- Through the eyes of Tara
Tara Rajkumar is a renowned, accomplished dancer and teacher in South East Asia, for both Mohiniattam and Kathakali. Tara has been accorded the Victorian Honour Roll for Women Shaping the Nation, among many other awards. Through her dance demonstration, she reached a wide Australian audience with her dancing eyes and hand gestures, her sculpturesque poses and articulate yet relaxed speech accompanying the dance. Cherished by children and adults, the audience was taken through a journey where they saw Tara weave the never dying link between sculpture, painting and Indian classical dance such as Odissi, Kathakali and Mohiniattam.
Tara started her demonstration with the respectful "Namaskaram" calling it a meeting of the minds of the performer and the audience, the joining of ideas and its ethos. The classical dance forms she said, had a labyrinth of rules and regulations set by the Natya Shastra written somewhere around the 2nd to the 5th century when Indian classical dance originated in the temples and was a discipline of self expression, creativity and spiritual realisation. The objective of a dancer was to elevate the audience to a different higher plane of enjoyment, rasa.
Tara's talents were recognised and carefully tendered by her father, a famous critique of Mohiniattam himself, from a very young age. By the time she was 10 years of age, Tara was showing great potential under the tutelage of the famous legends, the late Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair in Kathakali and the late Kalyani Kutti Amma in Mohiniattam. Upon migrating to London, Tara became the Founder Director of the respected Academy of Indian Dance, now called the Akademi which has completed more than 25 years of leading activities in South Asian Dance in the United Kingdom. Later, on her arrival in Australia, she focused all her energies into establishing a successful career in Kathakali and Mohiniattam dance and its teachings. She formed the only Kathakali and Mohiniattam school of dance in Melbourne called Natya Sudha. The Natya Sudha Dance Company has toured widely in Australia and overseas, performing Tara's choreographed dances expertly, under her direction. Her accomplishments also include developing courses and workshops through her Fellowships in the Music Department and the Centre of South Asian Studies at Monash University in Melbourne. Among many other ventures, she has successfully combined tradition with innovation in her presentations of these dance forms over the years.
It was fascinating therefore to see and listen to Tara conjure the dance and successfully transcend all cultural barriers through its purity and spirit. Her demonstration of the buzzing bees' delight in sucking nectar from a lotus and the lotus's despair and sadness as the darkness compelled the closing of its petals, left young and old in the audience spellbound. As the English language has 26 alphabets, so does the Indian dance form of Kathakali have 24 mudras shown with finger and eye movements, as evident in the paintings and sculptures exhibited around her, she said. She linked movements with her eyes and hands, to show the arriving King, the moving elephant, the union of Shiva and Parvati as depicted in the painting of Ardhanaarishwari, the form of Shiva with Ganges flowing from his hairlock, and many more.
Moving on to explain the meaning and significance of the sculpturesque poses adopted in classical dance as Samabhanga, Abhanga, Thribhanga and Athi bhanga she rested on the theme of her talk. She compared the balance in a statue expertly crafted with that of the dancer's balance in rhythm and posture, the static statue's story to the tale that the dancers weave with their eyes, their hands and body movements. The origins of dance began within the confines of the temples where the dancer maintained her revered and exalted position mirroring the sculpturesque temple maidens; this in the eyes of Tara was the central nerve of similarity between dance and the ancient arts so displayed.
The Goddess exhibition was segmented into various rooms, each depicting the many temple sculptures, in sandstone, wood and brass, oil and water colour paintings of Radha and Krishna, Shiva and Parvathi, Kali, Buddhism and the Chakras and so on. The Collection, shipped to Australia from all parts of the world, was precious. For those who visited the exhibition, it was truly rewarding to see the commendable efforts of the Art Gallery of New South Wales take fruition.
Tara in keeping with this theme selected the Navarasa of Parvathi in Mohiniattam. A student of dance says to Parvati, "Oh Shakti, you look at Shiva in adoration and in love, in anger, sadness and sometimes in scorn, in desire and respect, in courage and strength, for what is Shiva without you." This finale had truly touched all in the audience who left with an unforgettable insight into not only the centuries old temple architecture from Asia but also the ancient dance forms of Mohiniattam and Kathakali originating from the southern region of India, since the Vedic period.
"Tara's talk has completed the experience for the foreign audience from an impersonal view of the sculptures to an informed and personal one. She has successfully breathed life into the sculptures and pictures surrounding us today," said Vishwanathan, one of the patrons who was present in the audience.
For Roe Schroeder, "It was so wonderful and so close to the sculptures surrounding us; the dance has made it an experience and we have enjoyed the demonstration which is as beautiful as the paintings." Vaanie, a 15 year old student of Bharatanatyam, was captivated by Tara's vibrant abhinaya.
The question however that I am left with as I move amongst the high vaulted columns of the sandstone pillars of the Art Gallery overlooking the green expanse of the Botanical Gardens beyond is, what came first. The dancer or the sculptor? The subject or the artist? Whether dance existed before the temples or did dance originate after the temples?
Well, in the eyes of Tara Rajkumar, "It all came from the cosmic figure of Shiva as 'Nataraja,' where he creates with one hand, destroys with the other and preserves with yet another! This is the cycle of nature that defies explanation."