Sunday, May 4, 2014

Understanding Bharatham as Dance and Life

Gurur Brahmaa Gurur Vishnnur Gururdevo Maheshvarah |
Guru saakshaath Param Brahma Tasmai Shrii-Gurave Namah ||

Guru is the creator, guru sustains and guru eliminates what needs to be destroyed. Hence the guru is the supreme soul I bow before him to lead me to betterment in this life.

Humbled by the love shown by Manoj maash,  dedicated dance teacher, who dedicates himself to training more and more students in traditional Indian dance forms, and to be invited as the chief guest to inaugurate Natya Dhwani 2014 at Cultural Palace, Sharjah. Honoured to witness traditional performances as per Sampradaya. The honour of being present in the august gathering and the presence of Manoj mash and Sashi mash really made me tense and at the same time blessed. 

With my respects to the guruparampara (The lineage of gurus), I opened my speech with the dhyana shloka for dance, I was taught during my dance training in the nineties. It was neither the time nor proper to elaborate on the shloka but mentioned that the shloka is never a religious practice but something deeper. Dance is the form of expression which can really change the way you look at life or even Indian traditions. Let me write about what I had in my mind while talking about the shloka.

aangikam bhuvanam yasya
vaachikam sarva vaangmayam
aharyam chandra tharaadi
tvam vande satvikam shivam.

This is the dhyana sloka, or evoking the blessings while learning dance. Whenever we hear a shloka we tend to judge it as a divine or Hindu ritualistic practice. But can we look into the meaning of the shloka. Then we might understand why the dhyana shloka is designed the way it is. Sadly during the time of formulating the sampradaya for dance in India our language was the rich classical language Sanskrit. The meaning of the shloka is as follows:

Yes it does talk about Nataraja or the dancing Lord Shiva in its literal sense. The expression literally means whose body is the universe and whose speech is the universal language, and the ornaments are the sun and the moon or the celestial bodies, the prayers are unto the pure form of the Lord. 

But the inner meaning looks into the four kids of abhinaya: 
  • aangikaabhinaya
  • vaachikaabhinaya
  • ahryabhinaya and 
  • saatvikabhinaya. 

According to Bharatha's Naatyashashthra the sloka portrays the basic expressions of nature and reminds us of the four ways to express while performing dance. Expressions with the body (aangikaabhinaya), Expressions through the words or the sahithya of the song and expressions based on those words(vaachikaabhinaya) and expressions with the ornaments or costumes (ahaaryabhinaya) and the expression through purity or serenity (saatvikabhinaya). Without understanding what an expression abhinaya is we won’t be able to move forward. The literal meaning of the word Abhinaya has been explained by Bharata as follows in a shloka:

"Abhipurvastu nindhatur abhimukhyartha isyate
Yasmat Padarthan nayati tasmad abhinayah smrtah"

'Abhi' is the prefix meaning 'towards' and 'ni (naya)' has the root meaning to carry. So, Abhinaya means to carry towards, i.e. to carry the spectator towards the meaning. Thus, Abhinaya can be called a vehicle of Natya through which the spectator experiences the particular emotions of the dramatic character that is to lead him towards Rasananda - the ultimate bliss of enjoying the rasa, which is the aim of Natya.

"Yatho hastha tadho drushti
Yatho drushti thadho mana
Yatho mana thadho bhaava
Yatho bhaava thadho rasah"

While performing a dance recital, the eyes should follow the hand or the mudras, so the vision and mudras are perfected. Where the eyes move, the mind should move understanding what we are trying to convey and where the mind resides there should be the bhava or the feeling. And so there in the mind of the dancer evolves the rasa which needs to be enjoyed by the spectator. 

Having understood the rasa, rasananda, abhinaya and the four kinds of abhinaya, you should know where to look for these in dance forms. Then you mature as a good spectator. Each of these abhinayas or expressions are clearly understood with forms of dance in India. 

Angika Abhinaya - means to convey the meaning through body movements. This involves natural as well as symbolic gestures (Mudras), postures and movements of the major and minor parts of the body, including the Mukharaga, which are expressions conveyed through the subtle movements of facial muscles. Bharata's description of the usages of body limbs for conveying various meanings is a detailed scientific study of human behaviour. So these can be observed in almost all dance forms, especially in Bharathanatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kathakali and Bharathanruthya. Mukharaga cannot be observed in certain dance forms where masks are used like the Chau, which expresses itself using the bodily movements alone. The Bharatha's Naatyashashthra elucidates three divisions for the angas or the body as six angas (including the hands and head), six pratyangas (including the shoulders, thighs and feet) and the twelve upangas (including looks or the eye movements, nose and lips). So this covers the hasthabhinaya too which is the hand symbols, movement and the combination of the hands and postures with positions. 

Vaachikaabhinaya - means to express through speech. Bharata has discussed in detail the different Vrttas, metres in poetry; the Laksanas, figures of speech; the Gunas and Dosas, the strong and weak points of poetic writing as well as diction. Which means when you are observing as a spectator, you need to understand the literature of the song, about which the dancer tries to convey. Be it the laasya bhaava of Mohiniyattam or the expressions of Bharathiyar or Thyaagaraja who wrote the line with their heart filled it with bhava and when the dancer understands each word, he or she tries to express the same. Thus giving you the expression to enjoy or relish the rasa. If the singer sings the song without knowing the meaning of the words and the dancer just tries to perform the routine of the dance or the spectator does not understand the mudras, or the words, the enjoyment is reduced to be just  watching an exercise. The tala and laya or the rhythm and the flow of the song also play an important role. Choosing a raga which has an inherent quality will have its own expressions. Hence music and its understanding play an important role in the life of a dancer.

Ahaaryabhinaya - means to express through costumes. Rangabhusa - the make-up and costumes, ornaments etc. - of the character being depicted by the dancer. It also lays out the Nepathya, the stage props and decor. Bharata has prescribed specific colours, hair-styles as well as costumes for particular characters. Hence looking at a pacha vesham in kathakali you know it depicts a hero, the kari vesham for kiratha, kathi vesham for villains, and you follow it better. Similarly the dance dramas of India, gives immense importance to the rangabhusha, which becomes a part of the aharyabhinaya. But the ornamentation is not always real in dance forms, sometimes the characters depicted are symbolically adorned with the ornaments when the character is being depicted in the dance form. Be it the peacock feather for Lord Krishna, the bow for Lord Rama or the beard of a rishi and so on.

Sattvikaabhinaya - expression through purity of the emotions of the dancer. The peculiar emotional states producing the particular physical reactions like Romancha (being exhilarated), Asru (tears as the expression of sorrow), Sveda (perspiration), Vaivarnya (change of complexion) etc. The lasya bhavam expressed in Mohiniyattam is a good example. The word satvika means born out of a pure mind or in Bharatha’s words "Nirvikaratmakan Sattvan Bhavayan Bhava Ucyate" which means an emotion is born out of a tranquil or serene mind. Which pin points the need for a cool and calm mind for a dancer to express properly while dancing. This will generate the eight satvika bhaava as mentioned in Natyashashtra. 

Hence bhava, raga, thala layam becomes bharatham and the rules laid out for expressions ages ago are easily carried to a dancer who learns the basic through the dhanaya sloka. All the four modes of expression or abhinaya are important for the right kind of enjoyment of a dance performance. they are never independent and have to come in unison for a person to enjoy the dance completely. The four abhinayas also creates a special state of mind body coordination. So dance in Indian tradition is not just a performance but a holistic approach for a person to be a better and expressive human being.

Now that we know what the shloka evokes in the mind of the dancer, let’s also look into the word "Shivam". The name Shiva means a lot if you look deeper. Shiva means the holy one. It also means seven, which can denote the seven notes in music, seven colours in the nature and seven rishis in the mythology. The Sanskrit word Shiva comes from Shri Rudram Chamakam of Taittiriya Samhita of Krishna Yajurveda. The root word śi means auspicious. He is the oldest worshipped Lord of India. Adi Sankara, in his interpretation of the name Shiva, the 27th and 600th name of Vishnu sahasranama, the thousand names of Vishnu interprets Shiva to have multiple meanings: "The Pure One", or "the One who is not affected by three Gunas of Prakrti (Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas)" or "the One who purifies everyone by the very utterance of His name." Swami Chinmayananda, in his translation of Vishnu sahasranama, further elaborates on that verse: Shiva means "the One who is eternally pure" or "the One who can never have any contamination of the imperfection of Rajas and Tamas". 

The abhinaya in the shloka points to the universe, the sounds of the universe or the language and the celestial bodies, Shiva is a combination of all, which means we are talking about the relation between man and nature, where Shiva is nothing but nature. Nature, prakruthi in Sanskrit, can be what is around us or inside us as our traits and attributes. Pra- or for or towards and krithi is to create or scribe which shows nature as pro-creation. Nature is another word for creation or creativity inside a man and around him. So the sloka is invoking the nature and giving it the name Shiva. So the dhanya sloka was never a worship mantra but creating equilibrium with nature and express ourselves better with the co-ordination of the mind and body.

So express yourself better by understanding better ...

(References - Bharatha's Natya shashthra articles, wikipedia and texts for dance)

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