India’s classical dancers
By MOHAN D. NADKARNI
The Bombay Sentinel, January 17, 1956
INDIAN dance, like Indian music, is a deliberate art, and has evolved in the perspective of the social and cultural history of the countr.
In India, religion formed the nucleus of all artistic activity in ancient fines. The art of dancing was therefore conceived as a sacred rite and a symbol of religious expression.
The genius of dancing found its expression through generations of dancers.
There was a time when dancers were of a noble and sacred calling, and their art had a place of pride not only in solemn temples and royal courts but also in aristocratic homes.
The tradition of the art they developed and sustained by pure devotion eventually established themselves in what may be formed as different schools of dancing like Bharat Natyam Kathakali, Kathak and Manipuri.
With the waning splendor of temples and places, dancing fell into utter neglect of many centuries, and the unremitting labours of pioneers like Rabindranath Tagore and Rukmini Devi were largely responsible for the revival of classical dancing in the early years of this century.
The social stigma that cannoted the profession of dancers for long is now happily gone and dancing once again has become a common feature of the cultural life of the country.
Indian dances is not just a representation of mechanical sequence in rhythm. It is its intimate relationship with human psychology that makes this art every more spontaneous and full of verve and grace.
If it has become a highly popular form of entertainment today, the credit for it unlike Balasaraswati, Shanta Rao, Shambhu Maharaj, Raghavan Nair and Rita Chatterjee, who are participating in the music and dance festival, now in full swing in the city.
Bharat Natyam is essentially feminine in character, and owes its origin to Tanjore. Balasaraswati and Shanta Rao most acknowledged among the most talented and ablest exponents of this ancient style of dancing.
Balasaraswati, grand-daughter of the famed Veena Dhanamal, was initiated when only four by Kandappa Nattuvanar, a disciple of the veteran pioneer of Tanjore dance tradition, Vidwan Mannargudi Pakkiriswami Pillai.
A stickler for perfection, Kandappa subjected his young disciple to a most exacting training.
Balasaraswati blazed forth into fame by her maiden maiden performance at Conjeevaram at the age of seven.
Her association with Uday Shankar’s troupe brought her added fame and popularity in North India.
She holds Shambhu Maharaj in high esteem and has modeled her “Thillana” after that great exponent of Kathak dance.
A keen connoisseur of Hindustani music, Balasaraswati is at present running a school of dancing affiliated to the Madras Academy.
Balasaraswati was recipient of the National Award for Bharata Natyam in 1955.
Shanta Rao attributes her wide repertoire of classical dancing to many leading Gurus. She first studied Kathakali under Ramunni Menon.
Krishnan Panikkartaught her “Mohini Attam” and she is the only exponent of this beautiful dance form of Kerala. The perfection of technique she displays in Bharata Natyam was, however, given her by one of its greatest exponents, Pandanllur Minakshi Sundaram Pillai.
Rehearsals or planning the choreography of her ballets takes most of her time. Her recent visit to the U.S. won her recognition as one of leading interpreters of classical dancing of this country.
The Hindu actor in ancient India was known by the name ‘Kathaka’, a story-teller. The Kathak dance of nort India traces its origin to dramatic mime and dance of old.
An elaborate art, Kathak is a solo dance in mime, the dancer playing the the dual role. It is romantic and lyrical in both its content and expression, and varied situations and moods of love, usually comprise its theme.
It is also notable for its highly systematized ‘abhinaya’ and pure dance, and has evolved into two different schools of Lucknow and jaipur. Kalika and Binda Din are acknowledged among its chief exponents.
Shambhu Maharaj son of Kalika Maharaj, is a versatile artiste. He inherits his art of dancing from his famed father, and also plays on the harmonium and the tabla with distinction. Shambhu has also made his mark as an accomplished thumri-singer.
The President conferred on Shambhu Maharaj the National Award for Kathak in 1955.
Kathakali is the dance-drama of Kerala, and only a prologed and intensive training goes to make a true Kathakali artiste.
The notable features of this dance-drama are the remarkable ‘abhinaya’ of the eyes and the basic attitude of limbs and feet.
Raghavan nair who has a wide knowledge of Kathakali lyrics and music, was trained by such masters as P. S. Warrier, Karunakara Panikkar, Ramunni Menon and Kunju Kurup.
His superb performances in the ballets “Bhagwan Buddha”, “Jai Somnath” brought him in to limelight. He also provided the musical score in “Goaki Azadi” and “Saugandha”.
Raghavan visited East Afrika, on a cultural tour in 1953. He is at present conducting a dancing school in both Bharat natyam and Kathakali in Bombay.
Rita Chatterjee, who is related to Rabindranath Tagore, is a graduate of the Bombay University. She has specialized in both Bharat Natyam and Manipuri styles. The latter however is her forte.
The ‘Ras’ dance of Manipur is wonderfully fascinating with its intricate rhythmic patterns.
Rita has greatly benefited by her training under several leading masters from Manipur.
She is an imaginative dancer, and has the capacity to delineate her sequences expressively.