Education in Spiritual Values through Bharatanatyam - Part XIV
 (ii) Maxims of teaching and training of margam
- Chandra Anand

April 24, 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 the institution 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 as per the list of maxims of methodical teaching. It has to be mentioned that Guru Karunambal Pillai, has always humbly maintained that she was emulating the methods applied by her father, the legendary Guru Kuppiah Pillai, to train the students in this dance form. The approach to theoretical part is the researcher’s work keeping in mind the exam oriented hobby classes.}

The classical nature of the art form Bharatanatyam is greatly indebted to the traditional and enduring margam format. Not only is it known for the classic characteristics of simplicity, restraint and proportions but during the time of revivalism and resurrection and in the debate of love or devotional theme too the margam presentation was not challenged.  Thus, margam becomes standard format to propagate the dance form.
The visible characteristic variety of the art form, giving birth to baanis (styles) asserts the technical virtuosity of margam. The different baanis indicate the preferences and the sway of the margam by the great gurus or fountain heads of each style of Bharatanatyam.

But finally and most importantly, the evidence of classicality of the dance form and margam lays on the effect the artist is able to bring about, with her/his inspiringly profound imagination and communicative ability, from the audience. This purports internalization of the art form and a degree of individual creative expression in the artist at all times.

Linked with life and life-experiences:
There are many approaches and methods a teacher can choose to teach an art form. One simple approach is any new knowledge to be imparted should be linked with life and life-experiences already gained by pupils.
(i) Therefore, the idea conveyed in the first abhinaya item sabdam is linked to pupil’s mother. The item shankari shankuru (ragam Saveri, talam adi) a Shyama Sastri kriti is based on goddess Parvathi who is regarded as Universal Mother. Here, she is described as mother of all living beings and ruler of the world. She protects all people from evils and is praised as the compassionate one, who answers to the ardent call of her devotees.
Children look up to their mother with love and affection. Students are to be asked to consider Universal Mother Parvathi as their own mother - how their mother provides food and clothing, tends lovingly, guides in studies and is a great influence in their life. They are asked to think as thanking their mother for all the care she gives. Any child can identify with feelings towards its own mother and attribute the same to the goddess. Students are able to work out the expressions as this concept is from their immediate background. Assimilation of the idea is very easy.  When abhinaya is demonstrated it is grasped quickly.  They need not contrive the expressions. Thus the lesson of abhinaya being imparted is linked with life and life-experience, already gained by pupils.

The interpretation of the inner meaning of the lyrics in this sabdam suggests the Goddess related to all as mother of all beings, the ruler of the world and the Supreme Being. She is considered as one who protects from all evils. The poet says meditating on her brings eternal peace and happiness. She is Shiva’s wife and Lord Vishnu’s sister. The poet here projects his devotion by relating her affectionately as his sister too. He says by singing her praises one is relieved from the bondages of life which is the greatest happiness of ‘self’.
This lesson is to be initiated during Navaratri festival. In this festival the goddess is the creator, protector and destroyer. She is held higher than Trimurthi themselves. The story of her killing the demon Mahishasura is narrated again and again. The story of the goddess destroying the demon and removing evil develops a sense of pride and devotion toward the goddess. Their minds undergo change and worship of the goddess is instilled in them. Thus this is a good item for students of the younger age group.
(ii) Next item taught is varnam. Explanation of structure of varnam and its vastness is done. Here students learn to alternate between nritta and abhinaya.  In pallavi and anupallavi, God’s or nayaka’s attributes are praised, and in charanam, pining of nayika for nayaka is portrayed, symbolically meaning pining of the soul for union with Ultimate Being.

In varnam, concept of Lord Krishna as a lover is to be expressed, but explained as a normal friend. In a hobby class, students start learning at the age of five plus and by the time students get ready to learn varnam, their age group is 7-10. “At this age, their thinking and reasoning powers have increased considerably. Children of this age are anxious to find and learn things through their own efforts. Romantic and adventurous stories have fascination for them.”[1] The varnam in ragam Anandabhairavi, talam adi, taught in this school caters to both romantic and adventurous feelings. This varnam contains some romance as it tells about a male and female relationship. The young students are already familiar with Krishna as they already must have heard about the various antics of the Lord. Thus they relate to Krishna and are able to think of him as a friend.

In this varnam, the heroine tells her friend not to tease her at the time like this. (Why not and what is her need?) Suspense is created. She tells her sakhi to go and bring her Lord quickly. (Where from/ which place?) He is the one, whom this world praises a lot and he lives in the capital city. (Who is he?) He has beautiful hands which hold shanku and chakra and his name is Rajagopala. There is a mystery involved in the questions why, where from, who is he etc. Therefore the suspense also gives a chance for children to enact surprise and so on as the Lord and his whereabouts is revealed in a slow manner. His attributes are praised in this varnam. Therefore, here using lateral methods we bring out their abhinaya without embarrassment.  In this item, the tattimettu part has to be done in araimandi, which has to be maintained for a full avartanam or lyric line. Also here, there is some fun, for students learn to do abhinaya while performing foot work. Here along with movements of the hands and legs, upangas of face have to be used. Thus the whole body is at play. Utmost concentration of the mind is mandatory for precision as the mind has to fully focus on the multi-task of coordinating the various limbs of the body. It takes a lot of patience, calmness and planning on part of teacher to give the right instructions to get students to get going with this task.
From chittai swaram, the varnam moves briskly. In the second part of the varnam, the idea is to concentrate on the Lord with affectionate feelings. Pining for union of the soul with the Absolute is brought out. Male-female relationship is brought into focus and cannot be explained. Therefore, abhinaya is to be shown by the teacher. Pupils learn by imitation or through interpretation of gestures with words of the lyrics. Stress is to be given on tattimettu and placement of the hand according to words and adherence to rhythm in the second half of the varnam.
In the second margam, another varnam with a different talam and social concept is taught. Here, it is a sakhi speaking to nayaka. This is as if she is proposing to nayaka on behalf of nayika. Though philosophically sakhi is considered as guru, socially she is a parent or relative. She tells nayaka about how nayika is a perfect match for him and implores him to accept her friend as his companion. She speaks of nayaka’s greatness as a great devotee of Lord Shiva mentioning how he worships Him without fail. The suggestion here is that devotion to God is a great and worthy attribute.

(iii) In the fast paced padam, Adhuvum solluval (ragam Saurashtram, talam adi) the ladies gossip and bitch against each other. This is a characteristic of any society, ancient or modern. Adhuvum solluval, a popular padam helps in displaying one’s competitive instincts. It is linked with reality.  Students can correlate it to social life. They understand the nature of the nayika and express her feelings in different rasas.  Abhinaya is easily and convincingly done.

Direct and indirect experiences:
Dance is taught with activity method. Therefore, students get actual or direct experience. By indirect experience for instance reading a book, they can only know or imagine what it is and how it was. But in direct experiences the child by enacting the feelings and emotions of the devotee is able to understand the inner meaning of the poetry or song.  Since it is done by activity, impressions are carved deeply in the mind of the child and are carried through its entire life.

In the kirtanam, Charanam charanam Raghu Rama, Lord Rama as conquering the sea god Varuna, and Varuna surrendering to the Lord is depicted. While teaching this item teacher should encourage students to read Ramayana. Teacher can make it more interesting by holding a quiz competition on Ramayana. This will motivate students to read and learn the epic in a detailed manner. Thus this activity encourages indirect experiences which gives theoretical support and makes the subject wholesome. They can also learn collectively and in a faster manner.

In the second margam, another sabdam is taught. The sahitya is taken from Kambha Ramayanam. Here the story of Rama is described.  Students who have knowledge of the story of Rama or the epic Ramayana are able to understand and find it is easy to emote. The first line describes the beauty of Rama. The second line tells us that Rama is not a mere man. He is the Supreme Being himself on earth. The third line says that because of the knowledge that Lord Vishnu in the form of Rama was to be born, many rishis and sages were waiting to get a glimpse of him before taking samadhi. Therefore too, this world was a sacred place because of all the great sages living on earth at that time. “To this great Lord Rama I pray” is the fourth line. Thus the religious and spiritual aspect is imparted through this poem. In the first margam, when they learn Charanam charanam Raghu Rama, they are encouraged to read stories of Rama. This activity can be reiterated again. Perhaps the philosophical background of Ramayana could be discussed i.e. How the four brothers represent the four Vedas, why the chapters are called kanda etc. A quiz with higher order questions can be held. Thus they learn collectively and in a faster manner. Another one on Lord Vishnu which is Yen palli kondiraiya (ragam Mohanam, talam adi) is taught where the whole outline of Ramayana is portrayed. Other padams, Yaro evar yaro, (ragam Todi, talam adi), Charanam charanam endrane (ragam Saurashtram, talam adi), and other Ramanataka keertanams; navarasa on Rama in particular (Shringaramshitinandini) is to be learnt by the senior students.
Kavuthvam is an invocation to deities. It is in the form of verse - describing a particular god, his origin and qualities. These verses are interspersed with short interludes of rhythmic syllables. The kavuthvams are lively compositions opening out with brisk passages of jatis. The kavuthvams originally were performed in the temples by the devadasis.  Some temples in South India have their own kavuthvams in praise of the deity in the temple. The myths and stories of the gods and goddesses make interesting reading. Students will learn not only the stories of the different gods but also how they are worshipped in different parts of the country, and also the different names for the same god etc. In many other institutions, pushpanjali, an invocatory item praying to the dikpalas of eight directions are taught. This is mostly sung in syllables.
“In fact, the direct as well as the indirect experiences are useful and essential. They are complementary or interdependent to each other.  One is incomplete without the other.  Direct experiences bring the indirect experiences to life and indirect experiences round off the direct experiences by providing explanations necessary for their complete understanding.” [2]
Along with the study of margam, history and background of all classical dances, life stories of legendary exponents and dance gurus should be included in the study of dance. Through this, students will derive inspiration from the stories of the legendary artistes and gurus.  Children can make a scrap book with this information.

Appreciation class:
The appreciation lesson is important since dancing is an art. Children need to be taught to appreciate what they are doing by giving them good examples of art and help discern what is good in them. They should be helped out to pick up the refined ones and discard crude, vulgar ones.

(i) In the first margam, the varnam structure is understood by students. To make learning of varnams faster, sahityas of many varnams can be discussed with students. Thus, students not only understand the meaning in the varnam being taught, but will be able to understand other varnams when they are watched in a program. Thus the students’ knowledge is expedited. The student must also understand that the jatis and sollukattus need to change according to the ragams. Like, in Todi raga varnam, the jatis will be of a softer kind as compared to the jatis in Kambhoji raga varnam. Thus the music knowledge also improves.

(ii) Many padams can also be discussed in class. The teacher should demonstrate these padams and make them do at least once for actual or direct experience. The padams need not be taught line by line unlike the ones in the first two margams. The teacher should teach the full padam or javali and may repeat it after few months. Even if the student does not get a chance to by heart the item or perform it anywhere, the student gets enough knowledge to enjoy it and appreciate it, when she sees others perform it. Sometimes the teacher should make students sit and watch other students practice/perform and ask them to identify good points and drawbacks of the dancer. The dance performances of other students and artistes are discussed in class analyzing the various features of a dance program. Thus the student will learn appreciation of the nritya items.

(iii) The module of workshop also helps the serious students to learn the art form extensively.

(a) A master class or seminar or workshop can be conducted where a person qualified to speak about Krishna and other religious characters could be invited. Here knowledge of Narayaneeyam, Srimad Bhagavatham and Mahabharata could be discussed. An example of inner significance or philosophical significance in Kaliya mardhana episode is:

“A serpent by name Kaliya was poisoning the atmosphere and the waters of the Yamuna with its breath. All those who approached that area – men, cattle and birds - fell dead.  Krishna, the blue boy of Brindavan, jumped into the depths of the river, forced the foul snake to rise above the level of the river and leaping on its hoods, danced upon them. The pressure of His tender feet was enough to force the deadly poison out from the fangs of the monstrous cobra, and render it harmless forever. The inner significance:  In the mind-lake of man, there lurks a poisonous cobra with six hoods - lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride and hate.  The name of the Lord when continuously chanted, dives into the depths of the mind-lake and forces the six hooded cobra to come to surface, so that it may be destroyed.  Allow the Divine Name to dance, on the six hooded cobra in the mind-lake.  Then the cobra would be tamed and made satvik” [3].

(b) Workshops on how to choreograph a padam, the approach towards nritya items can be done for senior students. The lyrical meaning of the song and the variety of sancharis interpreting the lyrics can be discussed in detail. The nayika bhedas can also be discussed. Some songs unknown to students or new situations should be given and students can be helped to choreograph them.  Thus students apply the techniques and hone their abilities by using those in new situations.

(c) The structure of padam, its varied kinds, the famous writers of padams, their different styles, the padams written in chauka kalam, padams with romantic themes, and the ashtanayikas can all be discussed here. The whole padam should be shown and discussed. In the discussion the anubhavas, vibhavas and vyabhichari bhavas pertaining to the nayika or nayaka in the item can be pointed out. The dance can be shown again so that students enjoy the item wholesomely with focus on the intricacies of the choreography. The intricacies of padam are so vast, it definitely would take another two margams to understand and memorize every detail.

Just to mention a few:
Padams – Indenthu vachithivira, Yarukayilum bhayama, Padari varugudu, Unnai dooth anupinen, Vandakariyam yed aiyya, Ethai kandu nee ichhai kondai, Etanai chonnalum theriyada, Dari juchu chunadi, Netrandunerathile, Thikku theriyada kaatil, Malai pozhudhinile, Velavare  unnai thedi oru madandai, Kannan idam cholladi thozhi

Javalis - Sarika kongu, Yera rara, Saramaina matalenthu, Nee matale mayanura.

They are to learn Ramanataka keertanams, Swathi Thirunal padams, Kshetrayya padams and many more shlokas. Also items like the Useni svarajathi and tanavarnam in ragam Kalyani ata talam are taught who are adept in the form of Bharatanatyam. Also navarasa on Rama in particular (shringaramshitinandini), the navarasa in ‘Soundarya Lahari’ by Adi Shankara (Shive sringaraadra) are to be learnt by senior students. Devotional songs Varugalamo aiyya (Nandanar Charitam), Mughatai katiya deham, Ganashyama sundara sridhara (Marathi song), Vishveshwara darshan (Hindi doha), Hari tuma haro (Meera bhajan), Main nahi makhan khayo (Sant Soordas) and many more. Songs from many other languages too are to be taught and learnt. Jayadeva’s ashtapadi depicting the dasaavatar is also taught. Vanji vandal, a song based on the folk lore of the Kuravanji tribe of South India, particularly Tamil Nadu, is also taught.

It takes at least two  plus set of margams for the students to learn alarippus in all five metres, and invest about 25 years of life to learn 7-8 jatiswarams, sabdams, varnams , tillanas and Nataraja padams and javalis. Such dedication will help them to internalize and savour the essence of Bharatantayam and become very strong propagators of the art form.

Culmination of learning the art form:
Students have to complete a portion of at least two margams to get an understanding of basic practical and theoretical knowledge. The arangetram is the next step where all this study gets expression. This point also shows that children have done a basic course to know and understand what is happening during a performance and be able to enjoy the performance harmoniously.

The students then choose whether to continue or not. Mostly students continue because they enjoy dancing as exercise or discontinue depending on the stream of education they have chosen.  Students who continue, practice and help younger students who have joined the classes after them with the lessons. Thus dance education is a continuous process. The child can grow into a performer or a dance teacher or join professional college for professional training.

Present state of Bharatanatyam art form:
There has been a progression of Bharatanatyam from being a sacred art practiced in temples to an academic art form open for public. Today, the guru shishya mode of imparting elements and characteristics of the art form has been converted into class room teaching mode and totally exam oriented. Let alone institutions running graduate courses, even hobby classes have become exam oriented. One can see, there is the hurry for finishing prescribed syllabus for the year than perfecting the technique of performance and help savoring the essence of the art form.
Effects of this type of training are visible to all. This has led to the approach of teaching becoming more theoretical than practical. There is not enough practice done to internalize the techniques of movements involved. And very little practical portion is taught as compared to the vast theory. Without a cohesive idea of the techniques and skills of the art form there is deterioration in standards of teaching and learning the art; leading to sub-standard performances.

Lesson plan:
It is essential that a teacher caters to the needs of all students. Many students join dance class as hobby mainly for physical exercise. There are many children with problems like hyperactivity, fussy eaters, introvert children, moody children, obese children, academically stressed children etc. Dance as exercise solves all these problems, and helps improves the overall temperament of the child. Therefore in a hobby class there should be at least about 30- 40 minutes of dancing while teaching new units, correction and theory should be for a minimum time. Following the cycle of teaching- learning, correction, perfection, theory and then teaching-learning new unit should help achieve the goal of internalization of the art form.

Notes to reference:
1.    K.K. Bhatia & J.N. Arora, Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981, chapter 2, pg 12.
2.    Ibid, chapter 3, pg 29.
3.    Quiz on Bhagavatham, Sri Sathya Sai Sadhana Trust, Publication Division, October 2010, pg 35.

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. This dissertation is an attempt in the area of pedagogy.

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