- Published By: The Sruti Foundation
- Issue: 400
State of the art - Carnatic Music
CARNATIC Music today Loud and not so clear
Early in its life, Sruti carried out a survey of the Carnatic music scene, in which it made the following observations:
The modern kutcheri takes place in a rather casual manner, seldom starting on time, with the audience and others drifting in and out all the time and few of them staying for the whole concert. The eight o’clock exodus and coffee break during tani avartanam also find mention in the article. The survey also noted the declining popularity of concert music except for a handful of star performers attracting crowds.
The survey left out the handful of sabhas which offered dinner to its members post-kutcheri. Here you witnessed the hugely diverting spectacle of members joining the rest of the audience just 15 minutes before mangalam, tempted by the aroma of the splendid food on offer.
Poor acoustics and high decibel levels of sound and the tendency among artists to demand its increase are some of the other ills the write-up laments. It also talks about the huge unwieldy halls built for dance (!) and drama audiences in mind. (Imagine dance demanded large spaces, something unthinkable today)! Barring a few exceptions, most of the halls were poorly equipped and maintained.
Bharatanatyam: Change is the mantra
Over the decades, all art forms have undergone change, and Bharatanatyam is no exception. The dance has moved from communion to communication. There have been changes in the performing space, in the type of practitioners and custodians of the art form, changes in patronage, and changes in the audience for the dance. Its aesthetics have also undergone a change—costumes, jewellery, backdrops and lighting have gained new dimensions and given a glamorous sheen to Bharatanatyam. Rasikas too are keen to know more about the dance than simply watch a performance, a development that has given rise to lecdems, panel discussions, and annual confests like the Natya Kala Conference and Natya Darshan in Chennai.
With the transition from Sadir to Bharatanatyam, came changes in the context of the dance, its content, its repertoire, and the way Bharatanatyam is taught, learnt and presented. There is no stigma attached to the dance now; it is on the contrary, actually “fashionable” to learn Bharatanatyam. It is probably the world’s most popular Indian classical dance form and is increasingly being used as a dance vocabulary. With the Festivals of India helping Bharatanatyam go global, there is now greater awareness among dancers of correct bodylines, stances, and precision of movement, all of which enhance the visual appeal of Bharatanatyam.
The enduring appeal of Kuchipudi
True art evolves constantly, effortlessly absorbing all that is beautiful and meaningful and judiciously dismissing the irrelevant. It is this continuum that keeps art alive and glorious. Kuchipudi, the vibrant classical art form of Andhra Pradesh bears ample testimony to this.
A brief history
Kuchipudi traces its origin to the natyamela tradition starting from kalapams and yakshaganas to the present-day dance-drama format. Thanks to the pioneering work of Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastri, Kuchipudi also qualified itself for the nattuvamela or the solo format. His phenomenal contribution was three-pronged: culling out the solo numbers from the traditional yakshaganas, adding meaningful pieces to the Kuchipudi ‘margam’ and encouraging several female dancers to enter the otherwise male-oriented arena of Kuchipudi.
The phrase Eyal-Isai-Natakam is part of the Tamil cultural consciousness. While eyal encompasses all writing in prose and verse, isai covers every kind of music, and natakam is of course theatre. Living in India, we don’t need to delve into the Natya Sastra or Silappadhikaram to know that natakam is an umbrella term. Centuries of practice and custom have made poetry, music, dance and the visual arts intrinsic to stage performance in the Tamil realm, and indeed in all the regions of this vast subcontinent.
But as things stand today in urban India, music, dance and drama are seen as distinctly different categories. I speak not of folk theatre, tribal ceremonials or other old indigenous forms, but of what is generally presented by event organisers and art festivals in city fora as performances.