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Responses to
Practical challenges of Indian classical dances in USA and the role of Hindu temples by Prasanna Kasthuri

October 21, 2009

Prasanna Kasthuri's article raises some important questions.

1. If indeed his "main goal was to spread the traditional art" why didn't he open a Bharatanatyam school in Lahore or in Kinshasa - instead of in St.Louis where "most of the dance teachers still continue living on meager income" funded by grants from Regional Arts Commission of Greater St. Louis and Missouri Arts Council? Were most medieval devadasis millionaires?

2. Considering that 15.8 million Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga-related activities, how successful economically was his "workshop dealing with hatha yoga, breathing and meditation combined with dance movements"?

3. If the NRI doctors, business analysts and engineers are required to have a proof of their professional qualifications before they move to the USA, are the Hindu priests and Bharatanatyam dancers too? Are the Bharatanatyam dancers required to be qualified for dancing just as the former devadasis were required a pass in 64 subjects? Does getting a rank in Vidwath exam imply one can handle the 22 sruti system?

4. Has Prasanna Kasthuri tried to convince any Iranian person that the traditional dance of Kathak is traditional Indian dance? If Japanese could be proud of Kabuki and Chinese can be proud of their classical music, why are the Indians not having the same enthusiasm exploring the ashtottara sata talam system?

5. How exactly are the traditional saxophone and the Italian violin concerts related to a goal to spread the traditional (Persian?) art? Why should the Indians be so enthusiastic promoting the Iranian or Italian culture?

6. How essential was "a meeting of Kathak and Tap" for "upholding the spiritual values of great Indian traditions"?

7. Is any art sacred and any artiste a saint? What is the difference between religious values and spiritual values?

8. If "our" (whose?) "dance forms" failed to "get more limelight than what it had previously", why do some Bharatanatyam videos on YouTube get 1000 views a day, while others only 1 view a day? Are the times of Swarnamukhi's popularity over as the classical dancers can't sit in aramandi, control their eye-lashes or perform Gangaavatarana?

9. As for the "onslaught of heavy media works such as television and movies," don't you think the film directors would be bankrupt if their actors were as unprofessional (e.g. in satvika and vachika abhinaya) and had as captivating figures and as fascinating faces as the majority of "professional" Bharatanatyam dancers most of whom can't even apply make-up properly?

10. What is the purpose of dancing Bharatanatyam 24 or even 60 hours non-stop? Would you trade one good banana for 50 rotten apples?

11. Are "the classical dances fading slowly" because currently 2 out of 5 NRI girls in the USA undergo some training in classical Indian dance? How can we stop them from attempting to learn Bharatanatyam?

12. Are some NRI dancers' careers "fading slowly" because their "traditional" dance themes focus on praising the maharajas and merchants of the 18th century?

13. If Prasanna Kasthuri has less knowledge of philosophical and spiritual interpretations of the dance themes, is he planning to expand his knowledge by studying the Vedas in the original and achieving some spiritual qualification and siddhis?

14. If "most working class youngsters are seen spending time in front of television channels, rather than going out and enjoying a live classical performance," is it partly for the reasons outlined by Mukundagiri Sadagopan? Or is it because - according to the Kollywood film directors as well as Bharata Muni - the youngsters are attracted to Sringara which was eliminated in Bharatanatyam by Rukmini Devi?

15. If there is "less exposure of classical dance forms in these mass media in India and USA," isn't it a sign that now it is high time the dancers should stop promoting themselves (or their associates) and start promoting the dance?

16. If they "avoid any classical performances" because "it is not a crowd puller," isn't it proof that Bharatanatyam is meant for small audiences when the rasikas can see the dancer's mukhaja abhinaya?

17. How do the "local dance teachers work very hard to bring in the professionalism in the community"? What kind of "professionalism"?

18. If "most teachers struggle to create awareness of their relationship with a performing art such Bharatanatyam," doesn't it mean that people find it hard to understand which traditional Bharatanatyam style these teachers teach after learning the Mysore style from Dr. K. Venkatalakshamma and Lalita Srinivasan, the Pandanallur style from guru Narmada, and after the Gurukula workshops of Chitra Vishweswaran, T Mahalingam Pillai, Adyar K Lakshmanan and Pandanallur Gopala Krishna?

19. Is "teaching dance to an NRI kid very hard" partly because the classes are an hour a week?

20. If "the coverage for performing arts either in an American newspaper or on any television or in a National dance festival such as American Dance Festival is too less," does it mean it is time to bring to the USA some really talented dancers from India?

21. If "the barrier of culture and race still hogs these areas," doesn't it mean that the desi forms are limited, and the dancers should finally think of exploring the margi?

22. If "there are no international art critics in major newspapers across American cities," isn't it a proof that Bharatanatyam is not an international dance form but an Indian art?

23. If "the entertainment section of newspapers such as Times of India filled with American icons," is it because there are too few professional photographers in India?

24. Is it indeed Gurukula when you just visit your teacher's house for a class twice a week?

25. Do "most of the dance teachers still continue living on meager income, just because of the "bhakti" or because they are unwilling or incapable to go and get a proper full time job at a factory or on a farm?

26. If there are "so many artists in our area, who can do marvelous productions," who else - apart from these artists - thinks so too?

27. If "our music and dance, whether it is north or south, are driven by bhakti," why has Lord Almighty been so unwilling to notice the marvelous productions in the USA and support the dancers financially?

28. If "one cannot see a Kathak performance without a Hindu deity being prayed to," is it proof that the Hindu deities came to like the Persian folk dances and Arab music, as well as Michael Jackson's performances?

29. Why would the Hindu temples in the USA arrange for Kathak dance festivals if it contradicts the Hindu tradition, according to which only margi dance should be performed in the temple premises?

Ashwini Shankar

October 25, 2009

I am very happy that my article made Ashwini think this much. My job is done. But Ashwini's understanding of reality is very bleak.
What I have written is the story of many people like me. By looking at the responses of Ashwini Shankar, I am concluding she has no idea what happens in real life in USA.

When it comes to understanding of traditional art forms, we still have work just like we need to work in Lahore or Kinshasa, except that we live in a free country, where we can exercise our rights. Just to let you know, I did come as a qualified person to USA and not on the back of a truck. I do have a Vidwath rank. Most of my Bharatanatyam education was done by two great teachers - Lalitha Srinivasan and Narmada. My Kathak was taught by Dr. Maya Rao. I respect them forever. Ashwini has such a discontent with learning. Pretty embarrassing for any progressive student.

The main point of my article was to suggest temples should extend their patronage to traditional dance forms, apart from routine religious works. This has to be done atleast for the religious aspect of traditional dances.

Tradition will be built by innovation. In our times, we are doing what others did previously. We have been exposed to so many varieties of dance. Hence all the collaborations. I am very happy I am doing this. This is where everyone will be headed if there are no openings for traditional base. This means, as a classical dancer, we will have less opportunity to perform any dances related to Hindu religion.

It appears that Ashwini has a good knowledge of dancing, but unfortunately she does not care about other artistes' ability and achievement. Pretty sad.
This is my message for her. Get real.

Please do come to St. Louis and join Soorya Performing Arts as a member. It is an open public organization. We are looking for brave people like Ashwini to come and do some volunteer work without getting paid (like I do, as I work close to 30 - 35 hours a week, with no compensation).

Prasanna Kasthuri

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