Indian Classical Dance: What Repelled Men From This Grand Stream Of Art?

Posted on April 6, 2012 in Culture-Vulture

By Madhur Gupta:

Lord Krishna did the raas, Lord Shiva did tandava and so did the lord of dance Natraja. Why should the current metro male be any different from these gods whose lives are a source of inspiration for us?

Wearing ghungroos might not be the ideal way any man would like to get noticed today as wearing that is supposed to be effeminate and you wouldn’t want all sorts of rumors spreading about you. Classical Dance, a field that was dominated by men for centuries has seen a total reversal and now women who hid behind the ‘purdah’ have come out, fought with the society and men have gone behind it.

This generation has seen a gradual decline of male classical dancers and there is a plethora of reasons behind it. The first and foremost is patronage; why would a sponsor a male dancer when they have beautiful, graceful women dancing? Second are the societal pressures on the upcoming male dancers, with their ‘churidar kurtas’ and pierced ears, the society takes immense pleasure in giving them the title of being “gay”. And the third reason is marriages. Unless a male dancer strategically chooses to marry a girl from the same profession, hardly any other girl would be ready to marry him.

To male classical dancers being called gay, Shovana Narayan, a renowned Kathak artist, says, “Dance transcends gender. When Maharaj (Pandit Birju Maharaj) plays a woman on stage, he is more womanly than you or I, but the moment he walks off it, he is as male as Lord Shankar himself.”

An artist is true only when he is able to portray both the genders on stage without even a hitch, which means he can be the naughty Krishna stealing butter one minute and in the next blink of an eye he can transform into Yashoda searching for her son.

While some traditions have undergone a complete change, like Kuchipudi (performed only by men 50 years ago, now completely dominated by women), others like Kathakali have not. Most cities have only a few male solo dancers left. Delhi has two, Chennai has three, Bengaluru has seven and Odisha has the most, because Odissi has a tradition of gotipuas (young boys). Break dance, salsa, Bollywood dancing has been dominating the scene, to which Padma Vibhushan Pt. Birju Maharaj says, “How dare they even compare monkey-aerobics to dance?”

Today fewer men are opting to take classical dance as their career but those who are still willing to plunge into it are also ready to battle it out and emerge as winners. It is because of such men only that names like Gopi Krishna, Birju Maharaj and Kelucharan Mahapatra arise, who won’t be forgotten for centuries to come.