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Carnatic musicians and Naatya
- VP Dhananjayan, Chennai

October 17, 2009

(This article is re-produced with permission from the book 'Beyond Performing Art and Culture - Politico-Social aspects' by VP Dhananjayan)

"Geetam vaadyam tathaa nrityam, trayam sangeetamuchyatei" - song, instruments and dance, these three constitute the word "Sangeetam" - so says the book "Sangeeta Ratnakaram." This is in theory. How many of our Sangeeta Vidwans really take an interest in knowing the true spirit of naatya?

I have a problem with Carnatic musicians who do not attend any Bharatanaatyam performances. I do not know whether they have a superiority complex or whether they feel that they cannot enjoy a Bharatanaatyam performance. If a musician cannot understand or enjoy a Bharatanaatyam performance, I am sorry to say that they are not a "Sangeetagna."

I have heard of many stalwarts saying, "I don't go to dance performances." But they want dancers and Natyachaaryas to go to their performances. Yes, the majority of dancers do attend music concerts. But I have not seen any Carnatic musician in my dance programs. Occasionally we can see a prominent musician sitting as the chief guest or if the dancer is performing his or her composition. The music composers want their songs to be performed by Bharatanaatyam artistes, but they do not want to voluntarily come and enjoy a dance performance. A very strange phenomenon indeed!

The attitude must be reciprocal. The musicians can learn a lot from dancers and vice versa. This strange attitude of both senior and junior Carnatic musicians is not healthy. Some music connoisseurs also show the same indifference towards dance, and I often tell them that if they really, truly enjoy music, they cannot but enjoy dance, because dance is music of the body and mind, a three-in-one blessing, whereas a vocal or instrumental concert has only two dimensions. I think it is high time Carnatic musicians overcome their prejudices against dance and dancers and attend Bharatanaatyam performances whenever they find time. They will experience the joy of watching a three-in-one "Sangeetam."

Just as Carnatic musicians feel inspired by knowledgeable rasikas in the audience, we also do feel the same and our accompanying musicians also will get inspired by the musicians' presence. Just as we dancers do not expect a formal invitation for their concerts, they too can walk in as a true rasika.

Some of the Bharatanaatyam accompanying musicians - vocal and instrumental - sing and play much better than some of the Carnatic concert singers and instrumentalists, and a true connoisseur of classical music can enjoy the expressive music of the dance much better than in a music concert, if they can watch the show without pride and prejudice.

Therefore, this is an appeal from me to all Carnatic musicians - stalwarts, seniors and upcoming musicians to begin a new era of mutual respect to art and artistes.


VP Dhananjayan is the director of Bharata Kalanjali in Chennai.

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