Education in Spiritual Values through Bharatanatyam - Part XIII
 (i) The maxims of teaching and training of margam
- Chandra Anand

February 14, 2016

(This article is based on the identification of the use of the simple device of Maxims of methodical teaching for giving training in dance. It is seen that the use of “maxims of methodical teaching”[1] help organize and grade teaching matter according to the age, background and psychological make-up of the students to be taught. The judicious and ingenious use of these maxims also helps expedite the teaching-learning process of the students in the academic curriculum.

The researcher has attempted to expose the use of these maxims in giving training or teaching Bharatanatyam by using as a model the curriculum design of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kala Mandir (the Alma Mater of the researcher, therefore the progression of lessons is as learnt by the researcher then). The researcher has been fortunate to learn under all the gurus of the institution and observe their teaching methods at close quarters; particularly of Late Guru G. Karunambal, the co-founder of Sri Rajarajeshwari Kala Mandir, Mumbai, who taught at the Chembur branch. There, with her, the researcher has worked as trainee, assistant teacher and teacher for nine years. By observing and analyzing her mentor’s teaching methods as a trainee, the researcher attempts to document the commonly used teaching methods of Bharatanatyam under the varied techniques as per the list of maxims of methodical teaching.)

Until now, the students have been learning the basics of the art form of Bharatanatyam. They have learnt the adavus and basic theory like hastas, viniyogas, talam and a little historical background. Still, embarking on the learning of margam appears to be a new chapter in their life.  With awe and wonder, they must have observed the seniors perform the items of the margam. So, this makes the learning of margam look all the more challenging to them, as their seniors have set standards while performing their arangetrams. And thus they look forward to learning the margam with excitement and thrill. 

Dominance of the margam in Bharatanatyam
Now, the margam is the traditional dance repertoire that facilitates not only as presentation of the dance form Bharatanatyam, but also as a medium to give knowledge and training to practice it, say classroom teaching and performance. Though all learn the same margam and the same adavus, as codified by Tanjore Quartet, one can bring individuality to their performance according to their talent, creativity and sense of aesthetics. A great example for this is all the banis of the dance form.  This precedence indicates that an artist has the options to continue practicing set pattern as taught by the teacher or find their own individuality within the parameters of the set pattern and learnt style or go ahead on a totally different turn.

Due to its epical style of presentation [2] , the margam allows to present different types of poetry and dance pieces within the overall framework making it easy for a lot of additions, innovations and experimentation to be done. One can expand the Bharatanatyam gesture language to present contemporary social issues and emotional experiences. [3] But it is important to remember that the practitioners of the art form should go in for experimentations only after they master all the aspects of the dance form. Here is where the traditional margam, which is mainly based on nritta and nritya, get its absolute significance and dominance over the art form.

Approach to teaching the margam
The teacher has to devise various means and measures to teach the dance form. They are called methods of teaching. The researcher has suggested that ‘the direct method and structural approach can be used to teach dance. The skill lesson and drill method is apt to teach the nritta items while the situational approach integrated with psychological and logical approach is recommended to teach abhinaya. [4]’ And the maxims of teaching like known to unknown, whole to parts, parts to whole, particular to general, psychological to logical, actual to representative/direct and indirect experiences help to arrange and control teaching processes.

Maxim of simple to complex
The margam “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’.” [5] The traditional order of the Bharatanatyam recital, viz., alarippu, jatiswaram, sabdam, varnam, padam, tillana and shloka is called the margam. [6]
In the first margam, it is mostly orientation with the form or the structure of the items.  And in the second margam, another set of repertoire is taught to the students. These are more complex than the ones taught and learnt in the first margam. In the second margam, the structures of each item again are reiterated, wherein, the student learns that the structure is same with variations in choreography and complexity of dance patterns increases. More nuances and techniques are taught in the second margam and the skill and talent of the student is improved.

Also, the abhinaya in a padam is more complex than in the previous items. The children actually find it easier to learn padams as they have done abhinaya in sabdam and varnam. The final abhinaya item is shloka. It is the most complex as it needs a very high mastery of technique in singing as well as dancing to be able to do abhinaya to a shloka. This shloka is performed either as a prelude to a padam, tillana or as a separate item in the end.

A note on tillana: The single line sahitya of the tillana speaks about the devotee asking God to come fast and bless him. This item is parallel to the joy of seeing the god when the camphor is lighted up, “the tillana breaks into movement like the final burning of camphor accompanied by a measure of din and bustle”. [7] (aarthi). This item also includes the act of doing circumambulation around the temple (parikrama) through nritta pertaining to the use of periya adavu that covers space. 

Maxim of known to unknown
After the basic training devoted to learning the prerequisite technicalities of the art (adavus and hastas), the students can relate easily to the korvais, jatis and theermanams of the alarippu, jatiswaram, tillana and abhinaya of sabdam, varnam, padam and javali.
(i) For instance: In the jatiswaram of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharata Natya Kalamandir curriculum, the choreography has been kept simple. All the simple/easy adavus that the students have learnt have been used to make the dance patterns required in the jatis and korvais of the first jatiswaram, varnam and tillana. All the adavus have been given equal weightage. Thus the adavus are again revised with the children in the jati and korvai format. Students find it easy to relate it to the different combinations of the dance patterns.

(ii) The araimandi, the hastakshetra, the angashuddham, the tandava and lasya aspects and adherence to the principle “yatho hasta thatho drishti”  is all checked up, emphasized and reiterated upon.  The choduku-kulluku which are delicate movements of the shoulder and the glances characteristic to Bharatanatyam are taught to students who have gained several years of continuous practice and attained performance level.

(iii) The children know the hastas and their viniyogas. The students experience a sense of thrill and achievement when they use the required hastas in context of the abhinaya item. Also many have seen their seniors perform the abhinaya items in the classes, arangetrams and many programs. So by the time they learn the abhinaya numbers through their observation some idea of abhinaya is already formed in their mind.

Maxim of parts to whole
This maxim helps with the progression from one technical aspect to the other. In items like jatiswaram, varnam and tillana, the korvais and jatis are taught as separate units of dance. After having taken good practice to perfect them, the pieces are stringed together as a whole. By then good stamina is built up so that the students can perform and experience the whole item without any fatigue. Thus the students experience a sense of joy when they perform the item as a whole for the first time. This approach helps the students to get awareness of the wholeness and beauty of the item and then they enjoy performing it again and again. 

The adavu groups and theermanam combinations pertaining to the particular jatiswaram, varnam and thillana are given practice at the beginning of every class in the warm up sessions. These have to be chosen again according to the lessons planned for the day.  This is so that the student finds it easy to pick up the required adavu in the choreography and do the item without stiffness and doubts can be erased in the beginning itself.

Maxim of whole to parts
This rule holds where the items are to be given practice as a whole to the students for the sake of rhythm practice and to remember continuity of the item. But there are bound to be some mistakes done by students for e.g., inability to pick up the correct limb, keep them in position, balance, turn in rhythm, etc. The teacher makes note of the mistakes each student makes and brings it to the notice of the students after the item is performed fully. Separate practice for the erring parts is taken by the teacher. Thus the correction work does not disturb the exercise of paying attention to the rhythm of the item and the other students in the class are not disturbed.

Proceed from concrete to abstract
Here we should use the concentric approach to teaching. The concentric approach, often called spiral method, is a way of organizing a curriculum by laying out basic concepts, covering other related material, and then circling back around to the basic concept and filling in more complexity and depth. It provides opportunity for revision of work already cov¬ered in a previous class and carrying out new work. Since the same topic is learnt over many years its im¬pressions are more lasting. It does not allow teaching to become dull because every year a new interesting addition is given to the topic.

For instance, in the first margam, a padam on Lord Shiva is taught - Kalai thooki nindradum peruman (Bhageswari). In this item are depicted, the various nritta murthis, which are found in the sculptures of the temples of India. Thus poses of Shiva with all his icons are taught. The various hand gestures symbolizing the fire, deer, damaru, trishul, moon, snake, the Ganges are taught.  In the second margam, another Nataraja padam, Natanam adinar (Vasanta) is taught. The concept of Shiva is to be explained again. The stories of why and how he came to possess his icons are to be narrated and dramatized through nritya in the items - Idadu padam thooki adum  (Kamas); Kalai thooki nindradum deivame oru (Yadukulakambodhi).  Then in the next year the knowledge of the philosophical significance of these icons and stories can be given. Thus one can learn about Shiva’s image through actions which develop the imaginations of the student and when he is familiar with Lord Shiva, he is ready to understand the symbolic or philosophical connotations in the stories.

Maxim of particular to general
In India, the goal of spirituality is in a way aligned to Hindu philosophy. Through this structure of art construction of the Tanjore Quartet for Bharatanatyam, they have elucidated the tenets of Hindu philosophy [8]. Thus it is consequential that learning the art of Bharatanatyam with the repertoire as developed by the Tanjore Brothers helps not only aesthetic development but also spiritual growth.
Therefore, the goal of spirituality through dance education is to lead the student towards understanding the true self and their relation to god. In today’s world, in Kali yuga, it is required “that men have need of the images in order to realize god” [9] or the spiritual self. Thus, in sabdam, bhakti padams, kritis, bhajans, devarnamas, shlokas, etc devotion towards god become the common theme. Meaningfully, through these items the precepts of navavidha bhakti [10] is also taught to the children.
Accordingly, many songs elucidating devotion to god are to be taught while teaching abhinaya.  Each song on god will talk about the particular god and be in praise of the god and the devotees’ profound devotion towards the god. Thus the student realizes the general idea, that contemplating or meditating on god is necessary. From the similarities in the moral of each sahitya they will take in that He is the Absolute, the creator, the protector, the destroyer of this universe. He is the One with many forms and that all devotional songs talk about this philosophy. So the idea is to initiate the child in religion or cultivate faith and belief in a Supreme Being, by giving many examples of bhakti themes. This maxim is more or less the same as maxim of concrete to abstract and also induction method.
Maxim of psychological to logical
This is a psychological approach to teaching. Here the view point is that children will not understand if we speak of the omnipotent and omnipresence nature of god etc., right at the beginning. Therefore, different views and manifestations of god, for e.g., Lord Krishna should be given to the student. It is required that his stories are to be told to the students. Then the  songs pertaining to describing his appearance, his garb and accessories and his dance, stories describing his valor (kaliya nartanam) his mischief (teasing the gopis and stealing butter etc) and his adventures after he left Brindavan are to be taught.  For eg, Krishna nee begane baro (ragam Yamunakalyani), Madhava mamava (ragam Neelambari), Thaye Yashoda (ragam Thodi) and many more.
When we talk about Krishna’s appearance (shringara), his valour (vira), his mischief (hasya), his dancing and flute playing (adbhuta) and in the last his upadesha in Gita (shanta) (last one mainly taught to senior students, for the lessons have to be taught according to the age of the child), different kinds of impressions and emotions are developed in the students’ minds, thus leading out to some effect in their mind (hopefully of bhakti) towards Krishna. Later on the child will understand the logic, that all beings born should join the creator in the end. It is important that he learns about the Supreme Being as the only god and work towards the goal of salvation.

Maxim of easy to difficult
Here too the concentric approach to teaching of hastas and their viniyogas can be done. The concentric approach implies widening of knowledge just as concentric circles go on extending and widening. The criterion for allotment of a particular portion of the course to a particular class is the easiness or difficulty of portion and power of comprehension of students in the age group. For instance: The teacher can organize the teaching of hastas, drishtibheda, padabheda, grivabhedha, charis, mandalas, sthanakas, brahmaris, utplavanas with their applications or viniyogas from Abhinayadarpanam in this manner. The little children can be taught the name of the hastas and how to hold them first. Then in the next year more hastas could be added. Then further on the different meanings (viniyogas) the various hastas denote can be taught without the slokas. Then after about two years more the children can learn the viniyogas with the slokas. Thus in a slow and steady manner the children can be made to revise the hastas in various ways according to the age and grasping power of the children. One goes from easy to difficult making learning of the hastas, etc. and their viniyogas easier and exciting. The small children need not be burdened with by hearting the viniyoga slokas along with remembering the names of the hastas and the older students do have to be bored with trying to revise the same viniyogas every year during the whole course.

This maxim of easy to difficult gets more importance for the convenience of little children who start learning dance at the age of 3. Here the researcher suggests that one should teach only the practical part of adavus and margam for first four years and teach the other aspects of dancing, like viniyogas, music and talam, by re-teaching the adavus and basic margam along with theory and other aspects. In fact the smaller children must be given training only in the chowka kalam and madhyama kalam in the outset and introduce the third speed too while re-teaching the adavus and margam. This will add interest in the re-learning process and children will by then be comfortable with the adavu movements.

Catering to individual differences
Age differences and mental capability will influence the methods of teaching in order to hold interest. In a class where there is mix of slow learners, backward learners and intelligent students, the earlier two would lose interest and the latter might get bored and will not continue classical dance training. A teacher should be able to cater to all these and other individual differences like physique of the students, their tastes and aptitudes to keep the interest in classical dance alive in the students. The teacher’s capabilities should be such that she enriches or keeps fueling the students’ interest through his method of teaching.

Notes to reference:
1.    K.K. Bhatia & J.N. Arora, Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981, chapter 4, pg 47
2.    Chandra Anand, Epic Grandeur of the Tanjore Quartet margam (l),
3.    Dhananjayans, Bhaava Haava- nuances of creative abhinaya,
4.    Chandra Anand, Art of teaching: Some methods and approaches,
5.     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.
6.    T. Balasaraswathi, Dancer’s paradise,
7.    Ibid.
8.    Chandra Anand, Tanjore Quartet margam: A journey in space and time with the Divine Spirit,
9.    Mrinalini Sarabhai, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition,1981 chapter1, pg3.
10.    Chandra Anand, Hindu philosophy in brief (Bajans),

1)    Bhatia K.K. & Arora J.N., Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981
2)    Sarabhai Mrinalini, Understanding Bharatanatyam, The Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, fourth edition,1981.
3)    Mohan Jyothi, 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.

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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