KRISHNA GANA SABHA
On the nuances of Karana
THIS YEAR'S Natya Kala Conference may not have had a unifying theme for deliberations though it is, as far as memory goes, the only one to have inspired a theme song, "Pibare Natya Rasam" composed and sung by convener Narasimhachari in the apt melodic mode of Rasikapriya and a souvenir as ready reference material with summarised articles of what the various sessions dealt with a painstaking work and kudos to the Narasimhans and Sruti Janaki who did the editing.
"Hastapadasamayoga Nrttasya Karanam Bhavet" says the Natya Sastra and dancer Padma Subrahmanyam, on a subject that has been a lifetime preoccupation for research, began with the mention that the Karana, contrary to common understanding of it as a static posture, is a unit of movement in nritta, with hands and feet moving in synchronised logic. Beginning with a few movements of the Anga(s) or major limbs as it is translated (head, hasta, uras (chest), kati, parswa and feet) all demonstrated with charm by little Mahati, Padma's niece who seems in every way a chip of the old block, the session went on to illustrating select charis bhumika and akasika (grounded and aerial).
The nritta hasta in a Karana has a prescribed course of action, said the speaker, which cannot be tinkered with, without making the movement disjointed. In recreating the Karanas as actual dance movement, Padma found the research path strewn with obstacles, for sculptural representation could only provide select, arrested moments out of a whole course of movement. So there can be, and there is more than one version of the same Karana thereby causing confusion. Besides, sculptural representations at times show hip deflections at odds with the body's weight distribution, logically dictated by the foot contact on the floor. Even while supplementing the terse Natya Sastra verses with information gleaned from Abhinavagupta's commentary, one had to take note of the vast gap of around a millennium in between confirming the view of the non-continuity of the Natya Sastra tradition and corresponding changes wrought with time, in interpretation of the original text of Bharata. Besides, the Sanskrit scholar guiding Padma's Natya Sastra studies Dr. T. N. Ramachandran was no dancer, and to transfer textual information into body movement became Padma's burden. On queries of how she had worked out the in-between stages revealed by two or more temple sculptural representations, Padma's reply was that days of meditation, insight, intuitive understanding of the body and years of silent reflection in the secluded temple vestibule of Thanjavur Brihadheeswara and Kumbakonam Sarngapani temples provided the clues, corroborated much later in the Java Prambanan temple Karana sculptures showing that she was on the right path. Thus her research was from the macro to the micro a process of deconstruction for reconstruction.
The latter half of the day's programme featured Uma Sharma. A disciple of Jaipur gharana maestro Sunderprasad and late Sambhu Maharaj, Uma Sharma who belongs to the old school of upaj (improvisation) abhinaya in Kathak, now a lost art, provided a memorable demonstration her entire treatment built round the `Adharam Madhuram' hymn used as a theme song throughout the session sung in the silken voice of Imran Khan with Muzaffar Ali on the tabla. Raskhan's (a Pathan who became a great Krishna bhakta) verses, Kavit Toda "Ek Din," the delightful chalis of Kathak, the myriad ways of using eye glances (tirchi nazar), telling eyebrow movements, head inclines Uma's was an enchanting display punctuated at regular intervals with the sarcastic reminder, as only Uma is capable of, that Krishna Gana Sabha had only invited her for a lecture/demonstration!
In one fleeting excerpt from the Ramayana, showing Sita's delight at the leaping golden deer, the innumerable elaborations built round the single poetic line showed Uma at her best her hands becoming the deer with its light-footed jumps, her face mapping the responses of Sita. Then came Uma's favourite, a Meera song in Rajasthani, "Wari Wari Shyam Hoon Wari, Te Aajo Gali Hamari." If the "Kaun Sakhi Sanga Rati Shayam Tum Ranga Rase" was full of Meera's jealousy at the other woman, she imagines Krishna had been dallying with, "Tum Dekhya Bin Kalna Padat Shyam" revealed Meera's intense longing for Krishna and her virahatapa.
Even the "Peir Ka Kaam" (footwork) had a musicality in the rhythmic richness. Unlike the tailored Kathak virtuosity of today, Uma's dance is in the spirit of the old Mujra Kathak (wrongly spoken of in a pejorative tone) where dance happened and where abhinaya sprang from the poetry of the soul.
Thank you, Uma, for this treat!
Now in its 24th year, and dedicated, as is the entire 49th art and dance festival, to the memory of late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the Natya Kala Conference annually mounted by the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, with dancing couple Narasimhachari and Vasanthalakshmi as conveners this year, has showcased a bewildering array of scholarship and practice, both sublime and mundane, in dance its pan Indian range, transcending language and regional boundaries. Ashok Jalkhani, Deputy D.G., Prasar Bharti, Southern Region in his inaugural address touched on "packaging art the right way so as to reach the masses when so many channels are operating." Even going by the non-elitist approach to art, Prasar Bharti's late night slot, when most of the country is in bed, for all dance and music programmes, (prompted by insufficient viewers as per the speaker) would hardly seem the way of reaching out to people.
Befitting a parent watching the dancer evolve and grow as an artiste, in this case from1966 when she gave her maiden performance under its aegis, the Krishna Gana Sabha felicitated dancer Alarmel Valli on this year's double bill of recognitions the Padmabhushan title and the French `Chevalier' award conferred on her. The dancer's measured eloquence in response to Dr. R. Nagaswamy's high-vaulting glorification of her achievements paid obeisance to all those who had helped shape her artistic persona gurus Chokkalingam Pillai, Subbaraya Pillai, Mukta amma, Kalanidhi Narayanan and Kelucharan Mohapatra (for enriching her dance horizon with Odissi) and not the least, her sternest critic the mother.
The curtain raiser with `Bhava - Nayaka' was aptly demonstrated by Prof. C. V. Chandrasekhar. The devadasi as dancer and male chauvinism revelled in the woman-oriented nayika syndrome in the classical arts, the hero as the main cause of action for the dance heroine often unseen, his image conjured up by the nayika's description and responses. Chandrasekhar quoting Havelock Ellis' observation on sexuality in women being more complex than in males, was perhaps throwing a hint that female responses presented greater scope and challenge for art interpretation. Ancient texts like the Rasamanjari categorised the nayaka as pati (loyal husband), upapati (the out-of-wedlock hero attracting love of females), and vaisiki (the promiscuous) corresponding to the swakiya, parakiya and samanya nayikas.
Starting from the site and situation in a man/woman relationship to its manifestation in bhava or inner feelings as interpreted in the language of dance, abhinaya said the introduction, is a vast arena by itself.
In a lec-dem, the instant emoting, with minimal time space cutting out the luxury of building up to a mood, can be constricting compounded by the paucity of poetry and lyrics centred round the nayaka directly expressing his feelings. The nayaka as pati and dheerodatta (noble) had apt illustration in the demonstration of the lyric in Bhairavi, "Yaro Ivar Yaro" from Rama Natakam portraying Rama's mixed feelings of curiosity and admiration on first seeing Sita coupled with the inexpressible memory of having intimately known her in a previous life: with another reinforcing example in the same category provided in the fleeting excerpt of Rama as wedded consort pining for Sita.
The upapati demonstration however fell back on an indirect image suggested by the line, "Nee Manasu Kanukontini" (I have understood your mind not steady fully) as stated by the nayika in the varnam in Dhanyasi, "E Maguva." A line from the Kalyani padam, "Entati Kulike" served as an example of the vaisika nayaka.
Rama is the inevitable loving spouse epitomising the anukula nayaka mentioned in the Agni Purana. The ashtapadis from the Gita Govind ideally paint all other nayakas woven round the person of romancer Krishna who by giving equal joy to many gopis while sporting with them in the ashtapadi "Haririha Mugdhavadoonikare" is the dakshina nayaka. Proclaiming supreme love for Radha after having been rejected earlier, in the aAshtapadi, "Priye Charushile" (rendered in raga Durbari Kanada) he is the drishta nayaka. As the shatha nayaka with the telltale marks of infidelity on his person, he is visualised in Radha's accusations in "Yahi Madhava."
Chandrasekhar was supported by Jaya Chandrasekhar (nattuvangam), Vanati Raghuraman (vocal), Babu (mridangam) and Muttukumar (flute).
As a last minute stop-gap arrangement with Ratikant Mohapatra (son of Guru Kelucharan) and wife Sujatha `unavoidably' absent, Sudharani Raghupathy's lec-dem on the javali provided an example of under played and aesthetic dance statement, emerging from the interpretation of the very open eroticism of this genre of songs. Dwelling on the etymology of the word javali, and its colloquial, earthy directness and sensuous vivacity, Sudha mentioned the lack of consensus among scholars about when the Tamil javali had its birth. V.A.K. Ranga Rao later added the information about the javali "Adineepai Marulukonnadi" being strung round the unlikely hero Rama, who as maryada purusha is not generally considered the ideal subject for a javali!
The dancer's grace-filled demonstration comprised the sakhi describing to the nayaka about the nayika in the bed chamber awaiting his arrival in "Tattai Mozhial" (Kalyani), followed by the nayika trying to hold at bay the ardent advances of the nayaka in "Samaya Idu Alla" in Suratti very suggestively rendered. The jilted nayika lamenting being made the laughing stock of society by the beloved in the line ("Kai Pidittu Keliyai Ponadadi") in the javali in Behag, and the heroine no longer willing to bear with the infidelities of the lover in "Chelinenetlu Sadinchine" in Paras were also rendered with finesse. Support for the performance comprised Nandini Anand's excellent singing with nattuvangam by Priya Murali, Vijayaraghavan on the mridangam and Aniruddha on flute.
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