By S. Santhanam
I recently saw a breathtaking dance show by students of Kalakshetra led by Leela Samson. It was a treat to watch, but one question came to my mind about the costume of the male dancers. The boys wore the traditional dhoti in the panchakaccham style designed aesthetically, while the upper body was bare except for an ornamental chain and a vanki adorning the biceps. This is the traditional costume of a male dancer today.
Topless male dancers remind me of ancient times when dancers usually performed in the courts of kings and in temples. In zamindari times, plebians had to remove their upper cloth in the presence of the zamindar; ordinary citizens had to shed their upper cloth when they entered the court of the rajas. In the temples of Kerala, the custom of men removing their angavastrams and tying them around their waists as a mark of humility before the Lord is in vogue. Rules prohibit the wearing of shirts and kurtas inside the temple. In Kerala even today the temple musicians perform on instruments like the panchavadyam and chenda wearing a dhoti and no upper cloth.
Times have changed and these customs need to be given a relook. It would not be a bad idea to think of elegant costumes for male dancers which will reflect the tastes of contemporary audiences, and shed the plebian image.