Dec 20: Purush is the imagination, Prakriti is the reality?
- Kiran Rajagopalan
December 20, 2013
The conference began with a spirited performance by Mumbai-based Bharatanatyam dancer Pavitra Bhat, and he presented a mallari and excerpts from Patanjali’s “Shambu Natanam.” The presentation of the ‘Natya Chudar’ award to V. Soundarya and the inaugural address by Kartik Fine Arts Chairman, L. Sabaretnam, swiftly followed the performance. The opening address was then delivered by two exceptionally engaging speakers – senior dance critic Leela Venkataraman and noted mythologist Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik.
In her fascinating discussion on the “shrinking space for the male dancer,” Ms. Venkataraman emphasized that conventional notions of gender are irrelevant in Indian classical dance as it is inherently transformative. Ideally, what a dancer transforms into on stage should be far more important for the audience than his or her actual gender. She also highlighted a disturbing trend in classical Indian dance – the consistent sidelining of talented male dancers. Certain dance forms once practiced exclusively by men, such as Kuchipudi and Sattriya, have become “fractured and diluted” by female dancers with less skill. It is also ironic that male Kathak dancers now struggle to find opportunities to perform solo even though their tradition has always celebrated male virtuosos.
On the other hand, Dr. Pattanaik’s address was more conceptual in that he began with a critical evaluation of the terms purush and prakriti. Conventional theology, he argues, assigns masculine energy to the former and feminine energy to the latter. Yet, Dr. Pattanaik defines purush simply as the “human mind capable of imagination” based on the idea that man creates life outside of his body. Therefore, in art, what the mind conceptualizes is purush but what is physically created from it becomes prakriti.
He then segued into an examination of the metaphoric and metaphysical implications of the dances of Nataraja and Krishna. Nataraja’s dance, which is performed in total isolation, represents a fervent, internal search for bliss. In contrast, Krishna’s dance is a performance in the truest sense as it is a communal spectacle used specifically to build rapport and to engage others in worship.
Dr. Chatterjee tackled similar issues while discussing her ongoing research on Uday Shankar’s work in Germany during the 1930s. Shankar thrived in Germany because of the prevailing attitude that the Indian performing arts were endangered. Therefore, he was “overestimated” as an authentic practitioner of India’s vanishing sacred arts, and his performances were thought of as a continuation of a “tradition from time immemorial.” Interestingly, Shankar was also admired for his androgyny in performance, but he consciously shrouded such notions of gender with an air of “divinity and spirituality.” This was in stark contrast to Ram Gopal, whose penchant for glamor and seduction attracted many admirers.
The first day ended right on schedule after a lively discussion between the audience and the panelists. This reporter must also mention a very important highlight of the conference. Rex’s amazing stage set designs invariably transform Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s auditorium for each conclave, and he works his magic once again for ‘Purush.’ His minimalist, streamlined stage décor is perhaps a subtle nod to the “masculine aesthetic.” The creative use of Nataraja as the main decorative motif, and the picture-framed projection screen are inspired touches!
Kiran Rajagopalan, disciple of A. Lakshmanaswamy, is a Bharatanatyam dancer based in Chennai.