Lecture tag: Hindu Music and Poetry

IK Foundation Lecture: The Origin, Evolution and Role of Two Indian Dance Styles: Odissi and Bharata Natyam (MT 14)

IK Foundation Lecture

Inscriptions and texts from all over India suggest that dance was widely associated with temples, religious practices and social conventions in the past.  Currently, most classical dances performed on stage in India are based on dances that were earlier associated with both religious and secular practices. Hence they are assumed to share a common ancestry with the earlier temple and secular dances.

Bharata Natyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, has the best documented history of all the classical styles. There are abundant inscriptions on temples, royal courts records and observations made by European and Indian travelers, as well as firsthand accounts from members of the hereditary dance community (Isai Vellala), the caste of the musicians and dancers.

 In contrast, despite a history of temple dance in the state of Orissa, Odissi, as seen on the concert stage today, originated in the 1950s-60s. It was a conscious creation by several theatre personalities, former gotipuas (boy actor/dancers) and Orissan nationalists, anxious to have recognition for the state’s unique artistic traditions and to place them within the framework of classical Indian arts.

 This illustrated lecture explores the different trajectories of the two styles and speculates about how the characteristics of the Odissi style may have been influenced by its unique history.

Anne-Marie Gaston (D.Phil Oxon, M Litt Oxon) is scholar and internationally recognized performer of several styles of South Asian classical dance: Bharata Natyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, and Chhau. All of her training has been in India for over forty years, with some of the greatest teachers. Her dance repertoire includes both the traditional repertoire and innovative dance/theatre performances which seamlessly blend movement, original musical scores, text, video and images on a variety of themes: Environmental (Tagore’s Mother Earth, In Praise of Wilderness, images from Great Himalayan National Park); Greek (Athena Brahmani, Demeter and Persephone); Mesopotamian myths (Ishtar and Gilgamesh); Buddhist (Avalokitesvara [images from Ladhak], Environmental Wisdom of the Buddha); Yoga and Dance (Siva: Creation of Destruction,  Adishesha, Dance of Time, Dance Meets Yoga). 

Anne-Marie was invited by the Government of India to perform for state visit of Indira Gandhi to Canada and by The Government of Orissa to perform as state guest in Bhubaneswar. Some of her other performances include the Madras Music Academy (also lectures), National Centre for Performing Arts, Bombay (East West Encounter both sessions), India International Centre and Habitat Centre, New Delhi; Tropensmuseum, Amsterdam; National Arts Centre, National Gallery Ottawa and at numerous venues across Canada; Roundhouse, Commonwealth Institute, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Dartington Hall, UK. She has lectured for the Oriental Institute and Centre for Hindu Studies, Oxford; Lancaster University In the US at Universities of Chicago, New York, Washington, Florida as well as Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges.

She has published three books: Bharata Natyam from Temple to Theatre, Siva in Dance Myth and Iconography, Krishnas Musicians: music and music-making in the temples of Nathdvara Rajasthan. She contributed the chapter on Embodied Movement for the Oxford Handbook of Sacred Arts, as well as numerous articles for magazines and journals. She is a Research Associate with InterCulture, University of Ottawa, Canada. She recently conducted research in Indonesia on aspects of the Ramayana in traditional arts. www.culturalhorizons.ca.

Veda-stuti (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.87) with the Commentary of Śrīdhara Svāmī: Session One (MT14)

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa is undoubtedly the most popular and most sophisticated of the Purāṇas. Written in ornate prose and verse, and infusing Purāṇic narratives with Vedic, Vedānta, and Pāñcarātra thought, this monumental text influenced artists, architects, poets, and theologians for centuries.

The Veda-stuti (‘The Vedas’ prayers of praise’) is one of the Bhāgavata’s most significant theological passages, which offers an easy introduction to the Bhāgavata’s nondual theism and its Vedānta. In this reading class, we will read these verses with the commentary of Śrīdhara Svāmī (thirteenth century), the most celebrated commentator on the text and an important Advaitin Vaiṣṇava author who profoundly influenced the development of Hindu thought in pre-modern South Asia.

This reading class aims to introduce students with an intermediate knowledge of Sanskrit to the poetry of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the method and reasoning of Sanskrit commentaries, as well as the intersections of Advaita and Vaiṣṇava Vedānta.

The Temple Tradition in Three Styles of Classical Indian Dance: Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak (TT17)

This illustrated paper/lecture demonstration, will examine the changing importance of religious expression in three classical Indian dances (Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak), from their traditional (up to 1947), to their modern context.

Bharatanatyam originated in Tamil Nadu state. It was the hereditary profession of devadasis, women who danced in temples as part of religious ritual and on secular occasions, where they also played an important secular role as professional dancers and singers. Devadasis were taught by hereditary male teachers. In the 1930s, these teachers began to teach the dance, with some modifications, to non-hereditary dancers, both women and men, who were instrumental in creating the modern stage version of Bharatanatyam. Early stage presentations, although including much devotional repertoire, generally eschewed religious trappings. Recently this has changed, with increasing emphasis on temple associations.

While the Bharatanatyam of today evolved from a preexisting classical style, Odissi, from Orissa State, was created as a classical dance style in the 1960s and differed from Bharatanatyam in many ways. Unlike Bharatanatyam, it did not constitute a unified dance style but was assembled out of pre-existing elements of which the most important was the gotipua tradition, a dance-drama style performed by prepubescent boys. Many of the chief architects of Odissi had been gotipuas and spent their youth dancing, studying percussion and performing in theatres and villages. Unlike the devadasi tradition, where some dances were performed as part of temple ritual, gotipua performances took place mainly in secular venues, except for certain very sporadic specific events associate with the Jagannatha temple in Puri. While their repertoire centered on Hindu mythology, especially Krishna, the gotipuas were essentially itinerant entertainers. From the late 1950s, girls and women started to perform the Odissi of the gotipuas which induced a group of teachers to formalize the style, borrowing their format from Bharatanatyam. From the 1980s, many men also began to perform Odissi. In recent years there has been an attempt to trace Odissi’s roots to a pre-existing temple tradition. However, historical records for the temple tradition of female dancers/musicians (maharis), dedicated to Lord Jagannatha in Puri, lacks clear documentation. While their dance was largely ignored in the 1960s, during the creation of Odissi, there has been a recent trend by a few high caste women towards recreating their vision of the mahari’s dances which emphasizes the religious component. A similar tendency is apparent among Kathak adherents. All accounts ascribe the origin of Kathak to Hindu temples and princely courts, but the temple connection remains tenuous and most dancers of the post-independence period studied within traditions associated with the Muslim court of Wazir Ali Shah in Lucknow (Oudh) and the courts of some of the Hindu Rajas of Rajasthan, especially Jaipur. Despite this, modern practitioners generally claim that the dance originated as a religious presentation, whatever the immediate antecedents may have been. As in the other dance styles, records indicate that all of the Kathak teachers were men. Historical records, with very few exceptions, list only men as performers, despite the fact that there was an important parallel tradition of women dancers and singers in the courts and wealthy houses.

I will discuss the origins for each of the three dance styles, their presentation in the early post-independence period and subsequent trends towards increasing religiosity in repertoire and presentation.

Anne-Marie Gaston (D.Phil. Oxon, M. Litt. Oxon) (Anjali) is a scholar and internationally recognized performer of several styles of South Asian classical dance: Bharata Natyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Mayurbanj and Seraikella Chhau . All of her dance training has been in India, over fifty years, with some of the greatest teachers. Her dance repertoire includes both traditional repertoire and innovative dance/theatre performances which seamlessly blend movement, original musical scores, text, video and images on a variety of themes: Environment Yoga, Buddhist, Greek and Mesopotamian myths. For these mixed media productions, which include professional quality images and video, she collaborates with composers, musicians, mask makers, dancers and actors. As part of the 500 years of Shakespeare’s birth celebrations, in collaboration with her long time Kathakali Guru, Sadanand Balakrishnan, she created Lady Macbeth, a mixed-media presentation, set in Rajasthan, which includes an original musical score, video and images. She has performed and lectured in theatres, art galleries and museums across Canada, USA, Netherlands, Greece and in Paris.

She has published three books: Bharata Natyam from Temple to Theatre (Manohar), Siva in Dance Myth and Iconography (Oxford University Press), Krishna=s Musicians: music and music-making in the temples of Nathdvara Rajasthan (Manohar). Another book, Bharatanatyam Evolves, will appear shortly. She contributed the chapter on ‘Embodied Movement’ for the Oxford Handbook of Sacred Arts, as well as numerous articles for academic journals. She is a Research Associate with InterCulture, University of Ottawa, Canada. In 2016 she was a member of their delegation to Chengdu, China for the International Conference on Matralineality.

She is the artistic Director of Cultural Horizons www.culturalhorizons.ca.

Titian-Tagore-Transition (screening) (TT19)

The screening of this experimental video by Prof. Chris Dorsett will include a short introduction about the origins of the video in Giorgio Agamben’s book The Open: Man and Animal (2004) and will be followed by a discussion.

The Venetian artist Tiziano Vecellio(1488-1576), better known in the art world as Titian, painted The Three Ages of Man and Nymph and Shepherd five decades apart. A correspondence in subject matter has been noted by art historians but the first painting buzzes youthfully with a surfeit of iconographic meaning, whereas the second is considerably darker in mood, perhaps representing the ageing painter’s disenchanted farewell to art.

Chris Dorsett’s video cross-fades these iconic European images with a sound track based on a Rabindranath Tagore song, Hriday aamaar prakash holoTwo recordings were used: the classic 1956 version by Suchitra Mitra made for domestic markets on the Indian sub-continent and Zoe Rahman’s 2012 adaption that speaks to the multi-cultural interests of a present-day jazz audience in the West.

Chris Dorsett is an Artist and Professor Emeritus of Fine Art from Northumbria University. He is currently Research Affiliate at the Pitt Rivers Museum with an interest in South Asian Art, in particular Tantra. His career as an artist has been built on curatorial partnerships with collection-holding institutions. In the UK he is best known for a sequence of exhibitions held at the Pitt Rivers Museum between 1985 and 1994. His many overseas projects include museum ‘interventions’ across the Nordic region and fieldwork residencies in the Amazon and at the walled village of Kat Hing Wai in the New Territories of Hong Kong. He has written extensively about the interface between experimental art practices and the museum/heritage sector. His publications include: ‘Exhibitions and their prerequisites’, in Issues in curating: Contemporary art and performance (2007); ‘Making meaning beyond display’, in Museum materialities: Objects, engagements, interpretations (2009); ‘Things and theories: The unstable presence of exhibited objects’, in The thing about museums: Objects and experience, representation and contestation (2011); ‘The pleasure of the holder: Media art, museum collections and paper money’, in the International Journal of Arts and Technology and ‘Studio ruins: Describing unfinishedness’, in Studies in Material Thinking (both 2018 ).