Lecture tag: Dance

Krishna In Dance and Miniature Paintings (TT12)

The representation of Krishna in Indian dance is inspired by miniature paintings. What does the dancer see when she looks at a miniature painting.? How close is the connection between dance and painting?. This lecture demonstration includes video, images and dance to covney a rich mythic and artistic experience.

Sastra and Prayoga: Building Bridges Between Text and Performance in the Sanskritic Tradition

Session 21 of the 2007 Shivdasani Conference.

While the general interest of this symposium lies in the relationships between temples, architecture, texts and performance, my presentation focuses on the relation between the formal description and analysis of dance and its practice. My discussion draws exclusively upon the primary source material for our knowledge of the performing arts of India, that is, the extensive body of Sanskrit texts on dance, drama and music.

I must also clarify here that I understand the term “dance” as a hybrid performance genre that consists of non-mimetic action, natta, as well as mimetic representation, natya, and narrative action, natya. But let me first try to bring this discussion closer than it might appear to the theme of the temple in the Indian imaginary.


Temple Texts and Cultural Performances in South Asia

Session 18 of the 2007 Shivdasani Conference.

This paper will discuss the centrality of the temple text in the classical arts of South Asia, and focus specifically on the aesthetic vision of the late Dr. Rukmini Devi Arundale, the celebrated revivalist of twentieth- century Bharatanatyam. For her debut recital of Bharatanatyam in 1935, Rukmini Devi allegorized the Hindu temple where the dance had been performed, prior to the articulation of the Anti-Nautch Social Reform movement of the 1890s, transformed it into a theatrical backdrop, and used it as a stage prop to present her Bharatanatyam recital. In her subsequent performances, Rukmini Devi staged the icon of Nataraja on one side of her temple stage, and seated her guru on the other. In this way, Devi created a three-pronged, god, guru and temple stage setting for twentieth-century Bharatnatyam, worked within this symbolic stage setting for over fifty years, and constituted a modern temple, and guru-based history, aesthetics and epistemology for classical Bharatanatyam.

Although Rukmini Devi celebrated the temple history of the dance, she was aware that Bharatanatyam was reconstituted as a concert form in the nineteenth century cosmopolitan courts of King Serfoji 11 (1798-1832). Yet this court-based renaissance of the arts was perceived as being compromised by virtue of King Serfoji’s subordinate status as an English educated vassal king of the Empire, and also his desire to hybridize Indian culture by combining the best of Western learning with the best of Indian traditions. Native devadasis, besides, were also sexualized and demonized as temple-dancers and temple-prostitutes in the courts of King Serfoji.

Rukmini Devi manoeuvred the twentieth century dance revival by selectively decontextualizing the court dance and idealizing it not as a feudal dance, but rather as a temple dance. Taking her cue from V. Raghavan, the eminent Sanskrit scholar of Indian performing arts, Rukmini Devi suggested that Bharatanatyam could be traced back to the textual tenets of the ancient Natyasastra, and thus proposed an alternative Sanskrit based history, and identity for Bharatanatyam. Like Raghavan, she celebrated the hereditary guru as symbol of Indian Tradition and plotted an anthropological, regional history for the dance. She then argued that both the marga (Sanskritic) and desi (regional) streams combined in the repertoire of Bharatanatyam, and were preserved in the temple traditions of the dance. Eminent performing arts scholars including A.K Commaraswamy, V. Raghavan and Kapila Vatsyayan endorsed Devi’s desi/margi conceptualization, and affirmed the centrality of the temple in the historical imaginary of Indian classical arts. Scholars and dancers thus crafted a selective, marga/desi temple-based history, aesthetics and ontology for Bharatanatyam, and this double aesthetic prevailed in the practice of Bharatanatyam until the demise of Rukmini Devi in the 1980s.

Recent critiques, however, have questioned the Orientalist assumptions inhering in Rukmini Devi’s Bharatanatyam revival. But few have gone beyond this critique to grasp the interconnections between social dramas of British colonialism and socio-cultural performances such as Bharatanatyam that emerged from these dramas. Drawing on Victor Turner and Milton Singer’s theories of Social Dramas and Cultural performances, I will track the overlapping connections between British Social dramas and Indian cultural performances. My aim is to explore the redemptive dimensions of the temple-stage, and to show how it helped rescue from historical oblivion the ritual based traditions of Bharatanatyam, while also enabling the articulation of an alternative theory of expressivity based on bakthi for Bharatanatyam.


The Dance Performed by the Temple: the Dynamics of Hindu Temple Architecture

Session 17 of the 2007 Shivdasani Conference.

In the forms of shrine, which developed between the 7th and 13th centuries, Hindu temples, conceived as divine bodies, embodied structured patterns of movement in their architectural compositions. Shrines are invested with a sense of centrifugal dynamism that appears to originate at the tip of the finial, or a point just above it, progressing downwards from this point and outwards from the vertical axis. Compositional elements are made to appear to multiply, to emerge and expand out from the body of the shrine, and out from one another, as interpenetrating elements differentiate themselves and come apart. As well as a spatial structure, a temple has a temporal one, of which a given spatial arrangement is a momentary glimpse, or rather, a succession of such glimpses. A series of elements, or of configurations of elements, can be sensed not so much as a chain of separate entities, but as the same thing seen several times, at different stages, evolving and proliferating. This pattern of growth is conveyed through clearly identifiable architectural means.

The same pattern of emergence, expansion, and proliferation expressed in a single temple is reflected in the development of architectural forms during the course of various traditions. This unfolding takes place both in the details and at the level of the whole composition. The effect observed in a single, developed temple, of one form putting forth another, which in turn emits another and so on, is brought about by a cumulative extrapolation and successive incorporation of temple designs: a new design springing from an old one, while preserving the old one within the new.

Analogies, or homologies, are striking when dynamic temple compositions are compared with certain recurrent religious and philosophical concepts. Patterns of emergence and growth, as if from an all-containing point, underlie a vision of creation, which is found repeatedly in many different guises. The manifestation or coming into being of the divine or of the universe is repeatedly understood as taking place through the sequential emergence, or successive bursting forth, of one form or principle from another.

This is not to say that such ideas gave rise to the architectural forms, or that the temple builders deliberately set out to embody these concepts: rather, it would seem, the forms and the ideas both spring from the same way of thinking, the same view of the world.