21st century Bharatnatyam: A Tradition in Transition

Rajshree delves into her take on Bharatanatyam , and seeks to share a myriad of her views on issues with this classical dance form in the contemporary context

“Wherever they may be found in the world, the great traditions of dancing deliberately and consciously convey meaning. They are not simply mindless entertainments.” RAJIKA PURI

Questions that I have explored:

• What is Bharatanatyam?

• What is the role that Delhi has played in promoting the classical dance forms?

• Are there different dance styles within Bharatanatyam itself?• Can we call Bharatanatyam a Hindu dance form?

• What are the qualities of a Bharatanatyam dancer?

• Who are the students of Bharatanatyam?

• Why is Bharatanatyam being criticised these days?

• What are the different opportunities available for the young dancers?• In Delhi, from where can you get Bharatanatyam costumes?

• Are there any shops in Delhi which sells the Bharatanatyam jewellery?

• Are there any professional Bharatanatyam make-up artists in Delhi?

• What is Bharatanatyam? Sadir was the dance form of hereditary women practitioners known as devadasis (temple dancers) who sang and danced in the courts and temples of South India. It lost its respectability with the British colonialism. It was under a movement led mainly by E Krishna Iyyar, and Rukmini Devi in the mid- 1930s under the Madras Music Academy that revived the art form and reintroduced under the new title ‘’Bharatanatyam’’.
We can proudly say that it manifests itself as a world form today. It is researched in western academic institutions in the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, Canada, and Malaysia etc. Also, it is to be noted that both practitioners and dance scholars from all over the world organise conferences on Bharatanatyam every year.

What is the role that Delhi has played in promoting the classical art forms like Bharatanatyam?

As the capital city, Delhi has played a major role in promoting all kinds of cultural activities since a capital becomes a focal point to reflect and coordinate national undertaking; it is the source of power, and the seat of decision making. The impulses that it generates reverberate across the nation. This can be seen in the field of culture too. Most of the country’s apex cultural institutions are based in New Delhi. The Ministry of Culture is here; its principal organs such as the Lalit Kala Akademi, Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Sahitya Akademi are based in New Delhi. The National Gallery of Modern Art, the National School of Drama, the National Book Trust, and the National Archives are also based here. The principal organization for the implementation of cultural diplomacy, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, too functions from the capital. As a result of this disproportionate addition of power, Delhi has increasingly become an irreplaceable magnet for artists. Creative people in almost all areas of artistic expression – be it music, theatre, the plastic arts, dance and literature – consider their career graph incomplete unless they have made an impact in Delhi, which provides the most powerful stage for international recognition and further promotion. Being the capital city Delhi again became the first port of call for the international cultural circuit. Any nation sending an artist, or a cultural troupe, to India sought to perform in New Delhi because they rightly reckoned that a performance or exhibition elsewhere would not make the same nationwide impact. From the very beginning, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad believed that India should play an important role in the area of cultural diplomacy. The instruments to implement this decision were based in Delhi, especially in the apex Ministry of Culture and in ICCR. Delhi, therefore, became the most pre-eminent stage for greater international cultural interaction, eclipsing other cities which could perhaps have had a similar claim. (Pavan K Varma, Cultural Capital?) Thus, we cannot be surprised of the fact that there is more number of Bharatanatyam dance schools than any of the other north Indian dance styles like Kathak or the number of students enrolling themselves in these dance schools are increasing day by day. In this context, it can be said that it is most important to look at the changes happening in terms of a now global dance style like Bharatanatyam with reference to Delhi. So, here I have attempted to put together some facts that anybody aspiring to become a Bharatanatyam dancer would want to know with special reference to our capital city.

Are there different styles within Bharatanatyam itself?

As a result of the extensive research, scholars have tried to argue that within the dance form itself, there are four major accepted styles: Melattur Style, Pandanallur style, Vazhuvanoor Style and Kalakshetra style. But, we can see that most of the popular dancers no longer follow any particular style, for example Anita Ratnam, categorises her own dance style as ‘’Neo-Bharatanatyam’’ which is a blend of Kalakshetra style Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Tai chi and Kalaripayattu. At the same time, today most of the students choose teachers based on the influence that he/ or she has in the dance field rather than by their style or parampara. All this makes us question the categorization of styles within Bharatanatyam and also the purity attached to each style.

Can we call Bharatanatyam a Hindu dance form?

Bharatanatyam was seen essentially as a Hindu dance form. But it isn’t true. The new choreographies by eminent dancers such as Yamini Krishnamoorty who believes that the youngsters are not losing interest in the classical dance forms prove that the language of this dance- form can be used to depict a variety of subjects and artistic commencements. No wonder, we see dancers performing small pieces that present abstract ideas like sanctity of environment, nationalism etc.

Yamini Krishnamurthy’Yamini’s School of Dance’,Nritya Kaustubha Cultural Society,Haus Khas, Opp. Gulmohar Park,Institutional Area, New Delhi 110 016,Ph: (011) – 26856990

What are qualities of a Bharatanatyam dancer?

Natyashastra (an ancient treatiseon performing arts )describes the qualities of a dancer “women who have beautiful limbs, are clever, courteous in behaviour, free from female diseases, always bold, free from indolence, inured to hard work, capable of practicing various arts and crafts, skilled in dancing and songs, who excel by their beauty, youthfulness and brilliance.’’ In today’s world, we can see that there are many factors that decide a dancer’s fate. For example, the dancers have to dress up in a certain way to be accepted as a good dancer, it might be the case in most of the fields, but I believe that it is most important as far as a classical dancer is concerned. For example, a Bharatanatyam dancer with long black hair adorned in a silk saree, with a bindi and some gold jewellery would be immediately identified and appreciated by every ’’cultural specialists’’ as a typical classical dancer. Also it is said that the connections, in the political and cultural level, are importantfactors in getting to the higher ranks in the dance field now days.

Geeta Chandran, on the question of whether glamour and marketing is important to being noticed in the dance scene todays says that ‘’marketing is possible only when the product is marketable. You cannot sell any dud. But if the product is stable and attractive, then marketing can propel it to public eye.I am a communicator. I can dance, but I also speak, sing, choreograph, compose, write, discuss and argue. That is my personality. I have worked hard at all of them. Why should I be apologetic for any of my strengths?’’

Geeta ChandranContact details B 45 Gulmohar Park, New Delhi 110049Phone: (011) 26518124 / 26964964E-mail: geetachandran@gmail.com

Who are the students of Bharatanatyam?

It is said that the south Indian students are favoured when compared to a North Indian or a foreign student by a Guru mostly. But all this isn’t making any difference to the growth rate of Bharatanatyam students from all over the world. And also you can see north Indian dancers like Navtej Singh Johar getting noticed. In an interview when asked the question of how he feels about him being called the ‘’dancing sardar’’ by Khushwant Singh he says that ‘’ labels like these are extremely complex and loaded; it is something akin to becoming the ‘black-President’. The ostensible mutual exclusivity of the two categories is socially imposed, and it has little to do with the person who happens to get into that odd pair of mismatching shoes. All I know is that I am a bearded Sikh, and I am a dancer, and I am very OK at being that!’’

Navtej JoharF-27, Green Park, New Delhi – 110016Ph: 91-11-26962757Mob: 98188-82918Email: nsjohar@gmail.com

Why is Bharatanatyam being criticised these days?

Lately, Bharatanatyam is also the focus of criticism. It is damned as archaic and irrelevant to the modern times, especially by those who frown on its predominant nayika-nayaka theme .At the same time, even among its practitioners, it is often mis-perceived as being bound with bhakti alone, while in fact sringara or love has been its dominant motif. Thus, it is in this context that we have to address the question of whether the tradition is static or not.

Dakshina Vaidyanathan, a young dancer based in Delhi when asked the question on making a conscious attempt to deviate from the conventional answered that ‘’traditional Bharatanatyam should definitely be preserved and performed as a part of our ancient heritage. It’s a beautiful art form. Compositions that have been passed down through generations are performed even today and it makes me feel very proud to be a part of this heritage. But at the same time, it is important for every art form to evolve with time to cater to our evolving thought process. Why should Bharatanatyam be restricted to being a monologue between the dancer and the Lord? Why should it be confined to only stories and compositions related to spirituality? Bharatanatyam is a language that has the capability to express almost anything. It is up to us, the new generation of dancers, to identify this. It is very challenging to express modern thoughts and concepts through Bharatanatyam. It’s like asking someone to explain the functioning of a laptop in Sanskrit. But I like challenges.’’

Contact:Dakshina VaidyanathanC-16, Qutab Institutional Area, New Delhi 110 016. India

From the above analysis it is clear that the tradition is not immobile. As someone once said that ‘’tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.’’ In the context of Bharatanatyam, it is not the tradition or the dance that is to be blamed, but the person who is interpreting the tradition.

• So follow your passion and make use of the opportunities that are available to you in Delhi that are many.

Different institutes in Delhi like :

1) Gandharva Maha Vidyalaya,212, Deen Dayal Upadhayaya Marg, New Delhi – 110 0022) Triveni Kala Sangam, Triveni Kala Sangam,205, Tansen Marg, New Delhi 110001, India +91-11-237194703) “Delhi Tamil Sangam, Tamil Sangam Marg, Sector 5, R K Puram, New Delhi 110022 Ph: (011) – 26174217
offers Bharatanatyam classes. The candidates have to fill in applications and an audition test will be conducted. It is on the basis of your performance in the test that you would be selected for the programme. After entering the programme they expect you to give examinations where your knowledge in theory and practical will be tested after which you will be given certificates. Also they conduct an Annual day every year where the students get to perform. The average fee is 1500 per month.

• But it has to be noted that after applying for the dance programmes in these institutions you can apply for the scholarships that are available to the young artists. For instance, The Ministry Of Culture under the Government of India gives scholarships in different cultural fields each year in which Bharatanatyam is also included. The scholarship carries a value of 2000 rupees per month for two whole years.
Here is a link to their official website http://indiaculture.nic.in/indiaculture/scholarship-to-young-artist.html

The Gati Dance Forum, New Delhi is an independent arts organization that works in the field of contemporary dance in India. It was founded by a bunch of young, talented dance artists is a model path breaking community initiative. Every year they conduct a summer dance residency programme for young dancers who want to create their own work. Once you get selected for the programme, they will provide you with financial support, individual mentoring, rehearsal space, production assistance and final performance. The Gati Dance Forum5, Wind Mill Place, S-17, Khirkee Extension, Opposite Select City Walk, New Delhi – 110017Email: gatidance@gmail.comWebsite: http://www.gatidance.com/index.html

• In Delhi, from where can you get Bharatanatyam costumes ?

If you are looking for places where you can get your Bharatanatyam performance costumes made of your own choice, then you can get the traditional kancheevaram silk dance sari from and get it stitched in the style that you want. A good quality sari will cost you around four thousand rupees while you can get a saree for eight hundred to one thousand if you opt for poly- silk and the stitching cost is around one thousand to three thousand depending upon the style of your choice that is whether you want the sari costume or the pyjama costume or you want it simple or with a lot of pleats. A male dancer can get the dhoti made out of silk.

Are there any shops in Delhi which sells the Bharatanatyam jewellery?

In addition to the clothing, there is specific jewellery for Bharatanatyam, called temple jewellery. It consists of the headset, earset, necklaces, and waist belt, some of which can have many individual pieces. Bangles and anklets with bells complete the ensemble. For men, the jewellery does not include the headset. The ear set is simple, usually just stud earrings, and the necklaces are also less ornate. It is to be noted that if you are looking for the best quality, that is the gold plated jewellery, then it would cost you around twenty thousand. At the same time, imitation jewellery is cheaper. You can get the whole set for around six thousand rupees. It is recommended that you get the gold plated head- set since it looks better on stage even if the rest is imitation jewellery. These are some of the most sought after costume tailor/designers and jewellery retailers in DelhiVastravinyasShop No. 65, First FloorShankar Market, Cannought PlaceNew Delhi 110001Ph: +91- 09810498866 / 09810545946

ShubhanuB-4/158, 1st Floor, Safdarjang Enclave, Delhi- 110029Phone number: 011 41651375

Are there any professional Bharatanatyam make-up artists in Delhi?

Since the Bharatanatyam make-up is very detailed, the beginners would need help. There are also many talented make-up artists who would come to the doorstep of the customer and do the make-up before the performance. They would charge you around one thousand five hundred rupees. Here, I am listing the contact details of some of the make-up artists in Delhi. AmbikaC/o 247, Upper Ground FloorKailash Hills, New Delhi 110065Ph: (011) – 6230101

Veena ShroffFlat # 5, Jeevan Deep8, Parliament StNew Delhi 110001Ph: (011) – 3732367 / 3360833

References• Coomaraswami: the dance of Shiva• AvanthiMeduri: Bharatanatyam as a global dance: some issues in research, teaching and practice.• Janet O Shea: Bharatanatyam on the global stage• Interviews published in Times Of India, The Hindu, and Sruthi magazine