Friday Review

Classical art: Flying high or diving deep

Aditi

Aditi  

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For a few artistes, be it veterans or the emerging ones, classical art goes beyond performing for the audience, it’s the means to a spiritual end.

The learning and practise of classical performing arts requires aptitude, assimilation and implementation. This, followed by exploration into the branch of learning.

The propensity to excel is especially true of practitioner–performers who have spent considerable time learning the art form and by virtue of opportunities, family background, networking and talent of course, emerging as successful artistes. An entire lifetime is expended in artistic pursuit to retain the name and fame acquired over active years. But our classical arts have been pronounced to be the means to spiritual end, a very far-fetched but ultimate reality, exemplified by the likes of musical trinity, Sadashiva Brahmendra, Mysore Vasudevacharya and closer to our times, MS Subbulakshmi, Bala Saraswathi, Rukmini Arundale; closer home Aralmel Valli, Sujata Mohapatra to name a few. Their exterior, as the world sees is by no means a benchmark to their inner journey. Reaching the heights of fame comes as a corollary; it ceases to affect their core being. It doesn’t happen by design but definitely happens by internalisation of the art whereby music or dance becomes an ecstatic outflow of an inner joy. There is something called soul in their performance; age is neither an enhancer nor a deterrent.

Veteran Carnatic musician TT Sita who earned the title of ‘Andhra MS’ reminiscences, “I was never into formal music learning. Born into Madabhushi family – my father was a criminal advocate and veena maestro, I was exposed to the great artistes who visited my house from childhood. In those days it was taboo for girls from Brahmin families to perform so none of my seven siblings proficient in music were in concert circuit. My music was self-taught. I didn’t know in which pitch (sruti) I was singing when I won a competition in Tirupathi in my early teens. But even then, I guess I got so immersed in the song I rendered that the judges were floored, so they stated at the end. My in-laws encouraged me to hone my skills and take up performances.” She had the critics of her time hailing her capacity to breathe life into a Bhairavi or a Kambhoji at the alapana level which had a mesmerising effect. Even today, in the twilight zone of her life, when she feels inhibited by her voice not reaching the Panchama swara sthana, she loses herself in a raga within a matter of minutes in humming it out.

At the other end of the spectrum are young ones like Varsha Bhuvaneswari, all but 13 years of age, whose Harikatha rendition sends audiences into raptures. “When she practices before her recital in front of me, she looks like normal child to me. But when I sit in the audience, I am amazed at her spontaneity and her rendition; her whole persona is so transformed, says her musician father Shreyas Narayunun. “I first take my guru’s blessing for every show and then on stage I pray to goddess Saraswati to give me the power of speech to share my knowledge with all present. Then the lords Krishna or Rama whose story I’m about to narrate. I can visualise them as I get ready to start my stage show. After that I’m aware of my stage and public but that’s only a vague vision; my heart has already gone to another area and my speech and song comes out on their own. I have been instructed to do my own narrative for Harikatha and I’m scripting Bhakta Meera,” says Varsha in all humility.

So is Aditi Devarakonda, a teenager who completed her arangetram in Bharatanatyam four years ago. In her very first solo performancem she looked so involved in the character of Radha she was portraying, that she had her chief guest totally moved and a few in the audience get on to the stage to articulate their feelings that have been aroused by her memorable abhinaya. “I’m learning for past 12 years and I chose to pursue graduation so that it gives me time to dance. My grandfather was the one who realised my innate love of dance though I don’t belong to a art-oriented family. Given a role, my mind’s eye envisages that character and its emotions even while learning and rehearsing. I connect spontaneously to the character I’m doing and I find a real joy in my heart which is not easy to describe,” says the young disciple of Geetha Ganesan.

The teacher-performer Geetha Ganesan attributes every inch of development in the artiste to the guru first. “My guru, veteran dancer VS Ramamoorthy would insist we get into the character. But at that age my dance was more to impress. Later, it got embedded in my psyche. You need to study the character at least a little in order to get under the skin of the role. Only then can audience relate to you and your character depending on their own awareness of the mythology or narrative and dance. The nritta part is like drawing, you have to vest it with life if you want to establish a connect. Mere grammar takes us nowhere. Today I enjoy the mudras as I perform; I can speak to my own hands and limbs that are dancing; there is an inner joy. The guru keeps insisting that his disciples connect with the character they are portraying; for some it is an artistic connect, for few others it is a soul connect. In classical arts, the boundaries shouldn’t be forgotten. So it is an 80-90 per cent involvement and the rest awareness on ground. Other contributing factors are right kind of home environs, right guru and right company.” The ‘soul’, a very abstract phenomenon, is at the heart of every Indian art form. Diving deep into one’s artistic pursuit brings the soul to the fore and that is the point where artistic catharsis ( rasa uthpathi) happens which is an end in itself.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 7:35:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Classical-art-Flying-high-or-diving-deep/article14425952.ece

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