By Aakanksha Mishra:
“We bow to him the benevolent one whose limbs are the world,
Whose song and poetry are the essence of all language, whose costume is the moon and the stars;
The dancing foot, the sound of tinkling bells, the songs that are sung and the various steps;
The forms assumed by our master as he dances, discover these in your own heart;
So shall your bonds be broken.”
Indian classical dances are the dances of the mind and the soul which are deeply rooted in traditions. They still follow the orders laid down by the sage Bharat Muni in his treatise ‘The Natyashahtra’ centuries ago. These dances evince the splendid and versatile facets of our tradition. Every Indian classical dance has two aspects. First, ‘Nritta’ which is the rhythmic bodily movements creating patterns in space and time with no specific objective of projecting any emotions. The intricate footwork and the Hasta Mudras (hand gestures) are a sensual treat that gratify our eyes. The second is ‘Abhinaya’- the art of expression. Mime and action and other histrionics conjure up an enchanting world where the emotions and sentiments conveyed by the dancer is amplified. The ‘Rasa’ (mood or flavour) evokes ‘Ananda’ (bliss) and this experience of bliss must be spiritual. This is the primal essence of Indian aesthetics.
There is much to say about Indian classical dances – its lucidity, its countenance etc yet most of our dancers today forget why they are dancing and for what purpose. Cut throat competition for performing, glamour, commercialism, fame and all other rubbish has crept into our dancers who have distanced themselves from the divine purpose of dance. They have, on the other hand, embraced the attitudes that are concerned with making gains at the expense of quality. Many artists stick to a specific association or organiser who would provide them a platform to showcase their talent to a vast audience. In return, the artist promotes and popularizes these associations and organisers thereby contributing to politics and rivalry between them. Then there are those who chase reporters to make sure they are in the limelight through newspapers and television. There are other ‘professionals’ who have been on stage numerous times, have had international audiences, are highly proficient and well versed with rehearsed pieces , have a fancy resume, a shimmery scrapbook , very good costumes and a powerful list of contacts. That’s pretty much it. As a personage they have nothing to say to the world, nothing to contribute to society.
The ‘Devadasis’ in the past had only one aim- the intent to dance before the Almighty; they had no audience but him. They were contented and pleased to communicate with him through their music and dance, their dance was of the utmost orders of divinity. The ‘Guru-Shishya Parampara’ (teacher – student relationship) is virtually extinct nowadays. What we have today are globetrotting performers having little time for their students. Rather than sensitizing their students about the real goal of dance, they teach them the mercantile tricks so that they too like their masters travel the globe gathering trophies and awards to satiate their ego and their teacher’s ego too. Such performance frenzy has stripped of our classical dances of its sacred segment. It may be interesting to note that many of our maestros- the likes of Pandit Birju Maharaj or Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra were unbeknown to the world till lately, when we discovered them and made them legendary. They danced with no motive other than to connect with the Supreme.
The dance that we see today is mostly dramatized, an extension of showmanship. There is a huge hiatus between the creativity of compositions today and the originality of those from the past. There is hardly any progress. In fact we have demoted the traditions that our ancestors left for us. The dancer today is dancing merely up to the level of physical dexterity and entertainment, the divine scintilla is sorely lacking.
The new crop of students who are still willing to take forward our beauteous dance forms must be tutored about the higher designs and potency of our arts. They have to be shown by example that this art form can revolutionize the life of an individual making him stronger and real.
Perhaps, now it is time for us to introspect and ask ourselves what is the purpose of our dances. Here is the answer-
Dance is barely a fount of amusement. It serves to achieve a state of paramount bliss. The objective of all art is to realize the eternal verities of being. The aim of art is to experience manumission from earthly ties through pulchritude and delectation. All this finally ends with the realization that ‘God is the divinity within oneself’.