Her reconstruction of the Karana sans her design for a new set of dance sculptures for a Nataraja Temple tallied with the 9th century dance figures of Indonesia discovered a decade later. The miracle proves the common roots of Asian heritage and reveals the link beyond Time and space.
Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam is an Internationally reputed Indian classical dancer, dance historian, choreographer, music compoer, teacher and indologist.
The Versatile knowledge of Kanchi ParamachaIya His Holiness Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal was unique and unparalleled. Once we went to the Mahaswami to get the approval of the Utsava Vigraha of Swaminatha Swami Temple (Malai Mandir) in Delhi. The Mahaswami had cataract in the eyes at that time. He received the idol and went on passing his hand over the entire idol for a few minutes. We got nervous whether the Mahaswami would not approve the idol. Finally, Mahaswami asked if the sthapati was with me and if so to call him. Mahabalipuram Ganapati Sthapati who cast the idol was called. The Mahaswami asked the Sthapati what mudra he had set. The Sthapati replied Yoga Mudra. The Mahaswami said it looked like Kataka Mudra and asked him to examine again. To cut the story short, it was found that the Mahaswami was right and the mudra was rectified. I was stupefied. Where and when did the Mahaswami study so minutely the Mudras of natya sastra?
The Mahaswami had always high regard for the expertise of M S Subbulakshmi's Music and wrote the song "Maitreem Bhajata" for her performance in the United Nations. It received a thunderous ovation from the members of the World Assembly. The Mahaswami had high regard for the profound knowledge of the theory and practice of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and set for her the pioneering task of collecting all the 108 Karanas (dance forms) and sculpt them and install them in the Nataraja temple at Satara in Maharashtra. The Mahaswami also told Dr. Padma that she should visit Indonesia. When later Dr. Padma went to Indonesia and visited the ancient Hindu temple at Prambanan belonging to the 9th century, destroyed by earthquake in the 15th Century, she saw there panels of 53 Karanas out of 108.
Hasta Padha Samayogaha
Nrttasya Karanam Bavet
i.e. the combination of the movements of hands and feet in dance form the Karana. Padma has dared to redefine Karana as
Atma Kaya Samayogaha
Nrttasya Karanam Bavet
Which means - unison of spirit and body in dance makes the Karana.
Karana refers to frozen image of a unit of dance movement involving several parts of the body like hands, legs and the torso. Karana reflects the pinnacle of the developments of dance technique. Natya sastra gives details of 108 Karanas. According to mythology Siva is said to have danced the 108 Karanas and therefore Siva was the author of the movements. I can do no better than quote Dr. Padma's inimitable summing up of the conception of the Karana.
"The conception of Karana is such that it is capable of endowing both subjective and objective satisfaction on physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual planes. To the performer, it is a physical exercise, keeping every limb of the body under control to procure good health. To the spectator, the beauty of the bodyline caused by the actions is a feast for eyes. The Karanas have their own psychological side too. The Karanas are capable of expressing idea of full sentences. Hence Karanas had an important role in the science of dancing.
Dr. Padma's laborious studies and research on Natya Sastra and the correlated sculptures portraying Karanas in the Brihadeeswara temple, Thanjavur, Sarangapaniswami Temple at Kumbakonam, Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram, Siva temple at Prambanan and Uttara Chidambaram Nataraja temple at Satara are beautifully brought out in the three volumes which is to be released during the Diamond Jubilee festival. Along with these photographs Dr. Padma's photographs are seen in attractive layouts in 120 colour plates in Volume III.
Karanas are movements, which were units of dance in the Bharata tradition all over India and all over Asia. This technique had faded away from North India from the rzthCentury and in South India from the 14th Century as a result of religious and political disturbances. After the Vijayanagara Empire was established, Swami Vidyaranya tried to revive many facets of Hindu culture. But there are inscriptional evidence which prove that many of the older forms were forgotten and these traditions had to be revived with great difficulty. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam has been ordained to revive the common "Marga" codes as found in Bharata-Muni's Natya Sastra. This has been achieved not only at the theoretical level but it has been reconstructed for actual practice.
Pujyasri Mahaswami had graciously commanded Dr. Padma to design a new set of 108 Karana sculptures (having twin figures of Siva and Parvati) to be included in the Satara shrine. It is noteworthy that nowhere else such twin figures of our universal parents are seen portrayed as performing the Karanas. She was not allowed to copy the existing sculptures. Since it was her theory that each dance sculpture is a still photograph of a moving dancer, the Mahaswami wanted her to freeze those parts of the movements which are not already captured in stone earlier. Dr. Padma took one and a half years to design them and Sri Muthiah Sthapati took over a decade to complete this sculpture series in black granite.
The three precious volumes on Karanas authored by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam contain a wealth of knowledge and information not produced earlier. Dr. Padma deserves the gratitude of the nation as well as people of Asia wherein Indian sculpture and culture had spread in the past.
A profound sense of fulfilment pervades me at this time when my book on Karanas is ultimately reaching the hands of those genuinely interested in our priceless heritage. It is about four decades ago that the thirst for this study got kindled in me as I was getting frozen at the shrine of Nataraja at Chidambaram temple, listening to that unparalleled sound of the gigantic gong like Temple bells at dusk for the Harati. That very month saw the blossoming of my own choreography of the dance drama Meenakshi Kalyanam, which put my name in the cultural map of India. The Karana sculptures of that temple were brought back to the performing arena of our country. It created a sensation, to the extent ofK. Bharata Iyer writing in Times of India, remarking, "Padma opens a new chapter in the history of Bharata Natyam - it was a visual and intellectual treat". Ever since my girlhood, it was a dream for me to bridge the gap between theory and practice that had existed from the 12th century in North India and from 14th century in South India. Political and religious disturbances had caused disruption to the cultural values of our country. It was Swami Vidyaranya who tried to revive all the facets of the Hindu culture for which he founded the Vijayanagara dynasty in 1436 A.D. This not only meant the reopening of temples for mere worship; these holy complexes were reflooded with revived cultural activities. The revival of the spirit was a success story - but the revival ofthe technique of music and dance was only partially successful. For example, the Ragas mentioned by Sarngadeva in Sangita Ratnakara (12th century) were not understood by Catura Damodara when he wrote the Sangita Darpana (16th century). There was "Laksana Laksya Viruddham" i.e. discrepancy between theory and practice even then. My ambition in life was to erase this discrepancy and revitalise the common roots of our cultural banyan tree, which has sprawled all over India and in many parts of Asia as well.
Bharata Muni's Natyasastra is the cultural banyan tree, which has spread its roots all over the world where the Vedic Dharma got rooted. Every art is sacred for this Dharma, for, life itself is sacred. There is nothing which is outside the purview of divinity. The creator is divine and the creation is also divine, because of the recognition ofthat one divinity in every tangible and intangible object. While other religions proclaim that there is only one God, theVedic Dharma proclaims that there is only God and that the inseparable character of this Almighty is perceived in everything, and more so in beauty. Thus, all our arts and learning are holy. Mother Earth is propitiated before any dancer or even a martial artiste begins to perform.
Ya Devi Sarva Bhiitesu Buddhi Rupena Samstitha
Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah,
I prostrate before that Goddess who is in the form of intellect in all living beings. Siva-Sakti Natana is the physical representation of the metaphysical concept of matter and energy. The Karanas are the gross manifestation of the sublime realisation of the subtle layer of our life experience. The temples have the sculptures, like the snaps of divinity for our gross eyes, to experience and enjoy their existence with an efficacy of auspiciousness to society at large. Every object has vibrations, and it is scientifically proved that these radiations have positive and negative effects. Our traditional arts are fashioned to radiate positive vibrations for the entire society. The Karana sculptures as well as their performance have tangible and intangible efficacy.
It is amazing that these codes were common to the entire Hindu world, which were not different from those of her cousins namely Buddhists and Jains. The Vastu (proportions) in building, architecture and performance had common principles of beauty and efficacy. This is the basic foundation on which the entire Asian civilization is built. The present work, though never intended, landed in discovering this common foundation, connecting India and Indonesia in particular. When my thesis was completed, I was criticised by some regional fanatics for my pan- Indian view of Natyasastra. My post Doctoral research and experience has taken me to the treasure bed of Asia. I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility towards posterity to kindle an interest in rediscovering our Jambu Dvipa i.e. Eurasia, from our own ancient point of view of a common civilization, transcending political boundaries.
Pujyasri Mahasvami of Kanchi had asked me to design a new set of Karana figures for the Uttara Chidambararn Nataraja Mandir that was built at Satara, Maharashtra. These sculptures have shown enormous similarity between them-ana the 9th century sculptures, which I discovered later in Prambanan, Central Java. This link connects Bharata Muni, his commentator Abhinavagupta fro Kashmir, the temple sculptures of Tamil Nadu at Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Chidambaram and those in Prambanan. The latest Satara figures serve as the knots for all these links.
When I wrote my thesis in 1978, I had wished that I could submit the thesis in celluloid or video. Dance being a visual art, cannot be completely captured in paper. In 1992, Nrithyodaya produced a telefilm serial for Doordarshan's National Network, directed by my brother V. Balakrishnan on Bharatiya Natyasastra. In this, I have danced all the 108 Karanas with my students. The Karanas have been performed along with interspersing the relevant sculptures. The photographs which were taken at that time, have all been included in the present book in Volume ill as visual elucidation for the chapter on the reconstruction of the Karana movements.
The present book is in three volumes. The interdisciplinary study made it voluminous and also multifaceted. Hence I have classified the matter as pertaining to the aspects of historical and archaeological interest (Volume I), dancer's interest (Volume 11) and visual elucidation (Volume Ill).
I have redesigned the pedagogy of dance in my institution Nrithyodaya, to train the students in Marga i.e. the technique based on Natyasastra. This being of common interest, has attracted dancers and choreographers of all Desi (regional) styles to come and learn this from our institution. All the 108 Karanas have been revived in practice and many of my disciples are in a position to teach these to the coming generations.
It is my earnest hope that these volumes will be of interest to dancers from any part of the world, belonging to any discipline of dance, for getting a glimpse of an authentic reconstruction of an extraordinary use of the body language, based on not only kinetic principles, but rooted in the ancient concept of Sausthava i.e. symmetry and proportions. The scope that the 108 Karanas offer for movement is indeed mind-boggling. When the world is searching for creativity, it would do well to turn us to a flashback and getenriched by the amazing analysis of the psycho-physical relationship that our ancients knew. One should remember that a fast bowler takes a few steps backwards in order to gain a momentum for a forward thrust. Nothing comes from void. Our approach to the past needs humility, for being enriched by the experience of innumerable generations of achievement. This humility helps one to travel inwards, so as to be illumined to a world of beatitude. This study of mine has been a result of allowing myself to be an instrument in the holy hands of my spiritual Guru, Pujyasri Mahasvami of Kanchi. I am quite conscious of the Bhagavad Gita vakya, which says that you have a right to perform your duty, and not to be bothered about its fruits. I leave it at that.
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