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Oct 25, 2011

Namaste Mrinalini ji,

Pedagogy of Indian classical dance has undergone many changes in these many decades...but how different was the dance pedagogy in the pre-independence period as compared to the post independence period. Can you please guide me focussing on some main points?

Thanking you,
Yours sincerely,
Gauri Kashelikar

Dear Gauri Kashelikar

From the great tree of traditional knowledge and practice, came the many forms of the dance and drama techniques of India. India preserved the heritage and the classical cultures remained uncharged through thousands of years. The sampradayas (the tradition taught by guru to shishya through the centuries) have been the most important aspect of learning.

Bharata and all writers emphasize learning can only be done through gurus. 'To perform and practice, a student must study texts and the traditions as taught by learned gurus,' says the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeshwara. The texts are for those who wish to co-relate the past experience with the present tradition.

The post independent era witnessed mushrooming of dance schools and universities where classical dance formed the part of a curriculum and taught in classrooms like other subjects. With the arrival of computers and internet, another vista opened in e-learning. Today, more and more teaching is being done with the teacher having replaced guru. It has become more like a skill to be taught rather than knowledge to be acquired.

With best wishes
Mrinalini V Sarabhai

Oct 25, 2011

Hello Mrinalini Ru,

Ru as in light - for that is how you will always be for me...

Would be so grateful for your insights, on 3 questions that I have been carrying around for some time. They concern seeking better understanding of the act of looking and seeing within classical dances,

1) Naama-roopa… where can I read about these concepts of naming and recognizing forms… particularly relationship to dance practice and choreography?

2) Is there any link between these concepts and the practice of seeing an imaginary person or thing in abhinaya?

3) Within performance, what is drshti? Is it identical to the idea of gaze, or does it carry other components?

Much love
Uttara Asha Coorlawala

Dear Uttara,

1. The concept of Namarupa (also Naama-roopa) is a part of the advaita philosophy and Sankhya Sastra and I do not think it has got anything to do with dance practice and choreography.

The basis of advaita is the Mantra 'Brahma Satyam Jagat Midhya,' which means Brahma is the reality, the universe is an illusion. Brahma is always in a state of adulation and static as well. In this process, the primary impulse is the concept of Nama (name or shabda), and the secondary is the Rupa, the optical vision or shape. The whole world is objectivity in this manner and is composed of Nama and Rupa. This conceptual process postulates the presence of a performer, a 'Kartru' and his / her 'Karma,' the action. The understanding (conceptual) process goes ahead further to a decisive process permeated by Chitta, the subconscious mind and imbibes Aatma-bhava, the sense of selfhood. These four stages are called Antahkarana, the highest and the most abstract part of the mind. When the consciousness passes to thuriya, the transcendent state, the whole universe process is felt as Maya or illusion. This is the inspired stage of a yogi.

2. Though Antahkarana is a projection of Nama and Rupa, it has no clear implication as far as dance is concerned. However a dancer who performs with deep devotion and concentration may perhaps experience this state of inspiration.

3. Drishti promotes Vyabhichari - Sanchari Bhava (transitory state) with all its ramifications. There are modern interpretations giving other dimension to Drishti but I am not quite convinced by them.

With best wishes
Mrinalini V Sarabhai

Oct 25, 2011

Dear Ms. Mrinalini

I was a former runner and just started Bharatanatyam last year at the age of 29. I seem to have developed plantar fasciitis. It hurts the most thus far during the natta aduvus. (I only recently started the 3rd series). It hurts the most when I put the foot out on my heel. Do you have any ideas as to how I can remedy this? Thanks.


Dear Lucinda,

Since plantar fasciitis demonstrates degenerative changes in some cases, it is better not to apply pressure on your heels while dancing. As such in Bharatanatyam, one doesn't have to apply pressure entirely on the heels. So correct your natta adavu and continue practicing.

Warm Diwali greetings!
Mrinalini V Sarabhai

Oct 4, 2011

Respected Mrinalini-ji,

Namaste madam, I am a Pune based Bharatanatyam dance student. As a part of my studies, I came across this question related to the history of Indian classical dance. Dance has always been a ritual and not just a means of entertainment. Did classical dance develop as an expression of tradition in ancient times and with the passing years what changes took place?
I would be glad if you could guide me. Thanking you...

Yours sincerely,
Gauri Kashelikar

Dear Gauri Kashelikar

Most classical dance forms of India (except Kathak, which emanated from royal courts), were dedicated to temples and evolved as expressions of devotion. Rituals of worship kept alive these art forms, till in a cultural revival, when the dance came out of the temples into the theatres of today.

Modern influence in all art usually stems from a deep desire of man to express his individual thoughts to the human race. Through the centuries great minds have been reforming and giving new thought and emphasis to each dance form. Bharata, Nandikeshwara, Kohala, Dhananjaya, so many names arise in our minds when we think of the vast number of scholars and artists in ancient literature.

If I try to elaborate on changes that took place over the years, it would take many pages. There are many good books available in the market by reputed dance critics and writers. My recommendation is Enakshi Bhavnani's book 'The Dance in India' which I think would give you a deep insight on this.

With best wishes
Mrinalini Sarabhai

June 30, 2011

Respected Mrinalini ji,
Greetings! Hope this mail finds you well.

I am a senior staff writer with Hindustan Times, Mumbai. Recently I did a story on how Indian classical dancers are adopting western workouts to maintain fitter bodies so they can dance better. In no way does their dance lose it's Indianness. I am trying to find story ideas in the Indian classical dance scene, and would appreciate if you could share with me areas and genres I could look into. Do let me know if there are any topics and elements of dance I could begin my research with.

Warm regards,
Phorum Pandya

Dear Ms. Phorum Pandya

We generally do not do western workouts at Darpana. It is customary in Darpana for any dancer / artist to start the day with a yoga session and some warm up exercises. Martial art of Kerala - Kalaripayattu has some excellent characteristics go well with contemporary creations and warm up sessions. Also Kathakali which has rigid codes and a preciseness of training, uses the basic training exercises from Kalaripayattu. I recommend you doing your research on Kalari.

Mrinalini V Sarabhai

March 8, 2011

Dear Mrinaliniji

My daughter is 6 years old. I would like her to learn classical dance. But I have heard a few senior professionals in the dancing field mention that 6 is a little too early because the bones in the leg are still tender and continuous "aramandi" might actually harm the child in the long run. 8 years is what they recommend as the ideal age. I would request your recommendation in this matter.

Thank you
Aparna GV

    Dear Aparna,

    Children here at Darpana starts at six. A lot depends on the teacher being careful not to overtax the child. In the beginning, only one hour training per day should be enough and I don't think it will do any harm.

    With best wishes
    Mrinalini Sarabhai

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