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featured in 2009

Dec 26, 2009

Hello madam,

I have a question. When the dance of Bharatanatyam was Sadir and the devadasis were the only ones performing it, was Natya Shastra as much as known to the rest of the world? Did devadasis and nattuvanars know of Natya Shastra? Or are the frequent references to Natya Shastra and 'Natyaveda' more of a manifestation of pro-Rukmini Devi era?

Subhalakshmi Kumar
    Dear Subhalakshmi

    The nattuvanars had the knowledge of the Natya Shastra but I don't think the devadasis shared that knowledge. When Rukmini Devi came on the scene, she began her research and later we followed suit. My book 'Understanding Bharatanatyam' is a simplification of the Shastra for young students and it has been very useful judging from the sales in the 9th edition.

    Mrinalini V Sarabhai

Nov 13, 2009

Respected madam

I am learning Bharatanatyam, and just have been told that in group performances before Rukmini Devi there was no mirroring of dance moves, and only Rukmini Devi introduced it, and for that she made all moves very simple. Is it so?

Thank you in advance.
    Dear Niranjana

    I didn't quite understand what you mean by 'mirroring of dance moves.' Rukmini Devi did make the costumes more beautiful and gave the recital more grace and dignity. Pandanallur style is very complicated and strenuous. It is the same style we follow at Darpana.

    Mrinalini Sarabhai

Octoberber 30, 2009

Dear Mrinaliniji,

Would you kindly elaborate on the meaning, application and effects of midukku, talukku and kulukku in different Bharatanatyam styles?

Warm regards,
Prema Nagarajan
    Dear Prema,

    Kulukku is a type of Nadai. It is used both in nritta and abhinaya mostly in padam, javali and varnam where Nayika who is in her teens is doing a youthful, expressive, energetic and sporty walk, bending the knees moving her body up and down. Her sakhis also do a similar walk.

    Talukku is also type of gesture with pride where the dancer sways her body. Here the Nayika walks around with pride in her steps and action. She is fearless and does not care for anything and her movements are not natural sway in human stance. Her actions are more 'made' than actual. Talukku is also used in varnam, padam and javali and used to attract the Nayaka.
    Midukku is just a fine line between smartness and cunningness where nayika tells her sakhis to convey her love to nayaka
    All these expressions are subtle in Pandanallur style and absorbed in pure bhakti bhava. Other styles use lip and hip movements for expressiveness.

    Mrinalini Sarabhai

Octoberber 27, 2009

Respected Mrinaliniji,

I have some questions about Chari's. In Natya Shastra (transl. by Manomohan Ghosh) about the Purvaranga (chapter 5), there is this sloka 27-28 (Cari and Mahacari)

The Cari is so called because it consists of movements depicting the Sringara rasa, and in the Mahacari occur movements delineating the Rudra rasa.

It seems this definition of Cari was applied only for Purvaranga items. Is it so? Otherwise, it would mean that all Cari's in all items were to express the Sringara rasa only.

Can you refer us to the demonstration (maybe some video is available) of how these Cari's bring out the Sringara rasa?

Thank you.
    Dear Madhurika,

    Mandalas, Utplavanas, Charis and Gatis according to their relation to one another, are endless in number and variety.
    While discussing purvaranga, Bharata defines Chari and Mahachari as the movements for the expressions of Sringara and Rudra Rasa respectively.

    I think it applies only to purvaranga items here. A treatise like the Tandava Lakshanam describes Chari as the harmonised and coordinated actions of the foot, calf, thigh and waist where no mention of Rasa is given. Rasa is directly related to Bhavas that are evoked with the help of verbal, physical and mental expressions. Chari contributes to the physical part and it has no individual existence of its own in evoking Rasas.

    Mrinalini Sarabhai

July 12, 2009

September 21, 2009

Dear Mrinalini Auntiji,

My daughter has been learning Bharatanatyam for the last seven years and we are at the point where we have to think about her arangetram. She is 16 years old.

She is a very good dancer and a dedicated student but as parents we are very nervous about planning an arangetram as it involves a lot of preparation and of course, a big amount of our savings.

Should we do arangetram without worrying about the cost or stop her dance classes?
If she wants to be a dance teacher, how does it matter whether she has done arangetram or not?
Please help us decide what to do next.

Warm regards,
Confused Parents
    Dear 'Confused Parents'

    Don't worry about the arangetram. If you have a space in your home, invite a few special friends and let her dance there. That will be her arangetram. I dislike people spending a lot for a simple ceremony, giving dinner and other extravaganza! That's a 'show off' not an arangetram. Don't stop her dance classes.

    Mrinalini V Sarabhai

July 12, 2009

Respected madam,

I am a Bharatanatyam dance student from Pune. As a part of my studies, I would like to know about the 'sollus' used in Bharatanatyam dance. What is their history? How did they come into existence? These are not just words but having a lot of aesthetic value if executed correctly. Kindly give me your point of view.

Thank you,
Gauri Kashelikar
    Dear Gauri Kashelikar,

    'Sollukattu' is a set of syllables corresponding to the sounds produced on various musical instruments. These are called 'pataksaras' in Sanskrit in theory.

    The term 'sollukattu' is composed of two words 'sollu' and 'kattu.' 'Sollu' means sound and 'kattu' means bundle or construction in Dravidian languages. They are so used in Kannada for over a thousand years. I do not know how long a history they have in the other languages. 'Pataksaras' are further divided into 'sa-svara' and 'asvara' depending on whether they are strung into a garland of musical notes or are recited in monotone, respectively. Probably it was the sound of mridangam that brought 'sollukattu' into music and then into the Bharatanatyam repertoire.

    I created a piece 'Memory,' on dowry deaths using only the sollukattu expressively, with the dance movements and abhinaya.

    Mrinalini Sarabhai

May 7, 2009

I am happy to be a visitor to this classical Indian dance portal of, but I see a lot of modern dance here too.

My question is, what is "classical"?
What is the Sanskrit word for "classical"?
How do people decide if a dance style is "classical"?
I am quite confused, as Kathak looks very similar to the Persian dances. How can it be classical Indian?

Thank you
Katie Brod
    Dear Katie Brod,

    1. "Classical" means a tradition that has endured for centuries where the Guru of an established lineage passes on the knowledge to his shishyas. Classical is a form that has endured for a long time, has a definite style based on Shastras.

    2. In Sanskrit, "Shastriya" means "Classical."

    3. "Classical" means according to original texts (Shastras), confirmable to sacred percepts. In Bharatanatyam, it would be Natyashastra by Bharata and Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeshwara.

    4. Kathak is a North Indian dance form and originally Kathakars were reciters of stories. During the Mughal reign, Kathak was taken into the royal courts and developed into a sophisticated art form through the patronage of the Mughal rulers who brought Persian dancers to India, and took its current form. Culture in India was always multi-dimensional. Mother India absorbed the foreign influences for centuries, and made them her own. So Kathak is not an exception.


February 26, 2009

Dear madam,

We are planning to have our daughters' arangetram in a couple of months. My younger daughter is interested in performing a snake dance but her guru says snake dance should not be performed in an arangetram. I'm confused, please clear my doubt.
We have only 2 months to go.

    Dear Mrs. Manimegalai

    The guru is correct and the snake dance should not be performed at the arangetram. The arangetram has a fixed program and it should be followed.

    Mrinalini Sarabhai

Feb 10, 2009

Dear Mrinaliniji

Following are the questions, to which I need some answers, if you can help me.
1. What, according to you, is contemporary dance and under what basis would you classify a particular performance as contemporary?
2. Being a pioneer in contemporary dance, what was the inspiration that made you make the shift?
3. Do you think that contemporary dance is important in order to do something new?
4. For performing contemporary, is it necessary for a dancer to know one of the Indian classical dances?
5. How is the Indian audience reacting to the emergence of such an experimental dance?

Ma'am if you could help me through this, I would be highly obliged. Thanking you

Radhika Chhotai
    Dear Radhika

    1. Contemporary dancing reflects the issues involved in our century. New movements in dance can also make it contemporary in its pattern.
    2. My first experiment was reading about dowry deaths. So I created a piece on that which had a Bharatanatyam background.
    3. Contemporary dance should be inspired rather than acquired. Movements that are meaningful are important. It must be a need within yourself to express new forms that cannot be done with classical techniques.
    4. Yes, this is important
    5. Good dancing, good ideas are always welcome. I enclose the first write up about my piece on dowry deaths.

    In the Indian Express, Amrita Rangaswami, analyzed it and wrote: "Death is not jerking off the veil of life. It is the slow erosion of the human spirit. Mrinalini Sarabhai offers this statement in her new ballet, 'Memory is a fragment of eternity.' For the first time Mrinalini turns away from the Sringara Rasa - the stock emotion of classical dance tradition and she replaces the co-mistress, in eternal dalliance with her divine lover, with the woman of our time - who seeks love but turns to death for comfort. The shoddy, daily reports obscure the fact of the destruction by the community. These women have made a mad bid for freedom. But others, who die a natural death, have also been destroyed. The dance, presented in aid of 'Vikas Griha,' the Ahmedabad home for destitute women is not the dance of the court or the old temple. It is a dance for village streets. The ballet has four short segments - it presents the four seasons in a woman's life: the young girl in her animal energy, the shy maiden longing for her lover, the woman cowering before the harshness of the alien community she has come into. And then, visibly, she shrinks. Somehow she has been cut off from the source of life.

    The community makes, awkward gestures of atonement - but they come too late. For a woman, Mrinalini says, death is not the absence of life - it is the absence of love. The method she uses is lucid. It is a language without words. There is the flute, the mridangam and the edakka. The practised cruelty emerges in the syllables of the dhol and in the variations of the rhythm that now becomes harsh, now recedes and falls. Alternating, they explain the interaction of the cruelty of the community and the emotion of the woman. The veil is used to denote the different seasons. The 'gunghat' of the bride is changed for the coarse grey of the fading woman. To a rural audience, it will be an explicit gesture - conveying both the status of the dancer and her emotional condition."

    Mrinalini Sarabhai

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