Song of Surrender

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Balasaraswati on Bharatanatyam

By Sruti
 
(T. Balasaraswati was born on 13 May 1918. We reproduce interesting excerpts from her Presidential Address at the 33rd Annual Conference of the Tamil Isai Sangam, Madras, which was published in March 1984 (Sruti 5).

The Bharatanatyam recital is structured like a great temple: we enter through the gopuram (outer hall) of alarippu, cross the ardhamandapam (half-way hall) of jatiswaram, then the mandapa (great hall) of sabdam, and enter the holy precinct of the deity in the varnam. This is the place, the space, which gives the dancer expansive scope to revel in the rhythm, moods and music of the dance. The varnam is the continuum which gives ever-expanding room to the dancer to delight in her self-fulfilment, by providing the fullest scope to her own creativity as well as to the tradition of the art.

The padam-s now follow. In dancing to the padam-s, one experiences the containment, cool and quiet, of entering the sanctum from its external precinct. The expanse and brilliance of the outer corridors disappear in the dark inner sanctum; and the rhythmic virtuosities of the varnam yield to the soul-stirring music and abhinaya of the padam. Dancing to the padam is akin to the juncture when the cascading lights of worship are withdrawn and the drum beats die down to the simple and solemn chanting of sacred verses in the closeness of God. Then, the tillana breaks into movement like the final burning of camphor accompanied by a measure of din and bustle. In conclusion, the devotee takes to his heart the god he has so far glorified outside; and the dancer completes the traditional order by dancing to a simple devotional verse.

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The greatest blessing of Bharatanatyam is its ability to control the mind. Most of us are incapable of single-minded contemplation even when actions are abandoned. On the other hand, in Bharatanatyam actions are not avoided; there is much to do but it is the harmony of various actions that results in the concentration we seek. The burden of action is forgotten in the pleasant charm of the art. The feet keeping to time, hands expressing gesture, the eye following the hand with expression, the ear listening to the dance master’s music, and the dancer’s own singing — by harmonising these five elements the mind achieves concentration and attains clarity in the very richness of participation. The inner feeling of the dancer is the sixth sense which harnesses these live mental and mechanical elements to create the experience and enjoyment of beauty. It is the spark which gives the dancer her sense of spiritual freedom in the midst of the constraints and discipline of the dance.

The yogi achieves serenity through concentration that comes from discipline. The dancer brings together her feet, hands, eyes, ears and singing into a fusion which transforms the serenity of the yogi into a torrent of beauty. The spectator, who is absorbed in intently watching this, has his mind freed of distractions and feels a great sense of clarity. In their shared involvement, the dancer and the spectator are both released from the weight of worldly life, and experience the divine joy of the art with a sense of total freedom.

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