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Naṭyayana: Book of philosophical maturity to dance
- Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

February 8, 2020

'Naṭyayana - A Journey of Dance from Bhāva to Rasa'
Authored by Dr. Shobha Shashikumar
Published by Noopura Bhramari, January 2020
Pages: 300
Price: Rs. 475

The book was released on 17th January 2020 at a national level conference on Performing Arts, at Jain University Campus, Bengaluru.

(Brief outline of the book

'Natyayana' is divided into two sections, one being the research writings and the other being the general essays. Though the thoughts have been recorded with the same involvement and seriousness in both the sections, the formatting has been done according to the possibilities in the subject, as well as keeping the readers' interest in mind. However, this book is meant to cater to the interests of any dancer, dancer researcher, connoisseur and an art lover.

There could not have been a better term than 'Natyayana' to suggest the journey of an artiste (more specifically a dancer with reference to the techniques discussed in the book). The journey starts from the very thought of learning the art form, and goes through the serious pursuance of the understanding and practice of the technique. It later develops into a 'zeal', which enables one to take up challenges in the application of the creative thought processes that get expressed through the technique. But then, in spite of all the technical excellence, one may naturally feel a 'stagnation' and an 'incompleteness' and thereby 'frustration' about the whole process. It would seem to be a condition, wherein the advanced technical methods are feverishly experimented from the 'outside', but one's soul is still haunted by the doubts about the very fundamentals and the core concepts in the 'inside'.
This can happen to any artiste. It may not at all happen too. Still it is a serious possibility, which only suggests that deeper insights are wanting. This is a natural phase of evolution of an artiste. The significant thing about it is that this condition should be recognised and respected by oneself with patience, perseverance and humility. This phase needs a serious enquiry into the Shastras. Only such an effort can give a positive direction. After all, Shastra is the sum total of the experiences of different people of a particular expertise, which upon enquiry and objectification is systematised into a science.)

Dr. Shobha Shashikumar's present work, Naṭyayana: A Journey of Dance from Bhava to Rasa, bears ready comparison with the efforts of Mammata, Ruyyaka and Jagannatha, who were inspired from the writings of Bharata, Anandavardhana, Kuntaka, and Abhinavagupta. Apart from re-establishing the interconnectedness of rasa, dhvani, aucitya, and vakrata, Dr. Shobha applies these concepts to various aspects of dance, both central and peripheral. Since the whole work is itself a glowing testimony to this fact, I shall not elaborate much.

A few essays presented here such as 'The Confluence of Theory and Practice in Bharatanatya,' 'The Technique and Application of Marga Karaṇas,' 'Learning Art Forms: Significance and Relevance,' and 'Naṭya, Nrtya, Nrtta: A Historical and Technical Perspective' mainly focus on the theoretical and philosophical aspects of dance and its aesthetics. Essays such as 'The Aesthetics of Pada Varna Presentation in Contemporary Times' and 'The Aesthetics of Christian Themes in Bharatanatya' deal with practical implications, again focusing on the core aspects of the art. Other writings such as 'The Traditions of Devadasis and Rajadasis: An Aesthetic Perspective,' 'Lifestyle Changes from Traditional to Modern: A Challenge to Art Expression,' and 'Rangapravesha / Arangettram' emerge from a sociological perspective. A few others such as 'Bharata in Padma' and 'Sundari Santhanam: An Ideal' revolve around art that is inseparably connected with personalities.

A mere glance at these topics is sufficient to demonstrate that Dr. Shobha rivets herself to the core principles of art, never going out of focus. All other considerations are incidental. This approach has given immense strength to both her understanding and exposition. Moreover, this is a dire need of the hour. If at all Dr. Shobha errs, it is only due to paucity of information. In the present era of information explosion, it is rather difficult to separate gold from nuggets. It is hence prudent to rely on the central philosophy than on challengeable information. Dr. Shobha does just this. I am tempted to recall Anandavardhana's timeless observation:

avyutpatti-krto dosah shaktya samvriyate kaveh |
yastvashakti-krtastasya jhatityevavabhasate || (Dhvanyaloka, 3.5)

A poet's defect resulting from ignorance will be hidden from view by his genius; but a defect due to his want of genius will attract one's attention immediately. (Translation by Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy)

An approach like this is indeed rare in the aesthetic analysis of any art. Dance is no exception. Going through the writings of Dr. Shobha Shashikumar, I feel that the study of Indian dance has attained philosophical maturity. This is by no measure a small achievement. Having closely observed her creative pursuits and scholarly endeavours since a decade, I am aware of the multiple ordeals she has undergone to achieve self-enrichment. Had she not trained herself in this manner, she could not deal with a topic such as 'The Aesthetics of Christian Themes in Bharatanatya' in a matured, balanced manner. She would have fallen into the trap of sensationalism or religious fanaticism. The same applies to the article on 'The Traditions of Devadasis and Rajadasis: An Aesthetic Perspective,' wherein she makes a threadbare analysis of bhakti and showcases its limitations. While penning 'The Confluence of Theory and Practice in Bharatanaṭya,' article of this volume and the one on Pada varnas, she is animated by the same spirit. Her commitment to classicism is not a product of blind belief, which stems from fear or superciliousness. Neither is she averse to modernity. She is drawn to objectified beauty and its underlying philosophy and this has made her pursue dance research in the present form.

Dr. Shobha unvaryingly adheres to but a single aesthetic dictum: Form subserves Content. This might appear like an easy stand to take, but it demands a lot of internal courage and dispassionate introspection. An artist is committed to his / her medium-the Form-and going beyond this is a herculean task. Identity is a human passion; one can achieve it only by adhering to a form. With this being the case, it is almost suicidal to brush aside form. However, transcending the same is the only path to immortality. And what is immortality but rasa?

Dancers, like all other performing artists, are prone to insecurity, the fear of getting out-dated. Dr. Shobha is the last person to be entangled in this emotional trap. This is a stellar achievement. In this book, readers are introduced to the milestones of this achievement, in the form of sound and sense. A sincere reader unfailingly notices her modest courage and quiet confidence. I am drawn to these traits of Dr. Shobha from a long time, and I take this opportunity to congratulate her.

Before a century, Prof. M. Hiriyanna drew the world's attention to the philosophical basis of Indian art. Though he expressed himself through a modern idiom, he did so from the vantage point of literature. It is heartening that Dr. Shobha has derived inspiration from Prof. Hiriyanna's works and has extended his vision to dance. I can think of no better compliment than to draw this comparison.

Through this work Naṭyayana: A Journey of Dance from Bhava to Rasa, she has established the homogeneity of her soulful performance and profound research. May the dance fraternity receive this gift with an open mind and strive towards betterment.

Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh is a multilingual scholar, poet, Avadhani, Bengaluru.

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