Ramaa Bharadvaj's workshop on 'Performance Arts and the Natyashastra'
- Samyukta Venkatesh
Photos by: Siva Kumar and Meenal Avudainathan

April 28, 2017

On the last minute invitation by the principal of Chinmaya International Residential School, Coimbatore, Ramaa Bharadvaj enthralled the dance students, staff and guests for two full hours on April 15, 2017 with her workshop and performance titled 'Performance Arts and the Natyashastra' at the school's outdoor amphitheater. Ramaa introduced the children to the nuances of Bharata's Natyashastra with wit, humor and clarity. The gestures, expressions, postures and historical context, were explained in detail and so interestingly, that the audience was completely mesmerized. The true highlight came in the end when she illustrated the concepts that she had talked about, with a brief abhinaya rich performance that dramatized each character well. The entire evening was, in a nutshell, a divine and meditative experience. Samyukta Venkatesh shares her thoughts.

Broken and crippled I felt, after stopping my ten year-long journey of dance classes. I have waited to see 'life' in at least one of the many dancers who performed everywhere. But the waiting drained me, a part of my soul was lost forever, or so I had concluded. It was then that we were told about the two-hour workshop that was to be conducted at my school, by Ramaa Bharadvaj. My expectations were not high after my failure to find a dancer who could inspire me. But all that changed that evening. This might appear to be a cliché statement, but I am weeping with joy now, just as I did when I watched the sublime devotion that Ramaa's dance portrayed. Finally, I had met an inspiring dancer and teacher, who lived the dance.

Throughout her presentation, Ramaa nourished us with her extensive knowledge based on the Natyashastra. She began by saying that she was going to correct some wrong notions that people have about theoretical terms in dance and she did that successfully. We understood that the true meaning of that most common word 'abhinaya' is not just facial expression, but that it is the process that leads/takes an idea from us towards a person we are interacting with. In short, abhinaya is the art of 'communication' and its four principles can be applied not only to dance but to life also. Angika or communication through actions by the body, Vachika (through words), Aharyam (through costumes and props), and Satvika (through natural emotional responses, which give life to the movements) - Ramaa explained these not just by talking about them, but through humorous demonstrations and fun challenges for us students to try out on stage. Therefore, her session was highly interactive and kept all of us at the edge of our seats.

She also clarified the difference between bhava and rasa. Bhava is that which a dancer displays, whereas Rasa is the 'saaramsha' or essence, which the audience experiences. For example, when the dancer conveys 'shoka' (sadness) bhava, the audience experiences 'karuna' (compassion) rasa. We learnt that there are only 8 rasas listed, each with its own corresponding bhava. We also learnt the importance of the word "rasika' which is used to describe the Indian audience, because they were the taster, or experiencer of rasas. This made us realize the importance of the audience also being educated in the arts. She enriched us on the difference between Hastas (gestures used to express internal ideas to the external world) and Mudras (an external tool used to take one inwards) and thus dance gestures are not really Mudras. She also demonstrated the use of Natyadharmi (stylized expression) and Lokadharmi (realistic expression). Through this entertaining presentation, I understood that all dancers should have equal theoretical knowledge as we have practical knowledge on dance.

Ramaa's storytelling was really engrossing. We were glued to her words as she narrated the full story of 'Natyotpatti', or how drama came into being in the beginning of Treta Yuga, as a special tool to inspire people towards goodness. Lord Brahma created Natya as a fifth Veda compiling the aspects of the already existing four Vedas. He took poetry from the Rig Veda, music from the Saama Veda, communicative methods from the Yajur Veda and enjoyment (rasa) from the Atharva Veda. Since Lord Brahma wanted this knowledge to be given to a person of intense 'tapas', he sent for Bharata Muni and blessed him with this knowledge, and Bharata then passed it on to his 105 disciples.

It was amusing to learn that the first ever drama, which, although created in heaven with Brahma's blessings, actually flopped, and ended up in causing a riot, with the asuras protesting, since they were shown in a negative light. They paralyzed the actors, and this angered Indra who retaliated with his own weapon. Lord Brahma called upon Vishwakarma, the celestial architect, to build the first amphitheatre and the gods and devatas took responsibility for guarding different areas of the theater and stage.

Finally, through two dances, Ramaa brought to life all the aspects that she had talked about. The first was "Krishna nee begane" in which she showed the different aspects of devotion - the Vatsalya Bhava as mother, the Prema Bhava as a lover and the Bhakti Bhava as a devotee. She convincingly transformed into each character through her entire body, not just facial expressions. The next dance on Nandanar born as a low caste, who evolved as a great devotee of Lord Shiva, left all of us speechless. The last part of the item when the Nandi moved to give a glimpse of the deity to Nandanar was dramatized so well that it brought tears in the eyes of each one of us in the audience. She had mentioned, that in earlier times people used to appreciate the performers not by clapping but by shaking their palms above their heads and throwing their shawls. We too got the honour of showing our appreciation in that ancient way, by giving her a standing ovation by rising to our feet and shaking our palms above our heads.

Even after having lived in the USA for over 30 years, the deep love that Ramaa Bharadvaj has towards Indian culture has informed and motivated us about the beneficial significances in our culture that we should be proud of. Her jubilant nature spread an aura of warmth and bond, which attracted all of us to run to her after the session, and at least touch her feet.

Samyukta Venkatesh is a student of Class XII, Chinmaya International Residential School, Coimbatore.