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Tandava-Lasya: The cosmic fusion

Dancers Rukmini Vijayakumar and Parshwanath Upadhye delivering a power-packed Bharatanatyam performance full of both vigour and grace. Photo: A.M. Faruqui  

Dance has always been a source of physical expression around the world. It is also a means of staying fit.

India is blessed to have several styles, classical and folk, originating from various regions. This blessing is magnified many times over, given not just the quantum of styles but also the scientific genesis, structure and detailed delineation of practically every nuance and instruction.

Indian classical dance forms incorporate both tandava (vigorous/ masculine) and lasya (soft/ feminine), offering a balance of cosmic energies — male/female, yin/yang — in their exposition. The tandava aspect is characterised by sharp, forceful movements that aim to capture the essence of the underlying bhava (sentiment). The lasya elements are represented by movements that are soft, fluid, and seem to merge into one another in a graceful blur with no sharp edges.

Make no mistake. Both aspects place heavy physical demands upon the dancer, each exacting a different type of control, one in unleashing energy and the other in leashing it in. What that means in the physical realm is superbly exciting. The level of stamina (cardiovascular) and control (muscular) required can pose a challenge to any fitness buff and humble them. You just have to watch a full performance to know that the fitness requirements of a dancer are among the most challenging.

But the beauty and strength of Indian classical dance forms is that they far transcend mere physical perfection. Movement does not exist for or by itself, to be practised as meaningless demonstration. This is borne by its classification into Nritta (rhythmic pure dance), Nritya (storytelling through hand gestures or hasta mudras and facial expressions/ mime), and Natya (the dramatic aspect). The hasta mudras help translate the sahitya (verse) into the visual language of the dance.

The feet, hands, neck, eyes, face, all work in tandem with the body to breathe life into movement and tell a story, taking the energy involved to a whole new dimension. This draws the mind into the process, unleashing a meditative effect. What it is, is beautifully described by the following shloka from the Natya Shastra, the most comprehensive Indian treatise on the performing arts dating back to the period between 200 B.C.E and 200 C.E.

Yato hastastato drishtihi... ‘Where the hand is, the eyes follow…’

Yato drishtistato manaha… ‘Where the eyes go, the mind follows…’

Yato manastato bhavaha… ‘Where the mind is, there is feeling…’

Yato bhavastato rasaha… ‘Where there is feeling, there is mood/ flavour’ (appreciation of art; aesthetic bliss)

Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Kathakali, Mohiniyattam and Manipuri are all offshoots of the same underlying principle. Imagine these as your sources of holistic fitness. All at once, dance caters to all aspects — physical, mental and spiritual fitness.

So, how does Indian classical dance measure on the fitness scale?

* All forms are practised barefoot (barefoot training going back thousands of years is an inherent part of our culture)

* Very well-structured units, progressions, tempos (what good current fitness practices talk of)

* Mentally stimulating (remembering choreography; compositions set to challenging rhythmic, mathematical counts)

* Superb cardiovascular and muscular challenge (the body moves through various planes, speeds and loading/ unloading patterns; from explosive plyometrics to controlled fluidic swaying)

* Composite use of large and small muscle groups (all body parts used: feet, legs, arms, wrists, fingers, core, shoulder, neck, eyes…)

* Works on all pillars of fitness (endurance, strength, mobility, flexibility, power)

* Holistic (interconnection of mental, physical and spiritual realms sets it apart)

* Lends itself to fusion (among Indian styles and with international forms, including martial arts)

* Instils discipline (one cannot become a dancer without discipline. Period.)

Additionally, dance imparts grace and a totally different perspective to life and living. You will come looking for physical fitness but get so much more in the process. Efforts are being made to reinvent, experiment and enhance the forms, while retaining the original vocabulary. So, we absolutely need to look at what our culture offers — practices that are so much more than just physical pursuits and which exist right here. The world is only learning now what we have known for centuries. Adopt it. Respect it. Highlight it.

The writer is an exercise and rehab specialist, corporate wellness coach, and foot and gait analyst.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 12:49:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/vani-b-pahwa-on-tandavalasya-the-cosmic-fusion/article8341726.ece

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