Musings: Dance, human gods and money!
(Excerpted from the narthaki Discussion Forum)

December 24, 2007

What does your art mean to you? I am a Bharatanatyam dancer. I used to think my dance is a medium for me to get fame, money. No, I am not greedy; I didn't want to be world famous or anything. All I wanted and still want to is to have my own dance school and I want to continue my learning. But the greedy part is, I wanted to earn through the school I open. I am sure not many of you find blame with my intentions. But what I thought was wrong. I am a dedicated dancer, and for me my dance is as important as my daughter in my life. And I love it as much. My teachers never kept count of my classes and took several free tuitions on dance for me seeing my dedication, but it took me a while to learn this lesson from them. But I am glad I did.
Now I again pose the above question, what does your art mean to you? Let's be honest for a change and that's the reason I stated my example so shamelessly.

- Mallika, Dec 6, 2007

Musing to myself too…
In my archaeological search I was drawn to read an abstracts of the book 'Dancing at the Dawn of Agriculture' by Yosef Garfinkel, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. 352 pp.

What I understood was that up to 5000 years ago there were plenty of depictions of communal dance found on pottery ware, dance in the stone age seemed to have been a very spiritual function for many thousand years. I believe this did not disappear suddenly, as they say, but when monotheistic religion started 5000 years ago I found that the music still preserved in Bharatanatyam came into being. To me this dance form had been transformed then and preserves a spiritual massage far above commercial exploit. So if this can raise your soul to some ecstatic level, you achieved all you need. It may be too hazardous to communicate this to others.

Regarding talent, born with or not, I think little is understood. I once read 'Sangita Ratnakara,' it had much to say about how magical techniques can be employed to achieve excellence, but these are all not proven in any way. But I found that for instance those who had a long family tradition in some field, say devadasis, had developed so much natural talent that it might be impossible to learn that within one lifespan, no matter how much money one has available. This is probably not very much researched into yet. That's just how I muse about it.

- Raga, Dec 6, 2007

Thanks for the input. This thought has germinated from a discussion not so long ago in this forum about how to create a wide rasika base. There was a lot of hue and cry over people not paying for the job and I was a prominent voice on it.

I am still not against demanding money for performances, but when it comes to teaching, whether one can afford or not, money should not be an important thing. I know of at least 2 people- one a dance teacher and the other a classical music teacher- who do not charge a single pie. But most of the students can afford the fees. I feel the interest in the art itself should be important and not making bucks through teaching the art. I am not saying that one should do it even if it's the sole bread earning job, but for people like me, who are financially very secure, can go ahead do our bit. Again, I would still charge if one asked me to perform, but teaching...

- Mallika, Dec 6, 2007

If a dancer dedicates so many years of life and thousands in fees to learn an intricate art form, and wants to make a profession of teaching and performing, what is wrong with that? Others who take degrees in law or business make their living and no one thinks it odd. If an artist takes advanced degrees in dance and music, and has hours of dedicated riyaz to maintain his/her skills, then others should definitely pay the fees required to learn from the expert. If you give the art away for free, then people do not value it.
People who want to learn an art form, or watch a performance, will value it more highly if they have to spend their own hard-earned money. If the artists wish to give scholarship assistance to a student who does not have means to pay the fees, that is of course within the teachers right to do so, and if the performer wishes to dedicate funds to charity, that is another choice. But do not make your art cheap or free, which has been developed over the centuries at great expense and sacrifice. People pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket to an opera by Verdi, why should they expect to see a production of Ramayana for free?

- Stella, Dec 13, 2007

I am a bit confused.

I am not financially secure and have to struggle for a living, so I am happy whenever I get a free glimpse of the art. I found it extremely helpful that some people put a wealth of information on the net, like utube, to see samples. To name one, Prince Khaalid put some 2000 film clips over the last months for display and hundreds of them with some of the most famous Bharatanatyam film dancers ever; just to read the critics is educational to me.

What I say is really off topic here, but I admire what you do, pay or not, it's OK. My interest is rather different; I discovered that within the tradition of Bharatanatyam there is so much undiscovered yet, that years ago I started to uncover the less disputable facts in the scripture, those that have some mathematical background like the 22 shrutis. I discovered there was a time when this knowledge was universal and that it got misunderstood later on, which explains to me differences in Indian music and religion to the western tradition. I have a half finished manuscript... For my pleasure I discovered some of the oldest melodies of mankind in the scripture and I believe that at one time they could have been used with dance. My interest is really in the very beginning of Bharatanatyam, but I know that nobody can help me in this inquiry.

- Raga, Dec 7, 2007

Those times when classical arts were patronized by kings and courts, has been a golden time for Indian arts. I may be wrong but this must have probably been because the artists and composers did not have to worry about generating income to sustain themselves. It is not the same to today's artists who have taken it up as a profession, who hardly have any patrons, sans a few and rare corporate sponsors.

I am not slighting the contribution. The technical excellence is now at its heights/or at least not lost. But sometimes I get a feeling that we don't get the same rasanubhava like before.

As for charging fees towards art education - it may not be wrong. People pay 1000's for Math class, in what way is Dance inferior? The general attitude that Math coaching is essential and Art education isn't worth that amount, is unfortunate. But teaching driven by financial /commercial goals alone sounds preposterous. I have heard of unreasonable tuition and arangetram fees etc., that take dance beyond the reach of interested and talented but financially deprived children.

If somebody is hosting a commercial show and are going to pull crowds to make money, it is the artist's right to charge a fee. But if the organizer is not doing it for commercial gain, say for charity or just promoting the art, the artist may consider lowering / negating her charges. Programs esp. with live music can really be expensive abroad. Payment terms aside organizers need to respect the artiste. No compromises on this one. Expecting classical artists to dance on streets, where people eat etc is depressing.

What bothers me is that general people even slightly the types who afford, are willing to pay for most other entertainment (cinema, restaurants, parties, outfits etc.) - I am not talking about academic pursuits) - but think twice before they spend to see a dance performance. It may just be a matter of taste. Developing an awareness is key to tackle the prevailing sad state of affairs.

- Sangeetha, Dec 7, 2007

The effect of commercialization will have effect in teaching any subject.

- Padmanabhan, Dec 7, 2007

I have just started to look seriously and study about the aspects of dance which actually doesn't come in everyday Bharatanatyam - meaning, general learning of dance. But I am also trying to quench my thirst.

- Mallika, Dec 8, 2007

Let me explain my problem in simple words here, maybe some specialist in the forum can offer some advise as well?

Some scholars find that Bharata's Natya Shastra was written from 400 BC onwards, I also read that some believe there were lost Bharatanatyam scriptures before that; some websites claim Bharatanatyam is 5000 years old but give no source for their information. But there runs a thread through these scriptures that first Bharatanatyam is connected to Urjvasi dancing in the court of her husband Indra. This may be regarded as fictional myth. The scripture also states that Indra was pleased by the recitation of the seven yatis. Many years ago, I reconstructed these yatis (melodies in which the ragas may be seen) from the scriptures, which presupposes the lost knowledge of the ancient 22 shrutis and I did research on Indra and Urjvasi, so to believe in the truth of the story. Urjvasi is still a title of excellence given to a Bharatanatyam dancer by official India, i.e. recently to Urjvasi Shobhana.

May aim for the last decade was to find out what dance form might have been employed to the ancient yatis. I think it could have been a form of Thillana? Maybe someone here knows how yatis are performed today, so that I can trace the way backwards. It is a complex issue and takes time to ponder, more than one book can contain.

- Raga, Dec 8, 2007

Can you tell us more about your reconstruction of the 7 yatis, please?

Natya Shastra is a relatively recent text. It is a smiriti, not shruti, text, i.e. it is a concise and simplified form of the Natya Veda.

Urjvasi is an apsara, and apsaras do not have husbands, in case you want to know. :-) Otherwise it would be very immoral of Indra to send her to seduce Arjuna. :-)
The human things do not apply to the gandharvas or gods.

'Titles of excellence' are a matter of political arrangements, and I do not care if they call Shobana or Jayalalitha as 'Urjvasi': they will not dance better because of the title, will they? I think that Urjvasi would not be bothered to hear that her name was “given” as a title even to the winner of a Chennai dog fight competition. These gandharvas are notoriously indifferent to the human world! It is outrageous! :-)

Instead of spending the last decade trying to find out what dance form might have been employed to the ancient yatis, why didn't you meditate, meet Urjvasi in the invisible worlds and ask her to show and teach the yatis for you? After all, isn't it how things were learnt in the olden times?

- Urmila, Dec 8, 2007

Rude it may sound, Urmila, but I am forced to ask you to kindly check your facts before passing some cutting remarks. One should always remember to respect others' efforts.

Urvasi was NOT sent to seduce Arjuna, she went by her own urges. The SHAPAM that she gave to Arjuna was actually made easy by Indra.

I am a student of mythology and spirituality - thanks to my family who are steeped in Vedas- that they perform at least one major yagna an year - I have good knowledge about the popular black magic too. And with that authority over knowledge, I am saying this.
Whether gandharvas were actually indifferent to humans is a point of contest. There were many gandharva-human marriages. Apart from this, humans followed their style of marriage too called gandharva vivaham- eg Shakuntala and Dushyanta.

The science was so developed at that time. With the scientific knowledge we have now, it is almost impossible to know how they possessed the knowledge they did. In fact all the Hindu norms are based on science, that's why Hinduism is not a religion, it's a lifestyle, the norms of which are termed trash by perverts with half baked information and immaturity.

It was not only through meditation that they knew things they did; performing a yagna is the oldest form of experimentation. That's why they used to get rejections too - experiment failed. Yes, meditation is a way to increase spiritual power, but there is much to know.

There is another theory that Indra was not one person, it's a post, just like a President's' etc. or else how can god forgive someone who tries to seduce somebody else's wife, runs away from asuras at the drop of a hat.

If you have doubts on mythology or spirituality, please let me know. I can help you better than any swamiji asking for big sums of money.

- Mallika, Dec 9, 2007

I follow a scientific archaeological research and found that Urjvasi? (Urv Ashi) was likely a human and queen to Indra, a human - given birth to their children. This applies to her alone and I cannot say to any other mythological beings like apsaras, gandharvas etc. In the Vedas, Indra was a human god, whatever that is.

- Raga, Dec 9, 2007

I am intrigued by the manuscript.

Of course, that clip on youtube looks a bit too filmy :-) Apsaras probably have much more grace. If you look at how some girls of the age of 10 -11 dance, you probably will notice very interesting things. At this age the human soul (chaitya purusha) shines most strongly through the physical body, and influences the children's way of movement and behavior.

Apsaras or other gods sometimes (even against their will) are born in human bodies to accomplish a particular mission, and then they go back to their loka. Otherwise, “human god” sounds a bit funny. :-)

- Urmila, Dec 9, 2007

Very interesting word - human god.

I'd say, through my meditation, so far I have reached a theory that god and humans are related in the same way, a super server is connected to various computers through Lan. The server tells each computer what to do and how to do it and guides it. The moment the Lan connected computer starts acting on its own (freedom to choose karma only given to human beings), as it can't see the big picture, it creates problem to others, as they are all connected to the same server- got the point, and that is the point where the server punishes or if required eliminates the funny acting computer. So it's not entirely wrong when swamijis say there is a bit of god in all of us. And we all are here on a purpose.

On the whole, I feel there is only one purpose of human race- to keep it going, that's all.

- Mallika, Dec 9, 2007

I see the way the human race is going on now as “the richer getting richer and the poorer getting even poorer,” but this may be delusion? Religion tells me there should be a plan. So the plan should be there in history with its countless ups and downs of war and peace, it should be there at least in archaeology for everyone to see for themselves? I learned that I need this to understand the scripture. Swamis know many things archaeologists don't know, the latter know many things Swamis don't know and they don't believe everything Swamis tell, both may believe in God nevertheless. One lady, Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez only recently discovered caves for meditation which are going to stun the world in the future; the caves were inhibited around 17000 BC in southern France. They were then used as shrines of the rising sun at the summer solstice, that's why they were chosen. Inside the shrines priests depicted the star signs as a circle of animal paintings. The lady is encountering much opposition from the other scientists, but the evidence is really overwhelming.

We know the Swamis then started to watch sun, moon and star cycles. Fortunately few years ago the first monumental buildings of mankind dating 10000 BC were uncovered near the Turkish / Syrian border. First time ever that a pair of standing human stone gods are found within a temple, male and female, who can say? From later use, we know they were often set at the rising sun at the summer solstice to shine through, like a door

It's from then that 'gods' became known more often, together with pictures of dance - until around 3000 BC a new knowledge of music and writing appears connecting all to heaven. The history of this emergence is being repeated over and over again in countless myths, be they in the Bible, Vedas or through dance. I believe that this mighty experience of the all regulating sun (really the earth turning around the sun) was named later Thor, Tara, etc and came to be worshipped as one God, initiated by a human, the victorious ruler in the chaotic times with the same name. I find that he is associated with cultivated music and dance and that this is all within a plan for a righteous future for all, although we often fail to see that light in our miserable conditions.

- Raga, Dec 10, 2007

People pay money if they really need and really want it.

People are willing to pay for cinema if the film is made professionally. People do not pay to go do the cinema to watch amateurish films.

People go to restaurants if the food is professionally cooked there. Why some restaurants charge 100 times more for the same dish than others, is up to you to answer.

People go to parties because these are not boring, unlike most classical dance programs.

But then if some "professional" classical Indian dancers start complaining that nobody is willing to pay them, hmmmmm.... Here is the checklist for such dancers:

- look in the mirror: if you do not look beautiful for other people, they will not come to watch your dance

- try to find a trace of a waistline: if there is none, don't expect anyone to turn up for your program

- look at how many karanas out of 108 you can perform: if you cannot bend in any direction, start teaching dance

- look at how fast your jatis are: if any 12-year-old can do it twice faster, it is a sign for you to retire

- look at your expressions at the end of your jatishwaram: if your face looks miserable, so do the rasikas feel

- look at your choreography: if it looks like a bad copy of Bollywood dance, better start a modern dance career

- Hemamalini J, Dec 9, 2007

Hemamalini J,
A very practical checklist, I must say.
This is exactly what a lot of us were discussing on this forum not long ago. I request you to kindly go through it. We all found that besides all you have said, there is a certain lack of interest and indifference towards our arts. Is the world of art such or what is the reason? How to revive it?
May be u can come up with more ideas.

- Mallika, Dec 9, 2007

As Natya Shastra states the qualities required of a female dancer, “Women who have beautiful limbs, are conversant with the sixty-four arts and crafts (kala), are clever, courteous in behaviour, free from female diseases, always bold, free from indolence, inured to hard work, capable of practising various arts and crafts, skilled in dancing and songs, who excel by their beauty, youthfulness, brilliance and other qualities all other women standing by, are known as female dancers (narthaki)"
Show me the dancers please…

- Lila, Dec 9, 2007

None as I know of. Just like there is nobody like Rama. That's heights of idealism.
See, we take examples of the most perfect and idealistic, for the followers to match it. To make it simpler, let me take the example you have mentioned. What Natya Shastra states about the qualities of a female dancer is the most perfect and idealistic in nature, for the students of dance to follow and try to reach that level, lest such requirement and examples exist, there will be no comparisons to know one's skill or how far one has reached, no way to measure and know how far one has to go.

- Mallika, Dec 9, 2007

Some thoughts:

While other subject matter teachers do not get so emotionally attached to their students, Arts taught one on one at least at some stage over a long period of time, results in different dynamics between teacher and student. I guess the people dealing in Arts are very sensitive and therefore think long and hard about the question of money to share the joy of dance.

Here are some thoughts. I have no intention of hurting any one - charging reasonable money from people who can pay is ok. Not charging from deserving talented children who cannot pay is very, very good.
People who do not charge fees from parents who make good money are doing so without needing to do so.
Not charging fees from people who can pay makes the rest of us look greedy and maybe the teacher is insecure and wants to avoid questions on the quality of dance. It is like offering something for free so that the competition is washed out

Not charging fees is a good strategy to avoid any pointed questioning on speed of teaching and creates a space for the teacher. This is really good. But making clear to the learners that the teacher is not doing this for money is better than not charging fees. If teachers are truly interested in spreading dance and not charging and dedicating their life to dance's cause, they should set up school in a poor slum neighborhood in India. It is there that their not charging is most useful.

Depending on family resources for self sustenance is not reason enough to think of other teachers who charge for fees poorly. Even if is one is from a very wealthy family, desire to make it on their own may drive charging fees. What is wrong with that?
Olden time Gurus were not open to questioning and mostly felt offended pretty easily. Now there is no discrimination either based on knowledge or age. That is the current environment among students. If you quote a fee and the student pays, you put yourself in a position to be cool, you have to earn that merit and your student's respect every day. That is much more difficult than said. That is more noble than not charging people who can pay. I have great respect for these teachers who take the money and deliver excellent goods.

People who charge exorbitant fees provide some feel good value to their following. Too good for them. Where is the question of cribbing about them? We need that time to make ourselves cool in our own way...

I do not really intend to judge anyone. I am merely sharing my thoughts and truly hope this is useful.

- Megha, Dec 10, 2007

Lots of points to ponder there.

"Not charging fees from people who can pay makes the rest of us look greedy and may be the teacher is insecure and wants to avoid questions on the quality of dance. It is like offering something for free so that the competition is washed out." - This I am not sure. This occurrence is a rarity. But on the contrary I know of so many Gurus who charge such exorbitant rates and even produce arangetrams at despicable-average levels. This means trouble.

"People who charge exorbitant fees provide some feel good value to their following. Too good for them."- The second statement yes! But the first statement is debatable. I hope someone like Rukmini Devi and Balasaraswathi were here to share there views with us! I wish we had a glimpse of their past and their inputs.

Megha's statement is true to a great extent that "those" that come free, art included, are no longer appreciated and have lost value... It is very sad.

- Sangeetha, Dec 11, 2007

Good points you have raised here.
But most of the points in the checklist are with respect to the initial visual perceptions. A person may have all these and still not give you any rasanubhava. The other day in the Bharathanatyam orkut, there was one group talking about the fact that spiritual satisfaction /rasa comes from watching slightly mature performers performing abhinaya pieces. Personally for me, rasanubhava arises when watching mature performers, a few of whom might even be just miming the songs out. There was a time when nritta appealed to me - not so much anymore... I can never compare this with how I am moved when watching guru Dhanajayan as Nandanar, or guru Chitra do Srinivasan Perumai, or When guru Kelucharan Mahapatra did his astapathis...

I would love to hear from more people as to whether they like such abhinaya rich slow pieces without much nritta too... Or am I so alone in this fast track world. In fact the youngsters are so good technically, no doubt about that. But I am sure there are times when you look for much more than technical perfection and visual excellence, isn't it?

- Sangeetha, Dec 11, 2007

True, Sangeeta. I have a performance CD of Priyadarshini's varnam and one of Anita's asthapati and one of Sudha's Madurai N Krishnan's margam, in which Priya Murle has performed a varnam. now, when I compare these three, definitely Priyadarshini is very technically perfect, the poses are so good, watching it, I just get up and dance- that's the feeling, but when I watch Anita's asthapati or Priya Murle's varnam, I am so engrossed in it - the rasa anubhava, I absolutely enjoy it and start feeling the same feelings that are presented. If that's what u mean...

- Mallika, Dec 12, 2007

You know, there are still crazy people who read such bad books like Abhinayadarpanam and others, where those ancient idiots write that natya has to do with the beauty of the body expression, and you know, those ancient idiots even wrote all those boring lists of the qualities that disqualify one from performing natya!

Shame on Bharata Muni for describing some of those unnecessary 108 karanas! I cannot do many of them!

Let's forget all those stupid books! Of course, visual perceptions are not necessary to give you rasanubhava. My friend once told me that he once experienced rasanubhava while watching an old lady walking across a road with a walking stick.

Politically well-connected people do not need good nritta or good karanas. They give you rasanubhava just like Jalayalitha does the abhinaya rich slow pieces. She is the greatest dancer who gives rasanubhava and some cash to thousands of the AIDMK activists!

Personally, I prefer watching Charlie Chaplin. Everybody says his abhinaya is far better than Kalanidhi Narayanan's.

- A Harish, Dec 11, 2007