Tanjavur Natyam: A Love Affair with Dāniké
A Love Affair with Dāniké
By Jeetendra Krishna
Wednesday, August 29 2018 (First Published: May 21, 2006)
The Art Of Dāniké
Ménage À Trois
The art of dāniké is certainly not for all dancers. The challenge lies in trying to capture the tongue-in-cheek tensions between both body and soul, between sexuality and spiritual love. The lyrics of the song have much more meaning in the subtext underneath what is actually stated in the mere words. To study only the padartha, or the literal meaning of words, would not be unravelling the mystery of the poetry. This is because the words express as much directly as they do not express. Only a serious study with the right teacher will reveal this mystery. If not, the artist cannot really bring truth and honesty to the dance composition. If the subtext is truly understood, it can free the artist from a prefixed, from-beginning-to-end, set-in-stone kind of Abhinaya. The latter, unfortunately, is in vogue today.
A Love Affair
My own encounter with dāniké began around forty years ago. I remember discovering dāniké for the first time on a 78 LP record with music for Indian dance, which my mother had in her collection. This old recording, from the 1950s, is the full varnam, including the last fourth caranam lyric. I often listened to the varnam, and was intrigued by the words and music, although I was too young to understand any of it. I just knew I loved the song.
A Lover's Paradise
Extracted from: “Dances of Desire by the Tanjore Quartet” a manuscript which I have written during my extensive travelling to Tanjavur and Madras between 1995-2003. It features in-depth documentation of forty varnams of the Tanjore Quartet. I became particularly interested in further understanding the historical context of the Tanjore varnams when I studied the varnams, “Nī Sāti Dora” and “Dāniké Tagu Jānarā”. Both varnams are revolve around the courtesan’s desire and the object of her desire, the Maharajah of Tanjavur. Looking deeper into the poetry of the songs opened up a magical world of courtly musicians and dancers who dwelled at the palace of Tanjore, to entertain the erudite Maharajah and his entourage. The varnams of the Tanjore Quartet are dances of desire, of love found, lost and found once again. Danced and sung by the unmatched courtesan, the nattuvanars, and the musicians of the royal court. Most of my insights into the history of the Tanjore Quartet came from my dance teachers. To me, learning from these teachers has meant coming as close as possible to travelling back in time to the Tanjore royal court, and be a witness of the marvellous dance and music of the Tanjore Quartet. I’m thankful to have found my teachers who have filled my life with the joy of dance Art —Rajamani M. (?-2003), without whom I could not have had access to Tanjavur Kittappa (particularly in 1996/1997). She shared with me the Dāniké and Nee Saati Dora varnams (among other pieces) -and provided me with the documentation for the same. Tanjavur K.P. Kittappa Pillai (1913-1999); Pandanainallur M. Gopalakrishnan Pillai (1938-2015); Pandanainallur C. Subbaraya Pillai (1914-2008), and additionally, I am thankful to dance guru, Chithra Muralidaran for graciously sharing many insights into contemporary Bharatanatyam.
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