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In a Philosophical Idiom

Sudhamahi Reghunathan

By Krishna Sahai
Indialog Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 237, Rs. 295.00


I have often felt instruction in Indian dance assumes, what one may call, inherited knowledge. Intuitively the teacher and the student reach out to a shared experience. The area of shared experiences falls between unspoken words, memories of generations, mythology and tradition. There has been no formal method of transmitting this knowledge but somehow the gurus and nattuvanars of yore had the capacity to do so, making dance classes an experience at various levels. As the contemporary brand of dance teachers have started replacing the traditional nattuvanars and teachers, this element of carrying an unseen and unspoken communication of history has given way to a more scholastic and formal approach. In the process, some of the magic that contributed to a dancer’s growth, dedication, patience and grounding in the idiom has also been, inevitably lost. May I hasten to add that the stage presentation, the programme conception, the varied texts referred to and even aesthetic perceptions may have become more refined, but the ethos of dance has left behind its traditional environs.   It is against this background that I read Krishna Sahai’s book, The Story of Dance: Bharata Natyam. She begins beautifully by delving into the philosophy of dance. It is related in a simple manner, which is very evident not only of the author’s scholarship but also of her direct experience. But before I go on with this, I will give a brief description of how the material of this book has been arranged. It can be roughly divided into three sections. The first gives the philosophical and aesthetic foundations of dance. The second goes to explore the popular mythology that underlies dance and the final section deals with the form of Bharata Natyam itself and its fundamentals.   The first section is perhaps the best part of the book. The author has brought in certain ease in her expression even while handling difficult interpretations of Abhinavagupta. She explains the idea of rasa and its place in Hindu philosophy, both in terms of aesthetic experience and the spiritual experience. An interesting point she makes is why “suggestions” and not “realism” is the focus of Indian dance: Hindu philosophy that gave rise to this aesthetic theory believes in the essential mudras Oneness of all Creation: all things manifest and unmanifest, are part of the same Divine Creator and the purpose of existence is to realise this ultimate truth ...

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