Interview Every posture in classical dance has ‘sculpturesque’ roots, says V.A.K. Ranga Rao. Ranee Kumar
He has a wry sense of humour, a razor-sharp intellect combined with wit. He can be likened to the famous satirists of their times — Alexander Pope or Samuel Johnson. He stands no comparison to any current litterateur as the sort of intellectual combination he possesses is a rarity these days. V.A.K. Ranga Rao is no stranger to classical dancers or newspaper readers of a generation behind.
He is a dancer, iconographer, connoisseur of film history, linguist, guide, philosopher and friend to many of his ardent fans/pupils and everything under the sun. In his recent visit to Hyderabad for the release of his book Maro Aalapana, Ranga Rao settled down to some real talking with regard to his latest ventures. And one of them is of great interest to classical performing artists. With Sangeet Natak Akademi’s funding, he has undertaken a project to study the connotations of 15th century saint-poet Annamacharya’s verses and the archaic Telugu terminology and bring them to light for a better understanding by the performing artists.
“I took a keen interest in the Dasavatara keertanas of Annamacharya and unearthed 54 of them, to be precise. I also made a study of Dasavatara sculptures of Kajuraho as well as South India. My objective is to educate our dancers in depicting the bhava /expression with a thorough knowledge of its situational import, its meaning and the kind of artistic experience it is supposed to create. Every posture ( bhangima ) in classical dance, whatever be the genre, has sculpturesque roots. When the dancer (artiste) is comfortable with the sculpture she/he can flow the pose in the body easily and naturally. What is termed as ‘Saushtavam’ in dance parlance is nothing but the beauty of line that goes from one pose to another seamlessly. It is not just a gracefully adopted pose; it is grace in movement,” he explains and you find the scholar with practical knowledge in dual fields of art.
The Dasavatara is nothing but the Puranic interpretation of evolution. Then where does a totally different religious icon like the Buddha fit in as the penultimate avatar not to talk of the final speculative avatar of Kalki, you ask him. “The Boudha avatar described by Jayadeva in his Dasavatara is the Puranic Buddha. He is depicted as a naked mendicant with a begging bowl and a shaven head. He is physically different yet similar from the historical Buddha in as much as both sport the same name, enlightened under the Bodhi tree and shun animal sacrifice. When Hinduism began gaining ground, post Buddhism, there was a need to attract Buddhists to the Hindu fold. And this was done by adopting and merging their deity with Hindu religious faith. Hence the place for ‘Boudha’ as the ninth avatar. Most dancers end up showing the historical Buddha through hasthabhinaya (gesticulation) which is not correct. The Puranic Buddha has to depicted as having four hands — two for symbolising Vaishnavism (conch and discus). The last avatar, Kalki, of course is a future avatar which is at times depicted as a human with horse’s face with four hands or a rider on horseback with shield and sword,” he clarifies.
“I am for facts and facts alone,” the critic in him states with vehemence. Creativity can be realism that is artistic and aesthetically told. In these long years of tireless efforts, Ranga Rao has successfully cleansed the cobwebs of fallacy and placed art on an altar.