The three opening dancers featured in the Divinity Series that starts in New Delhi this Friday share their perceptions of this concept.
The divine and the decorative, truth and beauty have traditionally been synonymous in India. However, each has wide ranging and sometimes controversial connotations. Take beauty. With the pursuit of beauty comes a study of sensuousness, which is a step away from sensuality. And where, ask many in the modern world, does divinity fit into this scheme of things? But the five physical senses are not our only organs of perception. A classical art like Bharatanatyam is often considered a bridge between the physical and the spiritual — a concept that demands using the body to transcend the body.
Perhaps that is why the conceptualisers of the “Divinity Series”, an initiative aiming to bring diverse audiences glimpses of India’s cultural heritage, chose to launch the series with a festival of Bharatanatyam. Jyotsna Shourie, who has been an acclaimed Bharatanatyam exponent and choreographer, and Deepak Shourie, with corporate experience in a spectrum of businesses including chocolates and music, are the joint force behind the project.
The three-day festival in New Delhi, starting this Friday, features three dancers — Rama Vaidyanathan, Meenakshi Srinivasan and Mythili Prakash. Mythili, who grew up in the U.S. and trained under her mother, noted exponent Viji Prakash, is the youngest of the three to have entered the professional arena, while Meenakshi is a disciple of the eminent Alarmel Valli and just received the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. The senior most is Rama, a popular and prolific performer known for a range of themes she has taken up in the solo and group format.
Here they answer three questions related to their performance:
What do you plan to perform at this festival?
Mythili Prakash I will perform a selection of pieces within the format of the margam repertoire. Each piece is connected to the idea of “divinity” as I perceive it.
Meenakshi Srinivasan I have put together in the traditional format of the margam, a repertoire that combines poetry, literature and exploration of the character, from different regions of the country.
Rama Vaidyanathan I plan to perform the Mayur Alarippu as it is a request from the organisers. In a tala cycle of five and a half beats composed by Karaikudi Sivakumar I have tried to capture the movement dynamics of the peacock. Since it is the bi-centenary year of Swati Tirunal the main piece of the evening would be a keertanam composed by this poet. Going a bit off track from the usual padams I would be presenting a composition of Arunachala Kavirayar where Sita asks Lord Rama “How did you dare to leave me and go to the forest? Have you forgotten your wedding vows? Is this the sign of a true man?”
Would conclude with Shivoham — verses from the Skanda Puranam. It says “there is divinity in every human being and every human being is divine.”
What does the word divinity mean to you and how do you think it can be interpreted through dance?
Mythili Prakash To me the word “divine” reflects the Core or essence of one’s being. Dance does a beautiful job of encasing it through metaphor of gods and deities, the descriptions and attributes of which are in fact reflections of this Core. But all said and done, “divinity” is intangible and if at all — captured through feeling, which must permeate the dance interpretation, otherwise it remains an interpretation.
Meenakshi Srinivasan “Divinty” to me is the presence of an internal beauty and peace within oneself. The dance offers one the ability to experience this state of internal beauty that is pure, true and uplifting. It also allows you to draw the audience into your space and share this experience with you.
Rama Vaidyanathan Divinity is a sense of connection with the divine. A realisation of the infinite, an awareness of the supreme consciousness and a feeling of oneness with that.
One hears a lot about the spiritual qualities of the classical arts. Do you feel it is actually possible to ‘transcend’ the body when practising a physical medium like Bharatanatyam? When the world is used to perceiving images of women as female bodies and not much more, what are the challenges of being a female practitioner of Bharatanatyam?
Mythili Prakash I think it absolutely is possible to transcend the body through a physical medium like Bharatanatyam. In fact, I think this is the goal and purpose of the art. Transcendence is at once a state of mind and a state of no-mind. Through mindfulness, one attempts to achieve this state. It is like threading a needle at each moment. While any activity can be done with this immersion, Bharatanatyam lends itself so beautifully to such a practice through its partnership with the vibrations of music, rhythm, and lyric. For me, it is not so much the challenge of being a female practitioner of the form, but a human practitioner of the form, trying to bring this mindfulness to my practice! I’d like to believe that when that is there, a viewer would be able to see beyond surface.
Meenakshi Srinivasan Dance by its very nature is a transforming experience. The generosity of the language of Bharatanatyam, be it the emotional or the physical nature of the dance, is one that allows the dancer to transcend the body. This experience, for me, has been very momentary and fleeting and might not happen every time I dance.
As a Bharatanatyam artist my challenges have only been the ones that I give myself – to be able to practice my dance every day no matter what, to improve a movement, to sustain an emotion, to correct a flaw, to add an idea, to be creative and to take my dance to the next level.
Rama Vaidyanathan I always feel that the dancer transcends gender by getting out of his or her own body. It is the awareness of the soul that matters more than the awareness of the body. She must dance without being conscious of her female form and only then can her dance become divine.
September 27 – Rama Vaidyanathan
September 28 – Meenakshi Srinivasan
September 29 – Mythili Prakash
Chinmaya Auditorium, Lodi Estate, New Delhi, 7 p.m.