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Mysore style of Bharathanatyam - Origin and Evolution
by Shruthi Mukund, Potomac, MD

November 12, 2003
Classical dance, particularly Bharatanatyam, has been practiced professionally as well as academically from ancient times in Karnataka, as is evident from Kannada literature, inscriptions, paintings. All the evidences point to there being a rich tradition of dance in Karnataka through the centuries to the present day. The Chalukyan sculptures at Badami and Aihole proclaim that the sculptors of Karnataka had a good knowledge of the Natyashastra in the 5th century itself. Classical dancing was studied as a regular course in the great universities of Talakadu, Talagunda, and Bulligavi between the 4th to 13th centuries. Karnataka's royalty not only patronized the art form, but also themselves danced, like the great danseuse, Queen Shantala, of the Hoysala Empire.

The madanika (Shilabalike/sculptures) figures of the famed Halebid and Belur Temples were built during the Vijayanagara Empire. The Vijayanagar Empire boosted up all arts during its golden ages. After the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire, the art of dance was nurtured by the Devadasis or temple dancers.

Later on, in the erstwhile state of Mysore came a resurgence of all art forms under the Wodeyar Dynasty. It became a great seat of learning and patronage to all kinds of art and artistes. Bharatanatyam in Karnataka reached its peak during this period. Kanteerava Wodeyar organised a Bharatanatyam school in Srirangapatna while Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar wrote two dance dramas, Geeta Gopala and Saptopadki.

During Krishnaraja Wodeyar's reign (1811-1868) a distinct style began to emerge which is now known as 'Mysore Style'. Krishna Raja Wodeyar, the scholar-patron of the arts, was a contemporary of the Great Trinity of Carnatic Music - Muthuswami Dikshitar, Shama Shastri, and Thyagaraja - and also of the Tanjore Quartet consisting of the four brothers - Chinayya, Ponnayya, Shivanandan, and Vadivelu - who gave a Marga (format) to the Bharatanatyam solo recital.

Chamarajendra Wodeyar, who succeeded Krishnarajendra, continued the patronage and brought Chinnayya to his court where the latter not only composed several varnams and tillanas suited to dance, but also influenced to a great extent the dance teachers and musicians of the court. Hence, the indigenous tradition of dance took in the other traditions, to arrive at a continuous stream of dance art in Karnataka.
In the past two centuries (19th and 20th), Mysore has produced many illustrious dance teachers like Muguru Subanna, Amritappa, Dasappa, Bangalore Kittappa, Kolar Puttappa, and great dancers like Amritamma, Coimbatore Tayi, Nagaratnamma, the incomparable Jatti Tayamma, and her disciple Venkatalakshamma, who passed away recently. Alongside the palace dancers (the Asthana Vidushis) existed the temple dancers or Devadasis like Rangamma, and Jeejamma - a veritable galaxy of dancers with high standards of technical excellence and profound scholarship.

Though the Tanjore tradition and Kanchi tradition of Bharatanatyam had mingled with the local modes of dance, the Mysore school encompassing all these artistes of the state had a distinct flavor of its own. The Jatti Thayamma school excelled in abhinaya, with an exceptional observance of the Poorvaranga Vidhi. The performance used to be packed with Shlokas, Asthapadis, Padas and Javalis from Geetha Govinda, Amarushataka, Nithi Shataka, Mukunda Mala and also many Kannada compositions of rare beauty.
K Venkatalakshmma, and many others from this time were with us until recently & shared with us the rare varieties of classical dances prevalent in the Mysore Court.

Jatti Thayamma was not a Devadasi neither did she dance for a long time at the royal court of Mysore due to some misunderstanding. She belonged to the Jatti Manethana (wrestler's household). She was very popular for her abhinaya both in the Bharatanatyam style and Hindustani nautch - when she rendered thumris, ghazals, etc. She was confirmed the Natyasaraswathi title by Dr. Radhakrishnan, the then President of India.

The Jatti Thayamma school comprises of a vast repertoire of abhinaya. The Poorvaranga Vidhi was elaborate and followed the rules laid down in the Natyashastra. The dancers at the court, stood behind the musicians before commencing the dance. They paid obeisance to their Guru and musicians and then came around to start their performance. Along with being good singers, the dancers were also proficient in Sanskrit and Sahitya (literature). She would sing a choornika (a prelude) in raga Arabhi in praise of a Ranghadi devata (stage goddess) or natya (dance) itself in other sabhas (gatherings). After the choornika, a sabhavandana (salutation to the audience) shloka, and a Natyaprashamsa shloka from the Nataka Malavikagnimitra by Kalidasa were regularly sung and a Pushpanjali Shloka came at the end of it. Then they danced a Ganapathi Shabda or other Shabdas instead of an Allarippu. As the Mysore dancers were influenced by the presence of Chinnayya, one of the brothers of the famed Tanjore Quartet, they used to perform Jatiswaras, Shabdas, Varnas, Tillanas, which were similar to any Tanjore style dancer. The whole performance would be danced without any break. When it came to the abhinaya numbers - Geetha Govinda, Kshetrangna Padas, Javalis in Kannada and Telugu shlokas of Amara, Krishnakarnamrita, Mukundamala, Bharatahari's Neethi Shataka. Many poems by the Dasarakoota composers and vachanas of various poetic works like Rajeswara Vilasa etc. used to be danced. Devaranamas, krithis of several well known composers like Mutthaiah Bhagavathar, Mysore Sadashiva Rao, Mysore Vasudevacharya were also added to their repertoire.

It is here in the abhinaya that the flavor of Mysore was very much evident. The dancers nearly always rendered a shloka before a Pada, which came as a prelude in the same mood or a kandha padhya before a Javali, which suggested the particular nayika (mood of the heroine) of the Javali. The jaru adavus (slide or rest steps), which embellished the Javalis, were very peculiar and made the Javali lively and crisp. Sitting and doing abhinaya was also very common, with the dancers themselves singing the lyrics.

K Venkatalakshamma was not a devadasi. She belonged to the Lambani/Banjara/Gypsy community. She was at the Royal Court for 30 long years dancing in front of Nalwadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar and the last king Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. Later, she became a reader of dance at the fine arts college founded by the University of Mysore. She had been conferred with the central and state academy awards, Natya Shantala - the highest award for a dancer in Karnataka, Padma Bhushan by Govt. of India and others.

In the present day, in Karnataka or elsewhere, there are innumerable schools of Bharatanatyam that teach the Pandanallur, Kanjeevaram, Madras, Kalakshetra and Mysore styles without controversy or questioning whatsoever. However, important changes have taken place, that are bound to impact the dance's development. The most important is the shifting of the art from the temple to the western type of theatre with a high stage bound by a proscenium, and with the audience seated in the front. This has, naturally, led to several changes in the choreography, lighting, make-up, costume, and also to an all-round improvement of the supporting musical ensemble.

As patronage of the art and its exponents is no longer exercised by the maharajas who were great rasikas, but has been taken over by the representatives of the people in a democratic government, the art has ceased to be elitist and the monopoly of a particular community, and has become the art of the people. The dancer has become an important member of society and is educated, articulate, and self-sufficient. Karnataka like many other states in India has three prestigious examinations in dance - Junior, Senior, and Visharad, equivalent to 12th grade, BA, and MA respectively along with regular degrees in the Central Bangalore University.

The beauty of this art is that its so old yet so timeless.....

Compiled by Natyabhoomi School of Dance
Deepti Mukund and Shruthi Mukund

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