Revisiting our past through Natya Sastra
- Nanditha Prabhu, Chennai

May 21, 2011

The week long summer workshop on Natya Sastra brought under one canopy, around 120 dance lovers, students and teachers of dance. It was conducted under the auspices of Bharata Ilango Foundation of Asian Culture (BIFAC) and mentored by the legend in Indian dance, Padma Subrahmanyam.

The theory sessions were power packed lectures from scholars in the field of Natya Sastra, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Shatavadhani Ganesh, Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao and musicologist Dr. Durga. The participants were like Pandoras waiting in front of the forbidden box, not knowing what lay inside. Unlike the Pandora's Box of troubles, this was a treasure chest and just a peek into it left all the participants dazed, each trying to gather as much as possible. The treasure was the Natya Sastra and the participants who were children of modern and post modern upbringing lacked the proficiency in Sanskrit and the richness of our cultural heritage.

The essence of Natya, "Natyasangraha" was presented by Shatavadhani Ganesh through a series of lectures and there was no need to explaining what ‘Rasanishpatti’ was as each and every one in the hall were already experiencing it. The demonstrations of Padma Subrahmanyam along with her classmate Durga on the connection between music and movement, between the intonations in music and rechakas in dance was a joy for the ears and feast for the eyes. The power point presentation on the Natya Sastra tradition by Pappu Venugopal Rao was precise and to the point and helped in clarifying concepts of Natyasangraha.

Natya having its divine origins in Natyaveda is an ocean of knowledge and this workshop just showed the tip of the iceberg. The practical sessions which followed the enlightening theory sessions introduced the participants to various exercises for toning of their bodies as specified in the Natya Sastra. Charis (movements of the legs) and hastas (movements of the hands) were taught and the combination of them resulted in karanas which we see as a visual encyclopedia of frozen movements in temples in Thanjavur, Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Satara and even in Indonesia. The pan Asian nature of this age old text and the depth with which Natya is dealt only adds responsibility on young dancers today to take an interdisciplinary approach towards arts, experience the richness of our culture and tradition and pass it on to our coming generations.

Nanditha Prabhu is a Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam dancer trained under her mother Kalamandalam Suganthi and Padma Subrahmanyam respectively. She runs her dance school Mythri Art Academy in Chennai.