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Renaissance woman

Like her idol Leonardo Da Vinci, Sharada Srinivasan is passionate about science and art

Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

Cosmic rationale For Sharada Srinivasan, dance is a mystical experience

Sharada Srinivasan looks super cool in her ankle-length flared skirt and silk top. Her face and chiselled features, is one you would associate easier with glamour rather than formulae and numbers. However, the lady is completely fascinated by science.

“I think it comes naturally to me because I come from a family of scientists,” says Sharada who is also a trained Baharanatya dancer. “Being a south Indian, it was a given that I would learn dance.”

And how do the two worlds meet? “It’s like Da Vinci. He was a scientist and an artist. It is actually easy to combine science and Bharatanatya as the latter also defines points and is angular. It’s not a conflict at all,” explains Sharada who started off with a B. Tech at IIT and followed it with a Ph. D.

She has done a research study in archaeomaterials and archaeometallurgy, where she “explores how scientific studies can better help understand art and archaeological objects.”

Fascinated by the bronze dancing Nataraja, she researched Chola and South Indian bronze images.

“Often from visual examination it can be difficult to tell an earlier Chola bronze from a later Vijayanagara piece, to tell a fake from a genuine antique. I have used science to ‘date’ bronzes. I found that the Nataraja bronze had probably already been cast under the Pallavas (7th-8th Century) prior to the Chola period. In fact, the hymns of Tamil poet-saints of this period suggest that there was a nascent idea of the cosmic dance of creation and destruction, cycles of birth and death,” explains this scientist-cum-dancer.

Talking about cosmic dance she said: “It is a metaphor of movement. There is also a personal metaphor — creation emerging out of destruction. I use the dance of the cosmos or the dance of science to discover aspects of ancient art that art historians have not been able to find,” says Sharada, who has learnt Bharatanatya from the late Naramada and has also been trained by “various other teachers.”

For her dance is not about religion or spiritual ideas but “a mystical experience — similar to astronauts going out into the space. In the same way cosmic dance is also a very surreal experience. It is something that breaks the boundaries of the inner and outer space.”

Sharada is now into the study of the musical columns in Hampi and another one that keeps her busy is the Sanganakallu, a 3,000 BC Neolithic site. “It is being quarried. I will study it and would like to link it to a performance,” she adds.

Her fascination for the past Sharada says is “to do with one’s sense of aesthetics. Antiques fascinate me because it is all about heritage. If you look at Bangalore, we are losing the actual face of the city with old buildings being replaced by modern architecture. It is sad that there is no effort taken to retain that past. But when I travel abroad we see people there trying to preserve their heritage. We have not even begun doing that,” she adds. In spite of all the research she still manages to pack in one hour of practise every day. “It’s a schizophrenic existence because you’ve got your foot in many things. I am lucky that dance fits into my schedule. Dance and science do influence each other. There are fascinating interfaces between art and science. I returned to dance because of science. Dance injects an element of normalcy where I can enjoy contact with human emotions while science has an alienating quality. Bharatanatya is liberating and constricting at the same time because of its set forms and structure. I would have found it very limiting had it not been for science. Now I see the dance form as an element of movement of art forms.”

Sharada is currently working as Fellow at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus. She can be contacted on sharada@nias.iisc.ernet.in; sharasri@gmail.com.

SHILPA SEBASTIAN R.

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