The layers of emotions in Vilasini Natyam

A lec-dem on Vilasini Natyam dancer-scholar Dr. Anupama Kylash   | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan

Time flew at Dr. Anupama Kylash’s lecture-demonstration on ‘Components of Saatvika Abhinaya in Vilasini Natyam’. One would have thought three hours was plenty, but Anupama’s scholarship is so wide ranging that when it was time, it felt like she had much more to say. The presentation by the senior practitioner, Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam, and dance academic, was facilitated by Divyanjali and Prayathnam.

Dr. Anupama waded through historical facts and ancient texts, and spoke about ‘sahitya dharma’ before she presented the manodharma art of the Devadasi. Quoting from the Natyasastra, the bible of theatre arts and its most valued commentary, the Abhinavabharati, Dr. Anupama said that rasa is to be relished by the sahrdaya; it is a collective experience or response, and according to Abhinava Gupta, it has to be alaukika, extraordinary, not on a human plane. Rasa is created through Saatvika Abhinaya, which is the communication of intense emotions through facial expressions and also through certain natural reactions like actually shedding tears. Rasa has to transcend time and space, and is created through a cause (vibhava), a consequence (anubhava) and transitory emotions (vyabhichari bhavas), as in the famous example of the characters in Kalidasa’s Abhijnanashakuntalam.

She quoted Bharatha that nritta is ‘rasa heena’, devoid of rasa; rasa therefore stems from the accompanying drama, music and lyrics. Dramatisation in Indian classical dance is usually through narrating a story and impersonating various characters, as in Bharatanatyam, solo Kuchipudi and others, but in Vilasini Natyam, there is no story-telling or role-playing. The devadasis did not take on characterisations but communicated ideas.

Dr. Anupama explained the Vilasini Natyam technique through Annamacharya’s ‘Chaalu chaalu vaadu leni janma mela’ (Enough of this life without Venkateshwara); she said the interpretation would not portray the godheads per se, as it would focus on the emotion, in this case, need or longing, portrayed in the suggestive imagery of fish and water and in the attraction the Chakora bird has for the moon.

She enhanced Satvika abhinaya with motifs from Nature, those of puranic gods, deities and the particular temple sthala purana, with metaphors such as ‘samsaara saagara’ (comparing the difficulties in life to crossing an ocean), similes such as ‘karuna samudra’ (as compassionate as the vast ocean), symbolism from time cycles (eg mood as dark as the night), (eg spring, the season of love), and the ‘naka shikha varnana’, a top-to-toe poetic description of a woman or gods, to name a few.

Anupama said, ‘The dancer danced to express not impress. She would look at you and continue with the suggestive imagery, the bedrock of saatvika abhinaya, until you understood. The devadasi had centuries of learning behind her, and her knowledge of history, vedas, shilpa shastra, yoga, music, dance, theatre and more were part of the scholarship. Dance was a composite art form then.’

‘Sahithya Dharma’ was an important component of the art — the lyrics were analysed according to the poet, his or her philosophy, intent, the period he or she lived in, etc. A case in point is Jayadeva’s ‘Pralayapayodhijale’; it is a hymn on Vishnu’s dasavatara with each avatara described as a tableau. On careful analysis, one realises that there is much more than that. In the Narasimha avatara for example, Jayadeva refers to Keshava’s lotus-like palms with wondrous nails that tear open the stony-bodied demon, emphasising the fingernails that shine forth to eliminate vice on Earth and at the same time presenting a fallacy of a lotus piercing a thick-skinned honeybee, instead of the other way round.

According to Dr. Anupama there are deeper implications than meets the eye: the 19thashtapadi ‘Priye Charusheele’ in which Krishna requests Radha to keep her foot on his head to quell his love, has other connotations as a woman’s energy fields are concentrated on her feet on the 19th day of the lunar calendar.

Layered abhinaya may be presented through levels of understanding: padartha, word to word meaning, the vakyartha, the meaning of the sentence, the goodartha, the hidden meaning and the vipareethartha, the opposite meaning as in a Ninda Stuthi.

Sophisticated as their art was, the devadasis could convey the meaning of lyrics that were risqué, without a trace of vulgarity. Dr. Anupama explained Kshetrayya’s ‘Okkasaarike’ and ‘Magavaarike’, both of which have bold women, one chiding a paramour for his performance in lovemaking and the other in which the woman propositions her nayaka.

The dance scholar emphasised communication to be the basis of the devadasi performance. A sloka would be recited, explained, sung and then enacted with several interpretations for every line. Swapna Sundari has been known to delineate one sloka from the Krishna Karnamritham for more than an hour. Dr. Anupama’s ended with a sloka ‘Barhothamsa vilasi kunthalabharam’ presenting the wonderful imagery of Balakrishna with his varnana and the attractive milkmaids intoxicated in sharanagati. It was an inspiring session.

Vilasini Natyam refers to the sthree nrithya sampradayam, female dance tradition of the Telugu Devadasis; their repertoire included ritualistic dances in temples as mentioned in the Agama sastras, ceremonial performances in courts, abhinaya-specific mezzuvani chamber concerts and Aata Bhagavatham natya presentations including the Parijathams and Golla Kalapam. The dances were resurrected based on the research by eminent dancer-scholar Swapna Sundari and researcher-poet Dr. Arudra based on authentic practices followed by the devadasis. It has the same roots as Andhra Natyam resurrected by Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna in the 1970s, the difference being in the artistic style and interpretation.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 6:19:51 PM |

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