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 Universal dance and drama
- Nita Vidyarthi

March 15, 2019

Universal dance and drama-A collection of my articles
By P. Medini Hombal
Luminous Books Varanasi
136 pages, Soft covered
Price Rs. 295
ISBN 978-93-8514-968-9

This very first book by the young author, an Assistant Professor of Bharatanatyam, IKSVV, Khairagarh (C.G.) is a slim 136 page compilation of the author's articles and research papers related to dance and drama of India and South East Asia, presented in journals and national and international seminars. Hence the approach is academic, direct and comprehensible. Divided into twelve chapters, the focus is mainly on Bharatanatyam with information on its basic grammar.

A good deal of attention is paid throughout to the structural details that would be one way of educating uninitiated lay audience, parents of learners as well as those interested in dance appreciation. The preface by the author mentions that "the book is mainly written for the students of Bachelors and Masters levels in an easy to understand language......" "and also for preparing for competitive exams like the RET and NET." A close reading impels to remark that the book is definitely not limited to be classified as a text book in the true sense. It encapsulates a number of important topics, well thought and planned and well-produced for basic dance education.

The opening chapter 'Bharatanatyam: tradition and transitions' traces history with reference to famous gurus. The following Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are substantial and could be called the core of the publication. Chapter two on 'Adavu-the basic alphabets of Bharatanatyam' begins with a long introduction referring to "shodashopachar", the Devadasi cult and leads finally to the contribution of Rukmini Devi Arundale on the format of adavus to a structure of approximately 50-55 instead of 120. She mentions about the controversy of the exact numbers between the various Banis or schools before arriving at the actual discussion. Keeping the book on adavu training and forms of the Kalakshetra School by Jayalakshmi Eshwar as the base "with some new changes," Medini explains briefly the 17 adavus.

Chapter 3 deals with the importance of hand gestures in Bharatanatyam, refers to the Abhinaya Darpana and discusses with examples citing the Sanskrit shloka of Asamyukta and Samyukta Hastas. Here she points out that in the Asamyukta Hasta shloka, the treatise describes Katakamukha Hasta only in one way but in Bharatanatyam training the Gurus teach it in three ways. Hence this line of Asamayukta Hasta shloka is repeated thrice. This is an important observation and addition. Each information is supported by the respective shlokas and their numbers in their respective treatises. The Avahittha Hasta is elaborately described and explained followed by the viniyoga or different usages of these. The statement, "Today the status of Bharatanatyam which has reached the top cadre of arts and has become famous worldwide is due to the efforts of her (Rukmini Devi) and also of other Gurus like her..." On page 29 may be the reflection of personal viewpoints but will be found contentious and reduce the credibility of the statements. The extent to which exposure to varying levels of Bharatanatyam education creates a diversity of responses draws heavily on quantitative methodology.

Chapter 4 on 'Importance of Tala in Indian Sangeet' is exhaustive, very well presented, most useful and truly an educative account of the different kinds of talas. An interesting introduction referring to the 20th chapter of Vishnu Dharmottara Purana, King Vajra asking sage Markandeya the easiest path for worshipping gods in Kaliyuga ushering in the need for understanding the human body through dance leads to explore rhythms and subsequently talas. It reads well. This leads to the different ancient treatises describing talas, talavidhans, description of different instruments, the three famous Angas offering details of jatis, matras and finally the format on which is based the choreographies of Bharatanatyam. A scientific way supported by a strong technical base and intelligent tabulation of the Tattadavu in Chaturasra Jaati Chaturasra Gati Triputa Tala (adi tala) on page 47 followed by others in madhya and druta block by block is impactful, easily comprehensible and undoubtedly useful.

Chapter 5 on 'Purvanga- A Lost and Redesigned Part of Sanskrit theatre' (an effort of Dr. Premlata Sharma) provides the utility and the lost or shortened practice of Purvanga in detail gives interesting anecdotes supported by a song of Purvanga complete with Shushkakshara, Gana and Gitika written by Premlata Sharma. Chapters 6 and 7 discuss the 'Representations of Arts in the Dramas (Natya) of Bhasa' and 'Possibilities of Dance Depiction in Sanskrit Rupakas' (dramas). The discussion on the usage of different types of curtains in pages 62 to 72 is interesting, at the same time enriching.

There are few instances of meandering through a subject except for chapters 8 - 'New Dimensions in Rural Development Through Folk Arts as Folk Media' and 10 - 'Riaz: A journey from yesterday's dedication & devotion to today's mere practice.' The author remarks that, "Yes, there is a vast difference between Riaz and mere Practice" in the opening page 101. The argument that follows are a bit confusing at times. A bit of simplification of the matter would help. Chapter 8 gives brief information of contribution of different organisations like Chipko & Apiko movements, SIFPSA and Vigyan Jatra by Kerala Kala Sahitya Parishad. It was disappointing to find that the importance of the strong efforts and movements in West Bengal (The Sunderbans) and Bangladesh had not been mentioned at all. Dance Therapy in Chapter 9 is general information with names of organisations and leading therapists.

Chapter 10 revolves around the Aekalavya episode and could have been more instructive and process oriented. However, these can hardly be called a major drawback. The book has more information and less comments on creativity in Indian arts, music or dance criticism which makes for an undisturbed reading. Chapters 11 on Ramakien and 12 on The Ramayana in South East Asian countries is for general information.

The fascinating feature of the book is style and mode of presentation. With a simple language and lucid approach, the explication is unhurried. The matter is distinctly and methodically divided into short paragraphs with headings where required. Topics are numbered, important words are written in bold making it a very useful reader friendly publication. Every chapter has a list of references at the end. The printing is good and price reasonable. With the same content the Hindi version is more compact in terms of language. However, reference to family members (last line of page 98 and page 99) and a few personal anecdotes could have been avoided.

Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a veteran critic of performing arts and writes on dance, music and theatre in leading publications.

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