How Bharatham danced its way into the Music Academy?

Here is probably one of the most important period of Bhartahnatyam documented in History:-

“All interpretations of the history of Bharatanatyam agree on one thing — the role of the Music Academy in the renaissance of Bharatanatyam, beginning in 1931. The founder secretary E. Krishna Iyer piloted this project with conviction. Not alone, undoubtedly, for, the Academy had genuine thinkers, aesthetes and experts who endorsed classical dance’s place on an equal pedestal with music, at a time when the future of the art was rather dim.

Public awareness on the “state of the art” had been kindled by media debates, which published arguments on who should dance, where and when. It was a turbulent period when social reformers demanded the banning of dance in all its traditional venues, including temples.The performance by the Kalyani daughters, Rajalakshmi and Jeevaratnam, in the new habitat, the proscenium of the Music Academy, did not go unnoticed. It was the first step to re-invent a largely unknown tradition. A door was opened to showcase the dance of the Thanjavur Court. And who should take a peek into it, but the fiercely independent Rukmini Devi who saw another pair of dancers from the village of Pandanallur, Sabaranjitham and Nagaratnam, and promptly decided (at the age of 30 ) to learn to dance!

Balasaraswathi, perhaps had the distinct honour of being a dancer associated with the Academy for the longest period, until she was finally crowned `Sangita Kalanidhi’ in 1973. The repertoire, largely dictated by the wise gurus, followed the traditional format of alarippu, jathiswaram, sabdam, varnam, padams and tillana. The musicality of dance surprised many viewers. When Jayammal, daughter of Veena Dhanammal, sang a Kshetragna (love-lament) for Balasaraswathi’s dance, the pundits who were immersed in the melodies of the Carnatic Trinity of composers, sat up to listen and nod their heads in approval.

That the Academy was quite liberal and open-minded in its approach to staging dance performances in the early years is evident in the fact that when non-hereditary dancers started learning under big gurus, their talent was suitably encouraged, even though they were novices in the field.In the early years, dancers were chosen to perform mostly on the basis of their apprenticeship with one or other famous guru. Names to reckon with were Vazhuvur Ramaiah Pillai, Pandanallur Chockalingam Pillai and others. Many young students danced just once or twice at the Academy, for it was not customary for girls to take up dance as a career, and once they got married, they gave it up altogether.

While many aspects of Natya Sastra were made known to the public in the conference sessions of the Academy during the 1950s and 60s. (Do you wish you were there then?)By the 1960s, Bharatanatyam had become a well-established classical form, while unknown disciplines like Kuchipudi and Odissi were just beginning to be showcased. Perhaps the 1970s and the early 80s saw the largest variety of dancers who made a mark with their individuality in Bharatanatyam.

The beginning of the 21st century augurs well for dance.Generation next has produced a sizable number of impressive dancers who have committed themselves to a full time career in solo dance. The clamour for platforms continues, for the “supply” of Bharatanatyam dancers far outnumbers the “demand.” With new themes and original concepts, often, but not always without diluting the strength of classicism, dancers have nurtured their careers rather successfully. Many dancers have handled their role as teachers with aplomb. Without doubt, a legacy discovered less than a 100 years ago deserves to be carefully handled. E. Krishna Iyer may not have dreamt in 1931 that Bharatanatyam will go such a long way in the modern world and become almost synonymous with Indian dance. That alone perhaps, is enough cause for celebration.

Source: Excerpts from (Hindu,Dedc 1,2006)

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