Natya Kala Conference 2022


Leela Venkataraman

It was, by any standards an extremely successful, painstakingly curated, 40 th Natya Kala Conference by Krishna Gana Sabha - and a feather in the cap of the Convenor, Rama Vaidyanathan!

It was a well-curated 40th Natya Kala Conference by Krishna Gana Sabha, with each day celebrating weaves from one part of India as optional dress code. Stage design by Thotta Tharini was in tune with the theme of Roots, and highlighted fabrics and textures by textile revivalist and sartorial consultant Sandhya Raman. The manner in which the five-day marathon event was conducted and managed, (not forgetting the valuable details  in the printed brochure for the five-day calendar with Aalaap’s Akhila Krishnamurthy as Editor also assisting in conducting the festival),  and the kind of audiences it drew, the conference marked a high point in the Chennai cultural calendar.

One cannot forget the contribution of Indian dancer settled abroad, Rajika Puri, whose generous support enabled the kind of spread of subjects dealt with in the conference, which the central government assistance alone could not have accommodated. In keeping with her wishes, the conference was dedicated to the the memory of her mentor, Indrani Rehman, one of our earliest dancers to make the world aware of India’s rich dance traditions (in her performances lay the roots for awakening a curiosity in India’s dance heritage), in tune with the festival theme.

The proceedings began with homage to the old familiar faces - now no longer with us - scholar Kapila Vatsyayan, irrepressible critic Sunil Kothari with his loud laughter spreading good cheer, Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj,who had so frequently taken the Krishna Gana Sabha stage to treat audiences to the finer aspects of Kathak and Astad Deboo the modern dance performer who had taken part in so many conferences and discussions. The Natya Kala get together also missed senior gurus who always made it a point to attend – Prof, C.V.Chandrasekhar and V.P.Dhananjayan, not forgetting the ever present figure of V.A.K.Ranga Rao who was also out of town. As a matter of fact very few of the senior-most dancers from Chennai could be seen. The packed hall though, comprised groups from other cities – Bangalore, Kerala, Mumbai, Pune, Baroda and so on. That the conference is attracting a lot of young people from outside, is a welcome development. Other thoughtful attractions included a book stall where one could order books on dance.

The idea of vachika abhinaya as a start to the theme of Roots was extremely thoughtful, for dance in India with its interconnections, has its inspiration in the vak or word – with poetry marking its ideational take-off point. Three well-known Bharatanatyam dancers, combining their talents the musical ability, slowly making their way to the stage, singing the poetic word, heralded the start, after the inaugural function. First came Ragini Chandrasekhar, singing Sant Kabir’s words, with suitable hand gestures, about the roots of all creative activity lying within us - Isi ghat undar Bagh Bagicho Anahad Baaja, followed by Uma Satyanarayanan who entered with her gestural interpretation, while singing words of an Abhang by Saint Tukaram, Janmase tu mura passhi shonu, philosophising on the root of all suffering, in the eternal cycle of Karma’s deeds and rewards: and finally Sridhar Vasudevan singing Periyazhwar’s Pallandu on the continuity of consciousness for generations through its lineage. Having ascended the stage entering from the outside, the three performers combined together, with a metaphor on roots concerning the spread of knowledge, based on a verse from the Gita, about the Aswatha tree growing upwards, its inverted roots travelling deep within the soil, pointing to beginnings with an incomprehensible future. The leaves from branches are the sacred mantras and he who knows them is the knower of the Vedas.

 Secret of dance lies in breath

The root of all dance activity is the breath and in learning how to control it. It is the secret life force of dance, underpinning perception, at the root of performance and all dimensions of meaning. Referring to this knowledge base, mentioned in Yoga Sutra and even Agastya’s Varna Sastra, implicit in the Natya Sastra, and which has been a valuable part of indigenous knowledge from the time of Kunjunni Tambiran of the Kodungaloor royal family of Kerala. Sreenath Nair, in his talk, concentrated on this largely forgotten knowhow (thanks to the influence of western methodologies). As the ‘invisible other’ between body and mind,  determining the evoking of rasa, this discipline is fortunately still in practice among some Chakyars, with Koodiyattam artists  trying hard to revive the knowledge. Rajaneesh Chakyar working in the Ammanur Gurukulam in Trisoor (boasting of ancestors like late Mani Madhava Chakyar) with Kalamandalam Ravikumar on mizhavu and Bhadra P.K.M on tala, depicted ashta rasas. How the invisible breath control, with breath travelling from the nabhi to the eyes, could fill eyes with water (without overflowing) in karunya, and the control over breath leading to the mukha ragam in raudra with a red face, were an eye opener for many. The methodology of practice alone can explore this organic relationship between breath and rasa.

Unseen training behind kathakali performer

Dealing with the unseen part of the work that goes behind the grooming of a Kathakali dancer, writer Kaladharan Viswanath spoke about the gruelling body massage of the angopanga pratyangas and how the facial organs and muscles are trained to move in aiding the evoking of satvic emotions. Kalamandalam Adithyan provided the demonstrations.

 Movements and meanings -how east and west think alike

In one of the most enlightening sessions of the five-day presentation, the conference presented Ramaa Bharadvaj who, in an articulate, well-researched talk, brought out how two centuries ago, in the west, a French oratory coach Francois Delsarte evolved a demonstrable system of aesthetics in which body, mind and spirit are not mystic ideas but tangible forces with specific corporeal locations in which they express themselves. The researched part of the talk pertained to Rama’s decoding of Delsarte’s principles viewed through the lens of Indian dance and theatre where sound, voice, breathing and body are all involved. Delsarte discovered the relationship between motion and emotion through his own experiments. Seeing how children moved their bodies to music, he formulated his own theories, and the surprising parallelisms with Indian thought which were highlighted by Rama, as the findings of persistent research, need to be published. Among the surprisingly similar ideas, are the thought of God as one, with man in his image, the law of macrocosm and microcosm, the belief in beauty, goodness and truth corresponding to Satyam, Sivam, Sundaram,  the togetherness of body, mind, spirit similar to the Kathopanishad which talks of the physical body as chariot, self as lord of the chariot, intellect as the driver, mind as reins, and the senses as the horses. Everything is in threes – rhythm, melody, harmony, - ease, precision, balance  of the physical, spiritual and intellectual. Above the head is the supernatural zone, with nose and cheek forming the emotional zone.

Delsarte through his experiments discovered the importance of breath and the relationship of gestures with emotion. His deep research into behaviour of the body in different emotional states, such as hand gestures with the thumb (whether open and held straight as in an ardha chandra hand or collapsed), head and shoulder movements, connecting each of them with specific emotional states – is very close to Indian aesthetic concepts, and fascinating to hear. Art, he finally discovered is not imitation of nature but illumination of nature – very much like the theory of ancient commentator Abhinavagupta who defined  art as Anukirtana and not anukarana!

Dance absorbs several art disciplines

That India’s dance traditions did not evolve in isolation, but with roots entwined in several other disciplines like painting, music, sculpture, architecture, illustrates the cross influencing, which is central to the cultural ethos of the country. The story of King Vraja in the Vishnu Dharmottar Purana, has been quoted countless times, exemplifying how the King wanting to learn dance was instructed to go through all the other art disciplines starting from literature, and going on to music, sculpture, painting, before going on to learn dance. Choodamani Nandgopal, who has figured many times earlier in the conference deliberations, read a paper supplemented by visuals, to explain the inter-disciplinary approach – with varied examples. Starting with Yagna rituals,(visuals from IGNA documentation) poetry of Alwars, Haridas, Sankeertanas, Agamas written in Tamil and Dakshinaatya temples, references from Pattadakkal, Ellora, Viroopaksha temple, the statue of Aadavallaan, Chamba painting, Shodasha upachara (16 offerings and services offered to the deity at temples) of which dance was of course a part, she also quoted from inscriptions on temple walls. That architecture and sculpture had the closest relationship with dance was strongly brought out.

Earliest references to dance in Sangam age

Roots travelling a long way underground, changing directions, spout qualities flowing from the cultural soil they live and grow in. And so it is with any legacy, travelling through time, its nature coloured by the cultural ambience in which it lives and thrives. Scholar S. Raghuraman’s talk on the earliest dance footprints in Tamil literature, took one back  to the Sangam era. What is commonly known in the Silappadikaram, as the Arangetra Kadai chapter, spells details of dance and Madhavi’s performance in Indira Vizha.

In ancient Tamil texts, the terms referring to dance are Aadal and Koothu. Aadal refers to the victory celebration which follows killing an enemy, the victory dance, an untaught and instinctive expression of triumph, not based on any aesthetic principles. S. Raghuraman stressed in his talk that Aadal, performed by Gods and Goddesses in the war fields, was a victory dance (vettuva vari) in celebration, while Koothu referred to a group dance. Aadal, was not art dance as understood today. Kotram meant victory and the Goddess presiding over victory was Koravai and one danced praying for strength to defeat the enemy. Out of Santhi Koothu or Seviyal Koothu emerged the margam type of dance of today, with what was presented for a different purpose, perhaps sublimating as temple dances later on, during the bhakti movement.

It was interesting to see Apoorva Jayaraman, (with Vanati Raghuraman’s vocal support), Veda Krishnan (mridangam) and Kalaiarasan (violin),  perform quick, simple numbers meant to highlight points brought out in the talk, starting with song 85 from Purananooru showing the root of the word Aadu. Tunangai Koothu from Tirumurugatruppadai was of ghoulish images feeding on the dead bodies in the battlefield! Vettuvari, in praise of Korravai the Goddess of victory, from the Silappadikaram, encouraged people to do their dharma by coming out to fight the enemy. Muvulagam Eeradiyan from Aychiyar Kuravai of Silappadikaram, was a group dance moving in a circle to dispel bad omens. The notes in the raga change according to the positions of the dancers in the circle.  From Kundrakuravai, Seerkezhu Sendilum a war dance, was in praise of Muruga, (which also included kavadi and kudam aadal).

 Back to the roots for Mohini Attam

Traditions, while spreading, spout with sudden reminders, of their root identity - and so it was when Mohini Attam, expanding in a certain direction, was jerked back to its regional identity by Kavalam Narayana Panicker. A concert format, largely built on music from the Carnatic tradition (with one of the greatest of Kerala’s composers from the royal family, Swati Tirunal) for Kavalam, meant that the dance was foregoing its regional identity and rounded grace, which were better defined by Sopanam music. It was at this moment that Bharati Shivaji, largely known till then as a Bharatanatyam dancer with some knowledge of Mohini Attam, was chosen by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, for a proposal to work on this Kerala dance form and expand its frontiers. And therein hangs a whole story, highlighted by Bharati Shivaji in her talk.

Hesitant and not very sure of how she was going to be welcomed in Kerala, to which region she did not belong, Bharati came to the research wing of Kavalam, and evolved into the supremely graceful dancer who worked on, and performed to the music creations of Kavalam. Having heard Kelucharan Mohapatra talk of how he had gone back to the Orissa’s past for a close look at indigenous art forms from which he could take aspects for the building of a neo classical  Odissi dance form, Bharati Shivaji went to Kerala’s art forms to look for inspiration. And with her closeness to Pallavu Appu Marar the tayambaka specialist, she was greatly educated on  how rhythm in the Kerala dance forms and tala systems worked. Taking vaitaris (rhythmic syllables) from different forms which she incorporated into Mohini Attam adavus, she added another dimension, of not just grace, but enhanced the regional identity and repertoire of the dance form,  which  given the base of Sopana music compositions of Kavalam, was set on a different course. Many Mohini Attam specialists, like Kanak Rele, who came later, worked with Kavalam Narayana Panikar.

Banyan tree of Bharatanatyam takes roots all over india

Dancer-scholar, Parul Shah traced the spread of Bharatanatyam in India,  starting fromits days in the 17th and 18th centuries of Prabandhas and Nirupanas, practiced in the temples of South India, particularly Tamil Nadu. By the 19th century, it was Sadir performed by the devadasis. In 1882, Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III married to the Tanjore princess Laxmibai, took the dance to Gaekwad. Bhanumati (Kumbakonam), Gowri Amma and Kantimati Amma were famous names. By 1916, nine artists had increased to forty eight! Parul Shah referred to the Kalavant Karkhana and how twice a week, items like kite flying, mythological episodes and the Radha/Krishna dance were performed for Sayaji Rao. Gowriamma was the court dancer for forty years. Kubernath Tanjorkar came from this line, and Kubernath’s choreography was also influenced by Hindustani music.

Parul Shah referred to A.T.Govindarajan Pillai at Bombay and how with the  Rajarajeswari Bharatanatya Kala Mandir, the Bharatanatyam story in Bombay began. Maharashtra had guru Parvati Kumar’s detailed work on the nirupanas and from his students Sucheta Chapekar and Sandhya Purecha, U.P. had the Benares University with  Prof  Chandrasekhar, an alumnus of Kalakshetra and Haryana  today boasts of fine Bharatanatyam teachers, building institutions like Ganesh Natyalaya, Natya Vriksha and several others.

Guru Thankamani Kutty and Shantiniketan spread Bharatanatyam in Bengal while Gujarat had the famous Mrinalini Sarabhai. Punjab too spouted a Bharatanatyam exponent in Navtej Singh Johar. Assam in the North East has its Indira Bora trained at Kalakshetra. In every one of these regions dance choreography has been influenced by regional poetry.

While Bharatanatyam is the most prolific form and has the maximum number of dancers today, there is one interesting point the speaker did not mention; in regions which have strong traditions of their own, such as in Orissa, Rajasthan, Kerala and Manipur, Bharatanatyam has not made inroads.

Dance patronage today

That art cannot thrive without patronage is a truism. In an overview on the history of art patronage, Anita Ratnam who led the discussions, referred to the ancient saying that women, creepers and the wise need support to survive. The peculiar challenge of the present times, is that while artists are proliferating, art patronage is shrinking. Even the Sangam age, had its aatruppadai, which was the guide or pathway, informing poets and artists about philanthropists who would assist with money and gifts helping project their work. Kings in South India vigorously fostered the growth of art.

Anita mentioned A.I.R which emerged as one of the greatest supporters of music. Today in Tamil Nadu, the sabha culture is doing a lot of work to help and project performing arts.

While Bharatanatyam dancer Zakir Hussein spoke of government support for the arts, Ananda Shankar Jayant put the emphasis on information technology providing the knowhow for support. She mentioned a portal like providing information on pockets of patronage and support, and maintained that knowing where and when to apply for help was also very important. She also emphasised that no artist could grumble about the paper work and formalities called for when government assistance was sought. After all the  Government had to assure itself of assistance going to the right place and being properly used. She continued that pension for medically unfit artists was an area that the entire art community should get together and demand, for what was now available was a fleabite.

The Marghazhi season  activity was an example of what art lovers, by just getting together, could accomplish. While the railways had stepped in to help by providing travel subsidies for artists, other wings of government need to be nudged to consider different forms of support. As for CSR, it is not Corporate Social Responsibility as much as Cultural Social Responsibility that one needed to stress and pursue.

Natya mandir to proscenium

One of the most moving sessions of the conference pertained to a presentation designed  by Aruna Mohanty with Orissa Akademi, on the temple dancer of Odisha - the mahari - who had ceased to be, except in references during discussions, by the time the neo-Odissi form crystalised.  Madhura bhakti  in the Vaishnavite culture, with the Jagannath Mandir as nodal point, is said to have looked upon the mahari serving the Lord in the temple, with great favour.  Jagannatha Swamy nayana patha gami bhavatume, the devotee poignantly sings asking the Lord why his hands are tied, and why he is made of wood? Is your heart made of wood? My sindhoor (vermilion mark) thrives only in the darkness. Let me be with you.”

British rule diminished the power of royalty and the temple, with temple dancers too losing their support and place. When dance historian, late Mohan Khokar had tried to get some direct knowledge of what mahari dance was, what he got was so little that he could not arrive at any conclusions. Most of what Odissi has by way of items rendered by the mahari, comes from late guru Pankajcharan Das, who grew up in a mahari household.

The moderator cum presenter, Aruna, quoted from the Madalapanji temple records which describe the qualities of one aspiring to be a temple dancer. Referring to the Indra Dhwaja Puja celebrations when the King sat in the Chamber, Aruna spoke of how along with important personages concerned in temple administration, the mahari was selected.  After obtaining the permission of the devukarana, the chanting of marriage mantras solemnised the formal ceremony of the mahari being wedded to Lord Jagannath, with the King regarded as chalanti pratima (procession idol) of deity. Joodha bandino, the main item signified the formalising of the ties between the mahari and Jagannath. The presentation of the song Nahin ke kari dela followed by abhinaya, brought back to mind, for those familiar with the birth of classical Odissi,  the stir this item had created when first presented by Kelucharan Mohapatra’s wife Laxmipriya.

Aruna mentioned the bahar and bhitar Gaonis (singers) and nachunis (dancers), categorising maharis into those who performed inside the temple, and those who danced in front of the dhwaja stambham at appointed hours and during festivities outside, but were not allowed to partake of special sevas – like the night pooja when after the day’s temple activities ended, the Lord was put to rest for the night by the bhitar mahari.

By the time of the revival of the dance as classical Odissi, Srutakamala kucha mandala druta kundela and Pralaya prayodhi jale dritavanasi vedam on the dasavatar were the only Geeta Govinda songs sung by  whoever was left of the mahari community, even in Puri with the temple diktats for only singing and performing Geeta Govinda. From the 16th century onwards, the gotipua boy dancers took over in festivals like the Chandan Jatra celebrations with the maharis dancing on the boat on its way to the pakhori ( a body of water with a small structure at the centre where the boat pauses and the idols are ceremonially bathed and anointed with sandal paste.)  Songs with dance connected with the Jhoolan Jatra with the Lord on the swing Jhoolanti Sange, and other compositions connected with the mahari like, Bansi Teja Hela, were all taught by guru Pankajcharan Das to the Odissi students. The compositions  attributed to the maharis have all come into the Odissi classical performance repertoire.

Aruna’s entire concept of the presentation with her students proved to be extremely moving and evocative.  And her explanations built into the presentation spoke of how the Jagannath consciousness with grace and movements in classified Odissi technique of today (Utha, baitha, thia, chali, buda, bhangi, pali, bhasa, bauri and bhanga)  had incorporated whatever  the mahari had used in her minimal dance.  Accompanied on the violin by Agnimitra Behera, Nazia Alam as singer, Bijay Kumar Barik on mardala and a group of extremely well trained students, the entire session was very evocative.

Prerana’s sensitive session on Jaipur gharana Kathak

What a perceptive idea it was to have a dancer like Prerana Shrimali present a session on Jaipur gharana Kathak. Normally a Kathak dancer cannot resist going into the virtuosity of fast footwork to impress the audience. Not so Prerana, who despite the ability to out dance any competitor in footwork, stuck to the theme of bringing out the salient features of Jaipur gharana Kathak. Beginning by describing the roots of Kathak in Rajasthan, in haveli sangeet where dhrupad was sung and devotional songs on Krishna were rendered by the pushtimargi sangeet devotees, she made the observation of  the Kathak dance emerging from the combined artistry of other forms of art like poetry, music, miniature painting, Pichwais.

Between 1778-1803, in Rajasthan, Sujangarh and Churu forming the Shekhawati region, had many Kathak families - Prerana’s guru, Kundanlal Gangani comes from one of these families. The Gunijankhanas with the best of artists, were highly patronised during the rules of Raja Jaisingh, Pratap Singh and the Radha Govind Sangit Sar was written during this time. The Gunijankhana is said to have had 161 artists and out of this came Narayan Prasad, who was paid two rupees a month! Pichwais (paintings) of Rajasthan depict the typical Kathak postures. Showing the kalais and wrist movements of Jaipur gharana Prerana spoke of these as being the influence from folk expressions such as ghoomar and other forms of Rajasthan. It is from these popular forms that the ‘chakkar’ craze has come into Kathak. And Jaipur gharana delights in different ways of performing pirouettes. Referring to the subtlety which Jaipur gharana Kathak gets from miniatures, Prerana  spoke of the landscape with deserts and treading on sand or travelling on a camel on sand, which is a tediously slow process. And it is not surprising that  Rajasthan Kathak glories in its vilambit laya, (which in the present day,in the hurried presentations, seems to find little place). Jaipur gharana delights in kavits (poetic compositions in Kathak), where nritta incorporates in its rhythmic base, the expressional element too. Typical to Rajasthan Kathak is the Ganesh paran.

After showing the thata her guru Kundanlal Gangani had created, she spoke of the raga Maand as the contribution of Rajasthan to Hindustani music. Prerana presented Kesariya baalam  and the golden voice on the tape along with her performance, evoked sheer poetry. She also presented Rangila Shambho as an example of the bhakti sangeet of Jaipur Kathak. Meera bhajans are a treasured part of Rajasthani culture.With just a passing footwork rendition, Prerana’s presentation ended; it’s masterly under stated artistry, characterising the hallmark of her Kathak.

 Mehfile-e- raqs -tawaif repertoire  from Mughal era in Lucknow gharana Kathak

TThe Lucknow gharana had a worthy representative in Rani Khanam, trained under Fattan Khan, Reba Vidyarthi and Birju Maharaj. Speaking on the tawaif culture with the influences during the Mughal period on Kathak, Rani, speaking of these women as the highest tax payers of the period, pointed out, that referring carelessly to them as ‘naach’ girls, was born out of gross ignorance. She mentioned how ghazal poets were never invited without a tawaif to demonstrate what the poetry said. She herself spoke in the most poetic Urdu, captivating the gathering.   Quotations of  Urdu poetry fell like flower petals every now and then.

Rani demonstrated the different ways of nigah (of gaze or look) and followed this with a quick demonstration of alingan, kasak-masak, dora– all delicate movements of wrist and neck typical of Lucknow gharana Kathak and very much a part of the subtleties of abhinaya. So too was the demonstration of nazar, and how the eyes looking up, down, sideways, in front could convey so many different messages. Tawaifs, she said, were even connected with the Benares temples and they were very much in demand for participating  in the ‘sehra’  - a significant ceremony in marriage celebrations across North India. Out came poetry associated with the sehra,

Laao ri malan sehra gunthe pariyaan

Here motiyan ki chun chun kaliyaan,

Hamari atariyan par aao savariya.” (It is a bride’s invitation to the groom, and the poetry in the sentence, particularly the line on atariyan made into a metaphor, - interpreted in several different ways, all suggesting the idea of an invitation, was shown). And herein lies the depth of abhinaya in Lucknow Kathak.

Speaking of the parikhana with all the paris in the time of Wajid Ali Shah, the ruler of Oudh, Rani mentioned how Kathak acquired another dimension under the Mughal rulers, as the dance in the court. It was wonderful to watch people congratulating her after the show, struck by the poetry of her spoken language, combining explanations with the performance part. For her accompaniment she had Sherrad Hassan on vocals,  Nasir Khan Saheb on the sarangi and Fateh Singh Gangani on the tabla.

 Sattriya  in changed spaces

Sattriya is the only tradition which has its original monastic version, and its later incarnation on the contemporary proscenium space, existing today, side by side. The symbiosis of the ritualistic with the performative, makes for an interesting study of how a living ritual practice accommodates another version catering to proscenium demands, with women also entering the all-male domain. The source literature of the performance narrative may be the same, but is treated very differently for the proscenium and in this contextualisation and re- contextualisation of text, lies the entire secret. While a disciplined oral pedagogy in Sattriya, (there is no treatise which Sattriya can claim as its own, though the closest is considered to be the Srihasta Muktavali.) has included the female body in its training for the proscenium spaces, there is a prioritisation of females performing in this changed situation. Today females also take on male roles. With Hari Prasad Saikia of the Bhogpur Sattra in Assam, playing on the Kohl and dancing (Dhemali- a preliminary to all Ankia Nat performances), one was treated to part of the original Sankardev tradition, which has been incorporated on the proscenium too. But what took the audience by storm was the Vishnu Dhayana, in  Narasimhavatar presented by Anwesa Mahanta.

The sheer class and depth of emotion, without a hint of overacting, made one feel that entry of female performers of this calibre could only strengthen the tradition.

Bharatanatyam –temple,  roots, nattuvanar traditions

 Dance all over India had its connection with religious monuments and historian Chitra Madhavan’s talk, on exploring the pan-Indian epigraphical history of dance, supplemented with visuals, had additional support through performances based on these finds by Divya Shiva Sundar. Chitra started with the reference to the Udaigiri, Khandagiri rock cut monuments of Odisha, where a second century BC inscription in the Hathi Gumpha cave in the Brahmi script mentions Jain King Kharavela of Kalinga Nagari, who was well-versed in the arts. She mentioned the Gujarat Maitraka Kingdom with king Shiladitya or Dharmaditya  and the Vallabhi University founded by the kings. She also referred to Salluvan Kuppam and the Kanchipuram Kailasnatha temple with inscriptions detailing the king’s titles in calligraphy, as also making a mention of Bharata.

The Bark to Bough series put the emphasis on nattuvanars and teachers whose heritage is still carried on by numerous students. Talks on Acharya Parvati Kumar by Sandhya Purecha, on K.J.Sarasa by Padmini Ravi, performances by students of  Rajarathnam Pillai (Ramya Ramnarayan), by disciples of Adyar Lakshman like Nithyakalyani Vaidyanathan and others, were all part of the programme. Radhika Shurajit gave an illustrated  talk on  cinema and dance in Indian  cinema.

The legacy of Balasaraswati was beautifully brought out by students of her grandson Aniruddha Knight, who demonstrated how this tradition, while particularly treasured for abhinaya, was equally well-versed in nritta (as the students demonstrated in the sankeerna nadai teermanams rendered at speed with such immaculate clarity). A fine talk on sringara in the Tanjavur tradition by Lakshmi Viswanathan was typical of her scholarship. Unfortunately none could even dream that this would be the last such talk from this reputed scholar/artist.

Titled Moksha, a talk by Usha RK on the Trinity, was followed by presentations of three artists – Karuna Sagari who performed Muthuswami Dikshitar’s  Maha Ganapatim in Gaula and Jambu pate. Parshwanath Upadhye who presented Tyagaraja’s compositions Maa Janaki in Kambhoji and Bhagaya aiyyar ne mayal ento in Chandrajyoti raga and Pavitra Krishna Bhat who dealt with compositions of Shyama Sastry, Sankari Sankuru in Saveri – Aadi tisra nadai and Parvati ninnu, Kalgada raga, Aadi, tisra nadai.  

In an event designed around ‘routes’ of a tradition, scholar Avanthi Meduri spoke on the Bharatanatyam trees of Balasaraswati and Rukmini Devi Arundale. A Roots/Routes Perspective is how she called it. This ‘Insider-Outsider’ history had the usual references to ‘Sanskritisation’.

The ritual repertoire of the Tanjavur traditions, was presented by Nivedita Aadithya, granddaughter of K.P.Sivanandam and Sharada Sivanandam with demonstrations by Swarnamalya Ganesh. Her talk clearly brought out the devadasi as the mediator between God and the king.

Morning workshops for which students registered dealt with various aspects like hastas, rhythm, and seeds of abhinaya with Anupama Kailash providing insights into the Telugu literary and dance traditions.

Altogether a marathon conference well-executed by dancer Rama Vaidhyanathan and her team!