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Indian Classical Dance - A Sojourn?

by Abbi

The author, a classical musician and connoisseur, shares his general disturbance and cautious optimism about the state of affairs in the allied art.
The excerpts of an interview of Raja and Radha Reddy on classical dance set me thinking on where the art form stands today and the path it would take in the years to come. Their opinion reflecting the attitude of today’s children tending to shift from any TV channel airing cultural programmes is indeed sad! Who is responsible for this state of affairs - is it the proponents of the art form, the parents or the Gurus? I would say that blame is to be attributed to each one of them, though not necessarily coequally. Let me attempt at de-constructing this.

The immediate question is whether there a fault in the interpretation of classical dance. The interpretative aspect of classical dance is Abhinaya. Through abhinaya, the spectator experiences the particular emotions of the character or situations that are portrayed by the dancer. As the name suggests, Abhinaya is the expressible aspect of dance (or nritya). This corresponds to the situation depicted in the story of the dance performance. Natya Shastra scrutinizes Abhinaya, which is an inevitable part of the majority of Indian nuances of dances. To interpret anything, be it poetry or prose, one must have the required knowledge which in turn has to be imparted either by the parents or the Gurus. Indian classical dance mostly has its theme in mythology. One could take a safe bet of today’s parents being too busy in the competitive environments leaving hardly any time to narrate stories, introduce mythology or traditional values to their children. With this situation, how will a child ever understand a dance, be it Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi, depicting a Krishna-leela or Rudra-thandavam if they are not aware of the narrative in the first place?

The duty of explaining the narratives to the students for bringing out the abhinaya to a large extent lies with the Gurus. It is akin to that of a tourist guide without whose guidance one can hardly understand or appreciate the architectural beauty of the Belur temples or a Jantar mantar. The guide’s only return is the consideration for the services whereas the guru is in a much higher pedestal and his reward comes in the form of accolades for the student and the satisfaction of having done the noble job of vidya danam. Apparently, such values are given a go-by or practiced to a limited extent.

All is not lost. It is extremely heartening to see plenty of youngsters evincing more and more interest and enthusiasm in learning Indian classical dance. The awareness level has increased manifold with the availability of resources for knowledge upgrade. Cultural organizations such as the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Sangeet Nataka Academy are striving to spread awareness about our rich cultural heritage. Thanks to globalization in all walks of life, cultural exchanges with Western countries have proved to be a catalyst in promoting Indian classical dance. There is no need for despair; Classical dance is bound to make larger strides in the years to come.

It should be the endeavor of every parent and guru to contribute their mite to not only preserve the art form but also take it forward. The philanthropists should make it possible by enriching the monetary resources as classical dance has a heavy component of expenditure for the organizations and individuals. It is a pity that many promising artistes have to settle for other professions due to lack of monetary returns. Educating the younger generation with cultural values and multiplying opportunities would be the ideal blend for classical dance, lest the journey would definitely end up being a sojourn.