The background of Indian ballet is more than the history of its people or of the nation. It is the history of the soul of India. We cannot divorce it from the religion and philosophy of India. Ballet, according to an Indian artiste, is not something for demonstration, but something for realization. It is the means of achieving unity in consciousness. It is the path by which we come near god and attain salvation.
Ballet in India, with its continuous history of more than three thousand years, grew and was nurtured within the precincts of the temples. This has given the ballet its distinctive quality, and till this century it has been a satisfying concept. True, there were variations, each region had its own attitude but the differences were not deep-rooted.
For example in Kathakali, Bhagavat Mela, Yakshaganam and in the other ballets of the South as also those of Orissa, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and other states, the basic religious structure remains the same. Moreover in the folk-ballets throughout the country the common people's belief in religion, social problems, joys and sorrows and toil and tribulations are similar. There is oneness.
The ballets tell the same legends. The puranas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Bhagavatam were and still are the text-books upon which composers based their compositions. The vision is the same whether in the north, south, east or west. So, throughout the country, there is a significant common form. The world of perception is still the original world of dance-the one seen by the sage Bharata. Nandikeshwara still teaches the hand-gestures in the same order as at the beginning of time. Dancers still go to temple walls to copy sculptured images-their costumes, poses, etc. in an attempt to recreate traditional environment.
Any art-form, and more so a ballet art-form, should be very liberal and adaptable to changes. It may not be out of place to bring to the notice of the readers the significant legend connected with the origin of the ballet, though it has been narrated at length in a later chapter. The first much importance to gods and undermined the position of the asuras. this enraged the latter and they resented and protested. The great art of ballet was about to die a premature death at the hands of the outraged asuras. Suddenly Indra came to the rescue of Bharata, and he devised a scheme by which all the races would be pacified. He ordered a pole on which were attached various pieces of cloth of different colours representing the flags of different colour-groups or races. This multi-coloured flag-pole-the jarjara or the Indradhwaja-and the pole dance associated with it even to this day stand as a symbol of unity and tolerance, two main stays of drama and ballet.
It aptly said that tradition is a wonderful thing, but we must use it as the central theme round which new patterns may be woven. It is absolutely suicidal to always blindly conform to hidebound tradition and let the creative urge be arrested. The old traditions may be explored but they should be adapted to modern trends. To come out of the well-trodden paths of tradition, and to trends. To come out of the well-trodden paths of tradition, and to tread on new paths is a painful process, but it is absolutely necessary for the growth and progress of both art and artiste.
The dancer must leave his temple shrine and join in the stream of life. His must be the finger pointing the distant vision, linking the physical and the metaphysical, expressing the half-articulate longing of the soul.
The ballet is the best form for demonstrating the essential principles of Natyashastra. Bharata Muni demonstrated natya for the first time in the form of ballet, in Indra Sabha. Ballet is a source of education as well as recreation. It has a high cultural value, giving scope for the display of various emotions that touch the heart. This original and ancient form of natya was widely practiced for a long time as a form of national art. It is classical in style. In spite of this, it is strange that the indigenous ballet is only considered as traditional, whereas the secular solo dances-Bharatanatyam, Manipuri and Kathak- are mentioned as important classical styles. It cannot be understood why the ballets performed by the Brahmana Melas of Kuchipudi and Melatur, Chhau of Orissa, ballets of Manipur, Tamasha of Maharashtra, Bhavai of Rajasthan and Saurashtra, Ras Lila and Nautanki of Uttar Pradesh, Satra of Assam and such ballets of other states-are not recognized as classical, when Kathakali, the ballet of Malabar and certain Manipuri ballets are mentioned as classical.
In Indian ballet cannot be put in the category of classical type, it may easily occupy the coveted position of a separate form of Indian dancing, distinct from the solo classical types and folk-dances, because it is an entity by itself enjoying a tradition of centuries and highly developed during the last half a century. Ballet dancing is a class by itself.
One aspect of the modern ballet requires deep thinking and consideration. The modern ballet is very often accused of adopting a "free style" dance technique. This is a misnomer. There is no such thing as "free style" dance. Our Natyashastra have enumerated the rules so widely that strictly speaking any movement, gati or chari, or any style automatically comes under the classical technique, howsoever the themes might be modern or ultra-modern.
Classical dance techniques are used to exhibit a theme like Uday Shankar's Labour and Machinery, in which a switch of a machine is put on to propel the instrument, or to start a roller or to emit smoke from the chimney.
For example, take a very simple instance. The usages of the pataka hand are so wide and have different meanings when placed in different situations. That same pataka asamyukta (single) hand-gesture can signify a three-wheeler scooter or an aeroplane if properly used by an expert artiste.
Ballet is the result of concerted action. The talents of all the participants-the dancers, musicians, lightman, even the curtain-puller-taken as a whole, go into it. But above all, there is the choreographer. His vision, farsight, merit, showmanship, and meticulous care in every aspect of the performance, speak of the success. In that matter a solo dancer's task is very easy. A good choreographer often fails because of participants of a lower caliber, inappropriate music and poor costume, besides bad lighting effects and inefficient stage-crew.
Another very important characteristic feature of the indigenous ballets is that not only there is a marked unity in various art forms of our country, but also ballet, like other arts, can cross all frontiers and link nation with nation. And throughout history we have never been so painfully in need of a "linking up" as today. Let the art and artiste dance, and perform ballets, and the choreographers contribute their share to this much needed unity.
From the Jacket:
Out of the variegated styles of Indian dance, the author, a reputed balletomane of the country, who is well known and popular among the choreographers and coryphées, has selected this particular type, viz, the Indian ballet which besides the two other forms, classical and folk-dances, is itself a separate form with its individualistic character and technique.
The Indian ballet dance form, which occupies a secure place in India's traditional and rich cultural heritage, had been neglected for long and no attempt has been made so far by anyone to write a book on the subject. So the author, as a staunch devotee of Indian dance, thought it to be his bounden duty to show the path to the other writers of fine arts to follow, and by their research work add much more for the benefit of the ballet dancers and art lovers.
The book covers a wide range, traversing over ancient, medieval and indigenous ballets, comes down to the contemporary forms. Almost all the facets, connected with ballet dancing, such as light, ballet-music, choreography etc., have not only been touched and dealt with, but have been adored and embellished.
It is a fascinating work, first of its kind, and very interesting and pulsating, which the reader will try to gulp in one sitting.
About the Author:
Born in 1914 at Allahabad, graduated in 1933, M.A. (English) in 1935, LL.B. in 1937, from Allahabad University. Joined the Allahabad High Court Bar as an Advocate in 1938. Took to journalism in 1939 in the Statesman at Calcutta as cinema reviewer, then successively joined the Leader (now defunct) of Allahabad in January, 1940 in the editorial staff as a sub-editor and dance, music, drama and painting critic; the Amrita Bazar Patrika, Allahabad, which later on became the Northern India Patrika, in September 1943; the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, in July 1959 as editor-in-chief of cultural publications of the Cultural Ministry, Government of India; once again the Northern India Patrika in July 1961 in the editorial staff of the same paper in many capacities.
Is author of famous books on dancing and music, viz, Dance of India (English and translated in French), Folk Dance of India (English and translated in French), Shikshaprada Lok Nritya (Hindi) in 2 Vols, Sangeet Vithika (Hindi), and by now is the author of about 3000, articles, published in English, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and many other regional and foreign languages.
Was a teacher of India dancing (theory) at Uday Shankar Culture Centre, Almora, and was the principal of the B.T. College of Music and Dancing, run by the Prayag Sangeet Samity. Is a scenario writer of films, film stories and has written many scripts for Heart of India, a Madhya Pradesh Government documentary. Acted as impresario of many internationally famed artistes such as Uday Shankar, Ram Gopal, Indrani Rehman, Damayanti Joshi, P.C. Sorcar (magician), etc.
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