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Education in spiritual values through Bharatanatyam: Part 1
- Chandra Anand

October 9, 2014

The origin of Indian classical performing arts is attributed to Natyaveda that has been written for educating and uplifting the society through entertainment. The performing arts encompasses human emotions and experiences in its works and through them informs the society about truths of life, God and moral conduct to be followed by man; while at the same time entertaining them.

Education in classical performing arts
An education in the Indian classical performing arts involves the study of form and its technique; followed by practice. When students pursue classical art forms, they grow spiritually i.e. develop awareness of one's inner self and higher realities of life, which are eternal truths that have the basis in Hindu philosophy, mythology and religion.

"The word 'Education' refers to the systematic training and instruction, especially of the young, in school and college. Through the process of education, a human being is imparted knowledge and provided training in various skills leading to improved abilities to help him lead a good life. In addition, education also helps in development of moral character (good thoughts and feelings, diligence, self-control, etc.) and mental powers (concentration, memory, patience, etc)."[1] Education in art or dance involves development of aesthetic sensibilities.

"Education for aesthetic development provides the young with emotional experience and develops emotional stability in them. Emotions are to be well trained to develop a balanced personality. Aesthetic development constitutes training of the faculty of discerning and enjoying beauty in music, literature, and other arts. The young are enabled to enjoy and appreciate beauty in its various forms. A piece of literature like poem; a piece of art like painting or sculpture; a musical melody are all expressions of human moods, emotions and creativity. It reveals the human spirit".[2]

The function of Art is to reveal the human spirit. Art allows man to manifest his inner feelings and express them outwardly in a creative manner. Subtle thoughts and feelings take concrete shape in a work of art. Symbols like words, movements, sounds and materials such as stone or wood can be used imaginatively and creatively, to create a piece of art.

Education in art means to provide knowledge of the techniques and theory of the art to students/learners whereby they develop their creative talents to give tangible shape to their ideas. Students of art experience delight in creating and appreciating beauty in a work of art. Every such experience brings awareness to the student of their own capabilities and temperament. Through learning of classical dance both mind and body are developed and they grow strong physically, mentally and emotionally.

From above discussion one can see that Indian classical performing arts have many aspects and connect at various levels with spirituality, philosophy, religion and aesthetics. Let's see the definition of these concepts.

(i) "Spirituality is rather difficult to capture in a few words for it includes both knowledge and experience of this knowledge. The word spirituality suggests a connection with the spirit or the soul of man. Spirituality is therefore, that part of life and consciousness associated with a mental or moral attitude of human being. It reflects a person's state of mind or state of being. The concept of spirituality encompasses the intellectual, moral, and emotional aspects of man. It has its root in the realms of religion and philosophy".[3] It is philosophy that gives knowledge of spirit of man and his existence. Religion shows the path or prescribes spiritual exercises to realize its goal. Art expresses the feelings and emotions of the spirit aesthetically. Also the pure nature of experience that the spectator relishes by witnessing an art-presentation (rasa) is given spiritual status as the mental perception of art-presentation is believed to be something above cognitive perceptions.

(ii)"Philosophy, on the other hand, is an activity - an activity that seeks to understand ourselves, the nature of reality and the universe. Logic and reason are the main tools to search for answers to life's fundamental questions about our existence, nature, life, and understand both the social and natural worlds' humans' inhabit".[4] One should realize the 'self' and its existence and its relation to the world or environment around itself. Answers to such questions are revealed through intuition and belief in oneself. Art reveals the inner feelings and emotions of the spirit of man and enlightens the spectator about the philosophy of life.

(iii)"Religion is a belief in the existence of a supernatural ruling power, the creator or the controller of the universe who has given man a spiritual nature. There are various systems of faith and worship based on such beliefs such as Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. All religions preach a way of life for humans and set a path to liberate oneself from the sufferings and sorrows of the world. They make clear to man that man's final goal of life is his union with the creator".[5] Religion preaches that one's activities in life is to aim towards the goal of salvation and prescribes spiritual exercises like rituals and meditation. Art connects with religion, by portraying Gods in its works, "as glorified human being inspired with human motives and passions, born like men but immortal"[6] through stories of Rama, Krishna etc, and presents philosophical truths through their stories. "These stories are historical and mythical in nature. They are stories handed down from olden times communicating concepts or beliefs about early history of a race, explanation of natural events, and about persons, things etc., that is imaginary, fictitious or invented."[7] Myths and histories thus aid to establish traditions.

Educational philosophies and philosophy of dance education:
Philosophy gives direction to choose the path of life. It helps set aims and objectives of education too. No system of education can be successful without a strong philosophical base or ideology.

Plato, a Greek philosopher, defines education as, "Education is the capacity to feel pleasure and pain at the right moment. It develops in the body and in the soul of the pupil all the beauty and all the perfection which he is capable of."[8] Aristotle speaks of education as, "Education is the creation of a sound mind in a sound body. It develops man's faculty, especially his mind, so that, he may be able to enjoy the contemplation of Supreme Truth, goodness and beauty of which perfect happiness essentially consists"[9]. Gandhi wrote, "By education I mean an all- round drawing out of the best in child and man - body, mind and spirit."[1]0 Vivekananda said, "Education is the manifestation of divine perfection already existing in man."[11]

In the words of Redden, "education is deliberate and systematic influence exerted by the mature person upon the immature, through instruction, and discipline and harmonious development of physical, intellectual, aesthetic, social and spiritual powers of the human beings according to their essential hierarchy, by and for the individual and social uses and directed towards the union of the one being educated with his creator as the final end."[12]

The classical dance of Bharatanatyam advocates in its education and philosophy- all the above philosophies on education synthesized into a composite whole. In Bharatanatyam, the practice of nritta develops a sound mind and body. The nritya develops the capacity to experience pleasure and pain. The philosophy of art aims to manifest the inner self of man by conveying or communicating his ideas through feelings and emotions. The theme of a traditional margam, the presentational repertoire, is to show the path towards spiritual realization in an aesthetic manner. It aims at educating and elevating society through rasa-experience.

Educational psychology and rasa-theory:
Experiments in educational psychology have proved that an emotional response to an experience modifies behavior of a human being. What can be noticed is that the experiments dealing with concepts of educational psychology have come to the conclusion that the best education is through 'response' to one's experiences in one's environment and society. "It is new experience that causes learning. Every time an individual gains some new experience, he learns something. The process of learning is explained like this. An individual reacts to a particular situation. As a result of his reaction, he gains some new experience. This experience causes modification or change in his behavior."[13] This is the same as rasa theory as expounded by Bharata in Natyasastra. The main cause of the creation of natyaveda is to uplift and educate the society about higher realities of life by stimulating rasa-experience.

Abhinaya is the art of expression which evokes emotional response to an idea, a truth, presented. The knowledge of the ultimate aim of arts enables the artiste to project his idea in his art with a universal approach so that every spectator can identify with the idea. The techniques of the art form help create an artistic presentation towards evoking a response from the spectator. Art thereby exerts influence on the spectator and directs him towards right conduct and conscience. One understands that, in the final analysis of the art, the content or idea is primary and the technique becomes secondary.

Educational psychology and art of teaching:
The use of educational psychology is only a twentieth century concept, but has come to stay and has permeated the whole of the educational concept. The educational psychology is the study of the psychology of the society which is to be taught. It dictates the selection of methods and approaches a teacher needs to employ in her efforts to teach the art. The teacher devises various means and measures to provide the technology of the art form which can be called the methods of teaching. The lessons are to be selected to suit the level of education of the learner and graded according to the age, psychology and environmental background of the students. Process of education should be student-centered and factors like selection and gradation of lessons according to age, environment and psychology of students are very important and have to be taken into consideration during planning lessons and teaching- learning activities.

An education in Bharatanatyam
(i) Philosophy of Indian arts: The Indian performing arts have their roots in ancient Hindu philosophy that explains values of life. The explanation for the phenomena of rasa-experience has been investigated in the systems of Hindu philosophy. Nandikeswara says in his book Abhinayadarpanam, "The audience is compared to the tree of fulfillment with the sacred texts as its branches, the scriptures of art its flowers and the pundits the bees; where men of truth, high qualities and good conduct as well as men of learning, well-versed in history and mythology are to be found."14Thus the best audience are the people who are well versed in the Vedas, Shastras, Puranas, Shad Darshanas, the art of dance and connected arts, and are of good conduct.

(ii) Philosophy of the art form: In Bharatanatyam, the margam which is the presentational repertoire is a philosophy by itself as it embraces all concepts of human experience, religion and other philosophical systems in its conception. In Bharatanatyam, adavus, that are combined to make pure dance patterns, have their base in the principle of yoga philosophy.

(iii) Teacher's impetus in her/his methods of teaching: The Bharatanatyam teacher ought to be guided by this ideology or philosophy of the art form in order to get full impetus in the training efforts to teach dance. Then the teacher should be thorough with all the aspects of dance and should never waver from the philosophical background which is the foundation of Bharatanatyam. With full belief in it she will be able to pass on this great divine art to future generations in its purity.

Through Indian classical dance, mainly Bharatanatyam, children can get an opportunity to reach pure consciousness, get connected to their inner being and develop their spiritual self which is considered to be divine in nature. Introducing at a very early age this knowledge of the Divine and its relation to self as enshrined in the scriptures of philosophy and religion would guide a child to take the spiritual approach to life seriously and walk on the path of right conduct and truth.

Notes to reference:
1) A. S. Hornby, Oxford Advanced learner's Dictionary of current English, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, London, 1974, pg 276.
2) K.K. Bhatia & J.N. Arora, Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981, chapter 9, pg 193.
3) A. S. Hornby, Oxford Advanced learner's Dictionary of current English, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, London, 1974, pg 830-831.
4) Ibid, pg 627.
5) Ibid, pg 712.
6) Veena Londhe, Notes on Hindu philosophy, pg 29
7) A. S. Hornby, Oxford Advanced learner's Dictionary of current English, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, London, 1974, pg 559.
8) K.K. Bhatia & J.N. Arora, Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981, chapter 1, pg 4-5.
9) Ibid.
10) Ibid.
11) Ibid.
12) Ibid.
13) K.K. Bhatia & J.N. Arora, Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981, chapter 3, pg 24-25.
14) Mrinalini Sarabhai, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition,1981 chapter1, pg3.

1) Bhatia K.K. & Arora J.N., Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981
2) Londhe Veena and Agneswaran Malati, Handbook of Indian Classical Dance Terminology, Nalanda Dance Research Centre, Mumbai, 1992.
3) Sarabhai Mrinalini , Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition,1981.
4) A. S. Hornby, Oxford Advanced learner's Dictionary of current English, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, London, 1974.

Chandra Anand is a Bharatanatyam artiste and teacher. A student of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir since 1972, she is presently training under guru Lata Raman. Apart from MA in Eng Lit. from Bombay University (1990) and B Ed from Bombay University (1994), she has an MA in Classical Dance (Bharatanatyam) from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune (2014). This article is adapted from the dissertation titled "Education in Spiritual Values through Bharatanatyam" under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Malati Agneswaran.

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