Naatya vs. Ballet
- V P Dhananjayan, Chennai


August 7, 2007

(This article has appeared in the Bhavan's journal - April/May 07 issue)

'SAMSKRUTAM' or SAMSKRUT is certainly the most complete language and as the meaning goes, samyak (well) + krutam (done) = samskrutam (well done), well constructed in every sense. Scholars all over the world without pride and prejudice accept this. But somehow, the land of its origin (Bhaarat) does not even pronounce the word correctly. We write and pronounce it in an anglicized way as "san +skrit" which may have a different meaning altogether. I have been appealing to people, print media and scholars to change the wrong practice and use the original correct term SAMSKRUTAM. Some of the western scholars have changed and they are able to pronounce this word correctly as 'samskrutam,' whereas we Bhaarateeya are still clinging on to the spelling and pronunciation left behind by our invaders.

The same way our performing art tradition has a beautiful 'term' called Naatya, but they are always referred to as mere 'dance.' We have three distinct terms - 'nrutta, nrutya, and naatya,' prescribed to denote movements in rhythm, communicative language of the body, and story telling. Unfortunately people are ignorant about intricacies involved in our highly developed sophisticated performing art traditions. Our performing artistes also do not take meticulous care in separating one term from the other. Somewhere we have to correct the wrong practice and I hope artistes, critics and connoisseurs will seriously consider correcting themselves. This article is meant to draw the attention of all concerned.

'Dance' is a connotation commonly used for all kinds of movements. Actually speaking the term 'dance' cannot be a true translation for our 'Naatya.' The closest equivalent to the meaning of 'nritta' may be passed of as 'dance.' Last year (18th December 06) in my lecture demonstration at Music Academy, the Academy's expert committee unanimously endorsed my views that Bharatanaatyam should be referred to only as 'Naatya.' Our performing arts encompasses physical, mental and spiritual aspects, hence the Samskrutam connotation of 'Naatya' cannot be substituted by the word 'dance' which remains at the physical level of any movement.

It will be interesting for our media and critics to know that western classical Ballet tradition never use the word 'dance' to denote a Ballet performance. The term 'ballet' according to Oxford dictionary is 'combined performance of professional dancers on stage.' Over the centuries, the term 'ballet' became synonymous with the classical dance technique of the West.

Practitioners of Naatya and the media have been erroneously using the word 'ballet' to denote our dance technique. This wrong usage should be thwarted and our print media should take it up seriously and change that to Naatya. The Hindu, the only news paper which gives so much space for the promotion of our art and culture should seriously take up the cause of changing this trend and start using the term 'Naatya' for all our classical performing arts, especially Bharatanaatyam. It is my earnest appeal to the print media people to give specific instructions to all their Art critics and article contributors on performing arts to use the term 'Naatya' failing which the media editors should themselves change the word Dance to Naatya wherever it is relevant. Since people are well aware of the term Bharata-naatyam, it need not be called or advertised as a dance performance. Naatya means a combination of Nritta, Nritya and Nataka - dance, expressions and drama.

Another blatant mistake our artistes and critics make is that a dance drama is publicized as 'Ballet' not realizing that we are actually referring to the western dance technique. Westerners are often confused when we advertise our dance drama as ballet. The term Naatya itself contains meaning of presenting a thematic presentation. Nandikeswara explains in his text Abhinaya Darpana - "naatyam tan naatakam chaiva poojyam poorva kathaayutham..." (naatya means presenting divine stories of yonder days).

Suffice it to say that we have a meaningful word 'Naatya' and the word 'Dance' and 'Ballet' should be replaced with that word wherever it is possible and establish a new tradition of Naatya.


Bharatanaatyam guru V P Dhananjayan is the director of Bharatakalanjali, Chennai.