DANCE (1997)

DANCE
     Fr. S.M. George
Kalai Kaviri Arts and Communication Centre
Tiruchirapalli – 620 001

Tamil Nadu occupies the pride of place on the cultural map of India.  Her rich heritage is depicted in ancient Tamil books.

Pathupattu, Ettuthogai and Tholkappiam of the sangam period record beyond boubt the dance forms prevalent during  that time.  Koothu, the ancient Tamil dance, dating back to times before tha Birth of Christ, contained parallels to modern Nritta and Nritya.  It is interesting to note here that a whole Canto in Silapathikaram has been exclusively devoted to a detailed account of this art form.

Like any other Indian Classical Dance, the Bharatanatyam had its birth in the temple precinets.  Today it is heartening to find a revival of this form in Dance Schools established all over the State by individuals and institutions deeply interested in championing the cause of cultural traditon.  The government and other service organisations serve as willing custodians in safe-guarding the interests of these Art Centres.

Taking into account the Dance form in Tamilnadu today, studded with shades of new meanings of sociological relevance, one can conclude without any fear of contradiction that it is bound to become in future an art form with a social purpose, not disturbing in the least its aestheitc aspects.  It would not be out of place to cite here that “Kalai Kaviri” did indeed inculcate Indian dance in Christian Liturgy by presenting liturgical dances during Holy Mass in twenty-five places in Germany and France even as early as 1990.

Dance could be a matchless medium to impart human values at a time when the world at large suffers from a total loss of these values for reasons needless to be stated.  It is imperative then that Dance in Tamilnadu should undergo a few desirable changes to prepare men and women to face the challenges of the “Unborn Tomorrow” with invaluable lessons from “Dead Yesterday” which is very much alive.

Indian dance has various forms and styles – fold, ritual, classical, contemporary, and tribal. In the
words of Mohan Khokar :

“… there are no less than nine major traditions, some with offshoots, and though these offer a seemingly varied mosaic, they carry strong bonds of harmony, of oneness. “

Tamil Nadu as a homeland of rich cultural heritage has been a haven of fine arts which have withstood the test of time and conquered the calendar.

An attempt is made here to analyse the Dance in Tamil soil from its origin to the present day with a note on the roots it is likely to take in future.

Ritualistic beliefs and religious practices served as springboards to the early forms of dancing in Tamil Nadu. As has been perceptively pointed out by Hema Govindarajan:

“The innumerable sculptural representations and epigraphical records of the ancient and medieval centureis that are available even today clearly prove that this region always had a rich tradition of dance, which was called kuthir or Attam.”

The prince and the peasant vied with one another in patronishing this art.  The Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas, Nayakas and the Karatha rulers of the Tamil kingdom nurtured it next only to Nature.  Their courts maintained a host of versatile dancers and accomplished dance teachers.

In what is known as the Sangam Age to the Tamils (500 B.C. – 500 A.D.)  extensive representation of dancing find exquisite expression in celebrated works like Tolkappiyam, Kuruntogai, and Kalitogai Silappadikaram carries copious references to every aspect of the art.

Mohan Khokar presents a graphic picture of its existence during the days it was sponsored by the state:

Among the dances we come across in Sangam writings is the Velanveriyatal,  which was performed with offerings of flesh and liquor in honour of Murugan or kartikeyan.  Related to this was the Valli koothu, dedicated to Valli, the counterpart of Murugan.  Another dance, the kalanilai koothu, was offered by soldiers after their triumphant return from the field of battle.  Kuravai koothu was a pastoral dance of women.  kings and noblemen were confirmed patrons of the art, and dancing girls were in their regular employ….  In fact, the story of the Silappadikaram, the prize epic of Tamils, revolves around the infatuation of Kovalan, a wealthy merchant, for a dancing girl, Madavi..

Bharata Natya as is performed today evolved and developed primarily in present-day Tamil Nadu.  Projesh Benerji establishes beyond doubt the significance of this dance:

      “Among the classical dances, viz., Kathak, Manipuri, Kathakali and others, which are prevalent in India in the present day, Bharata Natyam of the South is in the forefront and occupies a high rank.  Bearing the mythological and traditional basics in mind comparing Bharata Natyam to other types of dancing, it becomes obvious that Bharata Natyam possesses an ancient origin.”

Bharata Natya assumed most of the salient features to the present day, thanks to the untiring efforts of the Tanjore Quartette- Ponnayya Pillai, Chinnayya Pillai, Sivanandam Pillai and Vadivelu Pillai.  Hailing from a traditional family of Nattuvanars they codified and streamlined the art.

But Bharata Natya fell on evil days and evil tongues during the British Rule.  Hema Govindarajan throws light on this “dark age “:

… when Bharata Natya was scorned and looked down upon with abhorrence, it was practised mainly in temples by the Devadasis and was ousted from every decent household.

The art reached the verge of extinction.  Fortunately its “Renaissance” was the rich reward for the enlightened enterprises of eminent custodians like Rukmini Arundel and illustrious performers like Uday Shankar.

Peeled off its ill-repute and restored to its rightful place, Bharata Natya is learnt today in Tamil Nadu with a great zest.  Nattuvanars impart training and numerous dance schools promote and propagate the art to a very great extent.  The art is studied in all its intricacies and dimensions.  The state contributes considerably to popularise this art by funding delightful programmes on special occations.  Notable among them is the Annual Dance Festival held in the Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram.

Kapila Vatsyayan records with reverence how the “Chidambaram temple and the Brhadeswara temples are the richest sources for sculptural representations of dance poses”.

Creative genil and cultural academies have left no stone unturned in making Bharata Natya a household name in Tamil Nadu.

It is interesting to note here that the Dance in Tamil Nadu may, in future, turn out to be an art form with an avowed social purpose.  The seeds of new meanings of sociological relevance have been sown.  What is heartening to know is that the traditional art is not disturbed in the least in its aesthetic aspects.  It would not be out of place to cite here the mega endeavours of KALAI KAVIRI towards this “revival” in the realm of art.  She has hit upon this plan as the only remedy for the malady of moral debasement in the fast growing materialistic and mechanical world at a critical  juncture of the turn of the Century.  The innate dignity imbibed by Dance and the spiritual sanctity attached to it will certainly mark milestones in human civilisation and culture.  Changes in society and in the needs of the people call for a change in the form.

KALAI KAVIRI may make a modest claim for revitalising this art form in this part of the country.  Even as early as 1990 she did inculcate Indian dance in Christian Liturgy by presenting Liturgical dances during Holy Mass in twenty-five places in Germany and France.

It is painful to note here the possible threat to the visual treat from the agencies of mass media.  The western influence seeks to take the Tamils as far away as possible from their cultural roots.  Individuals and institutions should sink their differences and safeguard the interests of this ancient art.  Universities in Tamil Nadu should organise Dance Festivals annually.  The State should fund projects promoting the art.  Dance schools admit students irrespective of caste, creed, colour or religion.

Innumerable measures should be taken to revive Folk Dances peculiar to the state :  Kummi, Kollatum, Oyillatam, etc.  Before these arts move into oblivion and to a point to total extinction, “the Town and the Gown” alike should be educated on these rich and multi-faceted arts.  Traditional masters should be identified and persuaded to impart training.  Messages for social transformation will easily reach the rural masses through these arts of their soil.

The youth in Tamil Nadu should realise its worth by converting Dance schools into schools of excellence.  Art centres should arrest the attention of tiny tots.

The ideal educational scenerio will be when the performing art becomes part of the curriculam.  Dance could be a matchless medium to impart human values at a time when the world at large suffers from a total loss of these values for reasons needless to be stated here.  It is imperative then that Dance in Tamil Nadu should undergo a few desirable chages to prepare men and women to face the challenges of the “Unborn Tomorrow” with invaluable lessons from the “Dead Yesterday” which is very much alive “Today”.

Rev. Fr. George:

A Dedicated Catholic Priest. He is running Kalaikaveri an institution exclusively for dance at Tiruchirappalli. To his credit, he created new forms in dance both in classic and folk. He has a well trained dance group which performed various dance activities in India and other places in the world.