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Seminar on 100 years of Nritya Bharateeyam: Day 1
Text and pics: Lalitha Venkat

June 16, 2017

'Hundred Years of Nritya Bharateeyam,' a national seminar on Indian dance to commemorate the last hundred years of dance, was convened by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam in Chennai on June 1 and 2, 2017. It was organized by the Indian Council of Historic Research (ICHR), New Delhi, in collaboration with Bharata-Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture (BIFAC), Chennai, and C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Institute of Indological Research (CPRIIR), Chennai. This is the first time ICHR has ventured into the history of Indian dance as a topic for their seminar. Speakers from across India spoke on the evolvement of the different forms of Indian classical dance and aspects in the last century.

Dr. M.S. Sarala

After the inauguration formalities, Dr. M.S. Sarala (Director, Dept of Fine Arts, Alagappa University, Karaikudi) presented a paper on 'The inheritance of artistic values from the Devadasis.' She spoke about how the devadasis had contributed to nurturing the dance form and kept it alive by performing in temples and royal courts, the struggle of the devadasis during the colonial rule, how a few errant devadasis gave the whole clan a bad name, and the consequences of the Devadasi Act of 9 October 1947. Her own grandmother Vasantha Ammaiyar had handed her the script of Viralimalai Kuravanji when she was but a one and half year old baby to continue her creation, meaning choreography. The kuravanji explains the service rendered to dance by the devadasis, the grants and aids provided to them for their religious dedication and their timeless contribution to dance. The recent announcement of Annabattula Lakshmi Mangatayaru and Leela Sayi for the SNA Puraskar for traditional theatre Kalavantulu, is a positive development, said Sarala. She concluded with the heartfelt statement that the devadasis deserve an honorable mention in the pages of history. Accompanying visuals added to the poignant tone of her talk.

Historian V. Sriram, a much sought after speaker on history and fine arts, spoke on the emergence of sabha culture in his usual crisp and witty manner. Cultural activities abounded in George Town area of Chennai and slowly moved to other areas after newer sabhas opened, not because of great love for art but by warring factions within a sabha! MS Subbulakshmi and Kamala's performances helped in completing the construction of Music Academy while Hema Malini's contribution to complete the Narada Gana Sabha auditorium is laudable, showing the important role played by women artistes. And successful artistes did not necessarily make for successful sabha administrators, said Sriram!

The second session opened with music scholar and film historian V.A.K. Ranga Rao's talk on the influence of Indian classical dance on South Indian cinema through the black and white era when dance formed an integral part of films. He said this influence was of four kinds: Use of classical pieces as they are, adaptations, classical style choreography and a mixture of movements. He spoke of various dance masters like Vedantam Raghavaiah and Vempati Chinna Satyam, Raju and Seshu, Srinivas Kulkarni and Ellappa who had choreographed for Telugu and Tamil films.

Some dances were used in film exactly as it would have been presented on stage. A few examples from the many he gave are: Dasavatara Sabdam in 'Raithubidda' (1939, Telugu) performed by Vedantam Raghavaiah and party, where the singing and Kuchipudi choreography were not changed for the film; P Bhanumati performing Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar's thillana in 'Vipranarayana' (1954, Telugu). The famous Shankarabharanam thillana "Nadir deem tanadirena" (Moolaiveetu Rangasami Nattuvanar) was adapted into "Na ja, na ja baalam" by Anil Biswas in the Indo-Soviet co-production 'Pardesi' (1957, Hindi). This was beautifully choreographed for her sister Padmini by Ragini standing in for the choreographer from Bombay who did not show up in Russia. The popular Tamil padam "Netrandhi nerathile" (Vaideeswarankoil Subbarama Iyer) was adapted into Telugu by Daita Gopalam with more or less the same meaning but addressed Siva instead of Muruga. "Manmatha leelai" sung by MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and danced by TR Rajakumari in 'Haridas' (1944, Tamil), Kamala and Vazhuvoor coming together in "Anthi mayangudadi" in 'Parthiban Kanavu' (1960, Tamil) are examples of classical style choreography. "Theeyani vennela reyi" choreographed by Vedantam Raghavaiah and performed by Anjali Devi in 'Balaraju' (1948) has a mix of western flavor and was a great hit at that time. "Sundaranga andukora" from 'Bhookailas' choreographed by KN Dandayudhapani Pillai and performed by Helen used a mix of Bharatanatyam, Kathak and attractive movements to become a super hit. Rao also added that while some dances were choreographed in accordance with the lyrics, others had no connection of movement with lyrics but were attractive all the same! A few short black and white clips of Kamala, Travancore sisters, TR Rajakumari, P Bhanumati and Helen provided nostalgic moments.

Dr. Anuradha Jonnalagadda (Prof. Dept of Dance, Sarojini Naidu School of Arts and Communication, University of Hyderabad) dealt with the Kuchipudi tradition to its momentous period of transition in the two Telugu speaking states. She elaborated on how Kuchipudi moved from an essentially male dominated traditional theater form to its present avatar dominated by female dancers, how practitioners responded to the socio-political conditions of the time and the resulting changes that came about in its practice as well as repertoire from time to time. The 20th century saw the evolution of Yakshaganas to dance dramas, the emergence of solos, and inclusion of women. This art practiced exclusively by a few families of hereditary practitioners spread to other social groups in the society and globally as well. Kuchipudi is now being hailed as the classical dance of Andhra state. However, ironically the premier body set up for the propagation of Kuchipudi, The Kuchipudi Natyaramam, with crores of funding from the Andhra Government is being headed by an NRI with no knowledge of the art form.

Ashish Mohan Khokar, Kalakrishna, Madhavi Puranam, Dr. K.G. Paulose, Dr. Mallika Kandali

Dr. Sunil Kothari, who was to talk on dancing in the diaspora could not attend the seminar. The third and final session featured Dr. K.G. Paulose, Ashish Mohan Khokar, Dr. Mallika Kandali and Kalakrishna speaking on Kerala dance forms, Kathak gharanas, Sattriya dance and Andhra Natyam respectively.

Dr. K.G. Paulose (the first Vice Chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University and the Founder-Chairman of International Centre for Kutiyattam, Tripunithura) spoke on the process of transformation of natya to attam in Kerala. "The royal dramatist Kulasekhara's stage manual Vyangyavyakhya is important to understand theatre forms of Kerala. Bharata's theatre entailed staging of the text as it is, with the actor as just an imitator. Vyangyavyakhya transformed Bharata's natyam to attam (dance) on Kerala stage, liberating the actor from the limitations of text, provided ample opportunities for imaginative acting and encouraged solo performances. The actor transgressed the text through transformation of roles (Pakarnnattam) and also by creating his own text (manodharma). The effect of these changes was the emergence of Koodiyattam, an alternate model for the presentation of Sanskrit plays different from the national pattern. This was followed by Krishnanattam, Ramanattam (Kathakali) and Mohiniattam. Nangiarkoothu evolved from Koodiyattam and Kerala Natanam from Kathakali. The process of classicization brought new life to these forms, the magic word being 'classicization.' Renaissance in the field of dance meant more scientific systematization. Mohiniattam that benefitted the most from this process, Kathakali, Koodiyattam and innumerable indigenous forms are well recognized Kerala art forms."

Ashish Mohan Khokar
Scholar/critic Ashish Mohan Khokar (editor of dance annual AttenDance) spoke on the Kathak gharanas and the Kathak greats, who each brought in their personal touch to the Lucknow, Banaras, Jaipur and Raigarh gharanas, while the Punjab gharana, seems to have disappeared with the partition of India and Pakistan. Earlier, teachers added Kathak as their surname, like Kundanlal Kathak and Sunderlal Kathak. Khokar spoke on the evolution of a religious worship form into a fine classical art, its structure and substance, passage and progress over centuries woven in with recent developments. "Traditional masters left their rural settings and moved towards courts and cities. From the art of wandering minstrels, to temple traditions, to court influences under Hindu and Mughal India, Kathak's journey has been an interesting study in sociology of dance forms, including its acceptance in films, making the dance form widely accessible." On the gaining popularity of Kathak, Khokar elaborated on visiting foreign artists like Ted Shawn, Ruth St Denis and La Meri who presented small items exposing the dance form outside India. Leading dancers like Ram Gopal, Uday Shankar, Madame Menaka and Sadhona Bose included Kathak items and soon with opening of dance schools, students flocked to learn Kathak. Films also started including lavish Kathak sequences. A brief slide show from the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection included not only Kathak related images but also of other dance forms in an interesting presentation.

Sattriya exponent and scholar Dr. Mallika Kandali (Associate Professor in RG Baruah College, Guwahati, and founder director of Parampara Pravah) shed light on the Sattriya tradition of Assam, its evolution and transformations. Aided by visuals of sattras and Sattriya dances, she explained how the dance form emerged in 15th century Assam as a vehicle to propagate the bhakti movement initiated by the great saint scholar Srimanta Sankaradeva. From being confined to a dance form performed only by the male Vaishnavite monks of the various sattras, Sattriya not only got recognition as a classical dance form of India in 2000, it now has more female practitioners, the dance having progressed from the sattras to the proscenium stage, while continuing to flourish in Assam as a living tradition by the male monks in the monasteries. The costumes and repertoire have also been evolved to suit modern times. It was interesting to learn that Dr. Jagannath Mahanta was the first to do a PhD in Sattriya and the Paris University has started a course in Sattriya dance!

Moderator Madhavi Puranam, Guru Kalakrishna
Guru Kalakrishna, prime disciple of late Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna, was given the topic of revival of Andhra Natyam only, but he decided to speak on revival of Perini too! Both being vast topics, he ran a bit short of time. An edited, crisp version of the details would have benefited the audience more. He said Andhra Natyam is an ancient traditional dance form which originated as a temple dance dating back to the Buddhist era and was earlier referred to as Kaccheri, Kelika Darbaru, Mejuvani etc. This dance performed by women was banned for several years due to social pressures but about 50 years ago, with the help of former courtesans and temple dancers, Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna's research resulted in revival of the dance form now renamed and reintroduced as Andhra Natyam into the mainstream.

Some excerpts from Kalakrishna's paper on Perini: "Perini is a dance of 11th century AD. The Kakatiya rulers of the 11th century, Ganapathi Deva, Rani Rudrama Devi, Pratapa Rudra Deva of Warangal, were worshippers of Lord Shiva and patronised the dance form. After the fall of Kakatiyas, this art disappeared due to lack of patronage. Nataraja Ramakrishna studied the agama traditions and the Kakatiya temples (1100 - 1300 AD) which inspired him to recreate 'Perini Shiva Tandava' after a careful study of Nritta Ratnavali of Jayappa Senapathi, a dance treatise written in Ganapathi Deva's (1199 - 1261 AD) courts, and the sculptural representation on the thousand pillared temples and shrines at Ghanapur and Palampet in Warangal district. Ramakrishna choreographed an all night performance of Perini at the Ramappa temple. He then went on to train many artistes in Perini over a period of four decades. In 'History of dances in South India: Perini Shiva Tandava,' Ramakrishna describes the cultural path traversed by Perini, how the Saivite tradition gradually transformed into a Vaishnavite tradition based dance, and the inclusion of women dancers bringing in the lasya aspect. Ramakrishna however concentrated on the tandava part only. Bharatarnavam of Nandikeshwara has descriptions about Perini, its characteristic features, costumes, music instruments, behavioural regulations for performing on stage and details of the panchangas or five parts. The five parts which constitute Perini according to Nandikeshwara are Gargharamu, Vishamamu, Bhavashrayamu, Kaivaramu and Geetamu." He said Telangana state now aims to get recognition for Perini as the state's classical dance form and the burden seems to be square on Guru Kalakrishna's shoulders to give a definite finish to the repertoire. Perini has even been introduced in six music and dance colleges of Telangana. Kalakrishna demonstrated a few steps.

It was summed up in the post discussion that Kuchipudi, Perini and Andhra Natyam as well as other regional dances belonged to the whole Andhra Pradesh state and it is ridiculous for each state (newly formed Andhra and Telangana) to claim ownership of a particular dance form! This sort of regional competition in claim of dance forms does not benefit these dance forms in any way.

Seminar on 100 years of Nritya Bharateeyam: Day 2

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of