Bharata and Ilango
- Nanditha Prabhu

July 4, 2013

Dr. Nagaswamy is a doyen in the field of archaeology, history and many arts. He gave a lecture on ‘Bharatamuni and Ilangovadigal’ under the auspices of Bharata Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture on 15th June. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, the main torch bearer of BIFAC, introduced the topic and the speaker. She said the chapter Arangetrakadai in Ilangovadigal’s epic ‘Silappadikaram’ establishes a strong link to Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra. She said the “Lakshana” given in Natyasastra has attained “Lakshya” in Silappadikaram. The name “Arangam” in Silappadikaram itself has been taken from “Ranga,” its Sanskrit equivalent in Natyasastra. Tamil grammar entails the addition of a prefix thus making “Ranga”, “Aranga”. Rangam which means the space for performance is used in the Tamil work Tolkappiyam as “Aadukalam.”

In the chapter Arangetrakadai, Ilangovadigal mentions how a dancer should have mastery in “Pindiyum Pinayalum Ezhirkaiyum Tozhirkaiyum.” Padma Subrahmanyam explained how these words have parallels in Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra. “Pindi” denotes group dance, “Pinayal” means chaining, i.e., the dance where dancers are expected to dance in close proximity. “Ezhir kai” meant nritta hastas and “Tozhir kai” meant abhinaya hastas.
Natyasastra equates the dance performed in Purvaranga to a yagna and calls it Cittira Purvaranga. Madhavi of Silappadikaram is said to have performed Cittira Karanam and this might have meant the Purvaranga or invocation as mentioned in Natyasastra. Madhavi is also bestowed the “Talaikol” after the performance of Mandila. “Mandala” according to Natyasastra means the combination of 8-10 charis (Natyasastra alludes to 16 Bhumi charis and 16 Akasha charis). Silappadikaram also mentions that Madhavi was given Talaikkol as she danced according to Nattiyanannul or in adherence to the Sastra of Natya. Thus introducing the subject for the evening lecture, Dr. Subrahmanyam also demonstrated how the same lyrics should be danced in a group and how it can be danced individually. She said such nuances are also given in Natyasastra.

Dr. Nagaswamy then took the discussion forward. He said that our Indian culture is an integrated culture. Bharatamuni’s Natyasastra which can be placed in 2nd century BC and Ilangovadigal’s Silappadikaram which can be placed 300 years later show many links. Silappadikaram follows the ancient tradition of commencing and ending the work by extolling the greatness of the King. Silappadikaram extols the greatness of Cheran Chenguttavan. According to Dr. Nagaswamy, Silappadikaram is a beautiful creative poetry and not history as is widely believed. He reiterated that Silappadikaram is a Lakshya Grantha based on Natyasastra which is a Lakshana Grantha.

The concept of geographically dividing the land into tinais and the various tinai cultures appear in Silappadikaram. Even Bharatamuni says that the theatre is symbolically divided into different parts called ‘kakshaparidis.’ Characters representing each tinai enacted from his/her kaksha or boundary. The audience thus knew from which region each character belonged.

The main plot of Silappadikaram was taken from much earlier works like Purananuru. The poet Kapila narrates the story of Bega whose wife is Kannagi. Kannagi is abandoned by her husband as he has an affair with another girl. This very story of Kannagi is again repeated by the poet Paranar. Dr. Nagaswamy goes on to say that there were almost 5 poems on Kannagi before Silappadikaram. Ilangovadigal takes the crux of his story from here and he also takes inspiration from stories in Panchatantra. This again reaffirms the faith that Silappadikaram was creative poetry according to Dr. Nagaswamy.

Vrittis according to Natyasastra means modes of expression. According to the zonal tastes, the modes of expression vary. Ilangovadikal in his Silappadikaram prescribes vrittis for each of his sections. The first canto on Poompuhar, he says should be using the bharativritti. The second section dealing with Madurai should be enacted in Arabhati and satvati and the Vangi canto should be in Kaisikivritti.

Dr. Nagaswamy said all these and many more evidences in the Silappadikaram prove the adherence to Natyasastra and that Natyasastra was a common text. He asked the students and seekers of truth to approach this topic intellectually and not emotionally. The talk was indeed a very thought provoking one. The holistic and all inclusive approach towards life which our ancestors had is missing among today’s generation.

Nanditha Prabhu is a Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam dancer trained under her mother Kalamandalam Suganthi and Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam respectively. She runs her dance school Mythri Art Academy in Chennai.