Limitations of Nṛtya-nāṭakas: Heading Towards Ekāhārya and Ekahārya Presentations - Part 1

We often wonder what the state of classical art in the modern world will be, especially when we have several media that can entertain us. Various modes of entertainment such as movies and tele-serials, and platforms such as YouTube and Netflix rule the world. A movie can portray amazing feats of men, easily capturing the hearts of its audience. Television brings several serials to our drawing room, effortlessly entertaining the masses. Similarly, we can watch video recordings of the performances of stalwarts on YouTube. Smartphones help us access all of this at our fingertips. We can access material of different spatio-temporal coordinates even as we sit in a particular spot at a particular time. Modern devices not only enable us to relish art, they also offer the scope to replay the same sequence as many times as we desire. This repeated experience of a piece of art helps us analyse and understand it well. It can also lead to boredom at times.

With this set of circumstances, it is natural for the following questions to arise – How many platforms can a person trained in classical dance—such as Sadir, Mohiniyāṭṭam, Kūcipūḍi, Sattriya, Maṇipuri, Kathak, and so forth—procure[1]? How often can she get a chance to display her art to the audience? What would be the state of those artistes who have pursued and mastered deśī forms of art such as Tamāśā, Bhāṅgḍa, and Chau? There are many artistes who have toiled to master their art with passion and have ended up disappointed. It is rather common to find artistes who have given up their pursuit of classical art and have turned into actors for movies and tele-serials or music-makers for the film industry. This being the case, we must estimate how realistic it is to bring back a dedicated audience for dance. It will also help us understand the reasons behind classical dance losing its audience.

Cinema is at one end of the audio-visual-art spectrum. At the other end is ekāhārya-ekahārya[2] (solo) performances. Traditional nṛtya-nāṭakas (dance-dramas), deśī theatrical forms, modern theatre, and other forms of group performances lie in between these two extremes. When an artiste attempts a group performance, the first thing that proves to be an obstacle is the availability of resources. Bringing artistes together, directing music, raising funds, investing the money wisely, looking for sponsors, hunting for organizers who can provide a stage for performance, making time for group practice, building sets, and buying or stitching costumes – these and several other external parameters play a major role in dictating the final outcome of the art. A movie-maker too has to hunt for numerous resources and it is never easy to acquire the requisite resources in a limited time period. The grammar of the medium is different in cinema, wherein camera dictates everything. Indeed, there is dance that comes as a part of cinema but there’s no rule that it must abide by the rules of classical dance or even classicism. Today, movies abound with (group) dancers who accompany the hero and heroine. These additional dancers appear out of nowhere, their dance largely lacks beauty and merely appears like physical exercise; a mere movement of limbs set to rhythm[3]. This sort of attitude has made its way into group dances presented on the proscenium stage as well.

A movie comprises episodes that appear sequentially; the genre essentially focuses on telling stories. Nṛtya, on the other hand, depicts waves of emotion that can touch the audience. Cinema does not attempt to provide a commentary on a particular episode. Its main purpose is to string together different episodes to narrate a large story as a whole. A movie need not portray each episode in great detail. Classical dance, on the other hand, takes a single episode for depiction and dives deep into it. It is also possible for the medium of classical dance to take merely one emotion for delineation and express it in all its details. This is the reason behind the full-fledged development of āṅgikābhinaya that is rich in nāṭya-dharmī and sāttvikābhinaya that relies on loka-dharmī.

Nāṭya, i.e., theatre, is the mean between the two extremes of cinema and classical dance. It cannot employ too many stylized movements and cannot afford to bring out sāttvika at every moment. It cannot zoom into specific episodes and emotions of particular characters like nṛtya does. At the same time, too many props and grand costumes that transport us to a dream-like world in a cinema, are also out of reach for nāṭya.  Therefore, it largely relies on vācika – spoken language – and uses it as the primary mode of communication. The sāttvika that emanates out of nāṭya is mostly limited to the variation in the tonality and volume of the vācika. Āṅgika is to some extent loka-dharmī based – excessive and nuanced stylization cannot be incorporated in nāṭya, because it might be difficult for audience seated at a large distance to notice all details. Moreover, it will be difficult for the far-away audience to observe all elements of sāttvika in mukhajābhinaya. Āhārya is also limited to what the Nāṭyaśāstra calls pusta (stuffed models/cutouts to represent inanimate objects), sajjīva (look-alikes of animate beings like animals and birds), and a few other simple forms of stage properties.

Classical dance does not face any of these difficulties. It relies largely on stylized movements and focuses on delineating emotions. This is similar in nature to classical music. Unlike Sugama-saṅgīta (light music) and film music, Indian classical music is not ensemble music. It is rooted in the elaboration of a rāga and is true to emotions. It finds fulfilment in laying out all possible emotions that can be brought out through a rāga before the audience. Classical dance can find its relevance today only in ekahārya/ekāhārya presentations, which are essentially performed by a single artiste. This is also the strength and forte of classical dance[4].

This series of articles are authored by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh and have been rendered into English with additional material and footnotes by Arjun Bharadwaj. The article first appeared in the anthology Prekṣaṇīyaṃ, published by the Prekshaa Pratishtana in Feburary 2020.

[1] Instagram and Facebook Live performances dotted the online arena in the covid lockdown period

[2] A performance by a solo artiste or a solo artiste in the same costume through out

[3] While it cannot be denied that bringing in more people in dance sequences in movies can help amplify a certain emotion, the additional artistes who appear (including the hero and the heroine) must be well trained. The main artistes/ actors and the secondary artistes must complement each other.

[4] In all above instances and through the rest of the article, the term Classical dance is used to refer to what we understand by the terms sampradāya-nṛtya, abhijāta-nṛtya, śāstrīya-nṛtya, abhijāta-śāstrīya-nṛtya and the variants thereof

 

Author(s)

About:

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

Prekshaa Publications

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