Dance

Tracing an epic’s roots

Dr. R. Nagaswamy conducts a lecture on "Bharata and Ilango" and Dr. Padma Subramaniam introduces the topic with demonstration by artistes of Nrithyodaya in Chennai on Saturday. Photo : Subashini Vijayakumar  

To substantiate his theory that Indian culture was considered the same all over the country, Prof. Nagaswamy commenced his lecture by showing a mural from the Ramanathapuram palace in which musicians and dancers from both North and South India are seen performing in front of the king. He stressed that the Indian culture was not confined to the country alone but extended to all over the South Asian countries. This information gained importance when he had to cite the similarities between Bharatha’s Natyasastra and Ilango’s Silappadikaram. The same point was referred to by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, while introducing the speaker and the subject.

Dr. Nagaswamy’s talk was not aimed at denigrating the value or magnificence of Tamil language, the greatness of Silappadikaram or its author Ilango Adigal but to only illustrate how in the earlier days people were generous to accept information and ideas irrespective of its source and also the healthy interaction between people of different regions. Silappadikaram, one of the five great Tamil epics, according to him, is a creative work and not history. The core idea for this work was derived from the poems of not one but three poets of Purananooru, which talked of how Kannagi’s husband abandoned her for the sake of another woman. To this he has added incidents from life and other sources such as stories from Panchatantra to weave a beautiful dance drama which has continued to fascinate scholars as well as laymen.

Rules for dance

Silappadikaram, he maintained, is a dance drama from beginning to end and adopts the tradition of Sanskrit dramas, such as praying/blessing the king at the beginning and at the conclusion of the drama. The Aranga Kaadai in the first volume of Silappadikaram gives details to be followed in a dance drama such as the five different geographical types of lands, the people there, their life styles, emotions as also the characters in the drama, the costumes, jewellery and stage décor. These are exactly the same as found in the Natyasastra of Bharathamuni. Silappadikaram covered the areas from Kumarikandam to Thiruvengadam which comprise all the five types of lands and these had to be enacted on stage by gestures so that the audience could build a mental picture. Many words, such as ‘pindi,’ which originally signified the essential qualities for a dance/dancer, have been later on interpreted as hand gestures.

There have been Tamil texts on dance earlier to Bharatha’s Natyasastra but these have been lost. In Silappadikaram Ilango mentions that Madhavi was awarded by the Chola king because she adhered strictly to the Natya Nannool, which was obviously Natyasastra. The text Koothunool is probably a later one since it talks of dance forms which came into being much later. Prof. Nagaswamy, a multifaceted scholar and a multilinguist, cited several such examples in Silappadikaram, which have been inspired from Natyasastra.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 2:06:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/tracing-an-epics-roots/article4833884.ece

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