Dance studies across genres require multiple approaches for an understanding of the sociological, phenomenological, political, cultural, philosophical and aesthetical practices that influences the dance's kinesthetic and existential character. In the context of Bharatanatyam, the moment of explaining shifting ideologies and its impact on the form, content and process, is a moment of convergence, of past and present, dancer and society. This convergence has been so enduring that while dancers' have found new ways of expressing in the language of Bharatanatyam, recourse is taken to the traditional texts for understanding the tenets of its practice. The second, revised and updated edition of Message in Movements, 'Abhinaya Darpanam, An Illustrated Translation', attempts for the first time an illustrative description of the aesthetic movement/suggestion in Bharatanatyam so learners may reconnect and experience its unique definitional identity to its source in nature and re-establish practical-theoretical, subject- object connections. This edition collates verses from the two available translated and edited texts of Manmohan Ghosh (328 verses), and P.S.R. Appa Rao (814 verses). The detailed illustration of every nuanced element is presented to offer a paradigm for exploring and understanding the embodied art within the broader context of performance, representation and re-presentation.
Anita Vallabh is the Creative Director of Aeka Academy, an Institution of Fine arts and a disciple of The Dhananjayans. She received her Doctoral degree for her analytical study of Semiosis of Bharatanatyam in Tamil Culture Since 1930 in 2002 from the University of Madras, Chennai. She was conferred the title of Kala Bharati from National Hindi Academy, Kolkata for the year 1992-1993, awarded Bhratanatya Prachiramani in Myanmar in 2002, and received 'Certificate of Honor from Council of City and County of Honolulu in 2011 for her services in disseminating the art in Schools and in the Indian community. She travels extensively, conducting workshops and giving lectures to augment the practice of Bharatanatyam and to facilitate a meaningful Extension of cultural studies.
This version of the Abhinaya Darpanam is a reconciliation of P.S.R. Appa Rao's translation of Nandikesvara's Abhinaya Darpanam, and Manmohan Ghosh's edited and translated version of Nadikesvara's Abhinayadarpanam. I have chosen the above two texts for the reason that while Manmohan Ghosh's version is established as the mandatory text for Bharatanatyam dancers, P.S.R. Appa Rao's version is a reconciliation of Sriman. Tiruvenkatacharya's version of Abhinaya Darpanam (1887), Manmohan Ghosh's version and additional information based on other sources. The main focus of the present version however, is on the content of the Abhinaya Darpanam without tracing its history to an arbitrarily distant past (Manmohan Ghosh in his 1934 edited version affixed a tentative date around 1210 A.D), and commenting/comparing the different versions.
This version of Abhinaya Darpanam has 31 chapters divided and presented in the same manner as Appa Rao's version. However the granthantara bhedas (text from other sources) have been excluded primarily because most are either movements in transition or similar to the established one. For example, in the drsti bhedas, kuncita dristi is described by Appa Rao as 'the glance in which the eyelids, along with the eyelashes are slightly curved and the eyeballs are lowered,' and akasha drsti as 'the glance in which the pupils are fully directed towards the sky'. While the first is rather obscure, the second is similar to Ullokita drsti that is described in the main text. In the hand gestures I have however added based on my experience as a dancer, a few samyuta and asamyuta hastas that we now often use but are not specifically identified in either of the above versions.
Chapter 1 : The text of Abhinaya Darpanam begins with the prayer 'Angikam Bhuvanam' to Lord Shiva who signifies auspiciousness and embodies the four ways of expressing. Angika (anga =limb), expression through the movement of limbs, gestures and actions, Vachika (vak = speech) using words, language, Acharya (adornment) expressing through make-up and costume, and Sattvika (satta=omnipotent) expressing intense emotional states.
The ensuing dialogue between Nandikesvara and Devendra is not mentioned in Manmohan Ghosh's version of Abhinaya Darpanam perhaps because of its rather dubious assertion of the Abhinaya Darpanam to be an abridged version of the Bharatamava. It does however find mention in Appa Rao's and Tiruvenkatacharya's version.
Chapter 2 : The second chapter contains the mythology of the origin of Natya, its categorization into Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta, the time of performance, characteristics of the assembly, characteristics of the chief of the sabha, the minister's qualities, arrangements of the sabha and orchestra, characteristics that determines the physical, emotional and artistic quality of the dancer, nature of the bells, quality of the male actor/dancer, the preliminary rituals and the definition and importance of abhinaya. Verses that described the outer aspects of a dancer and the characteristics of an actor have been taken from Appa Rao and marked by an asterisk.
Chapters 3 to 6 introduce the classification of Angika Abhinayam. In describing the movements of the eye, eyebrow, neck and head, I have attempted to capture the explanations of each classification into illustrations at the point when the mood is best conveyed.
The movement and position of the hands are described in chapter 7 as the 12 Hasta Pranas. In this context the Natyashastra (chapter 9) mentions 'Keeping in view the form, action/activity, sign and nature of the objects/things/persons, and after carefully deciding what is appropriate, wise men should do Hasta Abhinaya. There is nothing in the world which cannot be represented by the hastas.
Chapters 8 & 9 of Hasta mudras are similar in content to those of the first book 'Message in Movements.' However, I have included five more to facilitate cross reference while studying the later chapter on birds and animals.
AN ILLUSTRATED TRANSLATION
The dance program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is noted for its breadth of Asian and Pacific dance offerings. We recently had the good fortune of having an exhilarating semester-long guest artist residency with Dr. Anita Vallabh. She is renowned not only for her outstanding research but also for her years as an international Bharatanatyam performer. She is a role model for university dance students everywhere as she demonstrates an essential combination of experience that spans theory and practice; she is truly an artist and a scholar.
In her UHM course she included not only the requisite physical postures and movement of the dance, but also a comprehensive introduction to a centuries-long art form that included the history, scholarship, and ever-evolving development of a compelling tradition of a dance not always appreciated nor understood by Western audiences.
Her monograph, Abhinaya Darpanam : An Illustrated Translation, similarly bridges intellectual rigor and the essentials of gestures and postures used in the performance of this dance form. This book is comprehensive in its overview yet not overwhelming, intellectually interesting yet still compelling and straight forward.
This is an excellent text for western readers interested in learning about the myriad possibilities that Bharatanatyam postures represent and the contexts in which they might be used. She succinctly discusses the philosophical, practical, and artistic aspects of dance in general and Bharatanatyam specifically in the introduction plunges into the history of the form, which prepares the reader for a concise explanation of basic concepts, and concludes with descriptions of movements of the hands and various possible meanings, plus axial and locomotor possibilities of the lower body.
For anyone interested in an articulate and beautifully illustrated introduction to Bharatanatyam, this text should be an essential part of your library.
Indian dramaturgy has had documented history of more than two thousand years. The earliest available treatise to this day is Bharata's Natyasastra. There have been many works on dance and drama after Bharata. All of them invariably followed the tenets of Natyasastra. While treatises of dance or dramaturgy have also included chapters of music in their content, treatises on music have included chapters on dance showing how dance and music have always been inseparable. In fact the body of a dancer is viewed as another music instrument with gestures and movements to embellish music. These nuances have lead to many more works dealing with various components of music and dance highlighting their interdisciplinary affiliations.
Then came a time when it was essential to author a treatise just confined to the movements and gestures in dance. Works like Rasta Lakshana Deepika, Rasta Muktavali are texts dealing with various hand gestures. Abhinaya Darpana occupies a very unique position among such focussed works dealing with abhinaya. There have been translations and commentaries to this work in many Indian languages with regional emphases. With the advent of technology and with many non-Indian students learning Indian Classical dances, there is a need for a practice oriented theory book by a teacher and a dancer.
Anita more than just fits into this slot being herself a performing artiste, a teacher, a choreographer, a researcher and above all as one who has been teaching foreign students. The fact that this book is in its second edition is in itself a proof of its usefulness. The second, revised and updated edition of Message in Movements is an Illustrated Translation of the Abhinaya Darpanam. What Anita has been doing is to find ways to improve upon her first edition based on the feed back she received from various sources and based on what she herself felt could make it more useful.
In this book I find a genuine urge of the author to make it the book for reference to students and teachers of dance. The most interesting aspect of this book lies in its simplicity, lucidity and sincerity. I am sure Anita will write many more such book to help the student and teacher community.
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