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Education in Spiritual values through Bharatanatyam - Part IX
"Audience and the Art"

- Chandra Anand

June 15, 2015

An Indian classical performing art plucks at the heartstrings of spectators, by presenting an emotional human experience that is universal in nature. This aesthetic theory is the underlying belief and philosophy of all Indian classical arts called rasa theory.

The rasa-sutra
The goal of any natya is only to create rasa. Rasa is the enjoyment of an aesthetic bliss derived through witnessing or reading a dramatic or literary piece of work. "Vibhava anubhava vyabhichari samyogad nishpattih" is the famous rasa-sutra of Bharata, which is a formula-like, succinct statement about how rasa arises. ..In formulating the sutra, Bharata is explaining the factors of art creation; he is also suggesting that an emotion or an emotional experience, which is content of art-presentation, cannot be stated in words or narrated; it has to be poetically constructed in order that it conveys not merely information or knowledge of the emotion but also produces an appropriate emotional response. The factors or components of this art construction are the determinants and the physical and mental consequents, which the sutra states. It is also suggested that an emotional experience constructed through the art components can alone reach the reader or spectator, evoke an emotional response in him and lead him to enjoy it. This is rasa; and the sutra, in a way, presents to us an anatomy of rasa-experience."[1] Therefore, the success of the art-presentation depends on the audience response (relish of rasa) to the dominant emotion (sthayibhava); or their identification with the idea i.e., content of art-presentation.

The high point of rasa-experience:
(i) The relish of art: Rasa-experience is an enjoyable experience of a make-believe world where no personal desires are involved. "Bharata says that natya is the imitation of life (lokanukruti) wherein the various human emotions have to be dramatically glorified (bhavanukirtanam) so that the spectator is able to flavour the portrayed pleasure and pain (lokasya sukhaduhkha) as natyarasa. This rasa- experience will entertain and enlighten the spectator who hence becomes the 'Rasika'. The aesthetic relish is produced (rasanishpattih) by a combination of the determinants (vibhava), consequents (anubhava), and transitory states or fleeting emotions (vyabhicharibhava). This aesthetic relish, which is possible only through mental perception, is termed as 'natyarasa'. Even the terms vibhava, anubhava, and vyabhicharibhava refer only to stage representations, not to realities of life. It naturally follows that what they produce should only be 'natyarasa' (sentiments pertaining to the dramatic spectacle). One enjoys experiencing the emotions with the artistes, and sometimes even visibly expresses it by shedding tears or laughing spontaneously. But both the artiste and the spectator are well aware that neither of them is going through it in reality. This enjoyment is 'natyarasa'."[2] So equanimity of mind prevails, for there is no gain or loss to account for. Thus outcome of natya is only relish in the beauty of art.

(ii) The magic of art-presentation: Natya is presented through of an aural and visual medium. Mere concentration and responsiveness to the gesticulations of the actor makes one forget oneself and enjoy the presentation and feel uplifted. Then again, the amalgamation of poetry, music, instruments and other theatrical accessories just transports one to another ambience or space and time and helps forget self and gives a sense of wellbeing. This is the beauty and magic of Natya. For instance, "Nritta is a form of pure movement in dance, which while reflecting the mood of the musical composition, does not utilize moods or sentiment (rasa or bhava). The rishis asked Bharata Muni to define the necessity of pure dance (nritta) and he replied, 'This dance can be appreciated by all people and is performed because of its pure beauty'."[3]

(iii) Convincing art-presentation: Perhaps, it is seen that the idea in a presentation is palpable but does not create rasa-experience. It means that either the spectator is not well-versed with the techniques of art, or the presentation does not have the right proportions of objects of presentation of artistic creation. The exact and proportioned use of objects of presentation brings about the evoked state (rasavastha). The best presentation is when vibhavas, anubhavas and vyabhicharins are equally prominent and the idea presented is an aesthetic truth. Y. S. Walimbe states in his book, 'Abhinavagupta on Indian Aesthetics', "Abhinavagupta also emphasizes the fact that the relish of rasa is possible only when there is an equal prominence of all the three constituents, as is chiefly the case in the ten varieties of drama only."[4]

(iv) The involved spectator: There are some conditions that have to be satisfied for the success of any art to instill or attain rasa-experience. The main condition is that the artiste and spectator both have to identify themselves with the idea presented. This presupposes a modicum of creativity in the spectator too. He cannot be idle. He has to actively participate with the artiste. He has to interpret every movement, stance, and symbol the artiste uses in carrying forward the idea being presented. He has to be in step and empathize with each feeling and thought that is expressed. For this "the audience too should understand enough of the art to really appreciate and savour its beauty."[5] Then only can the spectator respond to the emotional experience presented. Thus there is a need for learned and scholarly audience, initiated and trained in the particular art, for any presentation to achieve success. Dharmadatta, a later critic writes that "those devoid of imagination in the theater, are but as the woodwork, the walls and the stones."[6] So for any successful art presentation an active and involved audience is a must.

Audience appraisal
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".[7] Thus the best audience are the people who are well versed in the Vedas, Shastras, Puranas, Shad Darshanas, the art of dance and are of good conduct. One must understand that the spectators are also our teachers. Positive appraisal from them encourages the artist and negative appraisal helps her/him correct oneself and leads towards an improved performance.

Qualities of a sahrdaya (the experiencer of rasa)
Thus we require spectators "with the right attitude or mental approach. The pre-requisites are: "The experiencer must have a "mirror-like" mind to permit a ready and clear reflection of the experience presented. He must possess aesthetic sensibility, that is to say, a capacity for understanding and reaching the heart of the experience. This capacity is induced and strengthened by training under expert guidance and by constant study of poetry and arts. The experiencer must also have an unbiased mind free from prejudices and reservations. He must be ready to respond to art experience. Finally the experiencer must have the capability to forget himself, lose himself in the experience presented. A person who has these qualifications is called sahrdaya, a connoisseur of art. Art yields its deeper meaning and extraordinary pleasure to such a person."[8]

Art and present generation - A caution
"Today's young dancer concentrates on "his/her body and athleticism", is interested in experimenting, toying with the modern or new"[9]. But even their art-presentation will need to have the elements of choreography or art-presentation. They will have to strike a rapport with the audience, evoke a response in them as "no meaningful idea is conveyed if 'rasa' is not evoked."[10] Then only, the new forms or evolute-s can earn any classical or cultural value as "culture in its broadest terms, demands an engagement of the actor and the viewer, the performer and the audience: engagement being the key word here."[11]

Responsibility of teachers
If the teacher wants to create a student of world standards, she/ he must be aware that the student to be successful needs a wide audience base, who can respond to presentation. So, the basic aim of teachers should be to spread the knowledge and technique of art, and to create a knowledgeable audience for the art. A certain amount of awareness of nature of classical dance and its historical, philosophical and mythological background will help the artist and the spectator to meet on the same plane. A spectator who has read Ramayana will enjoy the production "A Million Sitas" by Anita Ratnam, a neo- Bharatanatyam artist, much better than one who only knows the gesticulate language of the art form.

When one enjoys art in a harmonized manner, they achieve rasa-experience. Even a good dancer should learn to be a rasika, an involved spectator first. All those who learn dance do not become performing artistes. Still the children who become doctors and engineers or tread on other walks of life need to know and be able to appreciate art in its totality for it is the arts that indicate the culture of the nation. The poet Bhartruhari says, "A man not versed in the arts of literature, music and art is a veritable animal without the tail and the horns."[12] It is art which develops a benign race.

Notes for reference:
  1. G.K. Bhat, Rasa Theory, M. S. University of Baroda, August 1984, chapter 3, pg 8.
  2. Jayashree Rajagopal, Rasa theory with reference to Bharata's Natyasastra
  3. Mrinalini Sarabhai, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition,1981, chapter 5, pg 29-30.
  4. Y.S. Walimbe, Abhinavagupta on Indian Aesthetics, Ajanta Books International, 1980, chapter Rasa sutra, pg 68.
  5. Mrinalini Sarabhai, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition,1981 chapter1, pg3.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. G.K. Bhat, Rasa Theory, M. S. University of Baroda, August 1984, chapter 8, pg 51.
  9. Sudha G. Tilak, The Morph Elegy, Feb 16, 2015.
  10. Jayashree Rajagopal, Rasa theory with reference to Bharata's Natyasastra
  11. Ananda Shankar Jayant, Our heritage, our identity
  12. 12. Mrinalini Sarabhai, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition,1981 chapter1, pg3.
  1. Bhat G.K., Rasa theory, M. S. University of Baroda, Baroda, August 1984.
  2. Sarabhai Mrinalini , Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition,1981.
  3. Walimbe Y. S., Abhinavagupta on Indian Aesthetics, Ajanta Books International, 1980.
  4. Rajagopal Jayashree, Rasa theory with reference to Bharata's Natyasastra
  5. 5) Tilak Sudha G., The Morph Elegy
  6. 6) Jayant Ananda Shankar, Our heritage, our identity

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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