Friday Review

Dissolving the dissonance

BEYOND THE DIVIDE Kalanidhi Narayanan Photo The Hindu.   | Photo Credit: Scanned in Chennai R.K. Sridhara

The intention of this article is to highlight the discord that exists in the form of parochial North-South divide which dancers feel separates them on one hand, and on the other hand the negligence towards the seminal content of abhinaya. The trajectory seeks to analyse the process of dissolving this dissonance and suggests resolution through abhinaya in Indian classical dance.

Literary content and philosophical thought form a part of the shared heritage between Indian dance traditions comprising for example of literary masterpieces such as the “Gita Govinda”. Abhinaya remains the tool with which dancers, whatever the tradition, celebrate a shared identity and in the process the idea of India, and yet the crises remains that few dancers really invest in this repertoire.

“The world of poetry in dance through abhinaya is a means to explore inner landscapes of passion, love and compassion, it is both self evolving and self dissolving,” says Jamuna Krishnan a noted Bharatnatyam dancer who has for decades travelled the world of poetry and dance. She has pursed to critically study a wide range of poetry, surpassed parochial linguistic divides and created connecting lines through the medium of dance. Her deep contemplation speculates from the 4000 poetic verses of the Divya Prabhandams written by the 8th Century twelve Alvar Vaishnavite poets from Tamil Nadu to an entire repertoire covering North Indian poets such as Tulsi, Kabir, Sur Das, Viyapati, Meera and many more. The journey of abhinaya for Jamuna is an ongoing process where the key is intense research which explores shared terrain of ideas, such as those between poetic narratives found in padams-javalis of and the Bhakti literature in North. Abhinaya, in her thoughts is where aesthetics of all Indian Classical dances can meet and dialogue.

In contemporary times, Classical dancers are pressured to market and survive. This has led to the psychology of stressing on item numbers defined by technical adroitness and projected through tools of sophisticated stage sets, lighting, sound and group choreographies. But in this churning, there is a central question – where is the thinking solo dancer who goes beyond the technical prowess and is not spaced out in packaging, whose journey of interpretative dance is drowned by the power of technical prowess?

After all, the making of a solo classical dancer in India also meant ruminating on interpretative technique of abhinaya and not just movements and rhythm. “The solo Indian dancer has all tools, but the most important is the art of executing emotions using the mind, body, face, costume and even narrative. It is nurtured in a journey to study critically poetry, music and rhythm. Abhinaya is what words are to a writer, it is a long journey, it is meditation as much as it is submission,” said the legendary Kathak queen Sitara Devi.

There is the case of Kalanidhi Narayanan who for the contemporary dancers was the epitome of the empowerment of abhinaya whose art could take the audience from one realm to another through images of subtle poetic devices and who transcended the divides of regions. Alongside was the body of work of Rohini Bhate, who through analytical and innovative approach to abhinaya enriched the Kathak repertoire creating a large corpus of dance compositions.

“Using poetry in dance is a sojourn of delving on implied metaphors, hidden signifiers to draw and build inner connections through images which comes after a dancer goes through large amount of reading,” says Krishnan. Allusions to mythology, connection with natural symbols provide the resources for executing abhinaya.

To create poetic connectivity Jamuna gave an example of parallel exploration of love through Vaishnav thinking in the thoughts of two women mystics – Andal, the only female Alvar Vaishnavite poetess from Tamil Nadu, and Meerabai the 15th-16th Century North Indian Vaishnav poetess. For example, in one of the songs, Andal feels the onset of monsoon evoked on seeing red insects teeming on green leaves, the sound and moistness of and in nature reflects her own readiness to welcome her lord to return. In the similar line of thought Meerabai writes that in the rainy season her clothes stick to her body, and the moistness is like fire, she appeals for her Giridhar to come and soothe her. Both Andal and Meerabai married the truth and journeyed to be evolved, where on one hand Andal after dreaming she has married the lord wakes and asks for the sacred conch who she requests as she places it on her lips to relate her experience in the form of a kiss, and on the other hand, Meerabai says that she planted the creeper of love watered it with tears and has grown in her inner self. In both, irrespective of the gap in centuries, the devotional poetry borders on the erotic, and it is this implied multiplicity that is explored in abhinaya. Jamuna’s work is a continuance of the work initiated by other such as the dialogue of poetry and dance between Rohini Bhate in Kathak and Kalanidhi Narayanan of Bharatanatyam supported by the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Abhinaya requires besides critical understanding, building a potent multi-layered imagery and foremost an expressive face. It is an art which needs involvement, commitment and patience and often there are few audiences for this serious art; but it is a skill which provides a dancer a place on stage even in old age. The imagination and cerebral maturity comes with age and with continuous study, which includes an interface with other artistic endeavours such as painting, sculpture and music.

Unfortunately, not many dancers seek to commit to this space of submission and meditation. It is an area exclusive to Indian dance and therefore one where cultural administration related to performing arts can commit to support. It also requires encouraging dancers to comprehend other creative and artistic activities besides dance and break out of parochial divides of region, linguistics and subject boundaries.

Abhinaya is detachment and submission and which was reflected in the brilliance of Balasawaraswati, Shambhu Maharaj, Sitara Devi and Kelucharan Mahapatra,those who dared to traverse the terrains of images, moods of nayaks and nayikas and depth of philosophical thought. Yes, abhinaya as a landscape is waiting for dancers to journey and transcend realms, where Vidyapati’s Radha says, “Innumerable Brahmans (imperishable energies of various souls) come, go and dissolve, only You of Krishna have no beginning or end. Birth begins from you and dissolves in you like waves in the ocean….”


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 6:08:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Dissolving-the-dissonance/article14550909.ece

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