Dance

From material to metaphysical

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A recent festival on art and spirituality discussed the spiritual nature of classical dance and how it has borrowed from traditional occupations of the past

I don’t know you, O thou

I can’t measure you…

But I lend my hands and legs

Please do descend on my body and manifest

You bestow what this world cannot

“Vishwakarmas used to chant this before they built any structure in the older times. Any creation, for that matter, involves the invoking the unknown and the same is evident in dance too,” observed S. Jayachandran, research scholar, IIT Hyderabad delivering a lecture-demonstration at Kaladhyatma, a festival on art and spirituality organised by Kalasampadam. The festival held at Seva Sadan, Malleswaram, Bengaluru had talks, lecdems, film screenings, discussions and performances on the topic.

If the ‘kshetra’ for architects is the land upon which they construct, for dancers it is the proscenium. For him, it is through the kutcheri the dancer invokes the divine.

Similarly, according to the scholar, dance has parallels with other traditional occupations as well. Dance has borrowed a lot from farming and weaving traditions. Reciting a folk saying in Tamil that prescribes the width to be maintained between two saplings, Jayachandran demonstrated the hastas farmers still use in some parts of the country to measure the distance between various saplings while planting. “A bullock cart’s space (roughly a two-arm distance) was left between two plantain saplings and hence the depiction of a bullock cart or chariot in Bharatantyam is based on this measurement,” he explains.

From material to metaphysical

Likewise, chatura hasta was used by midwives to measure the vaginal opening during childbirth. He supposes: “This might also be the reason why a dancer touches the earth with chatura hastas while doing namskara. Like the midwife, a performer gives birth to an art work and therefore, before that process begins, she seeks the blessings of the goddess of creation.”

Through these enumerations, Jayachandran showed how classical dance has drawn from other professions and explained how every occupation was perceived as a spiritual exercise. “And the purpose of dance was to showcase these lifestyles and also to create experience beyond the physical realm for others,” he said.

Trained in Bharatanatyam from stalwarts like Leela Samson, C.V. Chandrashekar and Bragha Bessell, Jayachandran explained why Indian classical dance forms have ‘anchored movement’. Demonstrating it with an alarippu with the assistance of danseuse Veena C. Seshadri and artiste Praveen Kumar (on the nattuvangam) he explained: “Movement in Bharatanatyam, and so with other classical dance forms, is as if it is fastened firmly to the ground like a lotus in water – gentle but tightly anchored.”

In co-ordination with Veena’s graceful hand gestures, Praveen mellowed the recitation of the jathi, tam dhitam tai tat tai… It was as if the performer was half-immersed in water in deep meditation. “An alarippu or a pushpanjali in a simple manner showcases that the dancer’s body itself is a pushpa, an offering to the lord. Therefore the aim of a performer is to dissolve the body, seek and present a higher truth,” he added.

In a panel discussion held later in the day, Vaibhav Arekar remarked: “these meditative moments, for me, happen more during my rehearsals as there would be paraphernalia to take care of during performances.” The panel discussion had Padmaja Suresh, Poornima Gururaj, Praveen Kumar, Vidya Rao and Dwaritha Vishwanatha as other discussants and was moderated by danseuse Janani Murali.

From material to metaphysical

While Vidya Rao and Poornima Gururaj emphasised on sahridayata of the audience to comprehend and receive an exalted experience, Padmaja Suresh cautioned against the usage of esoteric terms like ‘tantra’ by amateur dancers in the name of spirituality. “Though Bharata Muni was a tantric himself, he did not employ such terms for discussions on dance in Natyasashtra,” stated Padmaja Suresh, adding that spirituality is for experience, not for exhibition.

Answering a question from the audience regarding the relation between the individual and absolute being, Praveen Kumar opined: “If the student doesn’t get the concept of jeevatma and paramatma, the paramatma can also be someone whom the dancer is pining for.” By humanising the divine, classical dance can make better sense to the current generation, the panel felt.

While Jayachandran’s thoroughly researched lecdem looked at some basic aspects of dance from an entirely fresh perspective, the panel discussion answered some general questions that teachers of dance grapple with, to convey the spiritual nature of dance to their students.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 8:57:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/from-material-to-metaphysical/article29724024.ece

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