PURUSH: Responses

PURUSH has made the difference but it also seems that male dancers like A Lakshman has chosen to do more effeminate roles as nayika bhava and women are choosing more strong roles of women from history and the epics.
During the past two years of MAD AND DIVINE and EPIC WOMEN, nobody was interested in women's sexuality… but PURUSH brought the issue of gender and sexuality to the fore. I am most thrilled that we were able to tackle important and sensitive subjects in the heart of  Mylapore. 
- Anita Ratnam


“Purush - Celebrating the Global Dancing Male” mounted by Kartik Fine Arts in association with Arangham Trust was arguably one of the richest, most meticulously crafted dance events in recent years.
- Leela Venkataraman (critic)

'Purush' was indeed an exhilarating and enriching experience. I loved my stay at Chennai and would cherish the sweet memories of time spent together, your loving hospitality and warmth for long. This was also my first ever experience of the Madras Sabha Season, a rare opportunity provided by you. I thank you for all that. Words are not enough to compliment Anita and her competent team for the spectacular event which has set challenging standards to follow.
- Manjari Sinha (critic)

Heartiest congratulations for the successful and most memorable Purush festival. We shall treasure the happiest memories. Wish you organize many more similar festivals in future.
- Dr. Sunil Kothari (scholar/critic)

For the last three Margazhi seasons, right in the middle of all the said and done stereotyped stuff, the three festivals curated by Anita Ratnam and her efficient team, including consultants Ketu Katrak and Hari Krishnan, Lalitha Venkat - the queen of logistics, have changed the phase of cultural programming. This year ‘Purush’, a festival dedicated to the global Indian male dancer was a much awaited and a long overdue one. Bringing together not just a wide assortment of performances but scholars, academics, thinkers and art enthusiasts, Madras saw something unique, like never before. Rex is a wizard of aesthetics when it comes to set design and everyone else can take a lesson or two from him. Attending the morning conferences and the evening performances was a rich learning experience. Wish organizers and institutions take a cue from this and do more such events, beyond the regular affair of performances. Indian cultural scene needs many more such festivals that are not just a feast to the eyes but food for thought as well.
Best wishes
- Veejay Sai (writer, culture critic)

I congratulate Anita Ratnam, Hari Krishnan, and their team. What a line-up of speakers and performers, also everything worked like clockwork. I was very nervous for it was after over a decade I was going to do a solo in Chennai and I must say I was very touched by the reception I got for my work. Moments like these give me strength to continue with my struggle.
- Astad Deboo

The PURUSH conference has not till its last day touched really on the MALE GAZE, which until recent years meant only the heterosexual aspect. The fact that such a dynamic conference is taking place in a very conservative Madras (where humour and audience are in short supply too!) and that too in Mylapore, the very bastion of traditional culture, is an achievement! Anita Ratnam and Hari Krishnan and their team of many young volunteers, have shown the way through professionalism and dynamism. What a benchmark in aesthetics (esp. of stage), range of performances (Navtej and Ottanthullal the clear winners), time management and inclusiveness this event has been. It was well organized, well hosted, well mounted and well, ended well!
- Ashish Mohan Khokar (editor-attendance)

My very heartfelt thanks for your invitation to participate in Purush. It was really such a joy and privilege to be part of this extraordinary event - one that touched everyone’s hearts and minds and souls so deeply. The exquisite performances, the discussions, the chats over coffee, the care with which everyone was looked after, the attention to artistic details - all of this added up to something much more, that can’t really be put into words. And of course, the wonderful after party at your beautiful home - such a generous and beautiful event. Thank you for all of this. There are so many wonderful memories left, and my mind is still full of the images of the different dancers and the fragments of conversations that filled the days. It was a marvellous event and one I am very proud to have been part of.
- Dr. Anne David

I have enjoyed Purush tremendously - both the performances and the discourses. It was very well curated by Anita and Hari (and without Rex it would not be aesthetically splendid; without Lalitha who gave her personal warmth and attention to all of us at Rainbow; and Mohan et al ) and brought to a superb manifestation at all levels by the team. Congrats and hope you will be further inspired to 'stir' the pot - now Chennai, but there is always the world!
Much love and admiration!
- Ramli Ibrahim

I've had a brilliant time at the Purush festival - couldn't think of a more apt introduction to the Margazhi season for me. Thank you everyone for your calm, collected professionalism, and for humour and humanity in your approach to work.
- Sooraj Subramaniam

I had a particularly thought provoking and inspiring time. And the conversations were rich!
- Jay Pather

It was a lovely experience, indeed. 
- Navtej Johar

We really enjoyed our stay in Chennai.  We would especially like to thank you so much for giving us a wonderful opportunity to perform over there.
- Bichitrananda Swain, Lingaraj Pradhan and Rudrakshya family 

Hearty congratulations, Anita! Very well organized function. Credit for the brilliant brain behind this concept of Purush and its meticulous conducting goes to you and the team working with you. My compliment and blessings to you all.
- VP Dhananjayan

Purush 2013 - Undoubtedly the best festival I have ever performed for or even attended, right from the treatment of the artists to the audience encouragement. Hats off to Anita Ratnam ma'am, can’t thank you enough for this opportunity
- Parshwanath Upadhye

Will cherish these three days 20 to 22 Dec for the rest of my life... PURUSH…PURUSH…PURUSH….The Global Male Dancing Festival gave me a lot of knowledge about dance. Thank you Anita R Ratnam ji, Kartik Fine Arts, Hari Krishnan ji, Lalitha Venkat ji, Raksha ji etc for giving me this wonderful opportunity to exhibit my little knowledge of Manipuri dance in this prestigious festival.
- Sinam Basu Singh

It was a great privilege to participate in the Purush festival along with the great legends. I enjoyed it, it was a great stay, and great to work with you.
- Mruthyumjaya Sharma

Had a great performance for the prestigious Purush conference in Chennai.....special thanx for the technical support and encouragement, before and after performance.
- Pavitra Bhat

Dancers comment on Purush

Anita’s conference/festivals bring internationality, provocative programming, interdisciplinary curation and a nuanced diversity not seen in many cultural events anywhere in the world today.
- Chitra Sundaram

It was such a wonderful experience to be part of Purush. The entire event was so beautifully conceived and conducted. As an event which explored an artistic practice it was the aesthetic standard that Anita gave to the entire program which I relished most. The attention to detail is what makes things excel and Purush did it wonderfully. Thank you.
- Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathy

'Purush: The Global Dancing Male' conference examined dance from a male perspective at Bhavan. Anita, I think you are a curator par excellence, and many international organizers have a lot to imbibe from your planning and execution strengths. The conference really highlighted the malleability of gender, and how Indian classical dance moulds it into conformity of very strict roles. The highlights of the conference for me were: Leela Venkataraman's opening address, the panel on contemporary Indian dance and the male dancer, Pandit Birju Maharaj's Bhaitak Bhav and of course Rustom Bharucha's closing comments (honest, brave, unapologetic and almost a plea to the dancers to understand their performance in terms of social and political context - what a befitting end to a wonderful conference). I thought the paper on Uday Shankar's dance in Germany belonged more in a completely academic environment, rather than at a performance conclave. Anil Srinivasan and Sikkil Gurucharan’s collaboration was sublime, and was the perfect start to a Sunday morning.
- Nithya Nagarajan (Phd candidate at Monash University)

Out of the 3 days of seminar as part of PURUSH celebrating the global dancing male, I managed to attend two that took place on the weekend. I couldn't have asked for more! As I entered the hall on the second day of the seminar, Ashish Khokar was just about concluding his speech, all set to telecast the documentary.

“Aharya was important a generation earlier, and we no longer use such elaborate crowns and ornaments as the craftsman are no more there,” he said. Quite a thought to ponder. I remember as a child I have seen many mythological dance dramas of Nataraj and Shakuntala and their troupe. They were well known for their sets, props, glittering costumes and jewellery. Those magnificent posters adorned the walls of Cuddalore, Madurai, Tanjore where I grew up. Nowadays one uses sets to the barest minimum and laser lighting has found way.

PURUSHA-MALE MOVES THROUGH A CENTURY OF INDIAN DANCE, a well documented work about the pioneers of Indian classical dance swayed through our hearts!
Birju Maharaj, truly the king of Indian dance was riveting, expounding the beauty of abhinaya with one word. Kaun gali gayo shyam (?) of Shambu Maharaj...which street has my Shyam gone? Ram Gopal, Uday Shankar, Astad Deboo, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Ramli Ibrahim, were the doyens presented in the documentary.

“Ram Gopal was a fashionista. He used to wear yellow trousers with pink suits,” Ashish added.
“‘Do we need to qualify genders?’ quipped my mother,” he said talking about his discussion with his mother, M.K. Saroja.

BHARATANATYAM AND THE MALE BODY: TECHNIQUE AND QUESTIONS OF EMBODIMENT - the next topic for discussion had a very interesting set of panelists. BMS sir quoted references for male dancing from ancient Tamil literature. He said that the Tamil Sangam had references where Cheraman after fighting his enemy used to dance; Koperunchingan as soon as he finished pooja danced before the idol of Nataraja- hence was also known as Bharatam valla Peruman. What a misnomer it is to talk about different styles, he said. It is only the aesthetic expression of certain adavus that differed. Guru Herambanathan shared the conversation he once had with the great guru Kittapa Pillai about banis and he fondly recollected how Kittapa Pillai embraced the dance fraternity in one fold and said, “We belong to Nataraja’s parampara, Aadal Valla Peruman's parampara.”

Any talk about banis was particularly of interest to me as people quite frequently asked me this question. As to which bani I followed. I found it a difficult one as personally I have drawn from various schools. When I was interviewed for an online magazine asking my experience working with Sheejith Krishna in the context of us coming from different schools, this is what I said. "Well, you had asked me about the different styles…probably you meant the Kalakshetra style and Vazhuvoor style. Somehow I always feel, in Bharatanatyam it is the person’s style that matters more and the so called banis become superficial….as long as the adavus are perfected, araimandi is neat and the lines are clean…all the so called styles gel well!"

A novice like me needed to elaborate so much to put forth a point but a stalwart like Guru CV Chandrasekhar can only make it as effortless as breathing! “I am beyond all banis. The alphabets don't change. The problem is only if the alphabets start changing," he said. One can’t make it more effective! Shanmuga Sundaram, Hariharan and Praveen danced beautifully!

The next day shone brighter. Lifetime achievement award conferred on Birju Maharaj!
CONTEMPORARY INDIAN DANCE AND THE MALE DANCER followed with panelists: RAMLI IBRAHIM (Malaysia), JAY PATHER (South Africa), SOORAJ SUBRAMANIAM (Belgium), HARI KRISHNAN (Canada). This had some interesting choreo clippings and anecdotes of identity crisis. Sooraj closed his speech with a moving short poem.

Closing remarks by Prof RUSTOM BHARUCHA threw a couple of questions. Anita akka introduced Malavika Sarukkai as the convener of Natya Darshan for the next two years. Malavika showered well deserved encomiums on Anita akka and both of them expressed genuine concerns that Chennai based dancers are not keen on attending such conferences. This was reiterated by Prof Bharucha as well! If I have to add something on the lighter vein, Sarasalaya marked the single largest attendance from any dance school during the last two days of the conference! Rex was brilliant and so was Lalitha akka! As a team they made PURUSH a stupendous success!
- Kavitha Ramu


It was a fabulous show by all standards. Thanks for thinking out of the box, Anita, and for bringing great artists to Chennai. Kindly keep up your good work.
- Sam Kumar (photographer)

Congratulations on pulling off a thumping good show! I have one observation -- it seems to me women are picking stronger nayikas while men are gravitating towards the ultra feminine ones.
- Malini Nair (Times of India)

When there was this discussion about dance styles - Vazhuvoor, Pandanallur and Kalakshetra - it was quite nice to come together and acknowledge the unified source and the need to be different and varied and open. Nevertheless, the direct dependence of the Art on the refinement and sophistication of the artiste and the exposure and evolution of spirit cannot be ignored. One style is more lokadharmic than the other. One style is for the elite, elevation-seeking intellectual, and another for the complete simpleton who gets charmed by open hearted display.

Complexity of movement, usage of mudras, and hands to explore the ideas are sooooo vastly different in each style. While the informed dancers revel in the beauty of the complexity, the 'normal' audience gets bored. Each clearly falls in a style. Also the abhinaya is so crass in some cases. Who will bell the cat? Who will call upon the attention-seeking styles that bother some of us? Finding Guru Herambanathan was incredible! Thank you.

It's wonderful to see such perfection, vigour and more male uplifting choreographies presented by vibrant dancers such as Parshwanath Upadhye. What a mesmerising and eventful performance. Also it was wonderful to see the transgender dancer perform so eloquently. I was truly touched and moved to witness such profound bhava presented by the dancer.

Life gets in the way for people to actually come and enjoy art made by others. We need to respect that others at home make their own art. Unless they have a stake, people have no time to spare. If their kid is dancing, parents show up!! Otherwise they want to simply sit at home and peacefully drink coffee and watch TV which involves no stress of commute or cost.

It is best to accept that if we teach more dance, more people will be aware and interested and even watch with a greater than normal understanding of the dance.

Please don't dissuade people from teaching dance. Regardless of style or quality, they bring joy around them and bring some hope, smiles, organised activity, exercise for the body etc, self confidence, feeling of belonging to a class, discipline etc. This in itself is good for the world.

Conference did not touch upon men who dance in an effeminate way! The gender confusions in their own head bleed into the dance and perplex the audience. No take on that?

We are open. If they want to dress like females and have the suitable frame for it and can carry it off, audiences can’t tell the difference and will willingly accept. But when boys want to study dance and the teacher is female and the end up copying the style, it looks quite weird and parents are scared to send boys to class!