Steps for the future
Bharatanatya moved out of the temple for its own good. But it brought with it attendant issues not entirely salubrious. A World Dance Day feature LEELA RAMANATHAN
SURVIVAL Changes are not new to the dance form, for it has lived on for over 3,000 years
As a classical dancer who has dedicated over three decades of my life to the preservation and propagation of classical Bharatanatya in and outside Karnataka, I am justified in asking the following question, controversial as it may seem. Has Bharatanatya got a future, and if so, what sort of a future is it going to be? As things stand today, the future seems blurred and confused. It is up to us to find ways and means of arresting this stagnation so that this glorious art, described by the late Arnold Haskell, the famous dance critic, as the "most complete dance form in the world" can flourish and grow in strength.
The problem of its future began really about the end of the 19th Century, when Bharatanatya ceased to be a temple art and became a theatre art. A radical change like this naturally led to a number of minor alterations some good and some bad. The entire perspective of the dance had to be modified. Changes are not new to the dance, for it has survived over 3,000 years, gathering to itself the variegated splendours of the forms and moods of the centuries that it has lived through.
The origin of Bharatanatya is religious. The ritualistic dances or movements performed at the Vedic Yagnas outside gradually developed into sophisticated, symbolic and composite temple-forms consisting of solo items and dance dramas (which are beautiful combinations of drama, music, poetry and rhythm) meant mainly for spiritual expression. Dance was a visual means of elevating man from the mundane to the sublime, of enlightening him through entertainment, and of ultimately teaching him to long and look for union with the infinite.
Coming back to Bharatanatya, we see it growing and developing into a rich art which attained perfection in the hands of the Devadasis who danced in the magnificent sculptured temples of the South until frequent invasions and the consequent imposition of alien cultures caused the dance to degenerate almost beyond redemption.
It would perhaps have died a natural death during the British regime, had it not been for the Nattuvanars or teachers of dancing who zealously guarded and preserved it in their villages. Also to the great pioneers of dance of the first half of the 20th Century, such as Rabindranath Tagore, Menaka, Uday Shankar, E. Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi who brought Bharatanatya out again into the light from the darkness of oblivion thus beginning a great revival of the performing arts in our country.
But the pendulum has swung to the other end today and we are beginning to "over-work" the classical dance, and are using it as a meaningless entertainment, a social accomplishment, as a means of gaining publicity and as a qualification for the marriage market. There are gurus galore, who are not only prepared to sell the art to the highest bidder but are prepared to take liberties with age old traditions certainly not to improve the art, but to make it commercially viable.
We must cry a halt to this degradation at once, for, it is the most ancient dance form in the world. A central board of performing arts is very crucial at this juncture, to which all the worthwhile centres of performing arts in the country should be affiliated, so that required qualitative standards could be kept up.
Certain places such as Baroda, Calcutta, Tirupathi, Mumbai, Mysore, Bangalore have taken the initiative and have started faculties of dance, drama and music at various collegiate levels. So far so good. But what we must really do is to clarify the point whether these courses train the dancer as a performing artiste or as a teacher and to insist upon demarcating the two types of training.
The other problem is that of the dancer trying to make a living through her dancing which, to say the least, is an expensive profession, dependent as it is on so many other factors such as having good musicians, costumes, changes of repertoire etc. It is a continual struggle for a dancer however good he or she may be to make both ends meet. It is the same with the guru or the teacher of dancing, should the guru live in uncompromising isolation waiting for the right pupil to turn up or should he democratise his art by serving in an institution where all are welcome irrespective of whether they have talent or not. In this context, it is to be noted that traditional gurus are fading out because their progeny mainly the sons are not interested in carrying on the parampara or family tradition of teaching, but are qualifying themselves for other jobs. Dancers also want to build up troupes with their own students so that they can choreograph dance dramas which are in great demand today, for even audiences for classical dancing need to be entertained with a combination of dance, drama and music.
What is heartening is to know that Indian classical dancing has spread all over the world. I cannot help feeling dismayed that in the process, long established traditions of the dance are being mixed up and besmirched by subjecting them to meaningless changes in the name of fusion and globalisation. While change is inevitable and necessary, it has to be organised and grow from within the art as a natural corollary. Similarly, the solo recital (Eka Harya Lasya), which is unique to Bharatanatya, should be preserved and developed and not used merely as a rangapravesha ritual. A good solo dancer, in my opinion, needs to be cherished, protected and encouraged for she is an artiste par excellence combining as she does in her dance nritta (pure dance) nritya (expressional dance) and abhinaya (mimetic interpretation) of the highest order.
In addition to specialised courses, I am also in favour of general courses to educate the audiences, for the level of a performance depends on the level of those who watch it. We can only live in hope that sometime in the near future, Bharatanatya will find a place for itself in this fast moving modern world of ours, and once more, to put it in the words of Bharatha Maha Muni, "bring the body and soul together, so that through the dance, man may be entertained and elevated."
Send this article to Friends by
Chennai and Tamil Nadu