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Acharya Devo Bhava! Musings from G.V Ramani Natya Kala Foundation, April 2019

Evolution of Parampara

- Smt. Gayatri Subramanian

They say that a practice becomes a Paramapara if it survives for at least a 100 years! For me, it is definitely something that you inherit, imbibe and follow with years of practice. Parampara can also evolve or be enhanced over the years. It is not about being rigid, it is not static.

A banyan tree is what comes to my mind - its roots go deeper and the tree stands tall, but the branches grow out and eventually take root to becoming stronger trees themselves.

Natya or indian classical dance has a few basic elements, a grammar for the language so to speak. But every artist can make it their own with their style of presentation, their treatment of the subject. Even the Natyashastra encourages the artist to explore and add to the vocabulary. Thus, as an artist, Parampara should not confine, it should merely equip me with the knowledge needed to take flight and soar high up in the sky.

In this edition, we hear from Padmabhushan Dhananjayan Sir, who has helped evolve a Parampara with his life journey, and from his son Satyajit Dhananjayan, on what it is to be the torchbearer for the future!

What is Dance, and What is Natya?

– Padmabhushan Shri V.P Dhananjayan

A very simple explanation, “Dance” a common word for all kinds of movement in rhythm is not a true translation of our performing arts. My genuine contention is that when we have specific names for each form of performing arts why not we use that instead of a common word which does not specify any form. If one says “Please come for my dance”, naturally one may ask “Which dance or What dance?” If one specifies the style of your performing art, it simplifies the matter.

Secondly, “naatya” is a comprehensive word or name for Bhaarateeya theatrical art forms (Bhaarata naatya). This name has been in vogue from time immemorial or from vedic period. Bhaarata is the name of our country which has profound meaning.

The invaders of our country conveniently changed the name of the nation as “India” (which has no meaning) Along with that the invaders inducted a common term for all our performing arts and we blindly followed them forgetting the original names of our art forms. My humble request to all the practitioners of these performing art forms is, specify one style of dancing, whether it is Bharatanaatyam, Kuchipudi Naatyam, Kathak Nritya, Utkal Naatya or Odisha Nritya or such kinds.

According to Saastra, Naatya includes, Nritta (pure dance), Nritya (communicative body language) , Naataka (drama-stories). Thus Naatya can be the right word we should use and make foreigners familiar with this word, just like we call their classical dance tradition as ‘Ballet’. Westerners generally do not refer ‘Ballet’ as mere ‘dance’, they emphasize the term for their classical dance as ‘ballet’ only. So why should we compromise to demean our classical tradition to mere ‘dance’? As we are familiar with the term ‘ballet’ let those foreigners also get familiar with our indigenous names, be it Samskritam or other regional languages.

Master's ideas on Novel Names for the Margam

Varnam or Nrityoopahaaram (an offering of dance & mime) is the judicious combination of Nritta, Nritya and Naatya, expounding the deep-rooted technique of physical, mental and spiritual background of Bharatanaatyam. This can be termed as the quintessence or epitome of a technique that has withstood the test of time. The construction of the present day ‘Varnam’ format in a solo Bharatanaatyam performance has the time and space for a dancer to exploit her or his technical virtuosity and keep the attentive interest of the audience, irrespective of the length of delineation, whether it is for 30 minutes or 60 minutes or more. The success and failure of a Bharatanaatyam artiste depends on how well one could perform a ‘Nrityoopahaaram’ to the fullest satisfaction of a discerning connoisseur audience.

The term ‘Varnam’ has been in vogue for long as a throat warming up exercise in carnatic system of music. It has never been a main item in the carnatic singing padthathi. Usually a ‘taana varnam with ‘gamaka’ exercise is sung as an opening song and then followed by a song on Vigneswara.

But in a Bharatanaatyam repertoire usually a Pada-varnam occupies the central space and the word varnam is loosely explained as a colourful item. So I coined the word “Nrityoopahaaram" i.e nrithya (dance combined with expressions) + upahaaram (offering).

Actually, the function of this unique piece is of expressive musical raaga construction with good lyrics and meaningful communicative contents. This elaboration may be construed as “colourful or various hues of expressions”.

But when artistes take up compositions like Pancharatnam of Thyagaraja or Bhaavayami raghuramam of Swathithirunal as the center piece in place of the Padavarnam it may not be appropriate to call them Varnam, as such songs are not in the musical format of a Taana Varnam or Padavarnam. So, to suite the content and functioning of such compositions in a Bharatanaatyam solo performance I deliberately coined this Samskritam word “nritya-upahaaram or nrityoopahaaram”. I have consulted several Samskritam scholars before launching this in 1974, when I started composing innovative items for the center place in a Bharatanaatyam repertoire. Later I thought why not we stick to that name — an appropriate name in Naatya presentation rather than using a musical term that is ‘Varnam’. Sometimes, I announce it as Nrithyoopahaaram with a reference to the composer and the pada-varnam that is based on.

The same way I coined the word “Nrittaangahaaram” for ‘Tillana’(garland of body movements). This name is found in the Naatya saastra for the composition of two or more nritta karanas in a sequence.

The word “Tillana” might have been derived from the Hindustani music “Taraana” and later on changed to “Tillana”. Dr. Raghuraman says it could have been a Tamizh word ‘Tiralaana’ means fast movement. Whatever it may be my contention is that ‘Nritta angahaaram’ suites the finale of a Bharatanaatyam performance which literally is a garland of body movements. This also I announce as Nrittaangahaaram with reference to composition of the tillana music that it is based on.

I have also coined a new name for the present day “Jateeswaram” unlike the original ones with ‘ jatees’ sung in swaraas. So what we do today is ‘Nritta-swaraavali’ — doing nritta compositions for ‘swaraavali’ (composition of musical notes).

Except a small Jati teerumaanam in the beginning, rest of the compositions or koorvais are set only to musical notes. In Kuchipudi naatya tradition actual “jateeswarams’ are performed and as far my little knowledge goes there is one real ‘Todi Jateeswaram’ composition of the Tanjavoor quartets. Dr. Padma Subrahmaniam has unearthed this and taught to her niece Mahathi Kannan who performs it exquisitely.

It is not a big sacrilege finding new names for new items. Periodically, changes have taken place not only in Bharatanaatyam repertoire, but the other performing art forms have also introduced new nomenclature. The name Bharatanaatyam itself came into vogue very recently eschewing the old names from Chinnamelam to Sadirattam to or Dasiaattam.

I have not patented these new names. But any one who thinks these names are relevant to Naatya presentations they are welcome to use them.

Upholding the ever-evolving Parampara

– Satyajit Dhananjayan

Born to parents who are artists and brought up within an institution, the idea of Parampara has always floated around me. With a constant reinforcement from others on the eventual continuation of Parampara, it has never weighed me down. Thanks to my parents whose idea of Parampara was a lot more different and radical.

Growing up with a combination of a traditional home and a free-thinking school, encouraged deep enquiry and questioning social norms. What I write below are thoughts linked over years reaching a certain point of observation.

My parents' unbiased and non-dynasty approach set the foundation for me to think of dissemination of art with a lot of freedom rather than a point of prerogative. The idea of every other student imbibing the art felt very natural. The need for seizing an opportunity never arose.

'Tradition doesn’t need to be preserved'. The beauty of tradition lies in its dynamism and being alive. When I began working at Bharata Kalanjali after being away for a long period, I had plenty of thoughts and ideas. As I observed the inconvenience in execution, it set me thinking that my ideas were too radical and non-traditional. But why was I radical? It was because what my parents stood for just that!

As I watched presentations, talks and films on the life of Rukmini Devi, Chandralekha, Maria Montessori & J Krishnamurthy, I felt their aesthetics and a deep connection with the process of art. Introspecting deeper, I have imbibed their ways and was an end-product of their influences put together. This was already there, the realisation came only after I got to see and hear about their lives and thoughts.

That is when the influence of ‘Parampara' took on a far deeper and connected meaning. It is a continuation of an aesthetic that is closest to one's deepest intent and lightly responsive to the outer world of action. A movement to preserve it or continue it then becomes merely a superficial attempt in gratifying oneself.

Parampara is an entity, that when approached from the inside nourishes and keeps you engaged with the present. Your actions are then seamless beyond a sense of history or time.

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