Monday, 4 December 2017

TQ ART • D•A•N•I•K•E • the art of dānikē • Part 3

Published December 4 2017 
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in majestic rāgam tōdi, and rūpakam tālam, composed by Śivanandam of the Thanjavur Quartet. The varnam celebrates the brilliance of the vibrant court dancer, who in turn extols the virtues of Sivaji II, Maharaja of Tanjore. The courtesan makes many passionate pleas on behalf of another woman. She tries to dispel any doubts the King might have, assuring him the other woman is as passionate as she herself is for him. The lyrics poetically and vividly express the desires of the court dancer; the King is merely a matter of providing a framework.
bōsalakulāpati ! 
bālarā silarānelarā vēlarā ipudu! Sami, my lover, if a sālam is what I have to do, I will do that! But consider my praise for her, as she is the purest! Accept her and join us! The time is now! dānikē tagu jānarā she is suitable for your desires, she is clever, a perfect match! She will please you in every which way, my King of mischief! She will worship your golden feet if you praise her beauty. Considering she is all yours, bring flowers for her silky hair, close her lotus like eyes and embrace her tight. Her face is like the perfect reflection of the full moon at night. Come with me and let us make love! dayayuncarā nīvu Oho! be compassionate, will you not? dayayuncarā īvela for you to be compassionate the time is now! My merciful lover, you are not unbeknownst to her, over time she has fallen for you. She is not steady, that damsel is suffering. On a bed of fragrant blossoms she eagerly awaits your arrival. The time is ripe for the fulfilment of her desires. Do not pretend to be otherwise engaged! Do not delay, take my request and come with me! As she is the right one for you, you are right one for her! mānaganudaina srī mahādēvuni pūjincu srīnidhi nivērā sivāji mahārājendrā My warrior King! Ruler of Tanjore! You alone are the repository of auspiciousness. Your wealth and well-being is the well-being of all your citizens! No other man is equal to you! Candra! That damsel wants to experience your lovemaking skills! So thinking, I have come to tell you: dānikē tagu jānarā! Oh lad, she is not a cunning woman! My lover boy, are you not? dā nitami her hunger to experience 'madanasastra’ with you has no limits. Connoisseur of lovemaking, are you not?! dāni caturātā she will make the best of any circumstance ni saridā na buvilō dorakadu for you, she is the perfect match. dorayani dorakenu She has recognized your royal qualities and has made herself available for you alone. ikanu rati salupa samayamu padarā come with me, forthwith! This is the right time for passionate lovemaking! ipudu sadanamunaku aramara vikasāyatagunā let us go now! Oho! Why this delay?! Do not dilly-dally pretending you are not interested! To do so, is it right? This does not befit a King! manavi gaikonumu accept my request, the time is now. dayayuncarā nīvu you have to go, have mercy! dayayuncarā īvela for you to be kind, the time is now. Sami, dānikē tagu jānarā!

Also Read:

"The art of dānikē" 
Varnams of the Thanjavur Quartet"
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Friday, 1 December 2017

Currygraphy of the Thanjavur Quartet Varnams

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Currygraphy of the TQ Varnams

The compositions of the Thanjavur Quartet (TQ) are certainly back in vogue. Till the recent past, dancers were often quite dismissive of the TQ varnams, but today, "It's hip to be square and dance a piece that is rare!" 

Evenings of dance and festivals are dedicated to the TQ. From San Francisco to Chennai, everyone is dancing “rare” TQ compositions. Isn't that wonderful? Or, is it? Looking at the TQ compositions, and in particular the varnams, brings me to the question: Can you truly understand the nuances of these compositions if you have not at first learned them from a nattuvanar or a noted disciple of a nattuvanar? NO. You cannot.

You can get the meaning of the Telugu words with padartha or the literal meaning of the words, and you can attempt to compose dance for it. But to just know the meaning of the words does not mean one understands the composition. Can you study them with the famous diva dancers? No, most often not. They too do not understand. Not really. Not truly.

Since most bharatanatyam performers of today want the ‘choreographer' tag attached to their name, the dancers themselves set the TQ varnams to dance. Or rather, theermanams, mudras, and abhinaya are seemingly tossed together. Dancers often take the lyrics and meanings from websites with dance lyrics - blithely unaware of the actual meaning of the words. The varnams, all of them, including the ones about a deity, were actually specifically written for the court dancers and Maharajas. They contain lyrics that are in most cases tongue-in-cheek. Even though they seem simple at first glance, the lyrics have deep inner meaning.

For me, it's quite easy to spot whether a dancer has grasped a TQ varnam beyond just the meaning of the words. Looking at recent performances of TQ varnams, I noticed that the choreography was almost always what I would like to call 'CURRYGRAPHY' -dance dipped in a sauce of 'diva-dramatics', with absurdly placed mythological stories of the gods, portrayed, especially, in the heart of the varnam, anupallavi. The varnams were set in a peculiar 'fast-slow-fast-slow’ speed -resulting in the theermanams being rendered at the speed of a bullet-train and not matching the swaras, and when a theermanam concluded, the sahityam slowed down to an almost standstill, only to give the varnam unwarranted dramatics and seriousness. Because the dancer - or choreographer, if you will - didn’t really understand the context of words, and almost always had moments of uncertainty (visible on stage), the emphasis was placed, as an easy way out, on literal descriptions of temple and deity, leaving the court dancer's passionate longing for her lover lost in translation.

Almost all the nattuvanars have passed away, but they have left behind their disciples who can teach the pieces. But it is only those disciples who have studied with nattuvanars for longer periods of time, and especially the ones who also studied dance with a nattuvanar during their adult years, who can teach the pieces as they should be taught.

It is these disciples of the nattuvanars who can teach and explain the nuances of the varnams beyond the actual words and literal translation. They can give an understanding of the intended underlying meaning of the words, how to string appropriate mudras together, in which pace a particular varnam should be set and why, and how to look at the composition as a whole, including the often–ignored last caranam. How to use this caranam throughout the choreography of the varnam, if the dancer chooses not to actually dance the last caranam. Most importantly, give crucial details of social and historical context before dance is set.

Should you attempt to compose dance for the varnams if you do not understand where they came from? Or for whom they were written, and why they were written the way they were? Would you not want to truly understand these beautifully light, yet wonderfully complex and 
layered varnams?

Can you really understand the varnam in ragam bhairavi, mōhamāna en mīdil, with the lyrics written by Sangītakalānidhi Ponniah Pillai (1883-1945), who was a noted descendant of the Tanjore Quartet, without having first looked at the original Telugu composition, ni sāti dorā of Tanjore Quartet Ponnayya Pillai?

The varnams of the quartet have stood the test of time; no matter what else is tried, we always come back to these compositions. For the simple reason that these love songs are ever relevant. Have we not all loved and lost, loved and been betrayed, loved and pined for an absent lover, or even gone through unrequited love? The varnams will always be part of the margam repertoire, and they need to be given the respect they deserve. To really do justice to these compositions they need serious study. If not, they should be left where they truly belong - with the courtesan.

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First published, December 2010
Edited versions published:
 May 2017, November 2017
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Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Panther Jacket • Harinie Jeevitha



Bharatanatyam Artiste 
published by
November 29, 2017
Have you been to a place that has completely changed your life? This really makes me wonder if I have ever been to a place that has not changed my life at all! I believe that every place I visit, every action that I take, every moment lived is a step toward modification and change, however subtle or trivial it may be. I cannot single out one place, for I believe every moment and place prepares you for the next. This moment is the wind and the next is the eventual ripples on the river... 
By which dance artist, outside of your own discipline, are you most inspired?Shobha Korambil• Kuchipudi artiste, who is a disciple of Padma Bushan Awardee (third-highest civilian award of India), Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam. She has shown me what it is to have an undying thirst to dance. She has shown me that one can lose oneself while dancing. She has shown me that dance and the dancer can merge and become one.
•Kishore Mosalikanti• renowned Kuchipudi artiste. While I thought every movement in dance has a feel to it, he said every ‘feel has a movement... An inspiring performer, teacher, choreographer, all bundled into one. His understanding and approach to the art amazes me beyond words.
•Prabhu Deva• His dance seems like penance to me. He lives in the moment and he lives the movement when he dances.
I always wanted to write a fortune cookie message that says...“Close your eyes; you will still see it. Shut your ears; you will still hear it. If it was meant for you.”
What is the biggest hardship you have faced, or are facing today, with being a performing artist? It is challenging, yet rewarding to be a performing artiste. One has to spend quality time on practising, researching and exploring. But that is not all. Munching it on and on in the mind is as crucial as practice - this is an important lesson I have learnt from my teacher, Sheela Unnikrishnan. Apart from all these, one should take time to watch other performers as well. I wouldn't call this a hardship, but this according to me, is what makes a performing artist's journey exciting and challenging.
(Interview continues below the video)

Do you believe in afterlife? If so, what do you think it looks like? I believe that there is 'life after life' until the cycle ceases. "We have been here before and will return again. Our birth is a re-birth. Our death is a re-death" (Devdutt Pattanaik, 'My Gita').
This is a bewildering yet plain phenomenon. If there is something called afterlife, I assume it will be as dreamlike as this one!
If time travel was possible, where would you travel to? I would like to travel back to a time when poets flooded the streets with spontaneous outpourings of 'Bhakti, to a time when man was closest to nature, to a time when 'time’ didn't really matter! And I strongly believe this time travel is possible through dance!
What does dance do to you? Dancing or watching someone dance, often gives me the experience of a child tirelessly playing with friends. At times, it does what a mother feels on seeing her child. It also does what penance feels like to saints. It teaches me patience, tolerance and what it is to be humane. Most of all, it gives me the chance to escape reality!
A wise woman once said..."Katrathu kai mann allavu. Kallaadhadhu ulagallavu." - "what we have learnt is a mere handful. What we haven't learnt is the size of the world." - Avvaiyar

Harinie Jeevitha
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Sathir Dance Art Trust Amsterdam
Ms. Harinie Jeevitha
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