Bharatanatyam-Where Is It Going
Bharatanatyam too, like other art-forms, has undergone change. It will continue to undergo change. What is important is that, even as it undergoes change, it must retain its core characteristics; otherwise it will cease to be Bharatanatyam.
It is important, therefore, to analyse its evolution during the past several decades, perhaps going back to the times of the Tanjavur Quartet, and identify the features basic to this dance-form. Like, for example, the basic posture, the adavu system, the symbiotic relationship between music and dance.
There are examples of change where one or more of the core characteristics have been appropriated and incorporated into contemporary creations. This raises the question whether the new creations should be considered Bharatanatyam.
In other words, is there an irreducible minimum in terms of core characteristics, or a combination of them, that should be present in a dance for it to qualify as Bharatanatyam?
I believe this should be the case, but this does not imply that there is no room for new adavu patterns, or the expansion of the vocabulary of dance, its mudra-s and movements.
Leafing through some of my old diaries, I noticed that 44 of the 130 classical dance performances I witnessed in the capital in 1987, 51 of 145 in 1991 and 47 of 134 in 1995 were of Bharatanatyam. In each of these years, Bharatanatyam accounted for a little over a third of all the dance performances seen by me. Thus, in a city where almost every dance-form finds a stage, the prolificity of Bharatanatyam has remained the predominant feature.
What had its beginnings in the Kaveri delta has grown to be a flourishing form in what constitutes present-day Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and parts of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. It spread to Baroda during the Maratha rule of Tanjavur and has since established a considerable presence in many areas of North India. With natyacharya Tiruvidaimarudur Kuppiah Pillai migrating to Bombay with his son-in-law A.T. Govindaraja Pillai, and his sons Mahalingam Pillai and Kalyanasundaram continuing to teach it, Bharatanatyam has found firm footing in the west of the country as well. Mrinalini Sarabhai pioneered the dance-form in Ahmedabad, a trader's city, while Thankamani Kutty has nurtured and nourished it in Calcutta. Even Assam has teachers trained in Kalakshetra who run schools where Bharatanatyam is taught and learnt eagerly. The only State where this dance-form has made little or no inroads seems to be Orissa, where its own dance-form has spread like a banyan tree.
Spread is one thing; staying the same without undergoing change is another. Art by its very nature is a response to complex social, political, economic and cultural pressures; these determine not just the position dance holds in society, but also its aesthetic outlook. The rhythms of life help contribute to a certain ambience which in turn impacts on art. For example, in Tamil Nadu, Harikatha and other forms of religious discourse, debates on the nuances of poetry and lyrics in Tamil and Telugu, the constant sound of temple bells, the sonorous chant of pooja mantra-s, the fragrance of flowers in women's hair— all these are part of the ambience which has nourished Bharatanatyam. But the social milieu in which the dance takes place is changing. Parampara-s are fast vanishing and the devadasi-s have yielded place to non-traditional dancers of diverse backgrounds. The proscenium has replaced the temple courtyard and the royal durbar, or even the lady's boudoir, as performance space. Sahridaya-s, the rasika-s who shared the dancer's vision, have yielded to the cosmopolitan audience with varying levels of empathy for the dance-form. The personalised relationship between the dancer and the patron is a thing of the past. For instance, in the old days when a devadasi danced to a Sarangapani padam— the earthiness of this genre of composition has made it more or less out of bounds for performers today— with its lyric flagrantly dealing with woman in all her prodigality, she and the dance had a contextual relevance with which the rasika could relate. Having emerged out of regional seclusion, the art-form now has to adapt to the wider arena, which perhaps means an erosion of the regional specificity and much of the contextual legitimacy. Language and the mode of music have become less important elements with the emphasis shifting to nritta and the body language.
Furthermore, the spread and prolificity of Bharatanatyam have have resulted in mass production and... mediocrity, except in the case of the few mature dancers. The need to hold the attention of mixed audiences has made communication, rather than communion, a guiding principle for the dancer.
The old guru, typically an 28 uncompromising taskmaster demanding total allegiance from the disciple, has been replaced largely by the non-traditional performer-teacher, and the teacher-learner interactions are at a far more informal level. Urban living makes sustained teache rlearner relationship difficult. And with aspirants wanting to benefit by drawing upon the repertoire of many teachers, the distinctive stamp of schools and bani-s is getting eroded. And in the years to come, the stylistic boundaries separating, for example, the Pandanallur from the Vazhuvoor tradition will become even more blurred.
Glamoured as the solo dancer is today, the young disciple and aspirant is more often driven by a performance-oriented goal than by aesthetic curiosity in studying the art. Exceptions are always there, but they serve merely to highlight the trend in an overcrowded field.
Looking at the approach to the body language, one often sees a paradox now. Performances with scant attention paid to the principal stylistic parameters like the ardhamandali, are common. There is, at the same time, a heightened awareness of style, its geometry and how the body works, amongst more serious learners and performers. The solo dancer is still holding her own in the performance arena, though only a few, a Malavika Sarukkai here or an Alarmel Valli there, have acquired international stature.
Nritta is one area which has been explored to the hilt today. Complex teermanam-s, with patterns of rhythm more cleverly woven than ever before and also spread over several avarta-s, have become instant applause-earners. The reeling off of crowded mnemonics for the long jati-s by the nattuvanar generates its own excitement even if the dancer falls short of converting the syllables into corresponding footwork. Nattuvangam, which requires specialised skills as well as deep artistic insights, has suffered with a decline in the ranks of competent nattunavar-s and the increasing practice of those who are not specialists in nattuvangam conducting performances. Peria Sarada of Kalakshetra fame has observed very pertinently that she seldom sees the accented and less accented syllables in an adavu given different weights, as she was trained to do. Thus, in the Tei tei dhi dhi tei tei adavu, the first 'tei tei' should be moderately stressed, 'dhi dhi tei' should be softly articulated and the final 'tei' strongly accented— but this rule is honoured more often in the breach. The uncomplicated sarvalaghu, which best serves to highlight rhythm permutations, is not considered challenging enough by the competent dancer of today. Quick off- beat rhythms, tillana-s starting on a fractional point between beats of a tala, have come to be considered as the hallmarks of rhythmic command. That is not all. No longer are teermanam-s executed with the dancer sticking to a contained area; now, it is all leaps and leg stretches to cover the everexpanding performance area.
Exploration has also ushered in alternatives to the
frontalaspected dancing which characterised orthodox Bharatanatyam. Vazhuvoor
Ramiah Pillai often preferred the aesthetic of slightly angled movement and
Vaideeswarankoil Muthuswamy Pillai specialised in trying out movements angled
in different directions. These variations give a different perspective to
Simplicity is giving way to a penchant for embellishment. In a varnam, each line of the musical statement is given varied interpretations. But while the dancer in the past never strayed from the sahitya of the song, the sanchari-s today often take on a narrative form with an episode strung round the musical line .
The 'tattu metta' toe-heel rhythm generally seen more in the charanam part of a varnam in bygone days, is now common even in the pallavi and anupallavi segments. A sawal-jawab between percussion mnemonics and dancer's footwork, as found in Kathak, is seen now in Bharatanatyam also, particularly in the varnam and the tillana.- The delicate mei adavu-s, with which a performance of the tillana used to begin, are no longer to be seen.
Thematic performances have become fashionable with full recitals devoted to Divya Prabandham songs or adoration of Krishna or Siva or what have you. Tyagaraja kriti-s were once considered unsuitable material for purposes of Bharatanatyam; when Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai made Kamala present Sadhincheney in a varnam format, eyebrows were raised in disapproval. But today quite a few dancers devote entire performances to the interpretation of Tyagaraja kriti-s. Ashtapadi-s of Jayadeva have become much courted items in all classical dance styles. Sanskrit literature provides the thrust for many a choreographer, and is believed to impart an esoteric pan-Indian flavour to the dance. Hindi bhajan-s of Tulsidas are also now sources of inspiration for Bharatanatyam dancers.
Solo dance is confronted by special dilemmas in a proscenium
situation. The distance between the dancer and the audience precludes intimacy
and makes subtle gestures less visible to audiences at the back. It is
inevitable under the circumstances to find dancers exaggerating facial
expressions and foregoing subtleties of abhinaya. Also an in-depth
understanding of Tamil or Telugu lyrics, which are part of the compositions
used in Bharatanatyam, is difficult to attain for the dancer who comes from
other linguistic regions. The heavy vernacular ambience having got diluted, the
padam as a genre has suffered the utmost dilution. There are exceptions of
course and of late one sees a conscious effort by a few dancers to restore the
place of the padam in the dance. Long episodic passages have a tendency to
stray far from the thematic and emotive specificity of the text and song.
Unlike the Sanskrit verses with rich poetic resonances, the padam and the
javali are more direct and more focussed on word content, and the aesthetic
thrust is provided by the emotive situation and the music. When the padam is
translated into English or Hindi for the convenience of dancers not conversant
with Telugu, Tamil or Kannada, there is inadequate understanding of the
idiomatic context of the lyrics. Thus a nayika saying 'Go away' to her beloved
when she actually means just the opposite, may not be clear to one untutored in
classical poetic conventions. Critic V.A.K. Ranga Rao, who champions faithful
observance of the nuances of word and lyric, is aghast that the word
'kutilakuntala' in the Kalyani raga javali Etuvanti vadey is interpreted as the
curly locks of Krishna, whereas the reference really is to the sakhi or friend.
It is in this context, one must reckon the value of Kalanidhi Narayanan's
single-minded work on the interpretation of pada-s and javali-s.
Two other items which have largely become redundant in recitals are the jatiswaram and the sabdam. While the former is more often than not jettisoned, the latter has been substituted by the kriti.
Rukmini Devi refined and enriched the dance-drama, at a point of time, to introduce a new aesthetic sensibility and sophistication far above the Bhagavata Mela and the Yakshagana. Group presentations, which are a new craze, are different and are often motivated by the need to accomodate young dancers. In any case, to call these ballets, as many do, is unfortunate; the coinage reminds one of tip-toed dancers clad in tutus. Kalakshetra's productions had the benefit of phenomenal musical inputs from stalwarts like Mysore Vasudevacharya, Tiger Varadachariar, Papanasam Sivan and Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal. Without comparable inputs and minus the institutional infrastructure Rukmini Devi commanded, group dances produced today yield mixed results.
Some of the group works stand out for their originality. Leela Samson's Spanda was a seminal work. The story of Bharatanatyam was itself the subject of a group production of Lakshmi Viswanathan.
The works of Chandralekha have aroused strong feelings for and against. She has discarded the conventional thematic content; instead she has used elements of Bharatanatyam, in tandem with Kalaripayattu and martial arts movements in a non-symbolic, abstract and existential way to present Indian concepts. With her emphasis on simplicity, on the body as the sole means of expression without the conventional aids of lyrics or the verbal element, she has set in motion an individualistic trend.
Dancers today show no reluctance in juxtaposing Bharatanatyam with other dance-forms in jugalbandi-s and tridhara-s. The aim is to position them side by side on the stage to make a statement and yet manage to retain their individual identities. Bharatanatyam-trained Gitanjali Kolanad, who lives abroad, choreographed Vetala Pancha Vimsati which had its premier outside the country. Here, Bharatanatyam was juxtaposed with Kathakali and the Modern dance of the West and what the work exploited to the full was the acerbic wit, sarcasm and cynicism of a corpse which is hanging from a tree and is about to be transported to a place some distance away by Vikramasena of Ujjain, prompted by the wishes of an ascetic. The entire tone of the production was far removed from the grandiloquent seriousness of the nayika in Bharatanatyam, says Gitanjali. Even orthodox Bharatanatyam exponents like the Dhananjayans, who are products of Kalakshetra, have interacted with an American ballet company to produce Kipling's Jungle Book with a mix of ballet and Bharatanatyam.
I had the opportunity of watching an experimental work authored by Gitanjali Kolanad or Anita Ratnam I could not find who choreographed it since both claimed credit in which Bharatanatyam movement became a matter of push, pull, tug, drag, support, interpose involving two dancers. Very different from the splendid isolation in which the lone dancer in this tradition functions, the attempt had the feel of contact improvisation which Modern dance in the West has explored. When I told Gitanjali of my perception, her response was: "Interesting that you should think so, but that is not the case." Requiring a great deal of balance and depending on two dancers relating in different ways, this kind of movement calls for a lot of bodily balance and redistribution of weight while moving. A tillana rendered in this manner, with a piece of cloth held and manipulated by the dancers in different ways, gave the movements a very different identity as compared to their conventional solo context. I have no idea if anything more has been tried in the same vein.
I have already referred to the great musicians who composed music for Kalakshetra's dancedrama productions. Today, it is not often that well-known musicians compose music specially for Bharatanatyam. Lalgudi Jayaraman and Madurai N. Krishnan are the only two who come readily to mind. Dancers like Sucheta Chapekar and guru-s like Parvati Kumar have used Marathi compositions for Bharatanatyam. Jamuna Krishnan has used Surdas pada-s and Bhramar-geet poetry for Bharatanatyam, using raga-s common to the two systems of Indian classical music, but set to structures known to the Carnatic tradition. Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar has been performing to non-South Indian lyrics since 1956. Padma Subrahmanyam has also presented a Meera bhajan in the varnam format.
The dancer as a social commentator is a phenomenon that has been set in motion by a few. Mrinalini Sarabhai's Ganga and Mallika Sarabhai's Sita's Daughters are classic cases of myths finding relevance in a contemporary situations.
What is plaguing dance today is the grossly uneven supplydemand ratio, with too many dancers and too few takers. Many sabha-s have made the situation worse by offering the platform for a price. Money power has begun to encourage mediocrity at the expense of excellence.
The dancer today stands in isolation, for the integrated holistic approach whereby she (or he) interacted with all other disciplines has gone, and in this aloneness, she has become solely responsible for her own progress or downfall. With exceptions, the tendency is to find safety in over-used repertoire, and avoid venturing into new territory and risking adverse criticism.
Bharatanatyam is bound to change further. If one insists on changeless continuity, the dance will become an anachronism. It has to accept and accommodate contemporary sensibilities to stay relevant. The challenge is to retain its identity, its core characteristics, while doing so.
A New Profile?
Today the Bharatanatyam arena is crowded, for the form has gained unprecedented popularity. This has led to subtle shifts in meanings and contexts. In its solo avatar, the form has certainly thrown up exceptionally gifted dancers. Nonetheless, the situation triggers a feeling of alarm. Note the following:
• Production of dancers in large numbers, as if on a factory assembly line;
• Prefabricated arangetram-s;
• Problems of the transition of performers from the hereditary class to the middle class;
• Mediocrity, mechanical presentation, and loss of feeling;
• Commercialisation of the performance context;
• Promotion in the name of supporting the art-form without adequate checks and balances.
All these factors have caused havoc. Additionally, those whose business is to cover the dance scene know that the audience for Bharatanatyam recitals is dwindling in size in the major cities, except for special events.
Given this scenario, dancers possessed of imagination and the ability to reflect upon our present existential crisis have deviated from the traditional margam repertoire. Some dancers, sensitive to the hiatus between their own lives and what they perform on stage, have questioned the relevance of the theme focussed on a nayika waiting for her Lord. Doubtless, a gifted dancer can still evoke bhakti or spirituality, but the rapid shift in the class of the performers has led to an inevitable shift in the thematic content of their dance. Thus, amidst the plurality of dance traditions and vocabulary, the narrative and abstract forms have come to co-exist.
Following the first East-West Dance Encounter organised by
Max Mueller Bhavan, the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), the
Sangeet Natak Akademi and others in January 1984 in Bombay and the discussion
of the contemporary relevance of classical dance it prompted, many dancers have
questioned traditional themes and presentations, including those encompassed by
Bharatanatyam, and focussed on reinterpretation of dance in terms of the poetry
and power inherent in the bodies of men and women. The body has been brought to
the centre of the concentric rings of community, society and cosmos.
There have been attempts at exploring the tradition of physical expression, which have revealed an integral relationship between the principles of work, ritual, performing, eating and healing practices. The fundamental concepts of the Natya Sastra have been re-examined, and the energising principles have been explored. In the process, yoga and the martial arts have been utilised. These inputs have changed the character of the Bharatanatyam movement as well as extended its vocabulary.
While a few dancers have undertaken innovations, experimentations and explorations, some others have sought to build links with other arts, and the dance and music of other cultures. These new directions in Indian dance have given Bharatanatyam a different profile.
A corrective to the imbalanced approach has been sought out by dancers whose main concerns have been with dance: Nation, Woman, Representation: The sutured history of the Devadasi and her dance: 1856-1960 by Avanthi Meduri (thesis submitted to New York University in January, 1996); Chandralekha-Woman/Dance/ Resistance by Rustum Bharucha 1995, which deals with the origins of dance and the issue of invented tradition, to mention only two studies, have thrown considerable light on the pre-history of Bharatanatyam. Anne-Marie Gaston's recently released Bharata Natyam From Temple to Theatre records in detail the biographies of dance teachers and deals with the transition from temple to theatre.
Another complex phenomenon engaging attention concerns the performance and teaching of Bharatanatyam by Indians settled abroad. They are large in number, as revealed by the listing in Anita Ratnam's dance directory, Narthaki. In order to maintain their roots and cultural identity, they have found that Bharatanatyam and other classical dance-forms are a precious legacy. Often they maintain the styles close to what they have studied from their teachers in India. But, because they are exposed to the arts of the countries they live in, they attempt to interact with them and explore fusions and innovations. Their repeated visits to India appear to be aimed at the legitimisation of their practice.
Despite the changed environment and context, new practitioners are continuing to enter the field, suggesting the possibility of renewal and regeneration of the dance-form. And the coexistence of the traditional expressions and contemporary explorations, in a complementary rather than a confrontationist equation, underscores the inner resilience of Bharatanatyam.
The Dancer's Dichotomy
The classical Bharatanatyam dancer invites the spectator to gaze upon a distanced, ideal world where the female dancer is traced as sylph and cipher, a necessary absence. The performer herself is negated to give way to a larger and more ideal plane of viewing and receiving ideas and images of a world and a reality far removed from the mundane.
The refrain of anti-essentialism has moved feminism and the feminist movement to attack all the decorative arts as 'irrelevant', 'insulting' and 'anachronistic' to the present times. It seems as if Bharatanatyam itself is dong a slow dance with history.
If we scan history, we discover the role and image of women in each place and time. All through history, Woman and Truth have appeared synonymous. From the Alwars of the sixth, seventh and eighth century Tamil country, who imagined themselves as women to utter some sublime truths, to French thinker Jacques Derrida who often wrote in the hand and voice of a woman, there was a strong belief that, unless one surrendered 'in the guise of the feminine', the path to Godhead and Truth would not be possible.
Why should Bharatanatyam be needlessly up-to-date? If the concept of feminism itself has changed from a monolithic entity to multiple truths, then why should Bharatanatyam be carried on some metaphoric time-zone highway to always be 'relevant' to changing times and tastes? Why should Bharatanatyam values of 'bhakti' and 'sringara' be dealt like a pack of cards every now and then to rapidly shifting social and moral codes?
If we examine the history of present-day Bharatanatyam, we discover that it is less then 200 years old and it is in this century that the form itself acquired a new name and a renaissance. Already scholars are arguing for the case of Bharatanatyam being 'India's modern dance.
The image and character of women in the Bharatanatyam
performance structure is usually portrayed as a figure who wants to be taken
and accepted as possession. All her various moods work within the larger system
of a male-dominated society of kings, gods and patrons. Male dominance is the
general cultural pattern. The best example of the submissive image of a
Bharatanatyam nayika is the Tamil pada-varnam composed by the Tanjavur quartet,
Swamy, I am your slave Sami naan undan adimai. This is a perfect example of how
writers who are labelled 'progressive' look with scorn at the Bharatanatyam
nayika as weak and self-effacing.
Traditional thinking has always placed on the woman the care of body and blood, the domain of family and ritual; while on man was placed the public domain action, science, politics. Even language, the universalising medium was historically denied to women. Today we do not adhere to the Platonian concept of woman as equal in society and children being reared by either gender. Rather Aristotle's later ideas have influenced generations of thinkers that the woman is the vessel who nurtures and nourishes. To the woman is assigned images of flirting, seduction and treachery. If history has assigned formative roles to women, Bharatanatyam seems to reinforce them all this in order to maintain a 'normal, healthy' society.
Dance in general, and Bharatanatyam in particular, seem to have a set of value systems encoded onto the body and mind of the performer and audience. On stage, dance conveys a host of gender motifs. A Bharatanatyam nayika is usually a delicate figure, a 'Dresden doll' preoccupied with decorating herself for the sake of her man. Her body becomes a flexible zone interleaved, crossed and composed, encrusted with multiple discourses and constructed in different languages, tempos and places and linked the the present with portrayed and received images.
Personally, I have come to a juncture in my life where my own political convictions about feminism and society will need to be realigned with my convictions about dance. As such do I use dance as a vehicle for personal transformation or do I broaden my own definition to represent more than a Bharatanatyam dancer so that my often radical political and social beliefs do not encroach on my dance space? In the current struggle, I have started writing and speaking at seminars and other forums to 'balance' this dichotomy.
History has always represented dancers and actresses as 'artificial women', those who live on the fringes of society and at best are suspect. In the larger political debate of women in India, women are largely invisible and silent in asserting their rights. If dance is a mirror of a culture, then how can that culture be far removed from the reality of the present? Do we want to broaden the definition of an art-form to include a diverse women's culture created by a fast changing climate that includes strident voices? Or do we want to maintain the now 'museum-like quality' of harmony, beauty, symmetry and order that Bharatanatyam seems to propagate so effectively.
Do we as artists trust and care about ourselves and our art enough to separate our public concern about rape, female, infanticide and suicide from the personal goals of artistic ambition? Should the movement and mudra language of Bharatanatyam be broadened to include contemporary concerns?.
Individuality: Is It Gone?
I 'm starting with a little scene in real life. The Bharatanatyam teacher is struggling with a little girl who is clueless about Indian myths and legends. She has learnt 'taiya tai and all that jazz' as she calls it, in San Francisco. She is now in Madras for the finishing touches before her arangetram.
"Don't roll your eyes," begs the teacher as she explains the line Ksheera sagara say ana. "You are showing Adisesha, the great serpent on which Lord Vishnu sleeps."
"Okay. Adisesha is the good snake, right? And the one Krishna dances on is the bad snake? Gee, its kinda hard to remember," says the child (whose parents are Indians settled in the U.S.].
More and more we face similar problems even in India. For parents Bharatanatyam has become a weekly dose of Indian culture for their young, to counteract the drugs of Western culture. Youngsters wedge their dance classes into a taxing regime of English-medium education, tennis classes, karate lessons, computer classes, maths tuition for IIT entrance, etc., etc.
We are now dealing with the MTV generation, alienated from its own culture. Grandparents, who passed on the elements of that living culture, are either not available in nuclear families, or too absorbed in tv serials to pay attention to the child. And parents are too exhausted from office labours to do more than monitor homework, drop and fetch the child from various classes.
The child's main source of auditory and visual input is the tv. She learns Ramayana and Mahabharata, not from grandma's tales and Harikatha, but from the tv serials produced by Ramanand Sagar and B.R. Chopra. She is also distanced from the sensory experiences and the spiritual ambience of the temples, from sculpture, painting and the performance traditions of music and dance, both folk and classical, which nourish the tradition on which Bharatanatyam thrives. What the child picks up in her weekly Bharatanatyam classes is a forum without content, the shell minus substance.
Most importantly, the socioaesthetic changes in the arts world, in the last 50 years, have led to the vanishing of the torchbearers of the old Bharatanatyam tradition. The nattuvanar-s, the hereditary teachers of this ancient art, are no more; they have been replaced by institutions like Kalakshetra or by performing artists.
The advantage of learning from the nattuvanar was that, since he did not perform but only taught the art, and even that mostly seated on the floor, the student had no visual model to copy. She was forced to develop an individual style of her own, suitable to her personality. But now, with successful performers as their guru-s, the students turn into clones. Imitation is their means of expressing admiration for their teachers. Rarely do they persist on their own, to develop any individuality of expression. Another major hurdle in the development of originality is that, many dance students don't understand the indispensable role of music in their art. Some do not bother to learn music beyond the basic requirements of performance. Few give enough time to it.
We know from experience that it is really the music which breathes soul into Bharatanatyam; it is through music that we discover the soul of this art-form. Of course, we know that this is not just knowing the songs in the repertoire or having a feel for rhythm; it is the ability to feel intensely all the delicate touches and essential beauties of our raga-s. This enjoyment stimulates the imagination, and brings subtle touches to the abhinaya. It makes the nritta an integral part of the dance instead of remaining a calculated exercise tagged on for effect. The knowledge of music gives the dancer a superb sense of timing in gesture, expression, movement; it guides her in pauses; also in weaving contrasts in a continuous flow of feeling. There are no abrupt breaks or jerks when she flows with the music.
Of course, knowledge of poetry and literature, iconography and sthalapurana-s, are equally vital because they help to internalise the bhava-s so deeply that expression becomes rich and spontaneous.
I recall how Balasaraswati recreated the evening pooja by simply moving one finger in a circle, followed by two, three, four and five, until the whole sanctum was there before us, and we saw the Lord in all his splendour surrounded by lamps, ringing bells, the fragrance of flowers and incense, the blaze of camphor....
Another unforgettable visual from her dance, is the nayika playing the veena as she waits for the arrival of the Lord. The nada of the veena becomes so allconsuming that, suddenly, the serpent begins to move in the nadi, touches all the chakras and rises above her head to bloom into the thousand-petalled lotus. Here the sensual experience was instantaneously transformed into the spiritual. No conscious effort, no striving for innovation.
Finally I'd say that, as I see it, the major problem in achieving individuality or originality is that the young dancers of today feel pressured to appease their viewers' constant craving for novelty. This is part of the market-driven consumer demands of our times.
While it is true that without change anything remains static, impotent, that change is certainly the lifeblood of growth, it is equally true that the pursuit of change for its own sake cannot produce anything but deadwood.
We have many, many dancers in this country now, but only a few of them turn into artists. Perhaps this is because becoming an artist has to do with the allround development of the personality. The more sensitive the heart, the more observant and absorbent the mind, the richer and more complex the dancer's expression in art.
Then experiment or innovation is not catalysed by external pressures of the market, or insecurities about one's survival in a competitive world. Rather, experiment becomes, the search for the soul of her art, an inevitable expression of inner growth. It becomes convincing. When that happens, maturity infuses the quality of auchitya into her art, which, as we know, is the all embracing criterion of the rasa experience.