During the past three decades an unprecedented interest in Indian dance has swept across the world. Increasing the number of students who aspire to learn Indian dance. It is the reward and challenges of teaching Indian dance to second-generation Indian American and Mainstream American students that motivated me to write and compile this handbook.
The purpose of this handbook is to inspire and educate people on Indian dance, and to introduce students to basic information regarding the study of Bharatanatyam dance, culture, land traditional prayers. It is intended to be a starting point for further learning and practice. It is important to note that my personal experiences as well as the wisdom that has been passed down to me by my teachers, for whom I hold tremendous gratitude.
Though the ‘Bharatanatyam’ Study Notes written in this book relate to our teaching methods and practices, this book contains the material most commonly used by teachers and practitioners of this dance form. The contents for this handbook have been gathered from numerous music and dance resources, including traditional book on Vedas and Upanishads books treating Indian culture and Iyengar, who is also a visual artist, has painstakingly executed the Line drawings. The hand-book includes a glossary of definitions that are commonly used Bharatanatyam terms . The book also consists of the Sanskrit Prayers written in English and includes meaning, some of which are used frequently in Bharatanatyam dance.
This handbook is not a substitute for learning ‘B haratanatyam’ dance technique or traditional Sanskrit prayers. The study of Indian classical dances and reciting the Sanskrit prayers and hymns takes years of dedicated learning and practicing. An integrated study of music, language, culture, visual arts, literature, and history is very essential for a student pursuing the classical dances of India.
The section entitled, ‘Myths, Legends and Stories’, contains some popular stories derived from the ancient texts of India. I wrote these stories in order to choreographs from them and adapt them to a dance format. Rangoli Foundation, a non-profit organization for Art & Culture, which I began in 1985,has produced and staged most of these stories between the year of 1992 and 2004, while some are works still in progress. These stories have powerful messages of Good over Evil' and students will find them informative and inspiring.
I cherish the rare opportunity of having been able to interview the legendary Tanjore Kittappa Pillai (direct descendant o Tanjore Quartet in 1994 during a trip to Tanjore with my daughter Lakshmi, my guru Narmada, and a colleague, Dr. Sreedhar. This meeting with the great master was essential for my understanding of the roots of 'Bharatanatyam'. It also proved to be very useful for my academic work at the University of California, Los Angeles. Kittappa Sir, then 83 years of age, shared his stories with us.
I remember walking into Kittappa Sir's ancestral home, which has passed down to him from his forefathers, and seeing him rocking slowly in a swing in the middle of the room. Other students like myself were seated around him on the floor, entranced with the years of history he so willingly passed on to us. It was a hot day, so his wife generously served us tiny cups of orange juice. Orange juice never tasted so good! As I sat there, drinking the orange juice, and listening to kittappa Sir, I looked around the room. I felt something large cinsume in this small, humble space.
It occurred to me that it was in this home where Kittappa Sir's forefathers mastered the scared art of 'Bharatanatyam', which is now being passed down to us. On that day, Kittappa Sir shared information regarding his family history and lineage. We had the privilege of viewing rare photographs and documents, which belonged to the Tanjore Quartet. He showed us the Violin belonging to Vadivelu (one of the Tanjore Quartet brothers), which was a gift from Swati Tirunal (1813-1847), the king of Travancore, kerala. I am pleased to say that I have retained the audio videotape of our meeting.
I was also inspired to learn how kittapa Sir's process was to choreograph 'adavus' (steps) and 'theermanams' (rhythmic sequences) first and them arrange the 'swaras' (musical notes) to match. This went against the conventional method of drawing inspiration from music first, and later to choreographing the movement. Kittappa Sir also spoke of specific ways to compose 'arudi' (rhythmic finish) and 'laya' (tempo) in any given composition. He said that there are mainly ten to fourteen major groups of 'adavus' (basic steps) in Bharatanatyam dance and that each group has several variations and possibilities. He emphasized the importance of musical knowledge for a dancer to be proficient in her/his ability to not only perform with involvement, but also to choreograph with artistic maturity.
I am grateful to the 'Devadasis', the temple dancers, the 'Nattuvanars' (dance masters), teachers, artists, practitioners, musicians, art patrons and scholars who have preserved and continued the tradition of music and dance.
If readers come across any errors that I may have made inadvertently, I urge them to contact me for either clarifications or corrections.
Lastly, to my students, past, present, and future...
I hope that you will find this book to be a supportive companion in your artistic pursuits and journeys.
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