The journey of Dance


Indian dance or Natya as we all know was born on earth with a purpose and has been growing  as a beautiful  tree with its roots in the divine earth.  This tree has spread across horizons with its innumerable branches (shakhas); each branch representing a style of dance. One can think of the tree being in its prime when its flowers are in full bloom and spreading its fragrance world wide. But as we enjoy the fragrance, we should not forget the purpose with which its seeds were sown on earth. Dance was born not only as a mere entertainment, but also for ‘Loka Kalyanam’ or social welfare. Is our dance fulfilling its objective today? Or would it ever fulfill? What is its state today in our society? Are we as dancers doing justice to the art we have learnt putting so many years of hard work?  With all these questions revolving in my mind for a long time, a very fruitful talk with a divine singer, triggered me to pen down my thoughts into words.

What is natyam? All of us know—‘ natyakhyam pancham vedam’, Natyam is the fifth veda with all the other four Vedas — ‘rigveda’ literature, ‘sama veda’ music, ‘yajur veda’ abhinaya  and ‘atharvana veda’ rasa or emotions being its components.

Does physical dance have an identity just by itself? NO, physical dance or just the movement of the limbs, in the absence of music, literature or emotions would just be acrobatics or exercise but not ‘Natyam’ as it is coined in the Indian culture. A body movement with some music can be enjoyed only for few minutes, but not for a longer duration. What gives meaning  to dance is the literature, a total understanding of the literature, an apt music for the literature, an apt rendering of the music. A total capture of these signals produced by the group of musicians and then transmitting these signals to the audience is what can give a complete meaning to the dance thereby making a show successful. In the present hi-tech world, we can say, a dancer stands on the stage as a signal transmitting tower that generates the energy of ‘rasa’ or emotions  in the minds and hearts of the spectators.  Dance being an audio visual art, stronger the signals, stronger is the transmission, and stronger, the impact on the spectators. This impact surpasses all other forms of communication.

According to the singer “The experience of the ‘vakgeyakaras’ or the singers who write and tune their own songs, is that of supreme bliss. They are of the first grade. Saint poets like Tyagaraja or Muthu Swami Deekshitar can be grouped into this category. The singers who sing with a complete understanding of other’s works, experience an ultimate joy. They come into the second category. The dancers, who are dependent on these two categories for their work, and strive to do justice to someone else’s work, through somebody, has a third hand experience of that joy. So they can be grouped into the third category”. Very true and very well said. BUT–  music or literature are not separate from dance, they are the components of dance itself. All the allied arts can survive by themselves, but dance cannot survive without these allied arts. The dancer on stage, who is a complete dancer, with the knowledge of all the components of dance, when works as  a signal booster and a powerful transmitter, not just himself enjoys the ultimate bliss but also makes the audience to take a dip in it. So a dancer is not just working for himself but also for the audience. Therefore, does he not have an added responsibility? It’s the responsibility of the dancer to have a complete knowledge, learn it actually as a ‘panchama veda’, learn it with full ‘bhakti’ dedication and devotion and then educate the audience of what he knows. At the end of the day, we are all taking our individual journeys towards the Ultimate. It’s the responsibility of the dancer to pull the audience along to the right path and show them the light, which would in turn help to form a better society. It lies entirely in the hands of the dancer whether to put his or her clan in the first grade or third grade.

Talking about social welfare, what should be the nature of dance to help reach its ‘social’ goal?  As  mentioned earlier, dance came to earth not just as an entertainment during the absence of any other media, but also for ‘loka kalyanam’ or social welfare. For ages, these two causes have been walking hand in hand. On one hand where  the devadasis, the ‘sani varu’ the ‘kalavantulu’ have been doing their share of social entertainment, on the other hand ‘The Bhagavatulu’ and the bhagavata melas have been doing their share by educating the audience towards social welfare.

Kuchipudi style of Indian Classical Dance is a standing example for this. The region of Krishna and Godavari river delta which comes under modern Andhra Pradesh State and ‘Telugu’ being the predominant language saw a rich growth of art. The temples of  movva gopala swami and the Andhra Maha Vishnu at Srikakulam  and the adjoining ‘Agraharam’ of Kuchipudi, show us a proof of how the dance was used by the two classes of dancers for two different causes. The devadasis of the srikakulam temple danced the sringara padams written by ‘Kshetrayya’ with the hero as the ‘Movva Gopala Swami’  to entertain the public juxtaposed to the Kuchipudi Bhagavatulu who  danced ‘Bhamakalapam’ by ‘Siddhendra Yogi’ preaching the jeevatma and paramatma tatva, during the same era.  Kuchipudi didn’t just stop here, but it went ahead with its mission and started incorporating and presenting ‘Kelikas’ where social issues became the prime subject of presentation.

BUT ALAS, with the passage of time and the growth of technology and increasing influence of the various modes of entertainment, spectators are kind of hooked to television and computers rather than witness a live performance. On the other hand, the competitive nature of the dance field as a career has grown. Glamour has taken a prime role in dance. Darvin’s theory of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest has come into play. Dancers take to unfair and unethical means to prove themselves successful. Dance has become a business for many. There’s a mad rush to achieve and receive awards, no matter how. The number of half knowledged dancers and mediocracy in the quality of dance is growing high. The goal today has become to attract the primary position of the spot light and in the process demean the musicians who are equal contributors for the success of a performance. Literally, the musicians deserve more than half the credit these dancers sweep away.  Singing for dance concerts is not considered good enough any more. Quality singers refuse to sing for dance. All these mal-practices are not just degrading the dignity of dance but also misguiding the dance from its path.

 In today’s secular society, the class of ‘devadasis’ or ‘sani varu’ no more exists. A’brahmin’ is apprehensive to speak out his identity and thereby hides his sacred thread behind his shirt. So there are no bhagavatulu’s either.  Dance today, has become an art accessible to any caste and any gender of people.  SO THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE DANCERS HAS INCREASED.  Dance has reached the modern theatres where electronic equipments and the beautiful light affects have their own role to play to beautify the concert.  Thanks to some connoisseurs who wish to create productions like ‘Shanti’, ‘Kundalini’, ‘vedam’ etc, which are enriching to the audience. And thanks to the entire crew members who make staging of such productions possible, making the social cause of dance survive.

BUT THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. MORE HAS TO BE DONE. The dancers first need to wake up from their deep slumber, be totally aware of where they stand, their actions and what they really want to do with the weapon called dance in their hands.  A knife can kill someone, the same knife can carve a sculpture. Choice is of the artiste. Rat race leads to no-where. Working hand-in- hand, we the dancers can bring a change in the society.  Its very painful and sad to know the fear in a father’s mind to encourage his daughter in the dance field. This fear and insecurity cannot be denied but it can be removed or changed. Let us be good human beings, contributing to the society in a positive way and build a generation of youngsters who would in turn be productive to the society and not teach disrespectful traits in the name of sringaram.



“Yatra  naari poojayante, ramante tatra devataa”

To conclude,

DO not mishandle dance; It is representative of a tree with full bloom flowers spreading its fragrance everywhere, or one can also symbolize it as a beautiful  young lady, in the peak of her youth, full of desires and dreams for her future. If handled with care, dance can be the kalpavruksham, the kamadhenu or the mother with worthy children for the society, but if mis-handled it can lead to the destruction of the society. Let the dance travel  safe and sound to the  generations to come where it  has collected the wisdom  of a grand-mom and who teaches  as she entertains her  grandchildren with her  bed-time and meal-time stories