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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Alarmel Valli’s Bharatanatyam… or Odissi? The forgotten heritage of Chokkalingam Pillai, Subbaraya Pillai, the “functions” and the VIP’s.

(this post is based on the report by G.K.)

If you thought that Padams and Javalis are reserved for the elderly, out of shape grandma’s whose only body parts that can still somehow move is their face (well, even this is problematic if there is half a kilo of fat under your face’s skin!), you should watch Alarmel Valli.

The evening of 28th was officially dedicated to the memory of Subbaraya Pillai, and the Shivagami Petachi AUditorium was fully packed despite the fact that the only announcement of this event was a small note in last week’s Friday review. As Mrs. Parthasarathy declared, all the city’s elite gathered that evening to watch Alarmel dance, and no parking space left in the school’s compound. How elite were the VIP’s could be seen by how brutally some rasikas were forced out of their seats in the first row, followed by even more embarrassing evictions of the lesser VIP’s by the more “senior” VIP’s. The fight for the first row seats reminds me of Subbaraya Pillai, who refused to sit in the first rows and was resentful of all these cheri VIP’s. Doesn’t Alarmel Valli gets annoyed while communicating with them? She probably does. On the other hand, just like Subbaraya Pillai, Nandini Ramani was seated in some 20th row on the 28th August.

Alarmel was indeed dancing well, as usual her dance was marked by midukku with liberal use of ottam adavus, light jumps, incredible coverage of stage space, a kulukku in her walk, talukku, an alakshyam as she flicks her wrist in the ullaasa nadai. Every slightest move was fully controlled and chiseled, lending it the artistic, and sometimes artsy, finish. Why Alarmel keeps doing mostly the same padams and javalis every time she does a performance in Chennai is bewildering. Anyway, she has changed her vocalist this time, and Savita Narasimhan was indeed singing with a delicate and powerful voice. Valli can afford to hire the best musicians, that’s for sure.

Alarmel Valli’s “style”, if we can call it so, involves the elements that few other dancers can emulate. The soft and delicate movements are alternated with the sharp, accentuated moves that are probably aimed at not letting the rasikas fall asleep. Every hand movements are supported by the foot movements. And every step is done to the talam. (Something that I very rarely see!). Every “simple” movement is meticulously elaborated into a super-complex set. I noticed that the number of bhedas (and the range of their speeds and amplitudes) that she uses is considerable greater than any other dancer’s. Priyadarshini Govind or Urmila Sathyanarayanan are nobodies compared with Alarmel.

Alarmel’s background in Odissi could be seen in very rich and complex torso movements (some borrowed from Mohiniattam!) that “normal” Bharatanatyam dancers forgot about thanks to the founder of Kalakshetra’s efforts. (Is this why so many professional Bharatanatyam dancers in Chennai take Odissi or Mohiniattam classes , I wonder?) Another thing they could learn is how to control their eye lashes. Alarmel has mastered these to a great extent. Usually, people are not even aware of how they open and close their eyes. But it does produce a very powerful effect.

Mrs. Parthasarathy rightly observed that Alarmel Valli’s expressions do not cross that border after which they would turn into grimaces. I wonder how most of our other “senior” bharatanatyam exponents manage to produce so many ugly faces!

In the Yugame padam Alarmel Valli was portraying a miserable woman who was left by her lover. It was an attempt to depict a devotee’s anguish at the separation from the Lord. It appeared that Valli has had no actual spiritual experience that alone would lend this padam more depth.

In another padam Valli was attempting to depicting a mother who was coaxing her child to come and eat something. The child was supposed to symbolize the devotee’s soul who is turned away from the lures of the world. For anybody who has had this spiritual experience (if you had it, you can very easily recognize the other people who had the same experiences), it was obvious that Alarmel Valli has never had this direct spiritual experience, which rendered her padam rather weak.

Another padam that Alarmel did was about a woman who had an intimate encounter with her lover the previous night. This man embarrasses her in public by behaving in a rather rude manner. The spiritual symbolism here is quite obvious for anybody whose social life has been deranged by the direct spiritual experiences (if you watched Jim Carrey’s “The Liar”, you would realize how much a “successful” bharatanatyam dancer has to lie to reach the “top”). In fact, tears filled in my eyes, as the theme of this padam brought out the memories of certain realizations. The tears came before Valli started dancing.

There were no tears while I was watching Valli dance. The impression I had was like… While visiting some friends, I saw some nice fruits on the table, thinking that these fruits are so nice. On coming closer, I realized that the attractive looks were misleading: the fruits were made of plastic. Alarmel Valli’s padams and javalis are sometimes like the perfectly-shaped and perfectly-colored apples, grapes and bananas which, nevertheless, are of little value since you cannot eat them. These will not provide the sustenance for your soul’s spiritual hunger…. The artsy Bharatanatyam items have no real flavour, no taste, and are hollow inside.

If Amarmel Valli was a bit more open-minded and less proud of her achievements, should take abhinaya lessons from some 9-year girls. After all, Lalitha Sahasra Namam describes Devi as “Dhurga who is a nine year old girl” (not an old grandma). At this age, our abhinaya is not yet disconnected from our soul.

I always wonder why the “functions” are held before the end – not after – the performance. Had it been after the performance, the VIP speakers would surely face a very embarrassing situation with 99% of the spectators leaving before the speeches start. Mrs. Parthasarathy was again trying to promote her PSBB, stressing that many PSBB students are learning at Alarmel Valli’s Dipasikha. She did not want to embarrass Alarmel Valli by asking why in the past 4 years there have been just one or two solo performances in Chennai by Dipasikha’s students. Alarmel Valli brought one to dance in Chennai from… the USA, where Alarmel spends a lot of her time. Does she follow Subbaraya Pillai’s tradition and teach very talented students there regardless of how much they pay? She teaches only one-to-one, right? Business skills are not the only thing that Alarmel Valli learnt in America: about 5% of her movements (aimed at impressing the average American cowboy) clearly appear to be borrowed from artsy ballet and modern dance. That’s the application of lokadharmi, isn’t it???

Another speaker who was boring the rasikas was Dr.R.Nagaswamy. In his senile imbecility he referred to Chokkalingam Pillai’s relation with the 108 karanas. (There is no way Alarmel can do the more difficult karanas – unlike this young dancer). Why neither Chokkalingam Pillai nor Alarmel Valli wanted to talk about karanas is very simple: neither of them has ever known how to perform these. And the aging Alarmel is a bit too lazy to spend much time on getting fitter. Another idiocy that Dr.R.Nagaswamy was dwelling on was his idea of making a memorial in Vazhuvoor. Why this village has long forgotten anything related to Bharatanatyam is up to Chokkalingam Pillai to answer. Indeed, why did most of these village dance teachers left their villages and settled in Indian cities? Or American cities?

In a Sruti magazine’s article of February 2002, we find many revelations.

To the question, “I read somewhere that, according to a treatise on abhinaya, one of the chief qualities of a dancer is that she be beautiful…”, Alarmel replies, “I would like to think that for a dancer it is her inner beauty that counts. Take the example of the late T. Balasaraswati, one of India’s greatest exponents of abhinaya. I have been transported, watching her perform at 60.She could make you see her exactly as she wanted you to see her. If you looked at her, you would see a beautiful, young, charming girl of 16″.

The inner beauty…. well, even the ugliest K.J.Sarasa are very beautiful inside if they are famous, rich or powerful. Alarmel is quick to dismiss the ancient scriptures as nonsense, and believes that both Bharata Muni and Nandikeshwara are idiots as they believed that natya in its material expression is to be the expression of the physical body too. But when Alarmel has to choose between a politically correct answer (“when we describe beauty, it is inner beauty and aesthetics we are talking about”) and an honest answer.

Alarmel Valli still is quite sober: “Let me tell you something. Never take too seriously what dancers write! Even scholars are prone to make mistakes – not only factual mistakes but ones relating to interpretation as well.”

Secrets of success of a solo Bharatanatyam recital. Learn how a Bharata natyam dancer can get a lot of fans who had no idea that Bharatnatyam can be fascinating. :)

Warning: this article is not meant for those who are doing Bharatanatyam just as a hobby. Only 1% of Bharatanatyam students have a chance to become real professionals.

While 2000 years ago people had very few options for entertainment, the age of TV, Internet and theme parks brought about the enormous competitive pressure. While they too are already successfully using the new media, the TV and the Internet, the Bharatanatyam dancers are facing a stark reality: their “art” (well, is Bharatanatyam just “art”?) cannot stand the competition as far as the entertaining aspect is concerned.

But Natya has two aspects: entertainment (desi) and enlightenment (margi). As far as enlightenment goes, Natya is beyond competition. The problem is, there is very little left out of margi in the contemporary Bharatanatyam…

Music

50% of your success will depend on your orchestra and music. That’s a lot!

If your vocalist can modulate his voice and produce intense and varied bhavas at least as well as Manasi Prasad or Unnikrishnan…If your mridangist can vary the strength of the beats every 2-3 seconds on a wide range and as fast as K.S.Sudhaman does… If you understand that violin cannot be a replacement for flute, and that veena alone is suitable for making many passages interesting…The reason that Saraswathy holds a veena (not a violin or saxophone) in her hands…

Can you afford additional instruments, such as morsing, kanjeera, tabla, ghatam, etc.?
If you prefer to blur your music in a jazz-like way Udupi Lakshminarayan does, add a keyboard player so that he would completely wash out everything else and destroy your recital. (Keyboard players do not have the same degree of control over their instruments as the non-keyboards, so the timing for each note cannot be as precise as in veena, for example).

The music arrangement is to be done in a professional way that would utilize the strength of each instrument in a suitable manner at the appropriate times. Even the traditional, often performed (stale) items, can be presented in a totally new fashion.

Do your items have only 3 fixed (flat) tempos? It would be boring! “Predictable” means “boring”. The professionals vary the tempos gradually and continuously (with lots of surprises) throughout each item, even introducing pauses here and there. And each item has to end in a distinct way.

If you want your music to be as good as Anita Sivaraman’s, Padma Subrahmaniam’s or Alarmel Valli’s, you may either go bankrupt or invest a lot of time searching for and training a good but affordable orchestra and the composer/music arranger. 😦

Topics & themes

The dancer has to be aware that the selection of the themes (mostly grouped by the rasas) and techniques (classified by the tattvas) for his/her items has to accommodate different types of spectators.

Natya Shastra tells us a lot. Here, we’ll give you some hints. :

The elderly like the tales of virtue and puranic legends.
The reason that 90% of the rasikas are elderly people (who bring their grandchildren along). Bhakti, Vatsalya & Karuna rasas…

Young people are pleased to see the scenes of love.
If your recital does not attract the youth, ask yourself what is the ratio of rati sringara in your items. Want to compete with the young film stars of Kollywood or Bollywood? Look in the mirror first. If your face looks like Meenakshi Chittarajan’s or Priya Murle’s, or if it’s as expressionless as A.Lakshmanan’s, don’t even try to do it. If your figure is Padma Subrahmaniams, people will laugh at your “sringara“. Know your limits. 🙂

The learned want to see a reference to some religious/philosophical teachings
If the dancer does not understand these, there is no way he/she will be able to present these things adequately. In other words, if you are dumb, don’t try to interpret the mystic doctrines!

The seekers of money love the topics of wealth and its acquisition.
If you want to get rich sponsors at a corporate, that’s what you have to start with! There is a wealth of ancient topics that deal with it. Read the Artha Shastra.

The passionless want to watch the topics of liberation.
Shanta rasa…. If you are going to present your recital in an ashram… But if you are not even close to understanding what liberation stands for, don’t make yourself a clown.

Heroic people want to see the scenes in Rudra- and Jugupsa-dominated rasas, with combat scenes.
Not just the army and police folks. Well, hard to compete with the Bruce Lee movies! Why is it that whenever the Dhananjayans produce anything of this kind, it makes me laugh??? 🙂
I have just imagined the 80-year-old Sudharani Raghupathi doing a combat scene…. Would put me to sleep… Snoring…

Common women, children and the uncultured men (murkha) are always delighted with the comic scenes and fascinating costumes and makeup.
Since this category is the most numerous, think of putting more Hasya scenes. Make sure you don’t look too ugly while laughing! Get a nice costume and learn good makeup. If you are a fat, clumsy and ugly dancer, that’s your audience.

Know your audience

Why nobody wants to watch us dance???? We are discriminated against!!!

Why nobody wants to watch us dance????

Do you know that most brahmins today are of the shudra type, but some (2-3%) contemporary SC’s and ST’s have the sattva-dominated nature of the true brahmin? 😦 Although Natya Shastra tells us that, for example, the cheri (inferior human type) spectators will not appreciate the finer art that is appreciated by the superior, uttama, spectators, this limitation can be overcome to some extent by mastering all the necessary techniques.

Techniques

We will classify them according to the main chakras:

Sahasrara
No faith (shraddha), no (spiritual) gain. If you have a divine inspiration and tejas, you may already be a saint. The problem is, saints are usually recognized and get popularity long after they are dead.

Soma
Here is the control over the Hasya.  The dancer has to be cheerful and even playful (the dancers with some Kuchipudi training understand what it is better). 🙂 It has some connection with Medha (it’s not related to Medha Hari! 🙂 ). Open this lotus and learn how to bring joy and humour even to the most depressive of the rasikas.

Ajna
If the rasikas are not paying attention to your dancing, think why one of the 64 vedic arts was “taking control of the crowd by mystic means”. It implies looking into the crowd of the rasikas in a certain way (they have to feel the “eye contact”). It is related to Drishti (something that most dancers are clueless about!). The more focussed you are, the easier you will engage the audience. Take some lessons from Barack Obama 🙂 Don’t complain if you can’t move your eyes at will! 😦 Want to test your mental concentration? Close your eyes, try to dance and see how good your balance is! 🙂 Oh, you still have the ambition to become a professional Bharatanatyam dancer, eh??? 😦

Vishudhi
Music and voice (already described in more detail above). Bring good music (and make sure the loudspeakers are good). It is related to Laya, Vacho and Geetam. Train your voice and introduce your items the way Alarmel Valli does, and the success is yours. Before each item she establishes rapport with the audience. Remember, she speaks from the heart or the throat registers, not from the head. You can’t speak? Hire a good compere.

Anahata
Make your bhavas profound and intense. Be sincere, understand your characters’ relations and minds. If the audience are the refined rasikas in a small auditorium, don’t overdo your expressions! 🙂 Remember: those miserable spectators came to seek for a spark of joy, so don’t overburden them with the tragic expressions!

Manipura
Do the brisk nrittas and difficult karanas. It’s about Javaha. 🙂 If you are doing it effortlessly and irradiate the energy, it will draw the attention. Stamina problems? 🙂 Sweating too much? The jaw drops every now and then? 🙂 Look miserable after dancing for 5 minutes? Need to do kapalabhati, eh? 🙂

Swadhisthana
If you are a woman, have you wondered why your recitals don’t attract men? Cannot do Lasya properly? People complain that you look and move like a eunuck? Ok, we have a hint for you. The people who are selected as “sex symbols” have the uncanny ability to attract the opposite sex. Hint: learn the sexy karanas and bhedas. Learn to move gracefully. And a lot more. See how sexy Alarmel Valli moves her shoulders and chest? Oh, look at the flutter of her eyelashes! Now, don’t you want to murder Rukmini Devi for popularizing her unisex bland Kalakshetra version of Bharatanatyam devoid of talukku, kulukku, alakshyam, midukku,or any graceful ottam adavus?

Muladhara
Purely physical things. How good is your angasudhi? Cannot sit in araimandi, eh? Cannot do atami? Cannot lift your leg? Do your fingers bend properly in all the mudras? How many hastas do you use, actually? (It seems there are 548 , but you need to do Alarmel Valli-style introductions for all these mudras, or else nobody will understand!)

You have to be beautiful, wear a beautiful costume, makeup and jewelry! 🙂 Ever wondered why the scriptures have… errrr… certain physical requirements for professional dancers? :)In other words, if you are a woman and excel by your beauty, youthfulness, brilliance and other qualities all other women standing by, you will not have to compete for attention! 🙂

What makes a Bharatanatyam dancer successful. The dying tradition of Pandanallur style… and the evolution of Bharata natyam. Bharatnatyam career.

This post was provoked by the lonely Arul Francis’s blog , and is related to 3 other posts of ours: Success in Solo Performance, The Future of Bharatanatyam. Through the prism of Bharatnatyam’s great Past ,         The “Hereditary” ones…. And back to karanas!

his post consists of 2 parts: what makes a successful Bharatanatyam career, and then we overview Subbaraya Pillai’s “tradition” (can we call it so?) and the evolution of Bharatanatyam.

While most of Arul’s points are perfectly valid, here we will focus largely on those points that the conservatives (“traditionalists”) tend to misunderstand and misrepresent.

Grounded
Here, Arul touches the topic of “success”.

Indeed, what makes a dancer “successful”? What makes a career successful? And a performance?

From the devadasi’s point of view, the only kind of success she was aiming at was her personal spiritual growth, experiences, realizations. Her secondary goal, just as any shaman’s, was the procuring of the divine blessings and protections for the devadasi’s benefactors.

Anjana Rajan put it in simple terms:

No matter how much we talk of Bharatanatyam today being a devotional art, it is only rarely that the inherent spirituality of the form, the mysticism of the scriptures as conveyed through mudras and music, becomes visible. To relate to the spiritual essence without allowing the dance technique to disintegrate into a mash of feeling is not easy.

Not just the mudras and music, of course, but, much more importantly, about performing the karanas like this. Natya Shastra describes 2 types of “Success” (“siddhi”, or perfection) of the performance by the rajadasi types of dancers: daiviki (divine) and manusi (human). There are the signs of the human and the signs of the divine success. There are two expression of human success: vocal and bodily.

Signs of success expressed vocally:

  • slight smile,
  • smile,
  • laughter,
  • exclamations such as “excellent”,
  • tumultuous applause

Signs of success expressed by body language:

  • Joy expressed in horripilation
  • the rising up from the seat and giving away of clothes and throwing of rings (or other gifts)

The signs of divine success are more interesting:

  • there must be the overwhelming Sattva in the display of Bhavas (i.e. the psychological states are pure / expressed clearly)
  • no noise, no disturbance, no unusual occurrence (during the performance)
  • the auditorium is full of spectators

At one of Narada Gana Sabha’s performances, with fewer than 10 rasikas and a below average dancer (from outside Chennai), the compere proudly announced, “We thank you the sabha for making todays performance a great success”. The dancer was so disappointed that she did not laugh. The rasikas exchanged funny looks. 🙂

Arul writes,
“You meet someone who is very “successful” – they have all the trophies: a fancy degree, a great job, a fancy house, a fancy car – but when you actually try to get to know the person, you realize there is nothing there. A vacuum. A shell. Success seems to destroy some people. I see the equivalent in dance as well. “Success” can be pretty scary and turn someone into a freak.”

A fancy degree can only impress a few old idiots in India, not in the USA, where any idiot can get a fancy degree for a hundred bucks. If the dancer tries to impress the American audience by listing her degree in medicine or banking, the Americans usually either smile or laugh, but are polite enough not to laugh too loudly.

A great job. The “successful” dancers include Srinidhi Chidambaram who spent most of her time on her medical career, got a great and stable job in public health administration, married a rich man, lost the ability to dance. Other great jobs include the Indian Railway administration posts (Ananda Shankar Jayant), insurance agents and bank clerk’s jobs.

Money! 🙂 Indeed, a great measure of success in Kali Yuga. Go, ask how dancers earn money. They will tell you.

Arul forgot to list “titles & awards” because these are looked upon – especially by Americans – as meaningless. After all, we know how much politics and money it takes to get a “prestigious” title !

Arul tells us that

One time a dance-critic wrote mockingly about the awards given out during the December season: “what a clatter of siromanis and … ” and I was laughing along because I agreed with what she was saying. Every time you turn around someone is handing someone else an award, a title, or an honour. It is just ridiculous. All those shawls and shields and plaques. What a waste.

Spending too much time on the political activities will turn the dancer into a fat hypocrite. Arul teaches us some diplomatic tricks:

one of the VIPs accosted me and said: “what did you think of my speech?” and I was caught off-guard. I couldn’t very well answer: “I was outside eating samosas”. So I said: “everyone thought it was a very fitting tribute”. And they continued: “what did you think of my quotes from Shakespeare”. And I didn’t know what to say so I said: “well, you can’t go wrong with Shakespeare”.

You may get in trouble if you lie too much:

Someone came up and whispered something into this VIP’s ear and they turned upon me indignantly and said: “Arul, it seems you weren’t even inside? What’s this? It seems you went outside during the speeches?” and I was caught red-handed!

You have to understand the etiquette and the hierachies:

The last speaker was Karunanidhi – it seems he had released some book or novel – he was a very good speaker. We sat in the back even though Meenakshi’s mother came and pulled Master’s hand and said: “Sir, you must sit in the front row” but Master would not. He sat in the back. Apparently, when the real VIPs arrived everyone who was occupying the front row would be unceremoniously kicked back and that could be embarrassing.

You will not have the time for practising Bharatanatyam. You will have to lie, lie and have to be mean, very mean. You will have to forge political alliances with some Bharatanatyam clans, and fight against the “enemies” (competing clans). You will become very bitter, and the corners of your mouth will move down, wriggling in wry smiles. How else can you smile if you feel like murdering that fat sabha’s committee member who expects a big bribe/donation? 😦 You will feel like your life is wasted. And wasted it is!

Anita Ratnam wrote:
“There is too much political correctness going around and far too much sycophancy to really help dance…. That dance scene in India has become corrupt and bloated is something nobody disagrees with”.

What the dancers really value and like to list in their resumes is the opportunities to perform a solo at an “established” (old) sabha’s festival or at least at Natyanjali in Chidambaram. Without these performances, you will not get your title or award. To do that, you will have to get various “recommendations” from the “established” dancers & gurus. To get these, you will have to go and kiss their feet (and other parts of their body), become their obsequious student for a year or two, exhibit the utmost sycophancy to the people you abhor and disdain, and tell them a lot of false compliments that you don’t feel like saying. The more you praise them, the faster you will lose the ability to distinguish the truth from the illusions. Welcome to Maya!

Sirisha reveals the undercurrents of the present day dance career and exploitation:

I always wondered that its difficult to perform for big sabhas specially some in chennai, its so tough to get through anyone to avail a chance to perform,i have written letter, mails.I dont get any reply! Is it the fact that only famous dancers are given opportunity there and only known faces get to perform.

its the question again should we keep quiet and just watch the rat race or be a part to win them, i see so many ordinary dancers doing so many big shows,not to say or put my dance on high platform, but i sure dance with better standards than some of them. Wel how much does recognition come:(. I am no more with any guru presently, but did n number of shows for my gurus at their corporate shows and their umpteen lecture demos.I thank them whole heartedly for making me a dancer of really competetive level, it was that gratitude which held me for long all this while. But now am out of the institution for good, cant blame anyone for anything.but thought should voice the exploitation only once and walk out.I have being teaching with them for eight years, and was among their cream of senior ensembles. But how long should i keep quiet?????? No answer,
I think dance should be an art that should spread with zero inhibitions,and specially to people who cant afford it.

Do u suggest any gurus whom i can go to continue my advanced training.just asking out of blue.

i live in bangalore, and i had begun my style of dance with vazhavur style, then continued with gurus for my advanced training, and they dint folow particularly any style, but taught every thing that was special in all styles.

The strategy of an exploitative (selfish) guru is very simple:

  • don’t give your best students a chance to perform solo programmes,
  • don’t teach them too much of advanced solo items,
  • don’t give them credits at a group performance or in a DVD release,
  • don’t let them get in direct contact with the customer (the person who pays for the performance, tour, TV show, lec-dem, film role, etc).

Without performances, nobody will publish the reviews of your dance no matter how much you pay the journalists/critics and fawn over them. Without the good publicity, you will not become famous. To get into the Hindu’s Friday Review used to be the pinnacle of the dancers’ dreams. The problem now is that every small newspaper or web site are publishing tons of worthless reviews whose only aim is to promote (clumsily or not very) the reviewed dancers! 🙂

Without titles and reviews, it is harder to get recognition. Everybody knows how much it takes to get empaneled at the ICCR. Unless some VIP from the ruling political party calls the Doordarshan panel of judges and gives them instructions, you will not get the A Grade. How can one get, for example, the recognition from the Texas Commission on the Arts? Or from Young Audiences of Houston? What is the value of Certificate of Appreciation from the Governor of California? Or from the Association of Toilet Cleaners of New Delhi?

We could add popularity as another measurement of success. Hmmm…. What kind of popularity? Among whom? I am wondering why some Bharatanatyam videos performed by an 11-year-old on YouTube get 10 times more views than Vyjayanthimala’s videos there! As for Michael Jackson’s kind of popularity… Oh, yea! Yea! It seems that the popularity among the cheri rasikas, the undiscriminating and bored audience who need just some excitement and entertainment. Many dancers dream of becoming another Vyjayanthimala, Kamala, Padma, Shobana… A cheri dancer who dances vulgar dances on TV. Becoming a film actress is an “achievement”: you will forget what is Bharatanatyam. This was the reason how Subbaraya Pillai treated

anyone from the world of “cinema” he automatically refused, as did his father

your life will disconnect from your soul, you will be treated like a prostitute by the film directors (and many others), but you will have a lot of money. When I met Shobana, I felt that this woman is very miserable. Many top actresses commit suicide, but she has not yet! 🙂

The new developments

As you probably know, before dancing, the dancer propitiates Nataraja or Vinayaka and asks to grant success for the recital.

Arul writes:
There was a time I went to Vani Mahal and saw a lovely performance. The dancer sprang to one corner of the stage in a beautiful graceful jump and sat down and began offering flowers and raising her eyes above – and directly above on the wall was a large picture of a package of Chips – the brand which was sponsoring the show. It was funny!

Many dancers feel they need to worship the green American dollar. 🙂

There is something Arul does not understand when he writes:
“Someone has to patronize and come up with the money – they always have – in ‘Danike’ there is a line acknowledging the Maratha king Sivaji – in ‘Yemaguva’ there is a similar line about the Mysore king.”

Arul is not aware of the fact that the Maratha king Sivaji is long DEAD. The Thanjavur Quartet’s varnams which Arul describes as the precious gems have never had a great spiritual potential in them, and have grown irrelevant. The ancient Kali or Vishnu kavutuvams have survived many more centuries because of the greater purity of the music, the lyrics and the choreography. You bet that an item that praises Coca-Cola will not survive a few years.

Arul warns us about the dangers of “fusions”:

It’s weird how these “rebel” dancers and choreographers who want to shake up their staid old audience and drag them to the cutting edge don’t get the very basic point that people already watch dance from other genres which are already popular and cutting edge and are outside of the classical dance category. People who compose and perform popular hip music already have their own dance to go with it and it’s very good and fun to watch. And that music doesn’t need any condescending gestures from classical dancers. This whole pose of “i want to shake up the old people” and at the same time “i want to expose and pull in the younger crowd by doing something new and hip” is just so condescending to both sides, I don’t see the need for it.

Subbaraya Pillai… and the living fossils

If you think you know what is “Pandanallur” style (errrrr….. it is less than 100 years old, isn’t it?), can you tell me why there is such a great deal of difference between the “Pandanallur” styles taught by Parvati Ravi Ghantasala, Ranganayaki Jayaraman, Pandanallur Pandian, Alarmel Valli, Meenakshi Chitharanjan , and Dr.Saraswathy (of Vipanchee)? Or at least, tell me what is common in these guru’s styles? 🙂 Baffling, isn’t it? 🙂 It is as baffling as why Vaiko joined Jayalalitha. 🙂

In Gossip, Arul wonders,

What does he think of each of them and where does he stand on all their rivalries? I am dying to know.

Business competition is business. Or politics, like the rift inside the DMK.

Arul rightly states that not all contemporary Bharatanatyam dancers are ready to perform Bharatanatyam in a strip bar, a cabaret or at a lingerie exhibition:

Along with the dance they also know its context: how to perform and where to leave it. Without ever articulating it verbally or spelling it out – we got from him this sense of boundaries and identity. What it is, and what it is not.

The explanation why Arul is an avid reader of our blog and Narthaki’s is this:

Sometimes I ask the other students, have you read such-and-such or did you see that TV show or that movie – and generally the answer is “no”. Master’s students don’t need any outside input and they’re not looking to critics or other dance styles for direction. They have that already.

Yep! They are already perfect (at least they think they are more perfect than apsara Urvasi). Or maybe, they are just no longer able to learn? To improve? Eh… Why?

Alarmel Valli and Meenakshi Chittarajan were among those students who wanted to learn more and enhance their technique. So they left Subbaraya Pillai a long time ago. Have they achieved what they wanted to? Or rather, have they achieved more success than those students who have not left Subbaraya Pillai?

The dancers have to develop a critical, analytical mind to be able to digest adequately all the comments and reviews. But Subbaraya Pillai’s students don’t have it: they have always been discouraged to ask questions, as Arul confesses. If you have no questions, you are either a genius or are asleep. The number of questions a student asks determine how eager he is to learn and how well he understands the topic.

The students were only allowed to obey their guru’s instructions. Did they understand much? They didn’t. As a result, most of them became brain-dead by the age of 30.

This is how great traditions and great knowledge are lost:

For these crucial hands in the first half, he’s just forgotten. I was so upset. There is no one he’s taught this to – not in a very long time – and back then they weren’t even recording anything. so it’s just gone, gone, gone with the wind.

Subbaraya Pillai explains his lacklustre “creative” genius:

“I still follow whatever Thatha has taught me. Can I ever create something that he has not left for generations of dancers to come? Today choreographing according to one’s own Manodharma (freedom to compose) means different things to different persons. Each has his/her own concepts, values and approaches. “

However, Nandini Ramani interpreted this as “creative” (within the narrow framework of what Thatha taught him?):

“Even now I don’t know what I know” he says referring to his creative approach to Bharatanatyam.

Arul is more honest:

There were no “new items”. He taught what he had learnt and just stopped with that.

Well, the dancers who cannot take the outside input can consider themselves as living fossils. The ability to learn new things (which is determined by the amount of Sattva in your system) decreases from the age of 10 dramatically. Rajas dominates in our youth. After 40, Tamas dominates. In medical terms, so many brain cells die (because of lack of use) that the adults, including dancers, cannot accept anything new. This is why most poets and composers created their masterpieces at a young age.

Among the good things Subbaraya Pillai did (as we see in this VCD) was that he “would teach his students one on one”, which saved them from becoming clones. However, there are some paradoxes. First, Arul tells us about clone dancers:

I had already figured that out for myself in 94, just from attending performances, and watching how the nattuvanars’, certain big nattuvanars’ students always danced differently from their class mates whereas dance schools and dancers-turned-teachers produced people who did the same thing.

Oh, these big nattuvanars who never read the Natya Shastra! 🙂 Be warned:

I would ask: “marupadiyum atha kamingale” (show me again) but of course there was no dancer there, and without a dancer he couldn’t show anything.

The big, great Arul then continues:

The dancers did not learn abinaya from each other. There’s nothing “intrinsically feminine” about it.

Arul’s fundamental problem is that he does not have a mirror, and is half-blind: he does not see that an average woman’s face is capable of rendering 100 times more expressions than an average man’s.

Arul confesses:

this was one skill that I was simply not going to be able to pick up from him…I can catch what the dancers are doing on tape and repeat that tape a 1000 times, but I did not have his expressions while he was teaching it

Even such exceptional abhinaya masters as Bangalore’s Kiran Subramanyam are nobodies compared to many 10-year-old girls from Chennai. Some of these 10-year-olds are so uninhibited and so sincere in their abhinaya that watching them alone will teach you more than spending 100 years learning Bharatanatyam expressions from a big nattuvanar. After all, Natya Shastra states that 25% of what a dancer can learn can be learnt only from observing other dancers.

Master taught it to each dancer, one dancer at a time, and I saw him teach it with my own eyes. To see that transformation, when he shows how an expression is to be done, and repeats it, and repeats, and repeats, and to see the dancer pick that up – it is one of the most amazing and magical things in dance that I have ever seen.

Oh! Subbaraya Pillai did, indeed, ask his students to merely copy his own expressions that he considered as “correct”. It was Subbaraya Pillai who repeated the same expression. A true nattuvanar may give just a hint – once or twice! – and it would be sufficient. Learn by rote is the devise of the current Indian educational system! What is so magical in it?

The magical it would be if the dancer first would understand the lyrics, the characters’ moods, their relationship. Of course you don’t need it if the theme of your recital is about Pringles or condoms, do you? How would a condom speak to a pack of Pringles? Well, I need to watch some American cartoons. Don’t blame me if my abhinaya resembles Mickey Mouse’s!

Only Americans religiously believe that an emotion can be realized by moving facial muscles alone.

 

The serious bharatanatyam dancer should sit and meditate, have some personal (not borrowed) spiritual experiences that would naturally produce genuine expressions. Without the inner realizations and direct experiences, the dancer’s expressions will look a bit too put-on to fool a sharp-eyed rasika. The dancer’s abhinaya will never be powerful, convincing, and will lack Sattva.

The ability to perceive the 3 gunas and their combinations depends entirely on the clarity of your vision. This is something that no nattuvanar will teach you. If you eat the rajasic food, you will be half-blind. Arul likes spicy fish curry, it seems.

And he loves our blog: 🙂

I became interested in dance I would read everything that was written in the papers and in the books. I was stupid enough to believe what they were saying because all those writers write with so much authority.

The Future of Bharatanatyam. Through the prism of Bharatnatyam’s great Past.

This post is related to The “Hereditary” ones…. And back to karanas! (also see this recent one – about the karanas and more)

This post was provoked by Aneal Krishnamurthy‘s “The future of Bharatanatyam: A rasika’s view” published in Sruti and re-posted on Narthaki. Aneal, an amateur rasika, has made us sit down and analyze the things in depth. We will comment on his and another angry NRI’s, Mukundagiri Sadagopan‘s letter too, as well as Alarmel Valli’s opinions.

We will compare the past of Bharatanatyam with its present, and make a guess of what is it going to be like in the future. There can be no way to predict the future without understanding the past and the present. To understand the developments, you should have a basic understanding of the 4 Yuga’s. Remember: Kali Yuga officially ended just 50 years ago. Most people have lost the sense of the sacred. Spirituality and religion are no longer relevant to people’s life.

Since the sacred music and the dance offerings prescribed by the Shastras, such as Agama Shastra, were recently conveniently replaced by the rice and sweets offerings, we can pretend to ignore that another prescribed offering, asana, started to be conveniently interpreted as “seating of the idol”. Curiously, the degraded Hindu pseudo priests, grown fat and ugly beyond all reasonable dimensions, managed to convince hundreds of millions of idiots that the changes in the Sodasa Upachara rituals were…. holy. As holy as the holy McDonnalds.

We could also refer to The Hindu’s article on this score :

To keep in tune with the changing times and to make Bharatanatyam more relevant to the contemporary audience, Natyarangam (the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha) organises a dance festival every year on various social issues such as male chauvinism, eve teasing, dowry, corruption and politics.

It is not just agricultural themes that became spiritual. The poor Ramaa writes that immigration is, in fact, a deeply spiritual theme too, and the Statue of Liberty is the true American god that every Bharatanatyam dancer in Chennai has to offer a puja to – before taking a flight to New York in hopes to earn some not-so-spiritual hard currency:

My choreography Jwala-Flame about the struggles and discoveries of the immigrant experience and dedicated to the Statue of Liberty elicits that kind of deeply spiritual response from the audience every time we have performed it.

“Spiritual response”? What is it, darling? Ramaa explains:

It is not enough to simply present your work. You must also represent it both artistically and politically.

Politically??? Can’t find it in Natya Shastra!

The current situation is aggravated by the fact that 95% of the present-day “humans” are in the human bodies for the 1st time in their soul’s evolution. Which means that the real people (who can appreciate the finer Bharatanatyam) are a minority. If one was a pig in his past life, he will prefer to watch Bollywood hip-shaking.

You may know there was no Bharatanatyam 500 years ago. Sadir looked very, very different. While you can find traces of Natya Shastra’s styles in the classical Indian dance, these are just traces. Well, the Kaisiki style can be seen in Mohiniattam (where Lasya reaches its pinnacle, and the Bhavas are rendered in the fine and deep manner) and Odissi. But there is very little left of it in the contemporary Bharatanatyam. So… What is Bharatanatyam, to begin with???? A tree without roots will dry up and die quickly.

  1. Kalakshetra style is not Bharatanatyam“, once said Udupi Laxminarayanan.
  2. Udupi Laxminarayanan’s “Kanchipuram style” has nothing to do with Bharatanatyam“, said Sudharahi Raghupathi.
  3. My style is called Bharathnrithyam“, said you know who.
  4. “Not many people believe I dance Bharatanatyam. Actually, I don’t believe it either“, complains Shobana.
  5. I don’t know if it is traditional Bharatanatyam. I think I took it from Kuchipudi“, another Bharatanatyam dancer confesses.
  6. So what if I borrowed this and that from the English ballet?“, replies Chitra Vesveswaran.
  7. Yes, this is Martha Graham’s technique that I use“, confesses Sudharani Raghupathi.
  8. How many people know that there is a lot of Kathakali and modern dance in my…. errrr… Bharatanatyam?“, asks VP Dhananjayan.

Manvantara wrote :
I attended a recital by Alarmel Valli at Memphis…. To me, her steps seemed more like Odissi with some influence of ballet! Her accompanying musicians were very good, though!
Then there was the “Ekantha Seetha” – which I think was specifically for the non-Indian. The choreography (by the Dhananjayans) was good, but predictable and in the end, left me wondering what it was all about. Sujatha Srinivasan seemed to “dance” without moving her body much! Dhananjayan himself was no good – he tried some Kathakali style eye movements, but only the intent was there – the eye balls did not move!

Excuse me, where today can we find… Bharatanatyam???

The glorious past vs. the present :

evolution or… degradation?

There are 4 different historical reference points on which we will base our vision of the great Past and the comparisons with the present practices and trends:.

  1. The episode with apsara Urvasi, described in the Natya Shastra.
  2. The incident on Thillai that resulted in the construction of the Chidambaram temple.
  3. The original devadasi practices in the example of incident with Kallivelli Siddhar..
  4. Abhinaya Darpanam

Although some idiots corrupted by the western pseudo-culture dare to expose their lack of brain by stating that “The body of a dancer of today considerably differs from that of an 11th or 14th century dancer, especially one known only from temple sculptures.” , it is an archaeological fact that the human bodies in South India were no different 50000 years ago from what these bodies look now. It is the styles of sculpture that came and vanished. The bodies remain the same. (Oh! Well, not quite: the ancient dancers didn’t look so old, ugly, useless and worn-out when they were 80 years, and they did not attempt to make a laughing stock out of themselves by exposing their clumsiness and lost figures!) The proliferation of imbecile, half-baked modern authorities on Bharatanatyam is amazing, especially in the rajasic West, where every idiot is encouraged to produce a “different” view as long as he is paid for his/her “research” and “innovation”.

“New” is better than “True”, is the slogan of the superficial Western rajasic mind.

“There are no authorities” is another slogan.

The Hindu’s article on this score:

“There are over 25 Ph.D programmes on Indian dance in American universities alone,” says art critic Sadanand Menon. “This is when there is hardly any such attempt here.”

“Every American idiot is equal to Bharata Muni since Bharata Muni did not have a Ph.D. in Dance from a reputed US-based university” is another democratic belief.
There is an interesting trend that VP Dnahanjayans described very aptly, when a Kerala university imposed its own “selection” of the Bharatanatyam…. errrr… “professors” at the Dhananjayan’s “college”. “The staff they proposed are the worst possible teachers”, commented the disappointed Dhananjayan. “The university wanted the Bharatanatyam professors to have, primarily, a university degree in Bharatanatyam. The problem is, there are no people with a university degree in Bharatanatyam!” Because nobody needed such a piece of paper before.

Although Mother Kali can be heard producing very lound laughter above our heads, let us get serious and find the parameters by which we will compare the present and the past.

-The episode with apsara Urvasi makes us realize that:

  • the origin of Natya is in the Heaven, not in a disco bar (leave us a comment if you believe you are an incarnation of Rambha 🙂
    Now, Bharatanatyam dancers learn new things by copying western ballet, Indian movies and folk dance. The rest they imagine. They don’t read the Natya Shastra or Abhinavabharathi. Too sophisticated for parrot-brained maami’s! Have you ever heard a dancer saying, “This item was revealed to me by such-and-such Apsara in my meditation?” What is meditation, Madam, errrrr?
  • it takes a king Pururavas, a great soul and a purified mind, to compose a superb piece of Natya
    Few ancient items (incl. poetry and music) have been preserved. “Pay Rs.60000 and I will compose a heavenly item for you” is the tariff language of the contemporary (pop-Bharatanatyam) composer. While some medieval composers were declared saints, where are the modern saints? They are fighting for the Padmashree awards. “How much is this divine set of Jathis, Sir?”, “Rs.23000, Madam”. There is not a single item composed in the past 200 years that could stand comparison with the ancient Kali or Vishnu Kautuvams.
  • it takes an embodied apsara’s skills (arrived at by constant, full-time practice) and a perfect body (you bet she looked far better than Aishwarya Rai!) to truly mesmerize the refined audience (not a bunch of ignorant village bumpkins who believe that “buffalos also dance”… Bharatanatyam? )
    The contemporary Bharatanatyam students have no desire nor time to practice. For what???? With 1000 relatives around, every day there is an important function: someone either dies or is born. The yokels watch the vulgar Indian movies.
  • there are no contemporary Bharatanatyam dancers whose death would result in the immediate death of 1000 of their fans
    When the modern reviews publish “mesmerizing” and “enchanting” and “fascinating” epithets, take it with a pinch of salt. If you see an old fat ugly grandma monopolizing the stage, and junior dancers licking her a** and shoes, remember, this simulated psychophancy does not last long. The same tongue that licked the Bharatanatyam VIP’s feet at a function will blast her to pieces while its owner chats to her friends. Contemporary dancers are the biggest liars and politicians. The fattest dancer is Ms.Jayalalitha, who still gets compliments for her superb nritta.

-The incident on Thillai that resulted in the construction of the Chidambaram temple.

  • the real dancing happens in the invisible worlds, where it is much more fun
    The present Bharatanatyam’s themes include HIV, agricultural irrigation, industrialization of India, sweetness of Coca-Cola, greatness of the State Bank of India, and the most divine condom items that are used with Lingam.
  • it takes a great rishi’s tapasya to get a ticket for such a show
    If you are a Bharatanatyam dancer who “has”(really?) to dance at a car exhibition or a new shampoo inauguration, ask yourself, “How many people came here to watch my great Bharatanatyam?” If you are a Bharatanatyam dancer doing a programme at a Sabha, ask yourself, “Can I see anybody besides my relatives, fellow dancers, neighbors, my parents’ colleagues? Huh! Nobody else came again!”
  • the human shape is used by Shiva in his mystic dance to explain his relationship with Shakti
    “We don’t need anything mystic: there are important meterial (financial, career) problems that we have to solve right now!” . Have you ever met a contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer who has at least 1 spiritual experience??? (not just a dream of buying a new car!) “Maami, let’s get practical: I don’t need any such revelations: I have to prepare for tomorrow’s exams!” What, Bharata Muni was a rishi in the first place????

-The original devadasi practices.

  • The devadasis used to live a very simple life with very basic material needs provided for by the temples.
    Now, every dancer wants to be as rich as Jayalalitha, or Srinidhi Chidambaram or at least Alarmel Valli.
  • Tuition was… free of cost.Now, only the students who pay well (lakhs!) get the attention of the guru. Arul describes the contemporary exceptions:
    There was a dancer who lived down the street of very modest circumstances and she would pay something like a hundred and fifty rupees a month. He (Subbaraya Pillai) didnt’ care. There was no set fee. Everyone paid what they could, it was voluntary and he would never ask. Over eight years she became a good student and he would spent 3 or 4 hours each day, six days a week, teaching her the danyasi varnam. It was such a paltry sum! For all those hours and hours of teaching.
  • Devadasis learnt 64 subjects, so some of them made very good living. Most of these subjects were complimentary to dance (right-brain hemisphere activities), and automatically enhanced the dancer’s dancing standards.
    One of these 64 subjects is… Divination!
    Can’t remember this subject in the Annamalai University’s syllabus! “Spells & charms“? Not a useful subject either. Our ancestors were idiots or what?Now, some professional Bharatanatyam dancers complain that…. they cannot make a luxurious living out of Bharatanatyam alone! Most contemporary idiots believe that computer engineering or surgery (left-brain hemisphere activities) will enhance their Bharatanatyam performances. A typical performance in Chennai starts with, “She has an MBBS”. Or an MBA. When on earth did this cow have the time to rehearse her Bharatanatyam items?????? Stupid: she didn’t! 😦 Then she will complain that nobody likes Bharatanatyam today.
  • A devadasi danced in the mandapams. No human audience were allowed to watch her dance. She danced for the deity. Her dance was the expression of her soul.
    A contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer dances to entertain the audience that consists mostly of a bunch of bored pigs chewing chips and chatting on their mobiles.
  • There was Tejas emanating from devadasi Valli when she was dancing in front of Kallivelli Siddhar
    The contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer’s brain is too busy focussing on how to impress the sponsors and chief guests who do not understand anything about Bharatanatyam.Tejas??? What is Tejas? 😦 Is it the name of a new Tamil actor?
  • The devadasis used to do all the 108 karanas. There was a lot of variety in their performances.
    Nowadays the Bharatanatyam dancers (except for very few ones) use just 10% of the technical elements described in Natya Shastra. Most rasikas cannot find the difference between Bharatanatyam and folk dance.

-Anhinayadarpanam

There is a rumour that ABHAI wants to prohibit this book on the grounds that it offends the senior dancers by stating that a Patra (bharatanatyam dancer) has to be youthful, agile, beautiful, with sweet voice, and so on. After all, the modern trend is to let the disabled dancers perform on the stage, isn’t it??? Their parents pay so much, so why not…? Abhinayadarpanam is an outragous text that, for some apolitical reasons, lists the criteria that disqualify the dancer from giving a public performance. “99% of the contemporary dancers would lose their jobs if we followed the scriptures”, said Sudharani Raghipathi at the release function of her recent Bharatanatyam DVDs (She does not allow her best student, Sridevi, to release any DVDs now, when Sridevi can still dance. Otherwise, who would buy Sudharani’s DVDs?) where the old maami looked dangerously pregnant and was moving as if on crutches. What, Abhinayadarpanam reads that such a dancer would be a parody? “Dare call me a clown and your dance career is dead”, said the angry Padma Subrahmaniam.“So what if I look vulgar? What, Chitra Visveswaran is better?”

Recent developments

The recent developments have included such main factors as

Alarmel Valli gives us some insights:

Ever wondered why Alarmel Valli’s technique includes and increasingly larger number of purely western embellishments and artsy ornamentation aimed at telling the spectator, “Hey, look at me, am I not great?”

Perceptions are changing with the cultural onslaught from the West. American pop culture, with its discos, its MTV and its soap operas has made strong inroads. These have contributed to the distancing of our young from our culture.

A true liberal is one who can move across all forms of cultural space with equal impartiality. He does not go around saying: “This is not fashionable, so I will not go to it;” or “It is not contemporary, so I will not watch it;” and so on.

As she spends most of her time in the USA and hardly watches any Bharatanatyam performances at all, here is what she thinks:

There are a few people who tout the idea that Bharatanatyam, or any classical dance for that matter, no longer has any relevance; that it is dead, it is a fossil, it is a museum piece, it is too decorative

Is the dance of Alarmel Valli is purely decorative, and a useless westernized fossil since it has no revelance to most of what is described in Natya Shastra?

the subtle imposition of a Western modern aesthetic, modified by a sprinkling of Indian ‘ingredients’ is not the answer to the development of modern Indian dance. And, we do not need anybody to tell us exactly how our dance should evolve.

Let’s forget the Natya Shastra and listen to the arrogant Alarmel Valli, comfortably settled in her American house:

Although I am a classical dancer, I enjoy good Modern dance enormously and am inspired by it. The ultimate test is whether the dance touches you, moves you, makes you think.

Natya Shastra, though tells us that desi is can only serve as entertainment, while margi is a means of spiritual upliftment. Is Alarmel Valli greater than Bharata Muni??? No, she is just a stupid arrogant woman, a lowly woman who thinks:

The Natya Sastra itself gives you total freedom to be a poet. Can one dictate or curb poetic expression?

Alarmel Valli tells us:

a few questions posed by some Western ‘modernists’: Why is there so little floor movement in Indian dance? Why is Indian classical dance so ‘happy’ all the time? How can an ancient traditional form like Bharatanatyam be contemporary? These questions are as pointless

There are no entirely pointless questions. The answers could be:
1. Bharatanatyam is not meant for horses running in a football stadium
2. Classical dance is to express ananda, and all the miserable ballet dancers in America or Europe don’t understand it
3. An “ancient” form like Bharatanatyam did not exist 150 years ago: 95% of what we see today was created out of scratch very recently, so it is very contemporary, and very boring too.

Why do you think why Alarmel Valli writes:

I love Modern dance and I have seen many of the best Modern dancers from around the world. My experience of their dance is transmuted within me and finds appropriate expression in my own idiom, which is Bharatanatyam… Other dance-forms have their influence on me… For instance, I am a great admirer of Pina Bausch… I am inspired by her and as such, somewhere in my inner consciousness I am influenced and this comes out in my dance

Oh! She borrowed all that crap from the great guru Pina, Pina! You didn’t know, huh?

So, is there a future for Bharatanatyam?

The fate of Bharatanatyam is similar to Carnatic music’s veena. As Madurai T.N.Seshagopalan said in Sruti, “An element of drama and contrived modulation pass for Bhava. What was once considered cheap tactics has become the order of the day…If there is a great artist today on the veena the situation would change”. We will be patiently waiting for a real apsara’s incarnation to restore the glory of Natya.

Our comments (in bold) on Aneal’s article’s statements

In my view, Bharatanatyam does indeed have a strong future but is currently undergoing certain changes that could have a profound impact on the art form. This article aims to discuss certain trends that I have observed over the past few years (the analysis that is based on a few year’s observation is not worth a dime) and attempts to raise some important questions for dancers and scholars in this field.

Trends in Bharatanatyam technique:

Bharatanatyam is slowly but surely moving towards more athleticism. (maybe in America; in India, more and more cows believe that, if Chitra Visveswaran can dance in a skirt, so everybody else can!) Although no one can doubt the strength and endurance required for dancers to competently perform a whole margam, there seems to be a marked emphasis on athleticism by some dancers on stage. The athleticism almost borders on acrobatics and gymnastics (oh, where, where did you watch it???? Show me 1 dancer who can do 108 karanas, and I will believe you). This type of dancing seems to have a certain appeal to audiences and I wonder if more dancers will follow in this path. (no way, they are getting too lazy in India)

Another related point is the growing emphasis by some dancers on nrtta to the detriment of abhinaya (Aneal has never watched a Chennai-based Bharatanatyam dancer). It is commonplace for jathis to last for several minutes tiring both the dancer and the audience. (The US-made jathis are as boring as their synthetic McDonnalds hamburgers). The pace is often fast and furious. (Aneal has not seen a really fast nritta). Sometimes (often!) this pace sacrifices the crisp completion of each adavu. Is this desire for speed being driven by the (American!) audience? (no, Aneal, it’s just the audience cannot see their abhinaya from 200 meters away – in a large auditorium) Are dancers worried that without some spectacular footwork fireworks, the audience will not stay interested? (The audience is bored anyway, but want to appear as “cultured Indians”) With regard to padams and other abhinaya-oriented pieces, are dancers worried that they will not be able to sustain the audience’s attention with a slow-paced piece solely focused on mime? (The dancer’s mime is usually so horrible, artificial, superficial or boring that they don’t want to scare the audience)

Another issue is the apparent loss of importance of the Araimandi stance. (in America???) It is very rare (not so rare in Chennai: go and watch the youngsters) to see dancers with proper Araimandi. If it is acceptable today for a dancer to have just a slight outward turning of the knees (they use the western toilets nowadays, hence the new habit) and sitting a few inches lower than his or her height (their legs are too weak after driving the car to every shop instead of walking 50 meters), why even call it a half-sitting position? Review after review will note in a sentence (usually towards the end of the review) that the dancer’s Araimandi stance is missing or not consistent. (Who paid the journalist for the review? Too little an amount will result in bad review!) What is surprising to me is the minimal impact that the lack of Araimandi has on the overall critique of the dancer. I have observed that dancers are routinely praised for their technique even though there is no Araimandi. Perhaps lack of Araimandi is a result of dancers increasing the speed of their nrtta. (no, they just have 1 hour of practice per week!) Is this only one isolated component of Bharatanatyam that is slowly being lost or are there other components that are suffering a similar fate? (Yes, Aneal, the same is happening to mudras, hasthas, bhedas. Have you seen a dancer who can move her eyes in all the ways described in the Natya Shastra???? It’s just too hard! ).

Trends in Bharatanatyam performance content:

A highly visible development over the past few years is the move towards more thematic programs. (If your sponsor is McDonalds, your item must be about hamburgers. What, ancient dancers depicted devas??? Where are these devas now? Why they are not sponsoring the contemporary, dirty-minded Bharatanatyam dancers?) Within thematic shows, particularly abroad, there is a movement to make Bharatanatyam relevant to non-Indian audiences. ( the dancers love the non-Indian dollars, and the opportunity to write in their resume, “Have done 4 tours in the USA”) Modern social issues are often the themes chosen. Is the traditional margam no longer enough to sustain the attention of the modern audience? (No, modern brahmin desis don’t know what is Bhagavad-Geetha). Are dancers making efforts to educate rasikas on the complexities of a margam? (Who cares?)

What do dancers think about the future of the margam format? (The margam format is only 200 years old. Let it vanish like a bad dream. After all, devadasis danced 18 items for 6 hours non-stop! But then, there was no important local cricket matches to catch on TV) . Although this has been the traditional performance structure for several centuries, (Aneal does not know what he is talking about) do dancers find the traditional items limiting in scope? (The dancers do not know the traditional items). Do dancers feel that, through a margam, they cannot fully express their thoughts? Already, the Shabdham has more or less made its exit from the margam. What is next? Javalis? (I hate the boring Javalis!!! Let them vanish like a bad dream! Aneal does not know that hardly anybody in Chennai dances the boring Javalis) As many Bharatanatyam performers are young (especially at the amateur level), how can they be expected to exhibit the maturity (not so long ago they were supposed to reach maturity in Natya by the age of 16 and have an arangetram) required for performing these more intense items? It is interesting to see the relatively recent (no, not really so recent) incorporation of the Pushpanjali into many margams. It is quite possible that other items from a margam will be added or deleted as the years go by. (Yes, now they do the Bhajans to the Hindustani music to please the north Indians).

Another trend is the broadening of the music used for Bharatanatyam. (The composers just don’t know what is Carnatic music). Traditional Carnatic music is being supplemented with compositions in other Indian languages. Just as the language of Bharatanatyam music shifted from being predominantly Telugu to encompass Tamil and Kannada compositions over time, it is not beyond the realm of imagination to think of a day where compositions in a non-Indian language like English could become acceptable. Western classical and contemporary music is also being experimented with by some dancers. (Yes, the hard rock fans demand it.) Obviously, over time and with enough dancers moving in this direction, the music of Bharatanatyam will not stay static. (It will sink below the bottom)

Fusion of dance styles and music is all the rage in some circles. (If you had a 1 week’s of Bharatanatyam classes in your entire life, and 2 weeks of Odissi, what else can you do to impress the public???) Can a Bharatanatyam dancer performing choreography interwoven with different dance styles remain uninfluenced by the other styles? (There are over 500 hasthas in Mohiniattam. How many does Aneal know there are in Bharatanatyam?)

Although group performances are not a new concept (in India, there are usually 5 passengers seated on 1 motorbike, and I saw 12 people in 1 autorickshaw), there seems to be a feeling among some that the more Bharatanatyam dancers there are on stage, the better the show. (the dancers hope that nobody will notice their mistakes) Perhaps it is an economic issue as well. The more dancers you have on stage, the more friends and family that may attend which will result in increased ticket sales. As there are more and more group performances, will there be any negative impact on the scope for a solo artist? (Yes, the ambitious solo artist will have to be content even with 20 rasikas)

Trends in Bharatanatyam teaching and learning:

Bharatanatyam seems to be developing in two parallel tracks – the professional and the amateur. The vast majority of dancers treat the art form as one of their extra curricular activities, not as a profession. The dancer’s arangetram is seen by many as the culmination of training rather than the traditional ascension of the stage and the start of the dance career. (Right. In 10 years’ time, there will be no really professional Bharatanatyam dancers at all)

Particularly among Indians settled abroad, Bharatanatyam is viewed as an important tool in teaching Indian culture and values to children being raised away from the cultural influences that shaped their parents. (See the attached letter below Aneal’s article and have a laugh)

There appears to be a noticeable trend away from the mastery of the fundamentals. (American-born kids have dyslexia, no?) Children who are often not ready for the stage are decked out in beautiful costumes and jewelry for the visual consumption of their families and friends. (They are used to prop their parent’s social status) Praise is lavished a little too freely and the epidemic of standing ovations for mediocrity is spreading. (People do it at any stupid political gathering, so what?) Is it any wonder that audience sizes are dwindling? (Nobody will watch your boring and amateurish pseudo Bharatanatyam in 10 years’ time)

It is also very interesting to observe the generational shift among Bharatanatyam dance teachers. The great gurus of the 20th century were themselves taught by great nattuvanars who were keepers of the Devadasi tradition. (The nattuvanars had little to do with the devadasis) The gurus of the 21st century will be composed of dancers a generation or two removed from the great gurus. (Thank God!) In the modern age, the strict gurukula pattern of learning dance is almost extinct. (They advertise the gurukula style learning DVDs – no need for the guru) As the decades pass by, it is not unreasonable to expect that what is being taught is going to change. (There will be no need to have a greedy and incompetent guru) As an extreme anecdotal example, a teacher, herself trained rigorously by a great guru, teaches only a set of Thattadavus and Nattadavus as the foundation before moving on to teaching items. I fear that this type of teaching is not just an isolated event but is something that is spreading. (Come on, who needs your Adavus?) It is alarming to think that a student receiving this kind of training may someday go on to become a Bharatanatyam teacher. (Nattuvanars could not dance at all, anyway)

Trends in societal acceptance:

It seems to me that some of the primary obstacles for choosing Bharatanatyam (or any art form generally) as a profession are societal and the monetary costs associated with being a performer. (True) It is quite rare to see Bharatanatyam dancers who do not have another profession to rely on it for their livelihood. It is even more rare to see dancers with parents who encourage their children to pursue Bharatanatyam over academics. (I don’t watch such dancers’ programmes, and don’t recommend it to anyone else) Bharatanatyam is encouraged by many families so long as it does not ultimately interfere with other more “professional” ambitions. Even if a dancer is encouraged by her parents, when she gets married, she has to hope that her husband and in-laws are supportive of her choice. (Errrrr… If Bharatanatyam is not the most important thing in your life, you’d better not think of yourself as a “professional Bharatanatyam dancer”. Padma Subrahmaniam had to divorce…)

Perhaps, her new family will only be accepting of her teaching dance and discourage a professional dance career. The path becomes even more difficult if a dancer becomes a mother. As with any profession, juggling motherhood and professional aspirations is no easy task. (Don’t exaggerate: Alarmel Valli, Rajeshwari Sainath, Urmila Sathyanarayanan are good examples) A serious pursuit of Bharatanatyam requires a lot of time practicing (come on, who practises now more than 6 hours a week???), rehearsing, choreographing, performing and traveling. For a young mother, time away from her child can be very difficult emotionally and cause feelings of guilt. As she gets older, can she maintain her beauty and graceful figure? (Yes) If she succumbs to the aging process, can she develop a thick skin (yes, this is what the majority of the senior dancers do very easily: a sponsor can even sh*t on them and these dancers will smile) to not get affected by comments that she is too old or too fat?

Young men equally have difficult challenges ahead of them if they choose to pursue Bharatanatyam as a profession. Men are generally not encouraged to follow careers in dance and face many uphill battles with society to gain the recognition that they seek. The very small number of men pursuing Bharatanatyam either as amateurs or professionals is testament to the difficulty of getting more male involvement in the art form.

Trend in expenses:

Even if societal obstacles can be overcome, another development is the exponential increase in the cost of performing. Factoring in the cost of a live orchestra, costumes, jewelry, traveling etc., Bharatanatyam is a pricy profession. It is also very likely a self-financed profession. With so many dancers vying for attention, most sabhas feel no pressure to compensate the artists. (True….) It really is a business and those dancers that can draw ticket-paying audiences can reap some reward. (Why don’t these dancers learn how to dance first????) The lucky few who perform abroad on tours on a regular basis have the chance to supplement their income. The rest have to rely on income earned from other professions or their families to fund their Bharatanatyam careers.

Another trend is a vast increase in the number of performances and a corresponding dwindling of the audiences. With the exception of certain of the established veterans, do most Bharatanatyam dancers have an established fan base? Not just family and friends who attend a program but rasikas who are excited to see the dancer perform? Are most dancers prepared for the years of toil that it may take to gain the support of rasikas? (No! )

With so many competing societal influences, I wonder if enough is being done to educate (HOW???) the young of today to grow into the rasikas of tomorrow. After all, it is the young who will financially sustain the art in the future.

Parting thoughts:

I hope that by laying out some of my own personal observations of trends that I see in Bharatanatyam and raising many questions, this article will get people talking about the future of Bharatanatyam. At this point in time, Bharatanatyam at the amateur level is exploding in popularity. Bharatanatyam at the professional level, however, is a big question mark. With so many obstacles to overcome, will talented dancers have the perseverance and resources to achieve their goals? (No, they are too lazy) Finally, upon achieving these goals, will they be greeted by an auditorium full of adoring fans or by a vast sea of empty seats?

As a rasika, I believe that if Bharatanatyam (either at the amateur or professional level) is to continue to flourish, dancers must present the best. There are far too many mediocre programs these days (Why don’t you dare to name a few? According to the reviews, everything is “fantastic”, and the rivers in Madras are clean – according to the press), and when we in the audience see performers whose technique hasn’t been perfected and whose expressions are lifeless, our desire to support this beautiful art form will surely fade. (Idiot, go and watch some good performances!)

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Another write-up we want to comment on:

Are USA-touring Indian dance groups really of top quality?

Author: Mukundagiri Sadagopan of Illinois, USA, discusses this issue in this article he e-mailed to KutcheriBuzz.com

As the 2008 music and dance season starts in North America (USA and Canada) I have a personal peeve regarding the visiting classical dance troupes coming from India. I suspect that a large percent of lay-audiences in North America share this complaint.(Yes, soon they will stop attending such crappy performances)

In recent years India-Based Dance Troupes- with a few notable exceptions – leave much to be desired. To state briefly, every troupe is anchored by a main dancer who is past his / her prime (a chief clown represented by a buffalo) and is physically unable to move rapidly on the stage. Because of this the programs they offer are slow and boring.

These India-based troupes are mostly anchored by a senior artist who exceptional in her Abhinaya (hand gestures) (These senior dancers have no graceful or subtle expressions left on their fat faces) and Nrityha (expressional or narrative dance) – but is lacking in Nrutta which is pure dance. “Pure dance” – the rapid-fire stepping and dynamic footwork is what differentiates a dance from a “Katha Kalakshepam” – a musical, often a tear-jerker.

There is intense competition among highly talented troupes to win trips to America. Out of these only those with the most economic power and political clout get the contracts.(Business is business, as well as foul politics) However, it takes decades to build the required combination of talent, money and influence. By that time the Anchor Dancer, who by now is also the owner of her own dance school and its artistic director, has almost completely lost the physical strength to prance and leap forcefully as Nrutta – true dancing requires.(Such a dancer thinks that nobody knows what is real Bharatanatyam in America anyway!)

Invariably, there are fabulously athletic dancers touring with each of the teams, but they are junior members under the control of the Anchor. When the curtain opens, like most normal humans would do, the Anchor hogs the stage, not giving scarcely a chance to the stronger dancers. (So why didn’t you throw some rotten tomatos?)

So what should the buyers – Classical Program Organizers in North America do?

First they must inform the “export agents” in India that the audiences here are tired of watching over-the-hill dancers from India. That sends home a message for the 2009 summer season.

Second, they should soon place advance contracts for 2009 season dance programs from dance companies right here in North America. (Yep. Nobody needs those Indians from Chennai!) There are dozens of outstanding dance schools in every US / Candian metro area. (Where???? Where???? Where???) Many have been here for over 30 years. (And completely forgot what is Bharatanatyam) Their audience appeal and talent matches the imports. (Yea…Both are rubbish!) In addition, this would further enhance the talent pool in North America – which is a great goal in itself.

Third, Classical Program Organizations and Dance Schools in North America should set up a North American Dance Agency. The NADA should investigate, inform, and screen India based troupes that plan to tour North America. They should verify that the visiting dancers are physically able to do comprehensive classical dances that including brisk Jathis and Nritta.(How much are the bribes?) It will be in the interest of the Dance companies in India to cooperate, because verification from NADA would ensure favorable terms and bigger audiences. (Really????)