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.

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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.

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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 .