The Gift Of Tradition | K. S. RAMASWAMI SASTRI | DANCES OF INDIA
All over the world we have crude folk dances as well as classical dance. We find the figures of dancing women in the ruins of Harappa and Mohanjo Daro. In the Rigveda, Goddess Ushas (Dawn) is described as clad in gay garments, like a dancer. God Siva as Nataraja and Goddess Uma are said to have taught respectively Tandava (the vigorous masculine type of dance) to the sage Tandu and through him to Bharata and others, and Lasya (the graceful feminine type of dance) to Bharata and others. In the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeswara, we find the famous verse: Angikam Bhuvanam Tasya Vaachikam Sarvaangmayah / Aahaaryam Chandrataaraadi Tam nu that saatvikam Shivam / / (The world is the movement of His limbs; all speech is His Voice; the moon and the stars are His decorative ornaments. Let us pray to the good God Siva). The cosmic dance (tandava) of God Siva is of seven kinds and symbolizes the Anavarata or eternal dance and the dances of creation and preservation and destruction and obscuration and grace (Panchakritya or five divine acts) and the dance of bliss (Ananda Tandava). There is also another classification as Ananda Tandava, Uma Tandava, Sivagauri Tandava, Kalika Tandava, Tripura Tandava and Samhara Tandava. In the Ramayana of Valmiki, we find the dances of the celestial apsaras, and maidens in the sage Bharadwaja’s ashrama (hermitage). Valmiki describes Swayamprabha’s friend Hema as Nritta Gita Visarada (Expert in dance and music). In Ravana’s harem, there were similar experts as Nritta Vaditra Kusalah (Sundara Kanda, X 32). In the Mahabharata, we are told that Arjuna learned to dance from the celestial maiden Uma and taught it to princess Uttara Panini (500 B.C.) refers to Natasutras. Queen Mira Bai’s devotional dances are well-known. ]ayadeva’s Gita Govinda was interpreted by the dances of his wife Padmavati. The dance went into the hands of courtesans for centuries but now it has been taken up enthusiastically by family women and is universally popular
Bharata’s Natya Sastra is the Bible of Indian aestheticians. It says that the Creator (Brahma) created it to give joy in life to the gods who found their cosmic functions to be heavy and dreary. Bharatarmada and Abinaya Darpana are other important classical works on the Indian art of dance. Kalidasa’s drama Malavikagnimitra throws much light on the art and show show princess Malavika was an expert in it. Vishnu Dharmothara and Agni Purana throw much light on the art. Other important Sanskrit works are Dhananjaya’s Dasa Roopaka, Sargadava’s Sangita Ratnakara, Thulajaji’s Sangita Saramitra, Bala Ramavarma’s Bala Bharata, Haripala Deva’s Sangita Sudhakara, Veda Suri’s Sangita Makaranda, Rasamanjari etc. Tamil literature is described as consisting of Iyal (poetry) and Isai (music) and Natakam or Koothu (Dance). Of the many ancient Tamil works on dance, only Bharata Senapatheeyam is extant. Bharata Siddhanta, Bharata Sangraha and Mahabharata Choodamani are recent works. In the famous Tamil epic Silappadikaram, we have many great ideas relating to art. There is a reference to eleven varieties of dance ( alliyam, Kudai, Kudam, etc). It refers to 24 kinds of abhinayam, Kamba Ramayana refers to a dance hall called Adumantapa Balakanda, Nagarapadalam stanza 62). 108 Kananasor dance poses are beautifully sculptured in the gopuram at Chidambaram. There is a dance platform in front of the great temple at Tanjore. There are innumerable Tamil and Telugu and Canarese amorous and devotional songs (padams) composed for interpretation by dances. The Tamil word Nattuvangam means the art of teaching dance, and Nattuvanar means dance-teacher. Two beautiful verses in Abhinaya Darpana give us the very quintessence of the teaching as well as the learning of the Indian art of Dance. Kanthenaambayedgeetam Hastenaartham Pradarshayet / Chakshubhyaam darsayedbhauam Paadaabhyaam taalamaacharet // (Sing with the mouth and show the meaning by the gesture of the hand and reveal the emotion (bhava) by the eyes and gently beat time with the feet).
Tato hastastato drishtirYato drishtistato manah / Yato manastato Vaachah Tato Vaachastato Rasah // (The eyes follow the hand, the mind follows the eyes, the bhava follows the mind, and the rasa follows the bhava). Gitaavaadyatalaanuvartini / (The dance must accompany the vocal song and the instruments). It is thus clear that the speechless eloquence of the eyes intensifies the beauty of the gestures and rouses the inner feeling (bhava) to the blossomed state of aesthetic emotional bliss (rasa). It is often said that Bharata Natyam is meant to be performed only by women. In recent times, Uday Shankar and Ramgopal and others have learnt and exhibited it. But Lasya or the graceful form of dance is more appropriate for women than for men. There is a view that it is suited to women and not to girls because Sringara bhava (the emotion of love) cannot be understood by girls. But the essence of the dance being devotion or divine love expressed in terms of human love, the charm of the dance depends on naturalness and sincerity which are clouded in adolescent and adult human beings by egoism and egotism and a desire to excel and shine. Variations in Gestures In classical aesthetic terminology, Nritta means pure dance without reference to any theme or emotion. Nritya is a dance that expounds emotion by gestures. Natya adds a story element to it. Abhinaya is the interpretation of emotion by gestures (Angika) , voice (vacheka), by dress and decoration (taper) and by physical manifestations (sattvika).
Anyadbhavasrayam nrittam nirityam talarasasrayam. Gestures can be by the limbs (anga, pratyanga, and Topanga). They can be shown by a single hand (asamyuta) or by both hands (samyuta). Tamilnadu is rich in a variety of folk dances as well as in the classical art of dance. The descriptions Marga and Desi refer to classical dances and regional folk dances respectively. The Kummi and Kolattam and Pineal Kolattam dances by the girls of the Tamilnadu are danced in lovely rhythmic patterns in which songs beautify movements and movements beautify songs. They are not mere crude movements of the limbs out of exuberance of animal spirits because in that case, they would be dance but not art. Nor are they so elaborate and controlled by rules as Bharata Natya. The Bhajan dances of trained religious singers and dancers are midway between folk music and folk dance on the one hand and elaborate Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam on the other hand. On the other hand, oyilattam, chakhaiattam, Kauai dances, karagam dances, dummy horse (poikal kuthirai) dances, and their koothu (street drama) dances by hill tribes, gypsy dances, etc. are folk arts pure and simple. But Bommalattam (puppet shows) is an artistic achievement. The puppets are moved by strings tied to the limbs of the artist behind the curtain. The songs of the singers and the movements of the puppets synchronize superbly. When I was young I saw Harischandra’s story in Bommalattam. It was attended by thousands night after night and it made a profound impression on my mind. The introductory dance by the Kinchin bommai (puppet) was as lovely as a Bharata Natyam dance. What is called Pavaikoothu (puppet-dance) in ancient Tamil literature shows the antiquity of the art. In Andhra, we have the Thol Bommalatta (painted leather pieces operated with bamboo sticks and seen through a semi-transparent screen lighted from behind).
In the Malabar, shadow play figures are shown by perforating holes on square pieces of flat leather. Folk-Dances The Tamil literature–especially the great epic Silappadtkaram-refers to other dances such as all yam, kudam, kodukoti, etc. They are not now extant. It refers also to Ayar koothu (dances by shepherds), Kuravai koothu (dances by caravans) etc. They are obsolete. But what is called Kurmanji has been lifted to the highest level of art by the genius of poets. In it, a human heroine loves a king or a god and a gypsy goes to her and foretells her good fortune. The Kuala Kuravanji Sarfoji Kurauanji, Viralimalai Kurauanji, and Aehagar Kuravanji are fine works of art and give room for fine ballet dances which are not mere folk dances but are fine artistic performances. I must refer also to a new aesthetic creation viz.Chhaya Natakas (Nizhal Attam in Tamil) or shadow plays by the great artistic geniuses Sri Uday Shankar and his wife Srimathi Amala Shankar. In them, the acting is by human beings but the public see only the shadows thrown on a gigantic screen from the other side of the screen. They have now presented the Ramayana and the Buddha Charita. Thus we have in the above dances, both pure folk dances as well as artistic dance performances in which the art element blends with the folk element. The Bhagavata Mela of Melattur and Oothukad and Soolamangalam etc. in the Tanjore District is a high-class classical dancedrama, whereas Bharata Natyam is a solodance which IS the ne plus ultra of the classical dance art of South India. Bhagavata Mela dances present various puranic themes through dances by many men who sing and dance whereas in Bharata Natya the artist does not sing while others sing. The songs in Bhagavata Meta are in Telugu as the Naik kings of Tanjore had it as their court language.
The themes are the stories of Prahlada, Harischandra, Dhruva, Markandeya, Usha, Rukmini, Sita and others. The dancedramas combine fine poetry and elaborate Carnatic music and fine and elaborate dances. The founder of this classical dance drama was Venkatarama Sastri of Melattoor who was a contemporary of the immortal musician Tyagaraja. Influence Abroad Finally I wish to make a passing reference to the far-flung influence of Indian Art in Ceylon and Burma and Indonesia and far East Asia including Thailand (Siam) and Cambodia and also in China and Japan. In Java, Bali, Cambodia, and in Eastern Asia generally, Indian art concepts and artmotifs have had a dominant influence. Dr. A. K. Coomaraswami says: “The leading motifs of Chinese and Japanese building art of the pagoda and toru are also of Indian origin”. (The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon page 117). Mr. Havell says, “Indian idealism during the greater part of this time was the dominant note in the art of Asia which was thus brought into Europe, and we find a perfectly oriental atmosphere and strange echoes of eastern symbolism in the medieval cathedrals of Europe and see their structural growth gradually blossoming with all the exuberance of Eastern imagery”. We find the influence of Indian art, viz, Hindu art and Buddhist art in the temples at Angkor Vat and Prambanan, and Borobodur and also particularly in the music and dance and the general cultural atmosphere on the island of Bali. In Indonesia, Indian art and the colorful beauty and glory of nature and human life and dress and decoration were blended to perfection. In Bali, the pendel, the jaguar, the long, and the kobzar dances interpret the heroic actions of Arjuna and other heroes of Indian mythology. The pendel is a classical dance connected with temple rituals. The other dances also interpret Puranic episodes. The Ketjah or monkey dance depicts the Ramayana story. There are also dances interpreting the Buddhist and jataka stories. There are also folk dances. The gamelan orchestra, aided sometimes by vocal music, adds to the fascination of the dances. The dance gestures are of Indian origin. The dress and the decoration of the Javanese and Balinese dancers are similar to those discernible in the Ajanta frescoes. Tagore says: “In India where the exuberance of life seeks utterance, it sets them to dance. One who knows their peculiar dance- language can follow the story without the help of words”. It is thus clear that the art of Dance was born and grew up in India as a spiritual art and spread all over South -East Asia and flourishes even today as a supreme spiritual art in the house of its birth.