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Nandini Ramani: Sanskrit is a vibrant and glorious language
- Lalitha Venkat

December 17, 2008

Nandini Ramani is a prime disciple of T Balasaraswati, an art critic and member of various committees including Sangeet Natak Akademi. Daughter of late renowned scholar Dr. V Raghavan, Nandini is compiling her father's literary works and publishing them for Dr. V Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts, Chennai.

What is the place of Ramayana in a Bharatanatyam margam?
The theme of Ramayana plays a vital role in a Bharatanatyam margam through the different compositions of the traditional format. Beginning with the swarajati Rama Neeve of Tenmatam Narasimhachari, describing the epic in a nutshell, several composers have employed the different episodes of the epic for presenting in a Bharatanatyam performance. Devotional songs of Arunachala Kavi from his Rama Nataka kritis are used in the post varnam section of a Bharatanatyam recital, while the Navarasa shloka on Rama can be an apt concluding piece. In addition to the classical pieces centering around the theme of the epic by both Southern and Northern composers, several contemporary pieces -Varnams, Padams, maybe even a Sabdam on Rama, have been prevalent in the present scene. Thus Ramayana has been a perennial source material for sustaining a full Bharatanatyam margam.

Can you tell us about Ramayana in the Sanskrit drama tradition?
Well known plays of Sanskrit dramatists that could be staged are Kundamala of Dhiranaga, Uttaramacharitam of Bhavabhuti, Bhasa's Pratimanatakam and Ascharyachudamani of Saktibhadra. Apart from these, there are several well known and lesser known full-length and one-act plays depicting Rama under different categories of nayakas. Among the stageable plays, Kundamala and Ascharyachudamani occupy a prominent place. While Ascharyachudamani is well known in the Kudiyattam tradition, it has been possible to enact it as a full length Sanskrit play by our organization Samskrita Ranga, founded by Dr.V Raghavan in 1958. The Samskrita Ranga has also enacted Dr. Raghavan's Sanskrit translation of Valmiki Pratibha of Rabindranath Tagore, which describes the transformation of the hunter into the Adi Kavi. A rare and hitherto unknown Sanskrit play Udatta Raghava of Mayuraja was a discovery by Dr. Raghavan and it has been very recently released during his Centenary year (2008).

How relevant is Sanskrit today? Especially since much of the young generation cannot understand it.
Sanskrit language is ever vibrant and glorious. It can never be dismissed from its soulful existence. Large number of people who attend our annual plays do enjoy the divine aspect of the language and its beauty as the language itself infuses in them a natural grasp of the content of the play which is enacted with words (Vachika) accompanied by appropriate physical gestures depicting the salient mental mood (Satvika), employing suitable movement technique (Parikrama). Sanskrit is the very root of Indian heritage and all its allied activities and hence can survive with its timelessness. In fact, there is a whole lot of younger generation well versed in Sanskrit and are going deeper into its studies. In the present day there is also an interest into adapting dramas into English formats. This shows only the successful survival of the glorious language from time immemorial to this day.

Now that the Bharatanatyam banis are intermingling, how does the Balasaraswati style stand out?
The Balasaraswati style or the Kandappa's (mentor of T Balasaraswati) style, is a rich compact bani which encompasses within itself the training of Nritta and Abhinaya both devised and taught from the same place. Kandappa chiseled out his own technique, having hailed from the main Thanjavur line, and taught the nritta element to Bala according to his own rigorous perception. Bala who got moulded in her abhinaya technique by her well known mentors, was herself equipped with an innate genius. With these twin aspects being offered in full measure and with propriety, a student from this tradition had no need to learn from elsewhere, any of these aspects. As we all know, in Bharatanatyam the physical framework is tuned in the chosen tradition and thereafter the elements of Nritta and Abhinaya are shaped in unison on the basis of the singular orientation. So it has been possible for the student of this tradition to keep up this bani without deviating, diversifying or intermingling. At the same time just as Bala felt, it has not been possible to train a student from another discipline to specialize here in the abhinaya aspect alone. After all the basic training pervades the hasta pada viniyogas of any dancer in her chosen line which will decide the thought process, course and networking of the ideas while interpreting a theme. Hence it has been very much possible for the Balasaraswati style to survive independently and it stands out for its strict adherence to the margam format with all its traditional components, excellence in Nritta aspects and an unhurried leisurely approach to abhinaya with subtlety and dignity, all traveling in an unbroken chain of activity.

Do you think it is necessary for the elements of a bani to be preserved?
It is absolutely necessary, for then only it will be possible to identify works of the great masters and how they conceived the whole process and how they marked out their technique with its intricate nuances.

How do you see the continuation of the Balasaraswati style in the future?
As long as the sun, moon and the stars shine, I am sure of the continuation of the Balasaraswati's style; there may not be tens and fifties of dancers emerging out of this tradition but those handful of students who have strived to learn and imbibe the values of this style, will be carrying it forward for sure in their times ahead. After all, both Kandappa and Bala believed only in quality and not in quantity.

Your comment on the Chennai December season.
From my childhood I have been part and parcel of the Music Academy music season, with my father Dr. Raghavan carrying on the responsibility there with a missionary zeal. I have enjoyed a golden era of music and dance of stalwarts at the Academy and because of my father, had the privilege and joy of having known many of them personally as I grew up there. Every December I always live in those golden memories. I have also been a performer during those times, presenting myself in front of an august, scholarly gathering at the Academy in December. How I wish the revival of that glorious past with very few festivals, each one selecting only the best in music and dance in the real sense of the term and doing away with mediocrity with conviction and courage. However, as a rasika, who has been witnessing the changes in the cultural scene of Chennai in December, I feel that a unanimous decision by all the organizers of the festivals has to be taken to check on the several issues that affect the artists as well as the audience which is becoming thin year after year. Without the rasikas, what is the purpose of a festival? Without the rasikas, to whom are these artists performing?


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