Bharatanatyam is the soul of India. A sacred art that even three hundred years ago was as flourishing as it was three thousand years ago, had been left in ruins by the cultural patrons in India. Fortunately, there has been a revived interest in Bharatanatyam over the last fifty years that has taken both India and the West by storm. This revival and popularity springs from its eternal message that through dance each and every one of us can realise the Divine Spirit and true happiness within ourselves.
The goal of this book is to facilitate the comprehension of this ancient dance for the dance student and layman both in India and in the West. It studies not only the origins, but also includes translations of technical and literary texts, and articles written by some leading Chennai (formerly Madras) based dancers on their view concerning the place and relevance of Bharatanatyam today.
Among the leading experts of Bharatanatyam, Manjula is a classicist and has done much to uphold the traditions and values of this dance form. Manjula's training in this art form began at the age of four under eminent gurus and in 1976 she performed her Arangetram (dance debut) at the Bharitya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai (India). Manjula founded her Bharatanatyam school in Geneva in 1992 called Silambam, which was started as an alliance of Shree Bharatalaya and under the patronage of Padmasri Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy and Padmasri Vidwan Madurai Sri N. Krishnan.
She has been a regular participant of the prestigious Music and Dance Festival in Chennai. In November 1999 she received the "Kalaimamani", the highest civilian award in Tamil Nadu, India, home of this dance that was given for the first time to a dancer residing outside India. The following year, she recorded a double CD containing contemporary dance compositions by Vidwan Madurai Sri N. Krishnan. She is today curator of the first European exhibition on Bharatanatyam at the Ethnographic Museum in Geneva. A scientist by profession, Manjula has also received training in the Martha Graham style of modern dance, Carnatic vocal music, comparative religion and Indian philosophy. The profits from her dance recitals and dance school, Silambam, are destined for humanitarian projects.
India has more varieties of dance than any other country in the world. Apart from local and tribal varieties, the number of classical dances in India exceeds any other. Kerala has three dance forms: the Kathakali, Mohiniattam and Kodiattam; Karnataka sports Yakshagana; Punjab offers Bhangra, North India presents ecstatic Kathak. The East delights the country with subtle and slumber-soft footed Manipuri, Orissa, the graceful Odissi, Andhra renders Kuchupudi, a variation of Bharatanatyam and Tamil Nadu, the world renowned Bharatanatyam. Of these dance forms, Kathak of North India and Bharatanatyam of the South are the two major dance forms of India. Both of them had their origin in the Indus-Ganga civilization millennia before the Christian era. While modern Kathak has under-gone many changes owing to Islamic and Persian influences, Bharatanatyam has remained true to the text of Saint Bharata's Natya-Sastra. Mythology tells us that after the four Veda, Brahma (God of Creation) taught Sage Bharata the science of dance (natya) who then composed the Natya-Sastra. That is why the science of dance is called the fifth Veda, the Natya-Veda.
South India seems to have developed local dance forms of a high order. For instance in Sangam literature of ancient times of Tamil Nadu there is mention of the dancer Madhavi's exquisite Adal (Dancing), Padal* (Music) and Azhagu* (Beauty). With the spread of Sanskrit and influence of upper India, Bharata's Natya-Sastra became the main text for Bharatanatyam in the South.
The author Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan is an outstanding dancer and an expert both in the theory and the art of Bharatanatyam. She has been trained under eminent teachers like Sudharani Raghupathy. Manjula has been studying Bharatanatyam since the age of four and she ranks among the senior artists of Bharatanatyam today.
The Natya-Sastra describes the qualifications for a perfect dancer. It mentions that the dancer should be lovely, young, charming and confident, should not be too tall or too short, nor too fat nor too slim, should be an expert in hand gestures, pure dance, skilled in steps and rhythms and so on. Manjula possesses each of these qualifications listed in the text. Endowed with a pleasing presence and an intelligent grasp of abhinaya (expressive gestures) she charms audiences both Eastern and Western.
This book is a comprehensive treatise on all aspects of dance, the historic background as well as the dance techniques of Nrtya, rhythmic dance and Nrtya, expressive dance. Nrtya is not mere entertainment. It is also a vehicle of bhakti (devotion to God). Most of the pieces of natya are those in praise of Siva and Visnu, Rama and Krsna. Many of the dance pieces in Bharatanatyam and Manipuri center around the theme of Krsna. The artist gets full opportunity to make a lovely presentation of moods, from love to despair, from joy to sorrow.
This volume is also beautifully illustrated with poses and mudra used by dancers. The shape and arrangement of fingers represent different objects and also moods. While in a drama the characters on a stage laugh or cry, in natya, the dancers make the audience laugh and cry through the use of the poses and symbols. People may recall how the audience felt when the renowned ballet dancer Anna Pavlova used to dance the last scene in the Dying Swan. The effect of Bharatanatyam on the audience is even greater if they understand the nuances of the dancers' movements and expressions.
Classical Bharatanatyam is a solo dance, consisting of Anjali, Alarippu*, Jatiswaram, Varnam, and Thillame. Without perfection in each one of the items, one cannot be a good Bharatanatyam dancer. But the newer trends are more and more towards dance-dramas or ballet forms performed using Bharatanatyam steps and style. When Bharatanatyam was down in the dumps and was regarded as the accomplishment of a devadasi (courtesan), Rukmini Devi Arundale hailing from the elite society donned the traditional natya dress and performed before the International Convention of the Theosophical Society. That day Bharatanatyam regained its old prestige. She designed costumes and jewelry by studying ancient sculptures. Furthermore, she introduced the ballet form and choreographed in six parts, the Valmiki Ramayana, Buddha, Mira and other classical and mythological stories. This has now become a big draw during the festival season. I have a feeling that while classical solo Bharatanatyam will never be replaced, but will get renewed vitality in the future, the dance-drama is likely to gain more popularity in the days ahead.
This book, Bharatanatyam, brings out the essence of the science of dancing in an eminently readable style. I am sure that this volume will find a very large readership both in India and abroad.
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