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Nayika in the time of Covid
- Pallavi Nagesha

September 3, 2020

For sure we are experiencing strange and unprecedented times, yet the human spirit cannot be tamped down. While artists around the world are finding creative ways of self-expression, Natyarambha has taken it further and created a space where other artistes can gather and explore ideas. Natyarambha is a unique institution that provides fundamental support to budding dancers and their practice. It also allows teachers to customize routines that enhance a dancer's practice. With its latest endeavor Natyashala, Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant has opened up a platform for dancers to learn, introspect, and develop.

Dr. Anupama Kylash

The first Natyashala workshop was conducted on August 15 and 16, 2020. Attended by over 75 people, the session was led by Dr. Anupama Kylash, a scholar and authority on the Nayika in Annamacharya Padams. The workshop titled "Introduction to The Nayika and The Nayaka: Concept - Context - Content" helped make the nayika and the nayaka accessible to dancers. Dr. Kylash not just introduced us to the different types of protagonists, both female and male, but followed it up with examples and helpful tips to interpret the poetry. Much of Padam poetry is multi layered. You need to peel aside the idea of romance or sringara to reveal more philosophical themes, which ultimately relate to our spiritual journey. The relationship the nayika or the heroine has with the hero can be equated to the human angst and our constant struggle with confronting our inner self. When we begin to look at the lyrics using other lenses, we can understand the psyche of the nayika and become able to embody that character with more clarity and connection. Dr. Kylash delved in great depth into the classifications offered in Bhanudatta's Rasamanjari. She also offered parallels in the current milieu for the benefit of our youth.

The workshop had a good mix of theoretical discussion and practical application examples. Dr. Kylash's knowledge and mastery over Nayika bhavaṁ shone through. Her excitement about the subject spread through the eager group like wildfire. Her discourse was based on Bhanudatta's Rasamanjari (Bouquet of Rasa) - a treatise, a collection of verses composed to illustrate the multifaceted Rasa theory. His book, as interpreted by Dr. Kylash, reads like a user manual for portraying the suggested protagonist. Notice I am not using the words "heroine" or "hero" here. These characters, as Dr. Kylash described, are so much more than the western idea of hero and heroine suggest. Like onions, there are hidden layers and like diamonds, they shine on various facets. Perhaps we can say that Rasamanjari describes heroes and heroines as they should be. A western Sanskritologist Venetia Ansell says Bhanudatta's ideas go beyond characterization to "characterology, where we are given precisely defined character types who are in every way predictable." Inspired by the workshop, I began a feeble attempt to read the Rasamanjari and soon lost myself in the incredible imagery that Bhanudatta conjures in his verses. We worked through some of these verses in the workshop; for example describing a parakiyaparoda, Bhanudatta says:

"Ayaṁ revakunjaḥ kusumaśarasēvasamuccitaḥ samīroyaṁ velādaravidaladelāparimaḷaḥ iyaṁ
pravṛd dhyāna navajaladavinyasacatura parādhīnaṁ cetaḥ sakhi kimapi kartuṁ mṛgyate"

The verse not only paints the image of the nayika as ensnared by amorous thoughts, it also depicts the atmosphere in picturesque detail. It tells us that she is not alone, suggesting a dialog. It describes the depths of her feeling (pangs suffered by the piercings of cupid's arrow). This description alone allows the artiste to embody the character and transform the Rasas (or permanent states of mind) into the true (sattvik) representation. His description is so vivid in fact that an entire series of plates were painted in the Basohli style. These miniatures transform Bhanudatta's verses into detailed images and depict an entire story in roughly 125 cm/sq.

Whether from the Bhasoli miniatures or Dr. Anupama Kylash's wisdom, one must experience this "characterology". A dip into the sviya, parakiya-samanya classifications as well as Dr.Kylash's commentary on the ashtavidha nayikavastha can transform your mind as well as senses. Although the Natyasastra talks about both masculine and feminine characters, the Rasamanjari dwells on the feminine. One theory that Dr. Kylash put forth is that the struggle between any of these women and their lovers can be equated to the human journey in finding a path to salvation. Each of us manifest this struggle in a different shape, where the circumstances, the emotions, the stories are unique, much like the nayikas. Stepping through these classifications is akin to our own internal journey that can take many paths and lead to many destinations. Yet, as the Yoga Darshana Upanishad states, "The journey into ourselves is the highest form of pilgrimage. No other journey brings us closer to bliss than the journey inward."

As Dr. Kylash kept peeling away the layers of the nayikavastha, my curious mind began to draw parallels between the teachings in the Gita and what she was saying. Between the current affairs in the world and her analogies. Between my own internal conflict and her stories. Take for example the story of the courtesan, which holds true no matter what century. Just change the context and the characters. Like a giant spider's web, the world is connected through time and space and pulling at one thread unravels it all. Dr. Kylash spoke to the basic human need. In these strange times of constant churn, the one thing that holds true and steady is the internal journey. Through her workshop, Dr. Kylash reminds us to keep that idea lit and allow your inner light to shine the path ahead. Each participant took from this offering that which compelled us the most. At one end of the rainbow is a glimpse into the psyche of the nayika and the other end is the journey through the five koshas and a deeper understanding of how to access that final anandamaya or bliss.

To learn more, read Dr. Kylash's book, The Nayikas of Annamacharya: An Interpretation for Dance. Or reach out to Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant and implore her to bring more such wonderful learning opportunities to us through Natyashala. I am deeply grateful to both Ananda Shankar Jayant and Anupama Kylash for a wonderfully enlightening weekend and hope to participate in more Natyashala workshops.

Pallavi Nagesha, the founding director of Bhumika Arts, teaches Bharatanatyam, Sanskrit, Yoga, and the Ayurvedic lifestyle. Pallavi believes that Dance, Yoga and Ayurveda are three inseparable components that open you to new and transformative experiences.

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