan), concluded, “Harinie is obviously an extremely talented dancer.”

Quoting another, earlier review (seen in a few places already):

A recent Bharatanatyam recital by Harinie Jeevitha was attended by the rasikas filling a third of the Narada Gana Sabha’s Mini Hall in Chennai. The recital, organized by Kartik Fine Arts, who are noted for their efforts in picking up the young Bharatanatyam talents.

The items in this Bharata natyam recital

The invocatory item was in ragam Amrita Varshini and Adi talam. Harinie’s long and flexible fingers assumed the impeccable nritta hasthas at the right moments, lending the jathis the additional charm. Harinie’s mukha abhinaya was attuned to the movements of her limbs, her beautiful face sparkling with a myriad of harmonious and spontaneous expressions of the exuberant danseuse. Harinie’s nritta and nritya were full of refined sculpturesque poses and movements that her supple body assumed with ease, delineating each curve and bend with a high precision.

Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

One peculiar movement, resembling a chari in Padma Subrahmaniam’s interpretation but with a higher amplitude, was the sideway swing of the outstretched leg in a graceful manner. This peculiar move left some viewers wondering how many dancers would be able to perform it as gracefully, highlighting the visual beauty of Bharatanatyam.
Harinie was fast and neat in executing the pirouettes, lifting high her knee sideways. Sitting in araimandi in a Vinayaka pose, she was able to jump forward and backward effortlessly and keeping good balance, something that few dancers are capable of doing nowadays.

Bharatanatyam

Professional dance photographers, who complain they usually have to discard most of the photos they take as “not quite beautiful”, would quickly notice one unique point about Harinie: it would be very hard to find a bad photo of hers.

Photos are always a problem for 99% of Bharatanatyam dancers!
Dominique Mong-Hune, while explaining why Priyadarsini Govind’s posters wisely use the spectacular photos of other schools’ dancers (actually, not just Priya but many Bharatanatyam schools worldwide),
wrote here:

“No need for her to compare to a young “prodigy” of SN who has still years to mature her already perfect technique”

Perhaps he used “to mature” as a euphonism to “grow old”! If the technique is “perfect” (well, who is perfect?), it’s fine. As for “maturity”, if it means “adequacy” or “accuracy” in the presentation, some children understand the deeper, spiritual things and express them in a far more genuine, spontaneous, pure and natural way than all the thousands of “mature” dancers who can express adequately only the ordinary human experiences and who appear vulgar parodist when they attempt to express the spiritual things.

Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

The varnam Sakiye by Tanjor Quarted in Ananda Bhairavi ragam followed. It was in Adi talam too, just as the rest of the items. Harinie commenced it with a series of difficult adavus, accentuating each beat with sharp movements of her chin and her eyes. The circular torso movements immediately preceeding the theermanams were performed with a larger amplitude than usual, which underlined the agile danseuse’s skill. However, the theermanams themselves contained only 3 steps, much fewer than the average, much to the delight of those rasikas who cannot digest the ornamentalism of Shobana’s overstretched 20-step-long theermanams.

After the first jathi was over, one regular rasikas noted that, although the vocalist sang a “pidi”, a more complex pattern not normally used for a Bharatanatyam accompaniment, Harinie was nevertheless able to follow the undulating tune effortlessly and faithfully, which also highlighted the responsiveness of her mobile and agile limbs to the music. When asked what helps her in perfecting laya, Harinie said that it was to her vocal classes.

That’s an interesting point about “pidi”. If I understand it right, it denotes a sliding manner of vocal music when the vocalist dwells in the microtones area, the “notes between the notes”, much longer than normal. If it is already a great feat to make one’s body responsive to each note, how much harder is it to make it react to the microtones!

While Harinie was portraying a devotee pleading with the Lord, each repetition of the same line brought about a visibly different variation in her abhinaya. The passages like “please bring it to me immediately” were done with a childlike abandon and innocence, which was particularly handy while portraying delicate coyness. Such uninhibited abhinaya has the power to convince and move the spectators’ hearts and minds.

Bharatanatyam

Harinie was masterful at drishya bhedas, her eyelids impeccably following the tune and the rhythm. She moved smoothly and effortlessly between the semi-standing to sitting positions, without any unnecessary moves.

The second jathis in her Bharatanatyam recital made a friend of mine wonder if it was borrowed – almost in its entirety – from another varnam of S.U.. As it turned out to be, it was indeed taken from varnam Senthil Mevum, which raises the question whether a choreographer can simply recycle entire sets of jathis and re-use them again and again, even if they have proved to be a big hit.

One could not help observing that Harinie’s jathis perhaps needed a larger space than the 10-feet-wide stage of the mini hall. Harinie was elegant and refined in every move, whether she was taking rose water or grinding the sandal paste, her fingers lending an exquisite artistic touch to each “plain” action, although her renderings here were certainly not as elaborately perfect in this regard as Alarmel Valli’s. However, Harinie’s depiction of the mischievous Krishna, for instance, or the mood fluctuations from grief and back to joy were rendered smoothly and masterfully.

Bharatanatyam

The third item was a padam by Uttukadu Venkata Kavi in ragamalika. Here, the danseuse masterfully, and somewhat playfully, portrayed the contrast between Murugan’s 12 hand versus the devotee’s 2. Harinie’s long and mobile neck moved very gracefully, along with the opening and the closing of her eyelids, in the depiction of the peacock. She was elegant in her detached portrayal of the evil powers in the episode that says, “As long as Muguran is with me, no evil can harm me”. Harinie’s abhinaya in “I have only 2 hands to receive your blessings, while you have 12” was very overwhelmingly candid and touching, almost materialising the images of the scene. In this scene Harinie’s childlike disappointent with the received gifts was charming and brought a smile on the rasikas’ faces, just as in another scene, when she was contrasting Murugan’s greatness with the devotee’s smallness. It was a surprise to see such a young dancer to be so mature as to convey the spiritual significance of such passages faithfully.

The fourth item was a thillana by Dr.M.Balamuralikrishna in Kathanakuthukalam ragam. It was choreographed in a very original way and performed in even more original manner, fully of complex nritta and rare sculpturesque poses. It ended with a “trademark” pose characteristic of the dancers of SN.

Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

Scope for further improvement

While Harinie was certainly very impressive in her recital, a trained eye could see that there are of course some areas she should pay more attention to. So, for instance, while her pirouettes maintained a vertical axis in the fast movement, she had some difficulty maintaining the balance in the slow turnarounds. Freezing suddenly in an absolutely static pose in the middle of a very fast-paced thillana is a tremendous challenge to any dancer.

Can we expect the araimandi level to be very steady, and not undulating, even when the dancer gets somewhat tired after dancing for 40-50 minutes continuously? Another question is, can we, or rather should we, expect a 13-year-old tender and delicate girl to be able to realistically portray a demon or a warrior, considering the fact that, typically, a danseuse who has achieved mastery in the tandavas is no longer capable of rendering the delicate lasyas?

Bharatanatyam

The dancers can and should learn by watching other dancers’ performances too. Had Harinie stayed in the hall after finishing her slot and watched the next dancer’s recital, she could have learnt that mastering a wide range of tempos is far easier to achieve than mastering a wide range of accelerations and decelerations, which becomes very prominent particularly in rendering different varieties of lasya.

New avenues?

One of the rasikas observed that the spectators too should be praised for braving Chennai’s traffic during the rush hours. “It takes the same time to go from Tambaram to Alwarpet as it takes from Toronto to Detroit, one rasikas complained. In such a situation, it is no wonder that more and more spectators prefer to watch Bharatanatyam recitals – as well as competitions – on TV.

The Bharatanatyam TV competitions conducted by Jaya TV and Doordarshan are increasingly popular, and it is no wonder the Harinie won the first prizes there too.

YouTube has this one to offer:

Neither live programmes nor television can stand comparison with the emerging medium of the Internet.
We were surprised to hear Harinie’s proud classmates revealing that her Internet videos receive lakhs of views per year.

Bharatanatyam

The 11-year-old child prodigy’s arangetram video became the most-watched Bharata natyam videos on the Web. With 400000 views (twice as many as Malavika Sarukkai’s) on YouTube alone, this Bharatanatyam video became a truly viral one:

The 13-year-old Harinie is probably one of the best-known junior dancers of today, with a large and impressive collection of Bharatanatyam prizes and awards. Apart from the prizes at competitions held in Chennai, she easily wins the first prizes in the all-India level competitions in Mumbai, Hyderabad or Bangalore too.

The orchestra

Nagai Narayanan (mridangam), a wel-known percussive expert, provided, along with S.U.’s nattuvangam, a firm guidance for Harinie’s steps and abhinaya. The other members of the orchestra included the vocalist Rajeshwari Kumar, who had a hard time struggling with a faulty mike provided by Narada Gana Sabha. Ramesh on the flute and Muruganandan on the violin were accurate and professional in their approach.

Bharat Kalachar’s titles. Anita Sivaraman. Anitha. Bharatanatyam. Bharata natyam.Bharatnatyam. Bharathanatyam . Classical Indian dance and dancers in Chennai. Bharatanrityam

Bharat Kalachar

(this is related to our post on Anita Sivaraman)
Remark: I don’t know why dancers post on YouTube the worst or most boring fragments from their recitals!

If you attended Anita Sivaraman’s recital at Bharat Kalachar, you would understand that she is a “perfected” and refined form of Swathy Ashok, if we can say so. This time her abhinaya was indeed more profound, and evoked the vivid images of the stories. I think that this vividness comes from the colourful and lively techniques of Kuchipudi and Srikanth’s style of Bharatanatyam that she learnt. Which is one of the main reasons Savithri Jagannatha Rao and Radha did not like it (as well as the presence of karanas) at the Cleveland competition.

Anita Sivaraman

Anita Sivaraman

It is not just a matter of style but a matter of how expressive your face is. Anita’s face can produce thousands of nuances of fast-changing expressions and as many degrees of intensity and saturation. If your palette is not rich…. Set your monitor to 256 colour palette and open your own photo. Will you like it? No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o…

If you know another dancer of Anita’s age who has personally choreographed all of her items, let me know: I will be surprised. In her choreographic genius, Anita manages to squeeze up to 5 times more detail in the same passage than an average Bharatanatyam dancer in Chennai.Drink the 100% orange juice, and then drink a 20% (diluted) orange juice that is available in most shops in Chennai.Or Delhi. Priya Venkatraman’s recital (a very good one, by the way) felt quite insipid – after watching Anita’s.

The elaborate richness of Anitha Sivaraman’s abhinaya nuances is intimately connected with her state of mind and her imagination. “Internalization” is a dancers’ term for it, and here, to be frank, there is quite a scope of improvement in Anita’s case. This is what makes the clear and lively images appear in the rasikas’ minds. Actually, not only minds. The Tantrics of Andhra are notorious for materializing things by power of their imagination. Know Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, eh?

On top of that, the sheer variety of rhythms, jathis, mudras and even karanas (there could be more of these, though, and a couple of them could be done more fully – like this) keeps our attention glued to the dancer (very important in case of the easily distracted American audience). Interestingly, I asked 2 well-known Bharatanatyam gurus about their analysis of certain small and distinct passages from Anita’s items. The gurus passed some general comments (Nice, Great, Beautiful, etc), which showed that their minds were clearly not in an analytical mode: they were just lost in Anit’s joyous dancing. Anita’s enthusiasm was so infectious!

In the beginning of the varnam, she depicted the dances of Shiva and Parvathy with finesse, although the quick transitions from tandava to lasya need to be perfected and made sharper and clearer. The choreography was simply superb. However, the dancers have to understand that watercolours are not quite suitable for Bharatanatyam: after Anita finished portraying Ravana, in a couple of instances she could not change her expression to Shiva’s as fast as she planned, so there was some leftover expression on her face. I suspect Anita is planning to become the fastest dancer in abhinaya. Curiously, I noticed that the faster you speak, the faster you can move your face. Want to try? 🙂 It is related to the proportion of tamas in your system.

Combining two themes (Ravana’s lifting the Kailasa and Nanadar’s path to the realizatin of the Shiva) in one varnam is questionable. Why not split these into 2 separate items? Yes, both are about Shiva, but…

Anyway, whether Anita realized it or not, she – along with the orchestra – did manage to bring the presence of Shiva much closer to the rasikas. One of the best realizations of Shiva’s nature that I have ever seen! Nobody was chewing chips or talking on the mobile. Everybody, even the gate keepers standing with open mouths, was engrossed in the highly spiritual experience. I think Anita is the most popular dancer in the US temples.

Muralidharan shook off his customary laziness and did a good job of instrumentation of the music so that it brought out the essence of the topics Anita was depicting. He created most of the jathis too.

The musicians were marvelous! What the orchestra did was to vary the tempo (I am not talking about kala ) gradually in most pieces. A typical Bharatanatyam dancer sticks to 3 flat (even) kala, but few manage to achieve a variety of tempos in each kala. In Anita’s thillana in particular, no single tempo was held for more than, errrr, 10 seconds? In other words, the tempo was constantly changing, practically all the time. Towards the end (5-10 seconds before) of each piece there was a significant change in the totality of the music, which emphasised the culmination of each item. Normally, the ending of items are not so clearly defined. I think here we have some western influence, but so well integrated into Anita’s items that it looks natural.

Sometimes I did not know whether to look at Anita or at the musicians. Take K.S.Sudhaman, for instance. I have never heard a mridangist who would manage to achieve a greater dynamic range and fit a greater variety of beats into one talam!

On top of that, he was accompanied by a tabla player. Very interesting combination. Preethi Mahesh was nearly excellent, although her voice’s tonal quality need to be cleaned.The veena player, M.L.Narayanan, was doing a great job, especially in the varnam, which was about Ravana playing the veena (remember made of what?). Priya Venkatraman does not understand that the veena (if played by a master) can be by far more effective instrument than the violin.

One thing I don’t like about many musicians and Muralidharan in paticular is how they fleece the dancers regardless whether these are mediocre dancers who deserve such treatment or the outstanding dancers who should certainly be treated differently. You can of course convert your musical talents into hard currency, but if you become too greedy, and a kind of vampire… I feel that gods will not give Muralidharan in his next birth a musical gift to sell. He may rather become a hungry mosquito…. It is a pity to see how money and greed destroys people. Unfortunately, many great artistes believe that their works of art “belong” to them, that they can “sell” them. Eventually, the slender river of inspiration dries out, and these people end up their life without any musical taste left.

“It is the NRI’s who have promoted Bharat Kalacharam, even more than the resident Indians”, uttered the professional speaker Mrs.YGP after mentioning that she conferred the title of “Yuvakala Bharati” on Anita Sivaraman. At Bharat Kalachar, there are no competitions: Mrs.YGP doesn’t like these: there is a risk a non-PSBB student could win the prizes. So, there are only titles.

Mrs.YGP is known to utter some politically motivated nonsense, such as “If X is a good dancer, it is because she is studying in a Padma Seshadri school”, and then “Even though Z has not studied in a Padma Seshadri school, she dances as if she did study at a Padma Seshadri school. She is always welcome to join a Padma Seshadri school”. Well, Mrs.YGP has a hobby of gathering good dancers and musicians around herself (Bharat Kalachar). Mrs.YGP personally persuaded such a well-known personality as MH to join a PS school too. The PS school teachers do not scold Bharatanatyam dancers for low marks. The Bharatanatyam dancers get extra bonus marks for any subject. Want to skip an exam? Ok…. Parava illai. 🙂

Mrs.YGP is too old not to distinguish between a good artiste and a bad one, and occasionally gets quite annoyed when some dance VIP pushes a useless dancer upon her.Well, why did Madam arrive only towards the end of Anita’s slot then??? She knows that, within 5-10 years, she will cross the border of life and enter a world where there is no politics, and no Bharat Kalachar. What I also know for sure is that her sins will be effaced by her good karma, so she will spend a long vacation (before the next incarnation) in a happy world of gandharvas. She will not reach higher. Maybe next time.

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.

Sabha business & sri Sumukhi Rajasekharan Foundation: how our fellow Indians dupe us and make $$ from promoting the “traditional Indian” culture

There is one thing about Sumukhi Rajasekharan Foundation (SRF) that makes people wonder why their award functions gather fully packed auditoriums (300-400 people at least), but there are hardly 20-30 rasikas attending their “regular” Bharatanatyam programmes – even when these programmes present excellent dancers (such as the little virtuoso Sri Gayathri, who got the VDS Arts Academy’s Best Dancer award, and whose guru, Vijay Madhavan, featured her in his Sanmatham Bharathiyil DVD) .

Isn’t it because no serious rasikas, critics and dancers take SRF seriously? SRF recently jumped on the bandwagon of the profitable sabha business in Chennai. SRF launched its Exclusive NRIs’ “Kala Poshakam”, while other sabhas are now quietly making $$ from non-exclusive festivals where the rich (but visibly inferior) NRI dancers and foreigners pay 50 times more than a poor but exceptionally talented Chennai dancer can afford. Although Hamsadhwani was the pioneer in cashing in on bringing the NRI dancers to Chennai, SRF’s recent II Year International Art Festival of Dance & Music included hardly any Bharatanatyam dancers from Madras, so as to avoid embarrassing the less-capable NRI dancers and make them feel good. As S. Surendranath explained it, “You see, at Marghazhi Bala Utsavam we were planning to give titles even to the winners in such traditional categories as Junk Art but, surprisingly, we received no NRI bids”.

Well, SRF so far have tried to follow the simple method that other sabhas adopted: to enhance the “prestiigeousness” of a newly introduced title, the sabha gives such a new title to a well-known dancer of (obviously?) high caliber. Then, in a few year’s time, these well-known dancers discover that the same title has been given to the dancers who are not in their league. Naturally, they rave and rant, post their protests (like the Dhananjayans), curse the sabha, threaten to throw away the title/award into the garbage bin, and so on. The rasikas enjoy the social comedy.

The SRF followed this scenario and gave the first (or was it one of the first?) “Natya Bala Brahmam” to the dancers who were outstanding ( Medha Hari), then it tricked down to very good dancers and so on. Some utterly useless dancers too such as Shraddha Nagaraj got the title of “Nrithya Bala Sri”. Yet we received no response regarding the criteria on which SRF founds its allocation of these titles. In any case, SRF, like other sabhas, allocates these annually, which usually means that sooner or later all the deserving dancers as well as undeserving ones will be awarded this title. As one Bharatanatyam dancer awarded the SRF’s title told us “I was not sure whether to accept it or not because SRF is mainly known for its folk dance, junk art, fancy dress, and kolam competitions, and the ancient Indian “Master Mylapore” contest“.

Here is a quote from the Hindu on how awards are given:

One of them was once approached by a sabha, which offered to honour her with an award. Happiness at such a recognition soon turned to dismay and indignation when she found out that she was expected to sponsor her award. Needless to add that she called it off.

SRF is currently largest junk organization if you judge by the sheer number of the children who get a chance to be seen on the stage and who get certificates, memo’s, and titles, whether it is Junk Art or Fancy Dress. The latter was particularly interesting as SRF present’s itself as a supporter of “traditional” Indian culture. Some smarter NRI’s are still perplexed to hear that SRF considers as traditional such musical instruments as violin , electronic keyboard, and saxophone. “We are considering including traditional Jazz in our folk dance programmes”, a SRF representative told us.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

There is one element that distinguishes Sri Sumukhi Rajasekharan Memorial Foundation from other cultural organizations in South India: the strict dress code. While Mr. S Surendranath sports a traditional Persian kurtha, the outfit that arrived in North India along with the Arab invaders not so long ago (this is something that Mr. S. Amarnath with his Doctorate in History, tries not to mention), SRF’s lower-ranking functionaries are dressed in traditional French shirts, English trousers and Italian-style shoes. The top two men from the Mylapore Trio confess, “We do not want to wear Dhoti because we are hoping to get the sponsorships from the Muslim community too”.

SRF’s web site states its “dress code”: “Girls: uption 13 years – Paavaadai, Chokka”. No sleeveless for Girls & Women

Mr. S. Amarnath explains, “We try to have our programmes in the traditional, air-conditioned auditoriums, so as to create the ambience similar to what my ancestors had in Iran’s winter 500 years ago. If any South Indian women dare tell us that it is too hot for South India to wear long sleeves, we warn them that they would catch a cold if they come to our programmes. We are considering making the traditional burka mandatory too”

One woman remarks, “These folks invited us for their fancy dress competition, but their dress code states, “No Fancy Bindhis”! An SRF guard was clearly embarassed when asked to explain where is his ruler to help him measure the size of Pottu – only in Red colour / Min. Size: 8mm Round or Thilakam.

One of the “traditional” elements in SRF’s events are the demand for children to be separated from their parents so that they would happily chat to other kids, play and fight with each other in the front rows, and run towards their mommies every time they want some water or a few biscuits.

“One of our aims is to create a traditional Indian noisy atmosphere that would make the performers on the stage realize that life is no funny matter”, explained SRF’s president. We do not know why SRF functionaries encourage them to clap their hands in an untraditional, un-Indian matter: applause came from the uncultured West, didn’t it? And the rasikas sit in the untraditional, un-Indian armchairs. SRF’s T-shirt-clad cameramen would traditionally point their cameras with the traditional mounted 1KVA floodlights right into your eyes, 2 meters away from your face. The rasikas would traditionally curse these idiotic cameramen in their minds, and swear that they would never come again to SRF’s programmes.

SRF’s Ms. S. Aparna, sporting a traditional Swiss watch, comments, “Of course, the musicians and vocalists who sing at our programmes are using the traditional Indian mikes, antique amplifiers and loudspeakers of the M.Gandhi era. With the proper NRI funding, we are going to eradicate all mention of Sangeetha Ratnakara: this text does not mention the necessity for a vocalist to use a traditional electronic shruti box. Instead, it describes too many harmful practices that can help a vocalist develop a strong voice that would undermine the business of our traditional microphone manufacturers.”

Secrets of Lasya and Abhinaya. Divyatha Arun: a lonely bright star among the mediocre K.J.Sarasa’s Bharatanatyam students? Bharata natyam careers.

After watching 20 or so of her mostly mediocre or outright bad students in the past few years, the only thing that urged me to go and see her programme was the picture of her dancing with Shanmugha, K.J.Sarasa’s senior assistant, that my daughter discovered in The Hindu last year. “If he was dancing with her, she should be really good”, she exclaimed. And she was right!

Shanmugha understands very well who is good and who is not so. His schoolmate’s – Jayalalitha’s – government awarded him with a title in 2000 🙂 K.J.Sarasa has a lot of political connections in both parties, so if you need a government or other title, go and join her school, pay your fees, show a bit of sychophancy and the title is yours. 🙂

It was not a surprise that the mediocre dancer, Subanjali Sadgurudas, who danced (very primitive choreography) before Divyatha, had the mini hall of NGS fully packed with the social circles of her gurus, the Narasimhacharis. The senile voice of the Narasimhachari was probably not too inspiring. Vasantha looked at him as if he was a senile idiot. He did look so. How can Vasantha Narasimhachari look like as if she were his daughter??? What is the secret of her youthfulness? 🙂

Less than 50 people watched Divyatha. The better the dancer, the fewer the rasikas? 🙂

As soon as Divyatha started, I realized, “Aha, now we are watching some serious choreography!” Usually Sarasa’s students dance some simple (boring!) pieces, but this time it looked really complex. In most, if not in all, schools, some items are for beginners, some for the middle level, and some are for the advanced, so you can very easily tell if the dancer is “advanced” or not. Divyatha is very advanced, and has already opened her own Bharatanatyam school in Coimbatore.

Divyatha will impress you at once with her elegance, her perfect araimandi and excellent angasuddhi. I noticed that some dancers do not have this ability to capture instantly their rasika’s minds. Divyatha has a pretty face, perfect figure and is extremely agile, and fully performed every pose, very sculpturesque! Although as far as flexibility goes she could not fully bend (for example, while lifting her leg) in a couple of instances, but even then it was not as bad as Ranjani Murthy‘s awkward stiffness. (Unfortunately, lately, Divyatha’s dance looked more and more like a male Kalakshetra dancer… 😦 )

I think that from her guru’s point of view, Divyatha’s technique was very good. This girl had an excellent control over her body, and her steps are very crisp and her laya is superb. Her poses were so excellent because she carved them in her mind and only then let her body assume them. This mental “pre-shaping” is a sign of mastery. She bent her torso effortlessly, swiftly and fully in every direction!

She also displayed a mastery over the dancing space too: even though NGS’s mini hall provides the dancer with hardly 9 sq metres of floor, she used this limited space remarkably well. I think it shows her experience. Very few dancers can do it.

She stooped a few times in a Nataraja-like pose, arching her back – have you ever seen such a pose? Curious… Sleeping Nataraja? Still I was a bit surprised that she lifted her arms stiffly upwards (in Kuttadavu), in a clumsy way, and occasionally she did not complete the left turn fully, unlike the right turn (again in Kuttadavu). Is it Kalakshetra, or what??? 😦

My friend V.R.D. told me that K.J.Sarasa’s students, even the girls, are notoriously bad at mukha abhinaya. Primarily, they lack the expressiveness, the richness, the depth and the subtle details. For example, although both the girls’ schools are formally “Vazhuvoor”, Krupa Rajul Shah in her depiction of the Vamana avatara’s episode was far more subtle, deep, delicate and detailed, and her expressions changed each other much more seamlessly (seen very well in the portrayal of Bali).

It is interesting that both the girls’ interpretation of the Vamana story was so different from the classics. In the original story, we are told that Vamana put his third leg on Bali himself and crushed Bali to the nether or the Patala loka(underground world), thus helping the Gods out. In Divyatha’s and Krupa’s depiction, we see Bali taking off his crown in amazement and adoration of Vamana, and then Vamana blesses him with his foot gently! Wow! Bali is transformed and his life saved! 🙂

Portraying asuras are an interesting area where most dancers fail miserably. While it is easy to show a rakshasa, it is hard to depict an asura. Asuras, in their outward appearance, manners, and behaviour are often indistinguishable from the avatars. The difference is very subtle, and frankly speaking, I have not seen a single dancer who has succeeded perfectly in this kind of depiction. Dancers are so shallow nowadays! Cheap!

Divyatha should read the dice game story, meditate, and understand that Sakuni’s expressions and reactions did not look like a cherri boy’s from Chennai! And Yudhishtira was perhaps more noble, self-contained and refined than what Divyatha showed us. As we do not see any living (real) high-ranking kshatriya’s in the cherri-dominated Madras of Kali Yuga, the dancers’ imagination (and the purity of mind) is the only source for their depictions. But why then portray Bali as if he was a saint???

Ok, Dussasana did treat Draupadi in a rough way, but I am not sure Draupadi felt and behaved in that way. Draupadi was a highly noble woman, she did not behave in a hysterical manner perhaps… Well…

There were 2 typical errors that took away from the perfection of Divyatha ‘s mukha abhinaya. One was the screwing of eyes, and the other error was the smile’s sudden fluctuations (jitters) when the corners of the mouth move unexpectedly down and then suddenly up again and then down and then up. As if the dancer was unsure of whether to smile or not to smile! Divyatha was not as bad here as Urmila Sathyanarayanan and her students. When Urmila is dancing, she demonstrates, “Hey, am I not funny: now I can smile, you see? Now I don’t. You see?” Very coquettish. It is as if the dancer shows that she is not serious at all. The rasikas get the impression, “Huh! This girl is not for real: she is just pretending!”

Divyatha should understand that a smile is when your mouth’s corners are up, not down! Don’t you get a funny impression when you see someone’s lower lip move over the upper teeth? 🙂 Or when the lower jaw moves slightly back? 🙂 Occasionally, this is what this girl did.

Both Divyatha and Krupa were brilliant at conveying the supreme power of the Vamana; Divyatha was superb too in the prayer pose when the song dwelled on invoking Krishna… Krishna… Krishna… Divyatha’s soul is stern, and its power is quite concentrated. She actually understands tapasya more than self-surrender. Unlike most women. Divyatha’s voice is very powerful and vibrant like Arjuna’s voice on Kurukshetra, but I would prefer that it should be more tender, sweet, mellow and warm.

Krupa could learn from Divyatha the lasya ways in angika abhinaya and nrittas. Lasya is much more demanding. From a purely physical point of view, it implies moving not only with a wide range of speeds but, most importantly, a wide range of accelerations (Chitra Visveswaran’s students try to do it to some extent). It is a wide range of accelerations and decelerations that brings out the depth of the angika abhinaya and makes your ntritta intricate and graceful and captivating and professional. Without a wide range of accelerations, you will look like a primitive American robot dancing or doing aerobics. These accelerations lend life and emotional hues to every body movement. And this is what made Divyadha’s angika abhinaya and nrittas so vibrant and graceful.

Perhaps Divyadha can learn some abhinaya from Vani Nagarajan? 🙂 After all, Vani’s mind is not focussed on medical studies. 🙂 And Vani is much less inhibited. Sarasa, like a bad tailor, thinks that everyone’s clothes have to be stitched like a one-size-fit-all uniform: without measuring the poor client’s body.

Sarasa has not had the time yet to pull the ready-made clothes of the wrong size onto the little Vani. Vani does not understand that, in the future, she will be expected to lie a lot and wriggle her face while uttering heaps of flattery for the cherri VIP’s in order to get “opportunities to perform”, titles, and to “succeed in the Bharatanatyam career”. Our life’s experiences leave a deep imprint on our faces. Our disappointments, sufferings, tragedies… This creates a crust, or a shell, through which an adult dancer’s soul’s light cannot penetrate. When I first saw this shell, I was shocked. Very unpleasant.

Divyadha appeared to be preoccupied with one thought, “What impression am I making on the rasikas?” If you look at the dancer after the performance, it is very common to see the dancer’s face displaying 1000 more expressions than they do on the stage. Why do the dancers restrict their expressiveness so much? Because the guru tells them, “You have to do only like this”, “This expression is a mistake”, “That expression is wrong”. This over-correcting suppresses the dancer’s spontaneity and creativity. The Hindu says about Anita Sivaraman, “Srikanth has imparted the aesthetics of the dance style to Anita without curbing her innate enthusiasm.” Anita is lucky that her gurus do not “curb” her individual ways of expressing herself! Unfortunately, most of the gurus are too restrictive (some even introduce it as qualitative abhinayam!), and some gurus (pisacha type) even take delight in killing their student’s expressiveness. They feed on their students’ vital energy. Don’t allow them access to any children or students, and they will die in a week’s time. These people only look human. Two legs, two arms…

“Bharatanatyam careers”!

While she has visibly improved from the last year, I wonder how she manages her medical career. Jyotsna Jagannathan was very happy when she was able to finally – after her marriage – renounce her doctor’s job (still keeping the “Dr.” in her invitations). Jyotsna Jagannathan‘s soul’s urge prevailed over her rational mind’s choices. What about Divyatha?

She proudly announces her MBBS. But…. If you break your leg, would you choose to be treated by a surgeon who tries to impress you by telling you that she is a professional Bharatanatyam dancer who works full time as a software engineer who got a Master’s degree in psychology, and that she dedicates all of her free time to playing cricket on a professional level????

Would you like your house to be constructed by an architect who tries to impress you by saying that he has a PhD. in zoology, M.A. in Greek philosophy, Diploma in acupuncture, and has authored many books on Carnatic music??? It is an unpleasant surprise that most highly talented Bharatanatyam dancers think that Bharatanatyam is merely a “timepass”, or an expensive hobby – like golf! Divyatha is of course quite stupid and very young. Let us hope she grows wiser, like Jyotsna did. 🙂

As Natya Shastra states the qualities required of a female dancer narthaki, “Women who have beautiful limbs, are conversant with the sixty-four (!!!) arts and crafts (kala)… are known as female dancers (narthaki)” . 64!!!

How can anybody nowadays dare call herself “a classical danseuse”? We are sure medicine, business administration or computer science or sewage management are not among these 64 subjects. These 64 subjects (such as the vocal and instrumental music, etc) are related to natya, and enhance the dancer’s performance. We are pretty sure that, had anyone learnt these 64 arts and crafts, she would be making much more money today than a doctor, business manager or a software engineer!

“Vazhuvoor” styles of Bharatanatyam and the magic of abhinaya

Madhula…

I was surprised to see among the 50-strong audience many Bharatanatyam VIP’s, “senior” gurus, critics and young top-notch dancers (and hardly any “ordinary” rasikas!) assembled in the ahe previous performance that K.M.D.Madhula did at the “Spirit of Youth” in the Music Academy, she had to dance even though she had a fever and had had only a few days for rehearsal, as the Academy sent her the “happy news”  only a few days before! The funniest thing is that Madhula did not even know that this festival was actually a competition. (It was part of a brilliant political manoeuvre by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, the Music Academy’s committee member (!), who realized her plan of making her protege, Swetha Vijayaraghavan, the winner of the “Spirit of Youth” competition-festival. Long live Madras politicians! 🙂

This time K.M.D.Madhula was in excellent shape, and every move was well-rehearsed (she complained after the programme that she had to put so much of hard work into this success! 🙂 ) This is the girl who looks absolutely beautiful with or without makeup, and every woman on earth envies her. Have I seen anyone else like her? Hmmmm…. Smitha Madhav’s beauty is more mature and her expressions and movements are not so refined (got worse after her tour in the US, though), while Madhula looks like a 12-year-old girl and her expressions are as pure and delicate as of a little child’s! So elevating, and so inspiring!

Good genes? She moves so gracefully and completes every move. Supple! She has amazing stamina (she announced every item herself, and was never short of breath immediately – even after the varnam!), can be very fast, and she can do the slow passages too. Any shortcomings? Well….. When she got a bit tired, her feet in jatis were spread a bit too far apart, and sometimes she did not sit low enough.

There is one unique thing about Madhula, and this is her eyebrow movements in her abhinaya. Her eyebrow not only move totally independently, but every little section of each eyebrow seems to respond individually every moment to every change of music. Madhula can move her eyebrows in all imaginable and unimaginable ways, and she does it so well that one can only exclaim, “It is natural! You cannot learn it!”. Yes, you can. Without a full control over the eyebrows, the dancer will lose a major part of that captivating magic that most of us can only dream of doing.

I think Madhula’s mother and guru, Amudha Dandayudahpani of Coimbatore’s largest (thanks to Madhula too?) Bharatanatyam school, was determined that she would give birth to a girl who would excel in Bharatanatyam. Perhaps some other women, like Revathy Ramachandran, had this determination too – it has nothing to do with the “hereditary” genes. How little do men’s wishes matter when it comes to choosing what soul is going to be embodied in a particular body! 🙂

Amudha ‘s choreography, although not too rich in terms of variety of elements, is very interesting too (one of the seniormost disciples of Ramaiah Pillai was not happy about a couple of things, though). Madhula dances so well that every moment her body does 1000 extremely complex and elaborate movements (she is very flexible in every joint) that enabled Madhula to have a perfect laya and compensated for any perceived simplicity of choreography. Amudha’s nattuvangam was not flawless, according to the Music College nattuvangam teacher who stood up after the first item and rushed to watch Jyotsna Jagannathan in Sivagami Petachi Auditorium. Well, did many other people care to notice it if Madhula danced so well???

I hope the charismatic Jyotsna does not curse me for not attending another of her recitals, but it was a Vazhuvoor day in Mypalore that Sunday. At the same time (why do they do it???): Madhula’s, Jyotsna’s and Srithika Kasturirangan‘s performances! A very difficult choice for most rasikas! The three stars competing with each other 🙂 You would never believe that all these three dancers are of… “Vazhuvoor” style! Which Vazhuvoor, eh???? 🙂

“Madhula is my friend”, said (with admiration and love in his eyes! 🙂 Shanmuga Sundaram, a seniormost assistant of K.J.Sarasa of Vazhuvoor style. “Madhula is my friend”, said Devi Ghanshyam Das. Devi became the number one among Lakshmi Ramaswamy’s (seniormost student of Chitra Visweswaran, one of the well-known Vazhuvoor style gurus) students after Roshini Rajamohan regrettably lost her shape a year ago. Devi Ghanshyam Das recently released her DVD video (you can see a piece of it on YouTube), which is one of the best one I have watched!

While Chitra Visweswaran’s girls (except, perhaps, for Vijay Madhavan’s Sri Gayathri) dance only in skirts that severely restrict the leg movements so that the “dance” is more like walking or running around the stage, Madhula in her elegant pyjama costume was moving her legs effortlessly, powerfully and effectively in all directions, making a great impression! I think it impressed even V.P.Dhananjayan, a Kalakshetra-style guru, who came and was waiting to do the second slot’s recital. Did V.P.Dhananjayan appreciate the graceful charm and fluidity of the Vazhuvoor school? 🙂 No, he likes the simpler lines of the Italian ballet more. And the grotesque Kathakali abhinaya that is suitable for watching only from 1 km away.

But then, Madhula was fantastic even she did a piece portraying the fierce nature of goddess Kali: everything, her amazingly expressive face (she even put out her tongue), the sharp moves full of power, her acute sense of rhythm, brought out Kali so vividly that I could not take my eyes off her! While one of the typical errors that plagues the professional dancers is what we can call the “mechanical mudras“, when they do it automatically, Madhula was doing each mudra and hastha accurately and put her consciousness into every finger’s move. A mudra cannot be powerful unless we do it consciously! This consciousness was one of the hallmarks of Madhula’s recital. Without it, every American robot can dance “Bharatanatyam”.

Madhula got a Master’s degree in Bharatanatyam in Chennai. I do not know why she needed that useless degree! She is much better at Bharata natyam than her university phoney “Bharatanatyam” “professors” who do not have any degree! (I will ask Chitra Visweswaran if Ramaiah Pillai had any “degree” in Bharatanatyam!). Madhula’s mom was not entirely happy with the side effects of this “academics”: the Kalakshetra stamp. A few months ago Amudha said, “I promise that by winter I will make her unlearn all the stupid Kalakshetra trash that she learnt in Chennai”. And she did keep her promise. Fortunately! 🙂

Girija Ramaswamy was again at her best, singing with powerful yet not hysterical emotions (why does Alarmel Valli keep her hysterical vocalist?) that flow from the depth of her heart, filled with profound bhavas. Girija is one of my favourite masters. Her delicate voice brings out the subtle nuances of the lyrics, and it is full of Bhakti!

Bangalore Bharatanatyam dancers, Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai vs Kalakshetra, lasya, tejas, the dancers age, purity of mind, and the secret of movements, Kalanidhi Narayan and Balasaraswati

(Based on new writings from A.)

Priyanka

” Smt. Revathi Narasimhah is one of Karnataka’s leading dance gurus” is a standard beginning in her students brochures. And I fully endorse this statement. I do not know what kind of students she has in Bangalore, but when she brings someone (usually, quite rich girls… 🙂 ) to  perform in Chennai, you bet these recitals are truly worth watching!

Revathi Narasimhan is among the top 3-4 choreographers that I know of (and I know more than 150). Her choreography and style is quite different from anything we are used to in Chennai. When I first saw Priyanka Chandrasekhar, it was such a pleasure to see such a dignified, beautiful and delicate girl trained so well.

While a trained eye will notice a plenty of momentary ugly expressions on 99% of the professional dancers, there were none on Priyanka’s face. Very polished and dignified mukha abhinaya – at the expense of variety? Every movement was very well-practised and was full of force. The forceful movements, the forceful abhinaya and accurate nritta and decent angasuddhi were the hallmarks of her schoolmate, Krupa Rajul Shah, who gathered in Vani Mahal almost as many rasikas as Alarmel Valli managed to draw to her first recital this year in Bharat Kalachar. People know that Revathi Narasimhah has high standards, and it ensures the attendance.

(Krupa is on the left)

Both Priyanka and Krupa were suspiciously similar in every way, and looked like sisters. Partly, it is because of the makeup (some of the best styles that I have seen). While 60% of all dancers’ makeup make them look worse than they do without it, the other 40% use it to enhance their features.

I do not know why Rupa wrote that in The Hindu, but I saw a lot of vigour in Priyanka’s and especially in Krupa’s recitals. This vigour and forcefullness, matched with the angular movements, made me doubt if it is indeed Vazhuvoor style. “I had to modify the Vazhuvoor style, as the rising popularity and spread of the Kalakshetra style forced me to make it more attractive for more people”, said Revathi. The cost of such modification was huge: most of the charm and delicate softness of Ramaiah Pillai’s heritage vanished. While both Priyanka and Krupa excelled in the passages that required tandava, they both (especially Krupa) failed in doing the passages where lasya was dominant. The intricate patterns and elaborate movements of Ramaiah Pillai’s style were replaced by the simplified, straight lines of Kalakshetra. Such a pity!

Krupa‘s varnam Devar Munivar was full of inspiration, bhakti, nobility and power (the passages with the Narasimhah and the Vamana avataras in particular were full of tejas and the images were so vivid and awe-inspiring that it gave me goosebumps, and my mind bowed down in humble adoration to the feet of this girl)

The next item, padam Indendu Vachidevira, was quite a contrast, as it required a lot of lasya and subtle mukha abhinaya, but Krupa‘s face was quite rigid, the movements were manly, and she obviously did not understand the symbols behind the lyrics. Priyanka was a bit better in this respect.

While Revathi said I cannot expect such young girls to be able to bring out all the nuances of the nayika bhavas, I told her that, in my opinion, some “mature” little uninhibited girls of 11-12 years old (when our soul, chaitya purusha, influences our nature most) such as Sivasri, Medha Hari (she lost it now 😦 ), or, to some extent, Vani Nagarajan and Manaswini Ramachandran (her mom will make her great!), produce richer, more subtle, more refined, pure and more elevating abhinaya in the “adult” padams and varnams. “Such abhinaya is inadequate”? What is “adequate” then, we have a question?

The popular misconception is that some items are “suitable for children” and some are not. The Bhakti movement made use of adult (often crude) human relationships, experiences and feelings, and showed how these can be used as symbols to signify the spiritual relationships, experiences and sentiments. Unfortunately, if we focus more on portraying the details of a token itself instead of what this token stands for, we fail in Natya.

In a Narthaki.com’s article, we read, “The middle class housewife could never be successful in abhinaya because, she was too comfortable and satisfied in her domestic security. The Devadasi on the other hand had to constantly rely on her wit and talent to keep her lover(s) coming back to her. Only a woman who gets up in a morning to find her lover gone knows what viraha is,” maintained housewife Balasaraswati insisting that all poetry and art arise out of this pain of separation rather than from staid fulfillment. Now one of the foremost authorities on abhinaya today is housewife Kalanidhi Narayan. While the general belief is that a dancer’s training is incomplete without learning abhinaya from Kalanidhi, a senior dancer, on condition of anonymity (!!!), expressed her disapproval in the way abhinaya is now being defined as how Kalanidhi Narayan sees it.” The housewife Kalanidhi Narayanan, who released a plenty of her abhinaya lessons on DVDs,made us all believe that, unless a woman has experienced a sexual intercourse with a man, she would not be able to portray the union with the Divine in her Bharatanatyam recital! What a lie! Kalanidhi is only good for training young actresses for vulgar Tamil movies. Kalanidhi will not be able to explain to you why the original devadasis were celibate their entire life!

No, Maami, Natya is not like photography, not the Tamil movies, it is like painting the invisible, the spiritual.

While the children may not understand the concrete expressions and the gross adult experiences, they subconsciously understand and feel the spiritual truths behind the symbols much better than the adults.

One of the things that the bharatanatyam dancer must possess for doing a “soft” style is the flexibility and mobility of the joints and muscles, and, most importantly, the movements must originate from the area around the swadhisthana chakra (the centre of physical movement) – something that both the girls somehow did not show (interestingly, some students of Bangalore’s Sundari Santhanam did it very well in their DVD on Karanas )

If a movement does not originate from this natural center, it makes it look forceful, and the dancer soon gets tired. This is one of the first things that you learn in most Asian martial arts.

I noticed that that the girls of 10-12 years old are the best in this respect, and, as we grow older, our bodies become stiffer and lose their responsiveness to music. Some of these 10-12 years olds dance in such a way that every beat, every change of note in the music produces not one, not two, not five but 30-40 well-co-ordinated and spontaneous movements, some of them very small, in every joint, in every muscle. This mobility and responsiveness of the sattva-dominated body helps achieve angasuddhi and laya. A tamasic or rajasic body is unsuitable for Natya.

Anitha Sivaraman, exceptional NRI Bharatanatyam dancers, and more about lokadharmi, natyadharmi and the American lasya. Anita.

Anitha Sivaraman, the world’s fastest dancer?

This post is related to a new post on Anita Sivaraman


Remark: I don’t know why dancers post on YouTube the worst or most boring fragments from their recitals!

A beautiful dancer, with a perfect figure, and very graceful too. How can this 6-feet tall girl move faster and have a better stamina than 99% of the Chennai dancers who are 5 feet tall??? True, at the highest speed, she had to sacrifice the amplitude of some moves, and was sometimes making shortcuts, especially towards the end of the recital, as she was getting tired and was not sitting low enough in araimandi. And did not accentuate her steps and nritta hasthas.

It is quite common that the US-trained dancers seem to focus primarily on the physical perfection, and many are good at thillanas, although it was a surprise that Anita’s balance, agility, accuracy of movements, her laya was far superior to 99% of Chennai’s dancers.

What was far more surprising is that it was the first NRI dancer whose mukha abhinaya was superior even to 95% of Chennai’s dancers in the normal speed range, and far surpassed the Chennai dancers’ in the fastest abhinaya passages. I think the ability to do fast-changing abhinaya is related to one’s ability to speak (and think) fast.

Anita’s expressions were graceful, the transitions were smooth and natural, despite the often lightning speed of the changes. Something that I had hardly ever seen in an NRI dancer. Well, Surya Ravi is another pleasant exception, much younger to compare. Anita’s nritta abhinaya was miraculous (I had never seen anything like that!): the expressions, powerful and sparkling, were changing each other at an amazing speed and accuracy, and were matching the nritta so well! Something that dancers like Swathi Ariyapadi are yet to learn.

Nandini Ramani attributes Anita’s impressiveness not to Papanasam Sivan’s genes, but to a unique combination of Padma Subramaniam’s stamp in Anita’s training with Srikanth, and his experience in the Bhagavatamela tradition. But Nandini forgot about Anita’s Kuchipudi training with Vempati Chinna Satyam. What a powerful blend of 3 schools! I forgot to ask Anita if both Vempati Vempati Chinna Satyam and Padma Subramaniam interpret the karanas in the same way! 🙂

Rupa in The Hindu justly wrote that Anita is “blessed with a keen sense of timing, an extremely mobile face and a vibrant movement vocabulary”. Not only this vocabulary is vibrant, but is rich too, and the sheer variety of moves and their unexpectedness keeps the rasikas from falling asleep, especially the American audience who instantly get bored when a Bharatanatyam dancer starts doing a slow abhinaya piece, hardly moving at all.

Anita is using a few karanas too (not as difficult as these). Without karanas, any recital is boring.”From the standpoint of providing enough action and excitement, it was good, but from the angle of providing some depth, the recital fell short”. Rupa cannot explain what is “depth” or “width”. I think often the dancers are left clueless as to what a particular criticism was about! “Width” is about variety and entertaining. “Depth” is about magic and enchanting.

Well, what was somewhat missing was “magic”, or was this impression created because Anita does not seem to like very slow passages? While Anita Sivaraman’s was nearly “perfect” outside, what she could learn from dancers like Alarmel Valli is how to concentrate within. The deeper this concentration, the better the dancer is dissolved in the dance (laya…), and the more powerful the recital. Depending on how well we are focussed within, we are able to visualize the vivid images and project them onto the audience. The approach is different: we are not trying to impress the audience, we are not trying to prove that we are good dancers, we are not at a dancing competition. We are becoming one with the audience, one in the meditation. Perhaps Nandini was luckier than me when she saw that recital where Anita’s “approach to her technique was one of deep concentration”. Maybe Anita’s mind was indeed more focussed then.

But, should we really blame the NRI dancers for the “lack of depth” if even the Chennai dancers, while portraying nayikas-nayakas, think not of the symbols beyond them, but of copying some vulgar Tamil serial’s actresses? How low! It is harder for the NRI’s to understand the difference between a photograph and a painting. There is no art in photograph. Everyone can take a photo. The painting can go beyond the physical, change it, and bring in the invisible. So much the difference between lokadharmi and natyadharmi. Have I seen much real natyadharmi? Errrrrr…. 1% ? Is there at least 0.0001% of natyadharmi in the “British South Asian dance“?

Life in the USA

Let us see what other American girls write:

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. Are we perhaps too open-minded and brazen that we cannot portray the timidity expressed by a young bride on the day of her wedding?

“Can the ratisringara themes in Bharatanatyam actually apply to contemporary Los Angeles ? Does not longing, disappointment, anticipation of passionate union and various aspects of love apply to contemporary teenage life in America?”

But as the mother of one of the young Californian dancers notes, “My daughter, at 15, will not reconcile to the fact that this woman is pining for her man. She finds it too ‘cheesy’ because she has been raised in America. The culture is different here, girls are much more verbal and direct here.”

Thus it is the pining, the waiting game with which young girls today can no longer relate. Because they utilize a direct approach in their own love-lives, shyness in the company of the opposite sex is a concept that’s hard to grasp.

So, isn’t it a proof that, for Americans, the nayika bhavas are no longer accessible, and they don’t even understand why or how a soul would pine for a union with the Divine. After all, there is no need to search for God if you have a Social Security Number, a sports car and a fat bank account! America is better than HEAVEN itself! Well, maybe not every NRI feels so.

A typical shortcoming of a US- or UK-based dancer is a poor lasya, but, surprisingly, Anita Sivaraman was good (not perfect, but good) in this respect. Pleasant exception. The Americans’ subconscious mind just does not understand what is lasya, and it is often reflected in the tone of their voice and intonations too. As a result of the feminist movement in the USA, the absolute majority of the women who grew up there are less capable of displaying Lasya. They want to be men, haughty, aggressive, direct. The subconscious attitude is the ready-to-fight-back attitude. These women are ready to assert themselves, to hit back, always on the alert, always competitive, always tense like a fist.

Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana: Bharatanatyam competition

Ranjani Murthy, the winner of Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana’s Bharatanatyam competition in 2007Ranjani Murthy , is a good illustration for the above, would be fit to act in “Dance like a man”. Does sheever relax her face??? Can she be sweet? Can she enjoy what she is doing??? She thinks that Bharatanatyam is a hard workout at the gym (but, as you see from the picture, she cannot lift her leg even half-way to its proper position), and so her face reflects it.

The funny thing, proving the debilitating influence of the American “culture” is that, unlike in any Bharatanatyam competitions in India in the 19–23 age group “each of the items must be either a Padam or Javali”. These items are usually reserved for the 60-70 age group in Chennai. How Ranjani Murthy got the 1st prize in that all-US Cleveland competition (while Anita Sivaraman, though among the “finalists”, did not even get into the top 3) is a miracle. Although, looking back at the US presidential elections in 2000, we cannot deny the fact that miracles can be the result of the political shrewdness of the NRI community who judicially invited only 2 judges (if you know of any other annual competition where the judges remain the same every year , please tell me): Smt. Savitri Jagannatha Rao and Smt. Radha, one of whom privately admitted that they could not follow and did not quite appreciate Anitha Sivaraman’s dance for several reasons:

  • it was too fast (the judges are elderly women who take 5 times longer to realize anything than a college student),
  • too intricate, unlike the Kalakshetra-style straight lines and plain moves
  • karanas are not yet part of the mainstream Bharatanatyam, nor the lively and expressive Kuchipudi flavour is palatable

Smt.Radha said, “I do remember there was one Anitha Sivaraman. I looked at her several (!) times. She was dancing when I was busy chatting with Savithri”. Radha remembers she did a lot of shopping and bought some expensive things after the competition was over.When asked what marks which dancers received and how, she gave a scared look, said she cannot remember, and ran away.

Pooja Kumar, who did win the 1st prize in 2008 after learning more plain Bharatanatyam under… Savithri Jagannatha Rao (!!!), explained the strategy, “If you don’t have the cash to bribe the judges at a competition, try becoming a student of the judge”. Well, after eeveryone saw how the competition was judged in 2007, no strong contestants cared to apply in 2008, so Pooja was beyond competition anyway. 🙂

George Bush said he is proud of the NRI community. 😦

Want to talk to the two shrewd judges? Here they are:

“Pradakshina”, Savithri Jagannatha Rao, 13, 2nd Crescent Road Gandhi Nagar, Adyar, Chennai 600020 Ph: (044) – 24412624

“Pushpanjali”, Rhadha R, 8A, Lambeth Avenue, Off Bawa Road, Alwarpet Chennai 600018 Ph: (044) – 24997715

“Ranjani Murthy dance”

ranjani murthy dance” is what a lot of people (to my surprise) enter in the google search box before they discover this post. Ranjani Murthy is probably quite annoyed, but will have to bear with my blog until she publicly renounces her ill-gained first prize and until her parents disclose the circumstances under which she got it.

I really don’t understand why the American NRIs blame India as one of the most corrupt countries in the world while themselves are as honest as an average politician in Tamil Nadu.

Until then, let Ranjani Murthy dance!

Judging Bharatanatyam: good and bad. Contests & competitions. Judges & criteria.

Technically speaking, since “good” and “bad” are relative (“relative” does not mean “subjective”), how well you judge is partly determined by how many performances/styles/dancers you have watched. Or learnt. The most basic (primitive)  style is Kalakshetra as it is shaped after the European ballet’s angular, simplified lines. Several of the London Tamil dance teachers interviewed presented Rukmini Devi’s famous dance school of Kalakshetra as the epitome of authenticity, using Kalakshetra style as criteria to judge standards of Bharatanatyam performance. The Kalakshetra style has the fewest number of elements. Will you find there any talukku, kulukku, alakshyam, midukku,or any decent ottam adavus?

Some weird people, like Vyagrapada and Patanjali, were not at all interested in watching the relative stuff : they wanted to see the absolute and they saw it. Not an easy task, is it?

Ok, back to the relative things.

If you have you read about this Bharatanatyam competition report ,you have probably learnt a lot.

After watching the first 10 performances, your mind will not be able to tell what is Bharatanatyam and what is Kuchipudi.

After watching 20-30 performances, your mind may start to understand vaguely where is the better dancer and where is the worse.

After watching 100 performances, you may come to notice the difference between different Bharatanatyam styles.

After watching 300 performances, you may be able to predict how the dancer is going to perform a particular movement the next moment.

After watching 700 performances, your mind will start appreciating the nuances. Even in an utterly poor and boring recital, you should be able to single out some good points.

After watching 1000 performances, there is a high probability that your judgment will be detailed and quite professional.

After watching 2000, you may consider yourself as a serious judge. 🙂 Someone like Roja Kannan.

After 4000, you may consider yourself an expert. 🙂 Someone like Nandini Ramani.

You may want to read how dance competition between apsaras Urvasi and Rambha was judged. Clearly, it is the control over one’s mind and body that was deemed as paramount in that case.

There is a scientific method of determining how well a judge judges Bharatanatyam, since there are defined criteria. Usually, these include the broad categories, such as nritta, abhinaya. More detailed parameters may be easy to determine, such as Bhramari (balance) or Javaha, or more difficult to define, such as Rekha (one cannot provide a rational definition of what is grace as beauty is above the realm of the rational mind).

The most important question is, what are the different parameters’ weightage in the total score? This is usually a big secret that the judges fear to disclose. Will your laya count more than your abhinaya? Will your charisma or your make-up matter more than your angasuddhi? Will your caste, social status, political connections or your skin colour matter more than your nritta?

In any case, if you want you can make a more or less scientific experiment and see how objectively you judge 1 criteria, for example angasuddhi, do this:

1. Ask someone to prepare for you 30 short (5-10 min) clear videos of the dancers who you have not seen before. Watch them and rate them.

To judge angasuddhi, you have to choose the appropriate pieces where there is a wide range of body movements is involved – obviously you cannot do with just mukha abhinaya passages!) . So your videos should cover both nrittas and angikabhinaya.

Since you are judging angasuddhi, the dancer’s face should not be clear (otherwise, your mind would favour the more beautiful faces, or the types of faces that are associated in your mind with something that you like). Your mind will try to mix in other factors, such as lighting, camerawork, angle of view, costume (your mind prefers certain colours), quality of music, etc. You need to identify all these unrelated factors and make your mind disregard them. Sorry, it involves quite a bit of yoga, doesn’t it?

2. Put the rating paper away for a month or two (the more, the better), and then re-do the procedure. The discrepancy between the old and the new ratings will give you a rough idea of how good your judgment is. If you want to improve the test, let your assistant select the videos where the dancers perform identical pieces.

“Everything is subjective, and your judgment is subjective”, a banana vendor tried to convince me that I should buy his “good” rotten bananas.

Subjectivity arises when people, as it happens in 99.99% cases, do not observe the workings of their mind, and are unaware of their ego (ahamkar), that is the core of all subjectivity and distorts our judgment. By doing yoga, you can detach yourself from your mind, learn how it works, take control of it. It is much more difficult to get rid of ahamkar in our mind. You have to get rid of your likings and dislikings (for example, try to read an utterly boring book from the first page till last, and you will see how much control you have over your mind). There are numerous objective (scientific) methods of determining how well you control your mind.

The Hindu, Rajeswari Sainath… and Uma Namboodripad

The Hindu’s reviews… Nobody knows how the editor decides which performance is to be covered. Yes, the reviews are mostly about Padma Subramaniam, Chitra Visweswaran… Mostly about those who are out of shape and too old to dance, but even some young ones are no better if you look at Rajeswari Sainath’s daughter Vaishnavi who is mostly famous for having her mommy award her the  “Most promising Bharatanatyam talent” title from Times of India, after which her mom sponsored Vaishnavi’s DVD.

Most “non-senior” dancers have no clue about what mesh of political intrigues is involved in the infamous reviews…. and how much it costs to get one. After Nandini Ramani left the newspaper, the reviews’ standards plummeted. The rich co-owner of Giri Trading produces lame Bharatanatyam DVDs (why??) and does not need to work any longer.

“Clear footwork, energy and pleasing rhythmic patterns were the hallmarks of Rajeswari Sainath’s performance”, says Rupa Srikanth in her review, shallow, biassed and amateurish, as usual. Can Rupa see the details at all? Nandini Ramani, dancer and guru herself, should probably train a new generation of journalists with some background in Bharatanatyam.

Rajeswari Sainath

There is a positive improvement in Rajeswari Sainath’s dancing (she released her recent Rangasayee DVD). It is to do not so much with the ratio between mathematics and mime but with the quality of her abhinaya. The dancer usually focusses on her brisk footwork and this preoccupation usually dominates her recitals. But this time there was more balance, although still her mime is not as polished as her sense of rhythm (thanks to her uncle and to Indira Rajan). Although many of her expressions look as artificial as any NRI dancer’s, her main problems are… transitions between one expression and the following one. Rajeshwari, who has already so many titles, would be too proud to take classes from a dancer who is a master of anhinaya at her relatively young age. I am talking about Uma Namboodripad, Chitra Visveswaran’s senior assistant. Uma is the undisputed champion if you look for two things:

  1. depth, variety, spontaneity and power of bhavas
  2. transitions between expressions

The only problem is… Rajeshwari is much older than Uma… 😦 But Rajeshwari (she is 45, isn’t she?) should teach Uma Namboodripad how to maintain the figure and get some strength and stamina and speed. Rajeshwari’s daughter is far behind her mom in every respect. And, Uma, Uma… Even Anita Ratnam got back into a very decent shape with her kalari exercises! Why are our best dancers – for rare exceptions – so lazy??????

Clear footwork, good energy, pleasing rhythmic patterns and a good range of adavus are the hallmarks of Rajeshwari’s performances. The precision of the ending of her theermanams is amazing.

Her uncle, Karaikudi Mani, is one of the hidden reasons for her success. His hobby is to create new , unique and very complex jatis that no other dancer has performed. While Shobana too tries to do some simple maths, Shobana’s arithmetics tastes as artificial as her abhinaya looks, while Karaikudi Mani quite often manages to produce the rhythms that have much more depth and are vibrant.

On the musical side, Murali Parthasarthy (vocal) was perhaps not always on track, although I like his style and usual accuracy in rendering even the most difficult passages. As a vocalist, he cannot compare with… our dear Uma Namboodripad, who is 1000 times more impressive. I wonder how Uma manages to put so much depth and power into her voice as well as into her abhinaya! She becomes one with the song.

Back to Rajeswari, her husky voice is… far from perfect, and I am sure if she starts taking vocal classes (from Uma? 🙂 , it will automatically improve her abhinaya. Dancers used to take mandatory vocal classes before, and in Rajeswari’s case we can clearly see why one of the most important qualities for a dancer is geetam. Somehow, how well you sing has such a tremendous impact on your abhinaya!!!!!!

Rajeswari ‘s recital commenced with a beautiful ‘Laya Kavidhai- Anbe Sivam’ (Priyadarshini ragam, misram) conceived by veteran mridangist Karaikudi Mani, penned by Su Ravi and composed by Balasai. Whether it lived up to its claim of ‘poetry in rhythm’ or not is a big question if you consider what is poetry and what is not. In poetry itself, there are different standards.

The verse and mnemonic syllables (Adit Narayanan has a mighty voice but is often not so good at keeping the talam!) resonated in perfect harmony. While the vilamba and madhayama kaalam sollus were straightforward counts of seven, the dhurita kaalam was manipulated to include a third speed tisram sequence and a fourth speed misram section. In reverse order, the sequence turned a full circle and came back to a slow vilamba kaalam count-this descent was one of the most beautiful moments that evening. The Siva Tandava was both an aural and a visual treat. I wish Rajeswari managed to show us some Lasya as well! Ever seen Indira Rajan’s student who is good at Lasya????

The same technique of symbolism in nritta that worked in the opening composition was not as effective to espouse the theory of the three deities being one in ‘Trimurthi Tatvam’ (ragamalika, panchatalam, written by Kavi Kannan, tuned by Balasai). This was despite the liberal (how well it fit in the overall composision is a big question!) injection of “spirituality” provided by vedic chants compiled by Seshadri Ganapadigal and recited by G.K.Srinivasan.

The only composition that presented abhinaya without a framework of tala was the varnam, ‘Adiyarthanai’ (ragamalika, Adi, written by Rajkumar Bharathi and Kavi Kannan) on Vittala of Pandarpur. Rajeswari portrayed the stories of Vittala’s devotees- Namadeva, Janabai and Chokkamela- with warmth and involvement, although sometimes she overdoes it. As usual, she was focused in the nritta portions; her fast paced ‘tha tai thams’ that featured in the second half of the 45-minute varnam said it all.

The Tanjore Quartet, the “hereditary” folks…. And back to karanas!

A born dancer – non-hereditary???

One would assume that there would be a hall packed with rasikas to watch a programme by a grandson of Balasawaswathy. When hardly 30 people were initially watching Aniruddha Knight‘s performance, this number was quickly further reduced as many rasikas were unable to digest it at all, and probably were in a bit hurry running to the toilet. Aniruddha came onto the stage in a Kathak costume (thankfully, not in jeans), and was trying to dance a new style that combined new, advanced (genetically engineered) American abhinaya with a hybrid of jazz and flamenco natyam.

Not everybody living in a human body is a real human being. Indeed, where in India can you find anyone with these expressions:

American abhinaya

My daughter commented on Ani, “Poor man, they forced him to learn the dance. Not everybody is a born dancer.”

Arul confirms (with Ani in mind?):

Lots of Indians who live here are full of nostalgia and longing. In their memories, the India they knew lives on, time stamped with their year of departure. And they take it out on their children, forcing them into this life of hypocrisy.

Aniruddha kept biting the left side of his lip while doing jathi’s, trying to dance like a eunuck, with Very miserable expressions. “Is he drunk?”, my daughter asked! Will Shobana’s new film be titled as “Dance like a eunuck” or “Dance like a drunkard”?, I wondered.

“Hereditary” was the most frequent word in S.Niveda’s programme’s flier. Chitti convinced me to go and to watch her a few months ago. “Tapasya Kala Sapradaya is happy to present Niveda from the family of the Tanjore Quartet”, ran the proud intro. Tapasya was lauding its efforts “against commercial exploitation of the arts and meaningless distortion in the name of innovation”. It appears that Tapasya’s only achievement in that effort was the heavily funded documentary Marayunduvarum Marabugal that was made out of 50 hours of tape. It is wonderful that all the knowledge of the hereditary folks fit into one short documentary that not many people had the privilege to watch (why didn’t they release those 50 hours on DVDs?) . While the frontpage of the flier was displaying the Thanjore Quartet, next to them was Niveda with her hands in a lame Anjali: her palms did not touch each other. Oversight? The poor 10-year-old started dancing but could not move at all. Hardly any movement was completed fully, even though the tempo was superslow. Any eye control? Forget about it! The poor thing was too stressed, and kept forgetting the simple, hereditary steps. After watching this bharatanatyam performance we decided to limit our visits to the “hereditary” dancers’ programmes to a minimum.

TQ or nothing is the extreme radical heading of another post of Arul’s.

Sounds like Arul’s Christian sect. The spirit of confinement.

Imagine meeting somebody whose motto is “Mangos or nothing”. Or “Pringles or nothing”. Hey! Weren’t the Thanjore Quartet guys anything more than royal court musicians???? (not dancers!) If Muthuswami Dikshitar, their music teacher, somehow managed to get the recognition as a little saint (or at least a prominent religious scholar), there is no mention of TQ’s spiritual achievements. Because there were none.

One of the TQ’s (Vadivelu’s) “achievement” was the introduction of violin in the Natya recitals. As a result, the ancient veena is on the brink of extinction. The instrument that has the largest range of harmonics (no other instrument can compare with veena!) is giving way just like the natural seeds cannot compete with the aggressive GM crops that are quietly destroying our planet.

Arul writes:

These seven glittering kohinoor diamonds – master gave them to me: sakiye, yemaguva, mogamana, adimogam, yemanthayanara, danike, sami ninne.

Real diamonds are millions of years old. Perhaps, Arul calls the 200-year-old creations of the Tanjore Quartet so in regards to the tuition fees he charges for teaching them. 🙂

… Other gurus reserve the best for family.

The non-hereditary….

Arul continues:

I think also that the fact that Master comes from an ancestral family of teachers has a lot to do with it. They are the ones who know the art of teaching as it existed historically. They know how to give of themselves and when and to whom and under what circumstances.

Now you understand why Alarmel Valli, who left the Master, wrote about her vocal guru:

To find a good guru is a result of one’s past karma. Smt. Mukta never held back. She was generous to the core.

The hereditary gurus were never generous: holding back as much as possible was a matter of economic survival in the tough business competition with few opportunities.

Cursing Chennai’s traffic jams, our driver managed to get us to RK Swamy’s Hall just in time for Surya Ravi’s programme that was recommended by Anusha K. Surya Ravi’s nattuvangam turned out to be Sujatha Mohan. After we started watching Surya, we again realized that there are still wonderful dancers and talented, non-hereditary gurus. Surya was fantastic in her crisp adavus, beautiful and expressive abhinaya (well, there were a few gaps when she froze for a couple of seconds like an ice-man, but it was not her fault: the choreography has to be improved). Sujatha, admitted that she substantially modified “Bharathnrithyam”. The karanas, which Padma Subrahmaniam, who lost the remnants of her sense of beauty as soon as she got a “Dr.” title, never succeeded to combine in a graceful and organic manner. How well did her seniormost disciple Sundari Santhanam do it you can see from her recent DVD on Karanas.

Non-hereditary Sujatha, learning all the best from the non-hereditary, theoretician Padma, managed to produce a superior choreography, which can be illustrated by the passages from the varnam where Surya Ravi portrayed Kalinga Krishna (really beautiful, and such a superb balance when she was jumping thrice and turning 360* on one leg – hardly any professional dancers can do it!), and the snake itself! Such grace! And how subtle was the portrayal of Kuchella’s story, how refined, how charming was the mukha abhinaya, how perfect the angashudhi!!!

When I watched the Varsha Shankar at her brilliant arangetram (it was the first time when I was convinced that karanas CAN be performed gracefully!), I did not even expect that Sujatha Mohan would show us more of the outstanding dancers like Surya Ravi! Even Sujatha’s little kids, like Shreya Balakrishna, are so amazing! Their guru really inspires them. They are so lucky!

It is Surya Ravi whose recital should follow (if not included within it) after the recitals of the IFAS talent promotion (where Nandini Ramani was one of the judges), not the clumsy Balasaraswathy’s grandson. Well, if it were not for Nandini’s insistance (oh, these stupid political obligations!), who would ever have invited him to Chennai???

Everyone who considers being trained by a hereditary guru should watch Pandanallur Subarraya Pillai VCD and hear how he explains that the hereditary gurus teach properly only their own children. The hereditary ones are unable to explain to a genetic engineer where are those Bharatanatyam genes that can transmit true natya skills. He is unable to explain why the hell the hereditary gurus teach the non-hereditary students like Indu Varma! I think this is the reason that the “hereditary dancers” are no longer taken seriously by anyone, except by the hereditary toilet cleaners and hereditary garbage collectors.

Narthaki.com … The politics and the truth in the Bharata natyam world: Anita Ratnam

A big problem in true reporting is, no one wants to write about controversies. The most popular excuse is, “I want to write, but I can’t.” Either you write about such things rudely and be ostracized, or you make compromises, hold back on your evaluation and stay on. The writer may not like to do it, but is forced to. This is one of the main difficulties faced by a critic.
Lalitha Venkat, Editor, Narthaki.com

I sometimes visit the website narthaki.com run by Anitha Ratnam, a dancer herself just to keep myself updated on the current dance scene. Anita Ratnam is (was?) no doubt a very outspoken person, honest and straightforward. Something that she learnt in the USA? Some people like S. write, “I admired Anita Ratnam’s bold article (in Roses & Thorns?) about a year ago, where she criticized the sychophancy & farce going around titles & awards, and the rotten ceremonies, corrupt practices & organizations. Anita said she was warned by some sabha leaders of “serious consequences”.

Unlike Anita, hardly any other dancers can afford to be honest. Being honest will cost you much. Some dancers commented and said that only Anita can afford to be independent. Her TVS company makes her rich, but it seems not as rich as to maintain narthaki.com without asking for the contribution from the “members”. But then, are these contributions not enough to pay a small programmer’s fee to get rid of the obnoxious viagra spam posts – by introducing user registrations prior to posting?

But now, it turns out that even the seemingly independent Anita has been forced to remove parts of her original article and retract her statements about sychophancy & farce. What happened to the staunch hero? She writes, “…after that article i lost some friends and made some fresh enemies”.

Seeking influential friends since then has become Anita’s priority, and the fee-paying Narthaki.com members, such as Ratikant Mohapatra, were suddenly given, apart from their usual (shameless) self-promotional activities on Narthaki.com, a license to publish in Narthaki’s reviews praises about their own students and the derogatory remarks about their rivals. It raised numerous objections on Narthaki’s forum. Did these counter-statements and responses become part of “Roses & Thorns”? No, Anita Ratnam simply… deleted all the statements that dare to challenge Ratikant Mohapatra’s infamous “review“. As a result of the indiscriminate censorship and discouraging deletions on the forum, fewer and fewer users actually use it. Soon, narthaki.com forum will end up like the bharatanatyam dancers’ discussion group on yahoo, that is half-dead for 2 years.

Anita is becoming more and more politically minded, and her US-grown love for free speech has been replaced by the political considerations. Now Anita is very careful about what to say and what not to say, and tries to please the influential individuals. Soon we will see Anita infected with the virus of sychophancy too. The American vaccine did not work out. 😦

As one blogger put it, ” Now that it’s only Bharathanatyam, my performing art. Why am I loosing interest? No, it’s not the interest as such. When you find politics interfering everywhere, you loose your passionateness. What do I mean by politics here? It’s not about the ruling party or the non-ruling party, I mean the relationship with the students and their teacher and the bond with their co-learners. It’s hard to tolerate, when you see people who learn art only for the sake of earning fame and not for the love towards it. These incidents really disturb me a lot. Would the world change?”

Yes, my dear! The ruthless Kali is here to bust all fame-seekers, all Bharatanatyam politicians, and cleanse some gurus and dancers of all their filth! 🙂 They are not going to like it, are they? 🙂 Let them burn with shame when we expose them to the entire world (check the stats for this blog 🙂 !

Ok, back to Narthaki’s articles and reviews. Recently I had witnessed a Bharatanatyam performance by a local artiste and her students here and was quite appalled by the lack of any standard in that show. None of them including the guru exhibited even the basic qualities of a Bharatanatyam dancer (posture, tiredlessness, expressions, eye movements) or the basic grammar of Bharatanatyam such as the half-sitting (aramandi), raised elbows, or even proper postures. Hell, many of them were slouching when they were dancing. They weren’t even standing erect!

Someone, most probably a parent of one of the students or someone close to the dancer, must have written a review and posted it on Narthaki. He raved and raved about the quality of the dance and called for people to rename the phrase ABCD (American Born Confused Desis) as American Born “Cultured” Desis because the standard of dancing of these children was so good, it could give the Indian-born dancers a run for their money. Now, as much as I am for parents being proud of their children, I do have to say that this review was over the top. Just because NRIs can afford and stay close to some dancer, they send their girls (usually girls) to this guru and accept whatever this guru teaches as classical dance. They are so proud that they declare that whatever their daughter dances is pure classical dance. I don’t know if this is a defense mechanism against anyone who might say that ABCD children are not Indian enough (or are too American), but it is not an accurate depiction of reality(not even close) . Yes, I do find that many ABCD children are very Indian in their upbringing and have some American qualities (which is not at all wrong – why not take the best of everything that you can and be proud of it? Sometimes they are more Indian than some Indian kids in India who are so overcome with their blind love for the west).

The main point of this blog is my curiosity, “Are we celebrating mediocrity because we think that is good enough or because we blindly believe that our children are better than others or because we simply are too ignorant to appreciate quality even when the lack of it stares us in the eye”. I have often witnessed little girls dancing or singing Indian classical dance or music (sometimes parents exhibiting them like a show piece in a museum) and someone remarking, “Can you believe an ABCD is so good at this?”. In such situations, I have wondered, “Should we encourage this because this is a child or should I tell the parents that what their child is learning is absolute crap?” Why are Indian parents forced to send their children to these classes and get them sub-standard training? The same goes for Indian organizations that invite artistes over to perform dance. Anyone with a brain that functions would have figured out that the NRI audience are easily overcome with gimmicks. Once you have someone famous score the music for what you are performing or add some jazzy backdrops or give a resume that looks good, they pre-determine that the show will be good. They don’t understand that the awards you get in India are a dime-a-dozen. Any noun that follows the words “Nrithya” or “Natya” will make a new title and can be awarded even by the Indian Overseas Bank!

Speaking of which, on a personal note, I was once performing as part of an American theater group. There was a solo Bharatanatyam piece in the play and, needless to say, it received rave reviews. But then, who decides if it is good? Sure, the costume and the jewellery would have dazzled everybody, and my dance resume looked good. The audience knew that I had won some championships and had already decided that my dance would be good. I received great reviews in the newspapers and from anyone who had seen the play. But then, in my heart, I knew that my dance in that show was quite sub-standard. I had had very little practice. It was in the middle of my graduate school work and I was exhausted after my school and job everyday even before I got to the show. Yes, I wish I had practised more, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. So, do the reviews make me a good dancer? For a layman, probably, yes. But my dance made me a bad dancer during the entire stretch of that show. It was definitely a learning experience for me and I enjoyed working with the people on that show, but the fact remains that my performance was quite abysmal and no amount of good review can change that.

Back to the topic under discussion, if most children are learning crap, is every teacher in the U.S. a bad guru? Do they not care about their students performing badly? Absolutely not. Although there are good schools of music and dance in the U.S., they are a handful and even if the gurus have been wonderful artistes, they often take up 50-200 students to train. When you have such a big class, how can you afford to correct the mistakes of everyone? How can you be sure that every student is keeping their elbows in the unsagging position or that every student is bending to their fullest extent?

Of course, you cannot always blame the teachers. I have also witnessed parents who would join their daughter in a Bharatanatyam class . Once their daughter joins a dance class, they will remain silent for a month. The next month the parent would creep up silently and ask the teacher to teach their daughter to dance for a song so that she can perform in the local temple or a local show. (It usually takes anywhere between 6-12 years to become a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, and yet not reach a professional level. It takes immense practice and dedication to be a Bharatanatyam dancer and no one learns how to dance to a full song before they are well trained in the basic steps which takes about 2.5-3 years. You usually perform before an audience only after this point)

What can a teacher do except say “no”? And how many times can you say no when they keep pressing you to do otherwise? Teachers often get frustrated by such requests. When teachers do not teach such “entertaining numbers”, their students often leave. In India, it would be impossible to lay such requests on a teacher. The teacher is the GURU and she is the foremost in the life of the student. What she utters is the ultimate word. Unless, a teacher declares that the student is ready for such a project, no one would dare bring up such an idea in India. But all an NRI parent wants to declare to the world is, “My daughter is more Indian than yours”.

So, parents, if you are reading this, understand that selecting a proper guru is the foremost in training your daughter in any art form, but before that please make sure that it is your child that wants to learn the art and not you that wants it for your child. Art comes from passion and unless you are passionate about it, you cannot be forced to learn it. If you have a good guru, learn to respect what they do for your child. It is better to wait than to display mediocrity. You don’t ask your child’s math teacher to teach your child calculus in first grade (unless your child is Ramanujam). So why not give the same respect for art? And finally do not be proud of mediocrity. If you want people to stop saying, “This is good enough for an ABCD” then display excellence. Until then, only “this” will remain good enough for ABCDs!

Sivasri & truth about Bharatanatyam guru’s

Yesterday I drove my acquaintances, dancers, to Sivasri’s Bharatanatyam recital in Sivagami Petachi auditorium. This girl is from the category of “fast-matured” Bharatanatyam dancers. Sometimes, like the green mangos’ ripening process is artificially accelerated by all kinds of chemicals, some children are over-tutored in their abhinaya too. Luckily, Sivasri’s abhinaya- this time at least! – looked perfectly natural and spontaneous. It had the power and connected to her inner self. While my daughter commented that her abhinaya is “perfect for her age”, I wished even the professional dancers could have such a rich range of soulful expressions, pure, powerful, single-minded, full of joy, natural. I love these 11-year-olds because they are 100% engaged in what they do. Whenever I see Shobana on the stage, it reminds me of a circus clown’s artsy gimmicks.

Sivasri’s father made a lame attempt to make her a few web pages, still very much under construction. He perceives the extraordinary talent hidden in his little daughter, and tries – sometimes in a clumsy manner (like he did on rasikas.org) – to make the others perceive it too. He does not understand that, as soon as ordinary people watch Sivasri dance, they will immediately admire her and acknowledge her extraordinary gift. No need for comments. I bet even a half-blind rasika would perceive it. Sivasri is brilliant.

Sivasri’s father, Scanda, is very intelligent in many respects. He understands that she needs to improve certain things. The hardest thing for any dancer is what I call “dynamic equilibrium”. I do not know how the top professional dancers manage to instantly freeze – after moving rapidly – in difficult postures without losing their balance.

I think that Sivasri is one of those rare exceptions who have the strong will and determination to reach their goal fast.

Guru’s and shishya’s – the paradoxes and hidden truths

It is a year ago that Sivasri changed her guru, although Roja Kannan is far from perfect. Until today, I believed that the Kalakshetra style is better be avoided, but after watching Sivasri again I realized that she was changing the style and making it much softer, graceful and natural. Looked a bit like Vazhuvoor, but Roja did not mind. I think Roja herself admires how Sivasri dances. Let Roja learn something from this little genius. 🙂 Two days ago I watched another couple of Roja’s students, and the best one, Abhinaya, was visibly inferior to Sivasri.

It was funny to hear Scanda trying to utter the over-used phrase “All credit goes to her guru”. He did not mention “to which guru“! I thought, if “All credit goes to her guru”, how come Roja Kannan has not trained any other students who would be at least 70% as good as Sivasri????

Sivasri reminds us of the little Medha Hari, the only outstanding student of A.G. in the entire 300-strong Bharatanjali. How come the “Best Natyacharya” A.G. herself admitted that she has not been able to produce any more dancers of MH’s caliber???? If a student becomes a great dancer despite her guru, why should all the credit go to the guru????

I could not believe it when Hemamalini told me 6 years ago that R. was a fake guru (he hardly ever appeared at Kitappa Pillai’s classes!) whose tactics is to find talented kids, train them a little, and make them showcase their achievements as a proof of his own greatness as a guru! After that, the kids are discarded like a used napkin. Well, many people often use others for their own selfish ends.

The funniest truth is that often gurus learn from their own students much more than the students learn from the gurus!

“All credit goes to her guru”?????

I am glad Sivasri left her guru Krishnakumari Narendran to whom all credit “goes”. Krishnakumari is a real pisacha . Krishnakumari consumes young talent (and money) like fire consumes fuel. Krishnakumari is already nearly voiceless, and can no longer speak – she can only shout in her utterly hoarse throat.

I did not know that she was Nivedita Gopinath’s guru when I went two days ago to R.A.M. . They recital was ok, and Nivedita danced fairly well. Nivedita is a bit clumsy, weak and slow, but has good abhinaya, is beautiful, and has a nice figure. The main problem for her, like for all taller dancers, is the fast torso moves. You have to develop very strong muscles to move your torso sideways, back and down very quickly. The shorter dancers (below 160 cm) are luckier. I hope Krishnakumari does not corrupt Nivedita entirely.

Funny story!

A year ago in Krishna Gana Sabha Krishnakumari did the arangetram of one Australian MBA (you can imagine how well that Australian girl performed – after sweating for her MBA). At the entrance, the rasikas were asked to wash their feet. No problem. The arangetram grand ceremony started, and Krishnakumari asked everyone to stand up and sing some song along with her (horrible voice). I remained seated, which soon convinced a few other rasikas around me to sit down and relax too. After Krishnakumari finished singing, she asked everyone to sit down. One man remained standing and continued to sing with his mighty voice. Neither Krishnakumari, the master of the ceremony, nor the rasikas knew what to do with that old man. Eventually, they had to wait until the guy stopped by himself. It was the most awkward “ceremony” that I have ever seen. Krishnakumari’s attempt to become a super-priestess and confer additional sanctity on the lame arangetram did not work out. The Australian MBA’s parents invested a significant amount into that fiasco, though.

Conclusion: when Bharatanatyam teachers try to promote themselves as spiritual gurus, they fail.

Where the hell is Bharatanatyam???

Where the hell is

Bharatanatyam???

Chitti says the influx of NRI dancers who come for the Christmas vacations to Chennai disturbs the Bharatanatyam scene considerably. If 5-7 years ago these holiday-makers were content with just visiting the relatives and consuming lots of cheap South Indian food, now they think that the airfare is so expensive that they have to show off in front of some unsuspecting rasikas in Chennai. Although I was somehow able to watch today’s Anusha Sridhar’s recital for a few minutes, it was enough to realize that this is another American girl who had only a few rehearsals before the programme, and had to think for quite a while every time she had to do the next move. “OK, now I move my head. Now I move my arm up. Now, hell,

I forgot to move my leg. Now…”

Her Bharatanatyam guru?

Her guru’s name remains a big secret. She did invite A.G. as a chief guest, and I pity A.G.. Well, she probably wants to get some contacts in the US to promote her successor, A.N.

Otherwise, how can A.G. bear the sight of Anusha hardly moving on the stage at all? Well, her expressions, though unsure, were at least tolerable.Her eyes moved around like a thief’s caught red-handed.

Well, the other recital by Mirnalini Thiyagarajan, organized by Sri Ragam Fine Arts , was of the same standard, performed clumsily in a similar skirt costume (why don’t they dance in a burka?), for long whiles she got frozen on the stage (looks odd), doing absolutely nothing (at least her eyebrows or eyes should move slightly, or toes, or else the audience falls asleep immediately!), although she at least tried to understand the words of Ganam Isaithu. Like all other Muralidharan’s compositions, I find Ganam Isaithu to be a pop song rather than “classical”, even though it is U.’s favourite item. My daughter wonders why there is no power in Muralidharan’s compositions, no light. Well, how can you compare Vishnu Kautuvam or Kali Kautuvam with the folkish Muralidharan’s compositions that make you fall asleep so quickly??? Most dancers do not understand that there is some magic in Vishnu Kautuvam or Kali Kautuvam, or in Shambho, or in many other items. If Bharatanatyam dancers complain that people find their performances boring, well, such dancers should better look at what items they do. When the Anusham group tried to incorporate some Vedic shlokas in their programmes, it made a such an impact on the rasikas! Mind you, Shiva is said to like Samaganam, not pop music! People have degraded so much, and forgot their heritage, their scriptures, their traditions, their religion.

It is interesting that different sabhas in Chennai have different standards, and Sri Ragam Fine Arts has one of the lowest. Perhaps, because its president is a descendant of the Thanjore Quartet? He looks like a Neandertal man, as is as intelligent.

I always thought that all those “hereditary” folks fail to learn even 5% of the art they are supposed to transmit. I do not particularly like the Thanjore Quartet at all. The royal musicians, well. Vadivelu made all Indians believe that violin is a classical Indian instrument, and that Mohiniattam, which he invented to the order of Swathi Thirunal, is a classical Indian dance. Gosh! How can you call “classical” something that is barely 150 years old????? Baffles me! The Italian ballet is more ancient then.

Bharatanatyam

Today’s Bharatanatyam performances in Madras…. and Urmila Sathyanarayanan

NRI…

“Bharatanatyam”

?

My friend VRD said that some NRI dancers have adopted a new strategy: they try to hide where they studied “Bharatanatyam” (rock-n-roll, actually). Today I was lucky to discover Shivani Thakkar’s web site. Guess if I went to watch her performance after looking at the photo of this clumsy winner of the Verizon Wireless and Saavn Bollypop Competition in belly and hip-hop dance:

clumsy shivani the rock-n-roll dancer

clumsy shivani the rock-n-roll dancer

I was not so lucky (I was 40 minute late, but I wish I didn’t go at all!) when I did go to watch Abirami Selvakumar’s programme. While many ads state the guru’s name, this time there was no guru mentioned. And the guru was not in the hall, either, which was quite unusual of Urmila Sathyanarayanan. Were she there, she would burn with shame for such a “Bharatanatyam”. Abirami was dancing like a 70-year-old woman who has not been eating anything for 1 month. That is, she hardly lifted her feet while doing steps, and could hardly turn, or lift her arm.

The most amazing was that… Abirami Selvakumar cannot do attami at all! That is, her neck does not move sideways even for a centimetre!!! Bravo! While the ancient devadasis used to dance for 8 hours non-stop, Abirami – after a 10-minute break – resembled a steamer. Aha! This is why Urmila Sathyanarayanan was not there! Urmila has a good taste, and her students’ costumes are well-made, and usually are… white and red. Very powerful conbination. Urmila’s favourite colours. By the way, I am curious to know more about that recent scandal when Urmila’s DVDs were – “without her permission” – released by Raj TV and made their way to appear on jayq.org and partly on YouTube (someone was commenting there about this incident).

Urmila herself used to be a graceful and charming (or rather, sexy) dancer. No doubt she was dancing in some king’s harem in her past life… Her abhinaya is earthly and very “seductive”. Average lokadharmi. Nothing too elevating. Her expressions change each other so sharply that it looks comic. Lately her experssions started resembling the expressions of the frustrated rag pickers in Tambaram. She badly needs some lessons from Uma Namboodripad. Surely Urmila was not a devadasi dancing somewhere in a temple’s mandappam. No way. A Friday Review describes her recital as “meditative”, but Urmila’s meditativeness looks as cheap as a cabaret dancer’s. No comparison with really meditative dancers like Divya Prabhakar! Oh Urmila….this cute featherbrain doll is too shallow to attepmt even anything close to Alarmel Valli.

Todays Abirami Selvakumar’s nattuvanar & vocalist was Mr.Suresh, Urmila’s beau.

This man can somehow manage to sing with his mouth half-shut (Anjana Rajan in the Hindu’s euphemism describes it as “contained singing of S.K.Suresh”!), and he squeeks like an old mouse in its sleep. What, vocalists 100 years ago used to sing without a microphone? How, would Mr.Suresh ask??? If it were not for his model looks (this guy is really handsome, clean-cut, self-contained, and maintains a “noble” appearance)….

S K Suresh

I do not know what kind of training he got at Kalakshetra, ok, he should be a good dancer too. But as a vocalist! No, no, no! During the break, while he was singing something, many of the 300-strong audience fell asleep (including two people sitting and snoring next to me!) .

Usually, Urmila’s bharatanatyam students are good (she can afford not to take in any totally useless students), many are very good like Swathy Ashok (this one is a bit like Shobana, but cannot do the attami, and has poor eye control, her smile jumps on and off as unsteadily as Urmila’s), and some are excellent like Amritha Varshini Murali

Amritha Varshini Murali

(this girl is really superb and refined!).

Anwesha Das was nearly excellent in 2004 Anweshya Das

, but now Padma Subrahmaniam looks better. To lose so much within 3 years!!!!!

Bharatanatyam recitals, dancers and more – in Chennai….

Bharatanatyam

recitals

Yesterday I was watching Sujatha Parameshwaran’s students. She has only 6 in her school of “Thanjavur style” (I am pretty sure that that Ponniah from the Thanjore Quartet would get a heart attack if he saw this Bharatanatyam performance labelled as “Thanjavur style”). It was the second time I saw the little Shreya Mallika after the TTD competition half a year ago. The child has improved. She will be a great Bharata natyam dancer… if she rehearses more and completes the movements (like this dancer)! 🙂 She has an amazingly expressive face, and such a powerful personality, and her body moves to the talam so well. Despite her stumpy structure (no visible waistline yet), every joint in her body responds to the beat, and she has GRACE. She does not notice anything around her, and rams through everything. Her senior, Shilpa Sasidharan, is also an enjoyable dancer of Bharatanatyam, with very sharp expressions, a very good angasudhi, araimandi, and such crisp, clean and powerful moves! I was surprised to learn that it was Shilpa’s… second performance in human history. Sometimes she overdoes it, and forces her movements into some kind of Italian ballet! I really love these kids doing their best. I suspect that the presence of Vijay Kumar, who is himself a good dancer (well, he dances Bharatanatyam as if it was Italian ballet!) with a well-built -though a bit too lean – body, (if it were not for his clownish expressions!), motivated the girls too! I think I have to get at least one good guy to add to Shantha’s school so that the girls would get an additional incentive. Shortage of guys….

More….Bharatanatyam

I was quite late for Sruthi Kalyanasundram’s Bharatanatyam recital. I was thinking, “Is this that Padma-Subramaniam-looking girl who danced in Chidambaram 3 years ago, and at the bald Sasidharan’s competition 1.5 years ago?” Yes, it was her. I call her Padma Subramaniam #2. Sruthi is one of those rare girls who are actually trying to do Bharatanatyam as a yoga. While her figure and limbs are perfect, her face is, well, not a top model’s face. But then, top models are poor actresses and vice versa… I do not know why so many super-beautiful girls start looking so ugly as soon as they start moving their face or body. OK, even if some of Sruthi’s expressions looked somehow unattractive, yet Bharatanatyam practise is changing even her face features – even on the physical level. Do you know that our nose and ears never stop growing?

I bet that her children will look far more beautiful, and in her next life she herself will be born as a beautiful child. Her soul is really intent on making it! It is worth admiration, and I felt as if something, as if a warm wind, went out of my heart and sent her blessings. People like Sruthi are the main engine for the development of BN. As soon as she starts dancing, she looks gorgeous and charming! Such a transformation! I was observing how she does it. She is so much focussed that her mind creates very vivid images in front of her, and her Ajna is powerful enough to project these images onto the rasikas. I have very big doubts if any man can create such vivid things, with so much life in them. These men are so insensitive too! ————————————————————————————-

There is a huge gap between what the girls are on the stage and what they are in “everyday situations”. Somehow Alarmel Valli, when she does her introductions on the stage, manages to get into a intermediate, half-meditative-looking, state. I thought A. and U. could try to do it too, but they are just too young. The volume of their attention is very limited. Alarmel’s mind is far more powerful. Sr. has a sharp eye. The other day he told me that the performer’s expressions did not exactly start and end with the start and end of the corresponding words in the song. I said that you cannot expect such synchronization from an 11-year-old girl!

The school should invite to teach those old devadasis who still can do all the 108 karanas. We have to get these karanas from the real parampara, not from some Ph.D.’s intellectual speculations. I am sure there will be a plenty of serious Bharatanatyam dancers who would come for such workshops. I am pressing Shantha to enhance each piece of her choreography with as many karanas as possible. It is a lot of work, and Shantha is very busy. Shantha is my main hope. Shantha has the blessings of Lakshmi, a brilliant intuitive and aesthetic intelligence but little rational intellectuality. Shantha cannot explain things in a logical manner. We have to do everything before all those stupid dedavasis die out. I do not have the time.

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Bharatanatyam

Ranjani Mala

We briefly got stuck at the 3 Ranjani’s: Shivaranjani, Megharanjani and Janaranjani. While there is very little info on Ranjini herself, this goddess who brings joy and entertains is a very interesting emanation. The girls were probably not very surprised to see the auty closing her eyes and then, after a while, announcing a verdict:As there are 3 worlds (the sky, the mid-world and the earth) , so there are 3 Ranjani’s. Shivaranjani brings joy and entertains the Supreme Lord in heaven (Svar loka), Megharanjani (the “Cloud”-goddess) brings joy to the beings of the mid-world (the spirits of mind and the vital world, the world of emotion and feelings), and Janaranjani brings joy to the human beings in the waking state – on earth.

Myself, I am sometimes surprised what words come out of my mouth. But it was a very clear realization. I was thinking about these Ranjani’s before, but somehow never arrived

at a clear vision of their nature.

I asked S. to watch K.M.D.Madhula’s (I call her “Miss Eyebrow”) Bharata natyam recital is soon. I explained to S. a few things about assymetric movements of the mouth, explained how to take care of her throat, and all those yoga things.Hope she will do the exercises properly. Told her how one judge from the Doordarshan grading panel explained to me how they gave A-grades only to the politically connected but clumsy Bharatanatyam dancers. S. understood why she didn’t pass. S. is very beautiful, but a bit stiff, weak and not very expressive.But I like her. She has a kind heart.

Bharatanatyam is so complicated…