Dance with the cards

Learn about India’s classical dance forms while playing rummy with Jayalakshmy Eshwar’s card game.

Updated - October 18, 2016 12:43 pm IST

Published - December 29, 2012 03:50 pm IST

Jayalakshmy Easwar's card game based on dance. Photo: Chitra Balasubramanian

Jayalakshmy Easwar's card game based on dance. Photo: Chitra Balasubramanian

A typical rummy game hinges on a set of sequential cards from the 13 cards of diamonds, clubs, spades or hearts. But have you heard of dance rummy? Devised by danseuse Jayalakshmi Eshwar, this set of cards has Kathak, Chhau, Bharatanatyam and other dances from India. Unlike the traditional deck of 54 cards, this has a whopping 90 cards covering nine classical dance forms.

A game for children of six years and above, the cards were conceptualised, researched and executed by Eshwar, a trained Bharatanatyam dancer from Kalakshetra and the Head of the Bharatnatyam Department at Triveni Kala Sangam. She also runs the Abhinaya Dance Group.

“Today, children do not have the luxury of time to learn dance the way it was done earlier,” she says. “Neither do the gurus have that kind of time. Today after the eighth standard, students get busy with board exams; then admissions for colleges. Where is the time to learn slowly? So it helps to have an audio-visual medium that one can learn from at home.”

Thus she brought out two DVDs — Bharatanatyam: How to.... , a step-by-step guide on Bharatanatyam and Hastha Prayogaah: Vocabulary of Hand Gestures in Bharatanatyam . The card game was an extension of this mindset. She recalls, “My second son Avinash Kumar is from NIFT and was working in the toy industry. He suggested that I develop a game for children based on dance.” Initial ideas revolved around Bharatanatyam but research proved that general knowledge on dance as a medium was very limited.

The game has been painstakingly devised. Information gathered from research has been put together in a succinct manner so that it is educative but not academically overbearing. The cards are larger than normal cards, measuring approximately 5 inches by 3 inches. Each form — Bharatanatyam, Chhau, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniyattam, Odissi and Sattriya — is represented by a different colour and has 10 cards. The 10 cards are actually 10 broad categories giving information on each form such as state of origin, introduction, reference texts on the origins, temple/tradition which it is associated with, well-known gurus or exponents, costume, ornaments, instruments and technique/ nritta . The information has been patiently compiled with help and suggestions from artistes of each tradition, the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training. For example, Guru Shashadhar Acharya, a well known proponent of Saraikala Chhau helped with the cards for Chhau, as did the International Centre for Kathakali, New Delhi, for those on Kathakali.

A charming compilation is the comparatively lesser known Sattriya from Assam. The set of 10 cards tracing its origins from 15-16th century to the tradition by Vaishnav saint Srimanta to Sankaradeva to the gurus Maniram Datta Moktar and further, detailing the ornaments and costumes, is a mine of information.

The colour codification is also interesting. Sattriya is brown while Odissi from the neighbouring State is a deeper shade of the same colour. Kathakali is represented by green while Mohiniyattam is bordered in dark green. Another little quirk that Jayalakshmi has introduced is that, in each card, the entire name of the dance is not written at the top. She says, “I used only the first two letters or first letter of the dance form to provoke the child to use his/her intellect. These cards are useful not just for children but also for adults, many of whom are not aware of the minute nuances.” It is true that people may know the dance form but not details like names of the instruments or the ornaments worn.

The game is played like rummy with a maximum of nine players. Each player is dealt 10 cards and the rest are kept in the middle. To win the game, three sequences (three cards of two dance forms and four cards of another form) have to be made.

The second way of playing is as a simple question-answer format. The cards are just dealt around. Each player reads from one card giving out all the information and then proceeds to ask questions based on that. This helps the child memorise facts about the dance form.

Apart from a book on foot movements Jayalakshmy is working on another card game exclusively about Bharatanatyam. The future of dance is now in your hands.

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