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Education in spiritual values through Bharatanatyam: Part III
Recount of 'Margam'
- Chandra Anand

December 6, 2014

Margam is the codified formula of presentation that a Bharatanatyam artiste follows to display her/his art. It is given to understand that it is the ideal methodology which the practitioner of the dance form ought to follow.

"Margam has been codified by the Tanjore Quartet in the 19th century".[1] It had been immediately accepted by every dance guru of those times and they have followed it ardently with full faith since then. People still talk about it saying, margam is the right way a full Bharatanatyam performance is to be presented. Kalyanasundaram, dance guru and principal of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir, strongly feels, "Margam is here to stay. It is the most scientific format for imparting 'systematic training' with variety and gradual progression from the simple to the complicated, both for the 'performer' and the 'viewer'."[2]

History in brief
Rukmini Devi and other great stalwarts of the time reorganized sadir as Bharatanatyam. At an earlier time, sadir was actually performed by devadasis in the temples. The items in the sadir were used as rituals in the temples. The dance was presented in front of God during the shodasha upacharangal part of the ceremony of worshiping God.

(i) Dance as a ritual
Ritual worship in temples is conceived by the Hindu religion as complex and elaborate ceremonies of worship (upachara). Though there are forms of collective worship, most worship is an individual ceremony which the worshipper personally practices with the deity. The idea prevalent in rituals is to help the devotee get connected to God in an easier manner. A complex ceremony or upachara with flowers, incense, holy water and offerings aims at creating a sort of intimate relationship with God. It is considered to be a useful prelude to mental concentration.

Accordingly dance also was one of the rituals like other upacharas and helps the dancer (devadasi) and the audience (devotees) to withdraw their thoughts from worldly matters and concentrate them on God. The dance as a ritual served a two-fold purpose. One was in the sense of offering entertainment to the deity as a mark of respect, and two was of educating and goading the people towards being devoted to God, by praising the Gods or telling various stories of God, and exalting his super divine powers that promise to save the people from various hardships.

(ii) Upacharas in Bharatanatyam
The upacharas form an important part of the actual presentation of Bharatanatyam. Almost every other dance item has incidents in which the nayika welcomes the nayaka who is either Shiva, Vishnu, Skanda etc, offers Him a seat, serves Him in different ways by offering Him fragrant and sweetened betel leaf, fanning Him, playing musical instruments, singing for Him and anointing on Him sandal paste, etc. Here it differs from real upacharangals of aarthi, archana, chanting of mantras, lighting of lamps and incense, camphor, decorating with garland etc. In dance it is an artistic representation.

The upacharas in dance serve the purpose of an alankara in the well-knit intensely emotional theme of dance. Some of the upacharas are done in the puvaranga of dance and some are fused in the sahitya of dance and the dance itself forms a part of the upacharas. The upacharas are subtle and suggestive. They are more psychological than literal. They exhibit the intensity of love and devotion of the nayika. Thus, in dance, these upacharas are woven as a part of the anubhavas of love. It is either in vipralambha or sambhoga sringara. They depict the striving of the bhakta for union with God, union of jivatma (self) with the paramatma (Absolute Self), but only in the form of an artistic story. E.g. Bhairavi varnam, talam tisra ekam, "Mohamana en meedu."

In temple dancing, the responsibilities of the performance of these upacharas were on the devadasis who were the brides of God. That is why the dancer is always to be a young girl dressed like a bride. The Lord is eternally youthful and His young bride awaits union with Him. In dance, the dancer's body is a temple and when the dancer prays to God, she is asking God to accept avahana i.e., to accept a place in her heart. The beauty of nritta is the jewellery of God and the body is like a lotus flower offered at the Lord's feet."[3 ]

When the dance performances left the precincts of the temple to that of the court, a change in content was observed. The songs used were now in praise of the kings or the patrons of the day. The kings and the patrons, the present nayakas of the lyrical content, were eulogized as devotees of Lord Shiva and Lord Rama in their varied forms and some bhakti content was sustained. As a classical form, derived from the Natya Sastra of Bharata, its traditions had and has a lot of scope for innovations and experimentations with the format; but the philosophical and spiritual aspect of the content had to be safeguarded. This then beckoned for a new system or arrangement for presenting of items.

The Tanjore Brothers were asthana vidvans of the Tanjore court (Raja Sarfoji II), Mysore court (Wadiyar) and Vadivelu was in the court of Travancore (Swathi Thirunal) for many years. Their guru Muthuswami Dikshitar is credited to have brought changes in the concert recitals of Carnatic music. Perhaps the brothers decided to follow suit in the arena of dance.

It is worth pointing out that many of the items the Tanjore Quartet brought into margam had been in existence for a long time. Also "there was a presentation called nirupana of ekartha style of nritya meaning all the numbers were interconnected with one another with a common theme or a common raga. The contemporary Bharatanatyam or margam pattern is prthgartha style of nritya in which each item is isolated from the other[4].' There is also no proof to show that there was any other new presentation repertoires developed and experimented with. The prthgartha style was chosen, for perhaps, it gave variety to the courtiers of different tastes. It also allowed people to leave in the middle of the performance, without losing out on much of the performance or theme.

Till the end of the nineteenth century both temple and court performances prevailed. In the twentieth century, the dance entered the proscenium stage; margam was continued by the revivers of this art form.

Under the banner of Kalakshetra, sadir was given a new identity as Bharatanatyam. Although Rukmini Devi brought about a lot of changes in content, costume and stage design, she followed the margam pattern of presentation. The dance gurus V. P. Dhananjayan and his wife Shanta Dhananjayan, dancer Alarmel Valli and many others still perform margams and use it not only in their solo performances but also in their dance drama productions and theme based productions. 'Vasantavalli', a dance drama of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir (Alma mater of the researcher) and many other group creations of the school, still follow the margam pattern. Arangetrams of the students, in all styles of Bharatanatyam, are still presented in the format of the margam. This proves that there is definitely an underlying theory or ideology that unifies all the sampradayas of Bharatanatyam which undertake margam for presentation. The idea behind the margam format is definitely of real value to the followers of the classical dance of Bharatanatyam for it has continued undoubtedly over two centuries.

It is known that if any concept stands the test of time, it has a profound philosophy. Margam has stood the test of time. "The true test of philosophy is that it must be comprehensive; it must embrace all the concepts of religion and other philosophical systems... All ideas must receive recognition and find their proper place within the border of its synthesis; every fact of the universe, every aspect of life, each and every content of experience must immediately fall within the scope of its mould"[5].

The format of margam
(i) The legendary Balasaraswati says about the correctness of margam -"I believe that the traditional order of the Bharatanatyam recital viz., alarippu, jatiswaram, sabdam, varnam, padam, tillana and shloka, is the correct sequence in the practice of this art, which is an artistic yoga for revealing the spiritual through the corporeal."[6] The body, which has no value by itself, is an instrument for the experience and expression of the spirit through the performance of nritta and nritya, with aid of rhythm and music.

(ii) She also explains the edifice of margam, by giving an analogy of the temple. "A temple, functions as a place of transcendence, where man may cross over from the world of illusion to one of knowledge and truth.....It is a link between man, deities, and the Universal Purusa in a sacred space. .....A Hindu temple is meant to encourage reflection, facilitate purification of one's mind, and trigger the process of inner realization within the devotee."[7] A Hindu temple is a symbolic reconstruction of the universe and universal principles that make everything in it function. The temples reflect Hindu philosophy and its diverse views on cosmos and truths. .....Spirituality in Hindu philosophy is an individual experience. It defines spiritual practice as one's journey towards moksha, awareness of self, the discovery of higher truths, true nature of reality, and a consciousness that is liberated and content. A Hindu temple reflects these core beliefs. The central core of almost all Hindu temples is not a large communal space; the temple is designed for the individual, a couple or a family - a small, private space where he or she experiences darsana."[8] The analogy is thus:

"The Bharatanatyam recital is structured like a Great Temple. We enter through the gopuram (outer hall) of alarippu, cross the ardha mantapam (half-way hall) of jatiswaram, then the mantapa (great hall) of sabdam, and enter the holy precinct of the deity in varnam. This is the place, the space that gives the dancer expansive scope to revel in the rhythm, moods and music of the dance. Varnam is the perpetuity which gives ever-expanding room to the dancer to delight in her self-fulfillment, by providing fullest scope to her own creativity as well as to the tradition of the art.

Padam follows. In dancing to padam one experiences the containment, cool and quiet of entering the sanctum from its external precinct. The expanse and brilliance of the outer corridors disappear in the dark inner sanctum; and the rhythmic virtuosities of varnam yield to the soul-stirring music and abhinaya of padam. Dancing to padam is akin to the juncture when the cascading lights of worship are withdrawn and the drum beats die down to the simple and solemn chanting of sacred verses in the closeness of God. Then, tillana breaks into movement like the final burning of camphor accompanied by a measure of din and bustle. In conclusion, the devotee takes to his heart the God he has so far glorified outside; and the dancer completes the traditional order by dancing to a simple devotional verse.[9]"

(iii) She adds further, making us aware of the GREAT SYMMETRY of the margam sequence thus, "At first, mere metre; then, melody and metre; continuing with music, meaning and metre; its expansion in the centerpiece of varnam; thereafter, music and meaning with metre; in variation of this, melody and metre; in contrast to the pure rhythmical beginning, a non-metrical song at the end. We see a most wonderful completeness and symmetry in this art."[10]

(iv) The emotions of the inner self or the states of being as experienced by the artist as he/she passes through the progression of the margam is described by Balasaraswati.

In alarippu the body and mind are drawn together as one and concentrated on the movements of the body tuned to music. In jatiswaram, the movements of pure dance with rhythm and music help one to attain pure consciousness or self-consciousness i.e. get in touch with the spirit (inner self) over mind and body. And then in sabdam the desire for the journey of the jivatma for union with the paramatma is stated pertaining to the tradition of bhakti, which is actually setting on the path to self-realization. Here the margam becomes a spiritual exercise to attain the Supreme Spirit, the creator and governor of the Universe. Thus it fulfills the definition of religion too.

""What is that which, being known, everything else becomes known?" There is the one God.......The real which is at the heart of the universe is reflected in the infinite depths of the self. .... Truth is within us. ... The individual self gets at the ultimate reality by an inward journey, an inner ascent. The identity with the Supreme."[11]

The journey is undertaken through the other items of varnam and padams, where in the varnam the artiste describes God as the ultimate hero by praising his image and deeds in an inspirational manner. And in the padams, the dancer ventures to treat him as her lover or husband by giving him human attributes. This way, it also becomes a secular theme. Emotion is the basic truth of life. When the hero/husband/lover is the universal being that everyone can emotionally connect to, the themes assume a universal standpoint. Balasaraswathi says, "these feelings should be universalized into aspects in divinity and not remain the limited experience of an insignificant human being"[12]. Thus many social and psychological aspects of humanity are dealt with divine connection and many truths of life's existence are revealed.

In tillana she seems to have got insight of the Supreme Self and with calm and serenity enveloping her inner self she dances to a verse glorifying His greatness (Bhakti tradition). The spectators too take home with them the calm and serenity having participated in the spiritual exercise imparted through the presentation.

(v) Margam is a comprehensive format. "The four brothers seem to have kept in view the object of re-edition to bring out the beauty of nritta, nritya and abhinaya at their best."[13] The two aspects of dance, nritta and nritya are combined in a judicious proportion in the margam setup. "The traditional recital is a rich combination of diverse aesthetic and psychological elements, which produces complete enjoyment."[14] The rhythm and moods are fused to bring oneness of mind, body and spirit through nritta and reveal higher realities of life to society through nritya and abhinaya. Such a combination has aesthetic appeal and brings joy and delight to the viewer.

(vi) The practical aspect of margam has been expounded as: margam goes from simple to complex, the artist and the accompanists find it untiring to unfold the ordered sequence. Simultaneously the spectator rs are taken from simple rhythms and ideas to complex cross rhythms and ideas.

The concept of the jivatma yearning for the paramatma is the main theme in the repertoire of margam denoting the quest for self-realization as explained in Hindu philosophy. This structure allows a lot of creativity and room for innovation as it follows the Natya Sastra for its technique of presentation. Thus, all human emotions and human conducts can be portrayed; every social issue and celebration can be dwelt upon. Thus, its very essence is spirituality.

Note to reference:
1. Mrinalini Sarabhai, 'Tanjay Ponnaiya Avargalin Charitram', Tanjore Quartette (Tamil), edited by K.P. Kitappa Pillai and K. P. Sivanandam, third edition, Aparna Printers, Chidambaram, July 1992, pg vi.
2. Jyothi Mohan, Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir, Shanmukha, Sri Shanmukhananda Bharatiya Sangeetha Vidyalaya, Sion (W), Mumbai, Special Issue, Banis of Bharatanatyam and Recent Trends, Vol. XXXVI-No 4, Oct-Dec 2010, pg 38.
3. Lata Raman, B.F.A (II) notes, Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, 1983-1984
4. Padma Subrahmanyam, Bharata's art - Then and Now, Bhulabhai Memorial Institute, Bombay, 1979, chapter1, pg 18.
5. Theos Bernard, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt ltd., New Delhi, India, Introduction, pg 4 & 5.
6. T. Balasaraswathi, Dancer's paradise,
7. Hindu-temple#cite_note_stellakvol1-2
8. Ibid.
9. T. Balasaraswathi, Dancer's paradise,
10. Ibid.
11. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, Princeton University Press, USA, 1957, chapter 2, pg 38.
12. T. Balasaraswathi, Dancer's paradise,
13. Sunil Kothari, Bharatanatyam, Marg Publications, Mumbai, revised edition 1997, chapter 9, pg 92.
14. T. Balasaraswathi, Dancer's paradise,

1) A Source book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Radhakrishnan Sarvepalli & Moore A. Charles, Princeton University Press, USA, 1957.
2) Bernard Theos, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass publishers Pvt limited, New Delhi, India, 1999.
3) Kothari Sunil, Bharatanatyam, Marg Publications, revised edition 1997, Mumbai, 1979.
4) Sarabhai Mrinalini, 'Tanjay Ponnaiya Avargalin Charitram', Tanjore Quartette (Tamil), edited by K.P. Kitappa Pillai and K. P. Sivanandam, third edition, Aparna Printers, Chidambaram, July 1992, pg vi.
5) Subrahmanyam Padma, Bharata's Art- Then and Now, Bhulabhai Memorial Institute Bombay, 1979.
6) Raman Lata, B.F.A. notes, Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, 1983-1984.
7) Shanmukha, Sri Shanmukhananda Bharatiya Sangeetha Vidyalaya, Sion (W), Mumbai, Special Issue, Banis of Bharathanatyam and Recent Trends, Vol. XXXVI-No. 4, Oct-Dec 2010
8) Balasaraswathi T, Dancer's paradise,
9) Hindu-temple#cite_note_stellakvol1-2

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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