A Few Distinguished Dancers (Part 2)

Venkaṭalakṣmāsānī

Among the popular dancers of my village, Bairakūru Venkaṭalakṣmāsānī’s dance and histrionics[1] became famous. Apart from the knowledge of music and Bharatanāṭyam, she also possessed some knowledge of literature. She sang and emoted various classical compositions including Jayadeva’s Aṣṭapadi[2] and Kṛṣṇakarṇāmṛta[3]. As a result, esteemed connoisseurs gathered at her residence for playing cards and having casual conversations. Prominent among those who gathered there were Venkatanarayanabhatta, purohita Ramachandracharya, Muniswamacharya - the Tabala player, arcaka Srinivasacharya and such others. My father also often went there.

No one saw her with contempt. Her elder brother, Narayanaswamappa was proficient in musicology as well.  I have seen him performing the Suryanamaskāra (salutations to the Sun) every Sunday. After his bath each morning, he applied the sacred mark on his forehead (nāmadhāraṇa); then after having observed the ritual practices with kaḷaśa and having completed the pradakṣiṇa)twelve times, he would consume the tīrtha from the kaḷaśa. It was only after he completed this set of activities every day, he went ahead with other work. During the festivities, every householder (gṛhasta) of the town called Venkaṭalakṣmāsānī to her house to receive arśina-kuṁkuma[4]. Both at my native house as well as at my Guru’s residence, Venkaṭalakṣmāsānī was regarded as a female member of the house just like all other womenfolk.

During my childhood, before offering the dues to the Tirupati temple, Venkaṭalakṣmamma would take me to her house and would sew a flowered cap on my forelocks and braid my hair with jasmine flowers. Besides, saying that the flower decoration she had made would wither, if I was home, she would take me to her house after my dinner and make me stay through the night. The next morning, I was paraded through the market in the town! She would come with me and proudly display her ornamentation.

Venkaṭalakṣmamma was famous for her abhinaya accompanied with singing of the Varṇa[5], ‘Garimāpaṇati’. That apart, I have seen her sing and render dance for many Kannada Jāvaḷis[6]: the Jāvaḷi in the rāga Kānaḍa, ‘kareyē ātana nīnu’ used to be exceedingly alluring.

Kareyē ātana nīnu | kareyē ātananīga || (Pallavi)

kareyē ātananīga | sarasa līlege bēga ||

haruṣadi baranēke | maretanō avanenna || kareyē …[7]

Songs like these are full of everyday words. The delight was in capturing the obliqueness of tonality between each word, the flourishes, the indications of the eye and the hand gestures. As a result of such flurrying advents, words acquired the nourishment of emotions and the song found fulfilment in expression.

I don’t know where those Kannada Jāvaḷis have disappeared now.

Venkaṭalakṣmamma owned a house and a piece of land. Fine in her appearance; A charming face. Dignity and magnanimity were innate to her.

I remember that on a certain occasion, she performed an Aṣṭapadi in the company of her dear friends. After many years, I got to watch Bengaluru Nāgaratnamma perform for the same Aṣṭapadi. That Aṣṭapadi goes as follows:

yāhi mādhava – yāhi keśava |

mā vada kaitavavādam ||

Back then, I did not have enough knowledge to comprehend the rāga in which the song was rendered. Nāgaratnamma sang it in the Mohana rāga. The speciality in that was not mainly in the rāga; it was in the employment of a single word to convey varied emotions. ‘yāhi’ refers to ‘go’. Rādha is asking Kṛṣṇa to leave. However, what is the feel here? Does it mean that he has to be sent afar? Is it suggesting him to come closer? Is it weariness? Is it objection? Is it disappointment? How many different flavours can be brought about just as the heroine as her beloved one to ‘go’. This is an aspect that an experienced connoisseur would know.

  1. Go = go far away, do not come near.
  2. Go = go chap, I am hurt.
  3. Go = go chap, you are a bad person.
  4. Go = please do not go

Being able to convey these mutually contradictory emotions arising out of a single term, through facial expressions is a skill. Along with these expressions of the face, indications through sounds such as groaning, work as nourishers of emotion. In that way, emotions get enhanced, thereby the enjoyment is sustained for longer duration. For this reason, in the efforts for preparing the heart, the facial cues and voice modifications have gained prominence. The variations of such indications of the voice, in literature, were given the names such as Vakrokti[8]. The main intent of histrionics of dance was to awaken the dormant emotions of the heart in the realm of Śṛṅgāra.

Some might argue – this exhilaration of emotions happens even without these tools, is it not? One can feel hungry even without kesari (saffron), paccakarpūra (borneol flakes/edible camphor). But a delectable meal needs aroma. Hurriedly gluttonizing is not a scrumptious meal. Enjoyment is a different subject matter.

Among the Nāyakasānīs that I have discussed, all of them had a fair acquaintance of different forms of music and dance. The tāfe performance of those who went by the name of ‘Appāji’s children’, was endearing to many people. I remember around three or four people who were Appājayya’s children. All of them danced beautifully and were good-looking. One of them was a tad hefty. Appājayya owned a house, a yard and some stretches of cultivated land.

Gauri and Padma – their singing was melodious. Padma was slightly dusky in her complexion. Her voice was awe-inspiring.

 

Tuḷasāsānī

Of all the women personas that I have seen thus far, if I were to contemplate on Tuḷasāsānī’s appearance, I can claim that there is nothing as appeasing. It was a demure, tranquil beauty. There are several kinds of beauty. Some provoke the heart. Some bring about a frenzy. Some cause increased perversions; while some others bring about a coolness without causing anxiety – calms down a perturbed mind. Our Tuḷasāsānī’s was that kind of a heart-warming form.

Her physique was tall and her height was such that it did not show her proportions as bulky; her face was longer than wide. She was fair in her complexion, but did not appear too pale. It can be said that it was the colour of an elephant’s tusk. She was not someone who donned many ornaments; she was usually found in ordinary clothing.

Her house was on the street which I took to my school. It was about half or three-fourths of a furlong from my house. Once in a while she would call me. Handing me bananas or grapes she would say, “study and become knowledgeable”. She also humoured me a bit, now and then. Sometimes she even combed and braided my hair. I often felt some delight because of her facial expressions and manner of speaking. Now I feel - that is the kind of comfort a child feels when it has gained an affectionate elder sister. She was that kind and loving.

After a few days, she left the town and went elsewhere. An affluent person from the area where gold mining took place – the person doing the contracts there –often visited her house. He used to come on a bicycle. Seventy years back, bicycle was a rare thing and the tycoon’s entry into and exit from the town had attracted the attention of people. I did not hear anything about Tuḷasamma after she went under his patronage. I remember people remarking that a fine lady left the town.



[1] Here the separation of the terms ‘nartana’ as ‘dance’ and ‘abhinaya’ as ‘histrionics’ is to be understood as suggestion of both the referential and non-referential aspects of nṛtya. 

[2] Aṣṭapadis are poems consisting of eight verses each and belonging to the group of compositions called Gīta-govinda penned in the Sanskrit language by the poet Jayadeva. The Gīta-govinda is divided into 12 cantos comprising of a total of 24 Aṣṭapadis. It paints a picture of the various situations of love between Kṛṣṇa, Rādha and the Gopis.

[3] Another poetic work in the Saṃskṛta language by poet Līlāśuka describing the various glories of Lord Kṛṣṇa.

[4] A customary practice followed during special occasions where ladies are invited as guests and presented with saffron and vermilion as a sign of well-being

[5] A traditional piece of the Bharatanāṭya repertoire which has both the elements of Referential and Non-referential dance, i.e., nṛtta and nṛtya.

[6] A piece of the Bharatanāṭya repertoire that focusses primarily on the exploration of Śṛṅgāra, the sentiment of love characterised by the Nāyaka (hero) and Nāyikā (heroine).

[7] In this composition we see that the Nāyikā is speaking to her Sakhi (friend) and pleading with the Sakhi to call her beloved Nāyaka; feeling sorrowful that he might have forgotten her.

[8] One of the most important theories of Indian Aesthetics is Vakrokti. It is understood as Oblique expression.

 

Concluded.

This is the second part of the English translation of the Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 2) – Kalopasakaru. Edited by Arjun Bharadwaj, Cover Image courtesy - Pooja Subramanya

 

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Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

Madhulika Srivatsa
About:

Madhulika is a Bharatanrtya dancer and research student. She is currently working as an Assistant Professor for the Department of Performing Arts at Jain University, Bangalore. She has keen interest in Natyasastra and Aesthetics both in terms of research and its application in performance.

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