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Posts Tagged ‘Rukmini Devi Arundale’

Bharata Natyam is one of India’s oldest and gracious dance forms.

Bharatha Natyam is one of the seven classical dance forms of India,chiefly associated with the South of India ie Tamil Nadu.The name of sage Bharatha or form its origin in the Bharatha Desha.Bharatha Natyam is also iterpreted as Bhaaram Tharayithi Bharatham -the true dispeller of grief and anguish.Baratha Natyam is also that which encompasses Bhaavam (emotional content),Raga (melody) and Thaalam(rhythm).

For long this dance was also referred to as Sadir or Dasiattam, drawing from an ancient tradition of girls who chose to be wedded to God and spend their lifetime in his servitude. Such ladies were called Devadasis (servants of God) or Nitya Sumangalis (one who would remain auspicious and happily wedded forever) . Such dasis performed music and dance dedicated to the temple during all auspicious festivals, also fanned the deity with chamara and held the lamp or the kumbharthi in sacred processions. They initially held esteemed place in society and were well cared for by the temple and the local ruler.

The literary content of Bharata Natyam was initially inspired by the devoted outpourings of Nayanmars (Shaivaite saints) and Alwars (Vaishnavaite saints), whose influence grew around the tenth century.

The saint poets of later medieval period and early modern period of Indian history, further enhanced the literary content of Bharata Natyam repertorie.

The earliest task of redefining and formalising the repertorie of Dasiattam was carried by four brothers from Tanjore, popularly referred to as the Tanjore quartet (Chinnaiyah, Ponnaiyah, Vadivelu and Sivanandan), to whom we owe the modern day repertorie.

Due to the circumstantial deterioration of the Devadasi system around the beginning of the twentieth century, this practice was banned by a Government Legislation. It was at this time that in 1931, the Madras Music Academy took up the losing cause of this tradition along with Shri E. Krishnaiyer. The first momentous stem was the rechristening of Sadirattam as Bharata Natyam, to present the art in new light.

Enlightened members of society such as Shri E. Krishnaiyer and Smt. Rukmani Devi took to reforming the status of the dance form by introducing further stylization and logical technique in its practice.

Smt Rukmani Devi’s sojourn in this dance formblossomed only in her thirties making her the first Brahmin woman to pursue dance in the latter twentieth century. She was instrumental in later forming the Mecca of Bharata Natyam in Madras – Kalakshetra. She was also one whose aesthetics greatly enhanced the costume and overall representation as dance as we see it today.

This particular dance form was more earth based as seen from its very grounded strong movements from the Ayatha Mandala or the demi plea – araimandi position. The repetorie of a performance is known to consist of Alarippu (drawing from the Telugu phrase of Alarimppu, meaning adorned with flowers), which is the first step of the dancer into blossomig into a full-fledged artiste.

The next item is the Jathiswaram, where pure dance sequences or jathis are strung together to a garland of Swaras, forming simple but interesting rythmic and physical patterns.

The Shabdam introduces the aspect of emotional content onto the hitherto and where danceuse, in small amounts along with the regular Nritta or pure sequences. This intermingling of pure dance and drama (Natya) is called Nritya.

The dancer’s test of stamina and understanding of physical media and its literary content is the Varnam (originally called Vannam or colour). The longest item of the repetorie, the Varnam, adequately exploits the dancers’ experience in the art with its extensive dramatic sequences and challenging sequences and challenging complex rhythmic footwork.

Next follow Padams (derived from the term Padagalu, meaning precious gems). The Padams allow the artiste to explore great depths of emotion surging forth as Bhakti or devotion and Sringaara or love for the God.

Following the Padams, we ocassionaly encounter lighter items like Javalis or intense Ashtapadis that are more inclined to Sringara or the sentiment of love and that which explore in detail the multifacets of fleeting emotions that result from the main feeling of love.

Thus these items are replete with Sancharis, which are extrapolations or extensions of a central idea, seen by way of a multitude of stories, either mythical or puranic.

The repetorie then concludes with a Thillana (derived from Tiralaanadu or that which is fast), that comprises Nritta sequences again, complex footwork and the pure joy of dance.

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Rukmini_Devi Arundale

Rukmini Devi Arundale

Kalakshetra was established in 1936 after the extraordinary success of Rukmini Devi’s first performance of Bharata Natyam at the Theosophical Society, in Adyar, a suburb of Madras, in the South of India. The founding members, Rukmini Devi, her husband George Arundale, and their associates at the Theosophical Society, were deeply committed to Theosophy and an arts academy was an extension
of this commitment. The academy was also symbolic of the struggle for India’s independence; it was to culturally revive a country that was losing its identity under British rule.

The name Kalakshetra was suggested by Pandit S. Subramania Sastri, a Sanskrit scholar and member of the academy. His granddaughter S. Sarada was one of the first students. She, along with Radha, Rukmini Devi’s niece, Leelavati, A. Sarada, and Anandi, granddaughter of Kalki Krishnamurti, were among the first to join Kalakshetra, then located in the Theosophical Society’s grounds. D. Pashupati, Raman and Lakshmanan began studying music, and soon more students followed.

Rukmini Devi with George Arundale in Finland in 1936

Rukmini Devi and George Arundale, Finland, 1936

Many renowned nattuvanars and dancers of that period taught at the institute. Among them were Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Rukmini Devi’s first teacher, Muthukumara Pillai, and Chokkalingam Pillai. Karaikkal Saradambal Ammal, known for her nritta, polished the technique of the early students. Dandayudapani Pillai later joined the staff, as did Mylapore Gowri Ammal. These early teachers bequeathed many compositions and stylistic inputs to the institute which remain embedded in the Kalakshetra style today. Ambu Pannikar, the great Kathakali ashaan who spent the last six years of his life at Kalakshetra, taught Rukmini Devi several Kathakali movements and set pieces that were used to great effect in her dance dramas. After his death, another doyen – Chandu Pannikar came to the college, bringing along with him young boys, Dhananjayan, Balagopalan, and later, his own son Janardhanan. These three, along with the older Kunhiraman, Ambu Pannikar’s son, became the early male dancers of the institute, participating in the new dramas that Rukmini Devi choreographed. They became known
for their heroic roles in Kalakshetra’s dance dramas.

Rukmini Devi personally trained the early dance students, who then took on the responsibility of teaching new students. She held a special morning class where she taught ballet exercises.

She refined and classified the adavus, the basic steps of the dance, making them efficient and beautiful, and systematized a teaching methodology for the dance form she inherited.

In these early days, the staff at Kalakshetra was motivated by a great spirit of service, and worked tirelessly to bring the vision of Kalakshetra to life. Among them was Sankara Menon, who was the principal of the Besant Theosophical High School. He helped Rukmini Devi in every aspect of administrating the institute, gave talks to students on Hindu philosophy, and later succeeded her as director.

Kalakshetra became the first dance institute to establish a meaningful theoretical syllabus for dancers. Kamala Rani, also one of the early students, established herself as a brilliant nattuvanar, breaking barriers for women in field. S. Sarada researched the texts for Rukmini Devi’s dance dramas, sang for classes and performances, and took detailed notations of Rukmini Devi’s choreography. D. Padmasini, who hailed from a Theosophical family, joined Kalakshetra as a music teacher at BTHS. She worked as the doctor in the hostel dispensary, became Superintendent of the hostels, and sang for dance dramas. She and her brother, M.D.Mani supervised the difficult move of Kalakshetra, the Besant School and the hostels from Adyar to Tiruvanmiyur, two miles down on the south coast of Madras. They worked along with the students to plan the new campus and to plant trees on the new campus. Kamala Trilokekar managed the Montessori school and the Arundale Teacher Training Center, both affiliated to Kalakshetra.

Rukmini Devi’s first love was music. To her, the dance simply gave visual shape to the music. She was in a sense, a pioneer in that she was the first dancer to invite, not one, but several great musicians to Kalakshetra. They not only came, but contributed selflessly and very substantially to her work, as much due to the special respect she had for them, as for the wonderful atmosphere that she had created about her in this new ashram for India’s arts. Papanasam Sivan, who taught music at the Besant School, was renowned for his devotional singing. He sang for Rukmini Devi’s
dance performances, helping to break caste barriers for dance accompanists, while she gave legitimacy to a dance form which had lost respect in the society of the time. Kalidasa Nilakanta Aiyar, an expert on tala, helped to set the teermanams correctly in the older dance pieces.

Tiger Varadachariar became Principal of Kalakshetra in 1944, when the Sangita Sironmani course was begun in the institute. Madurai Subramani Aiyar, the violin vidwan, Tiger’s brother Veena Krishnamachariar and T.K. Ramaswami Aiyengar all taught the Sangita Sironmani course. Eminent musicians such as Veena Sambasiva Aiyar, Budalur Krishnamurti Shastrigal, the master of the Gottuvadyam, and M. D. Ramanathan, who had been Tiger’s student at the institute, all served as Principals in successive years. Turaiyur Rajagopala Sarma was a professor.

Kalakshetra’s reputation rests on its dance dramas, meticulously crafted ensemble pieces choreographed by Rukmini Devi. The music for the dance dramas is the living legacy of the musicians who came to the institute. Rukmini Devi choreographed her first drama Kuttrala Kuravanji, to the music of Veena Krishnamachariar. Its success inspired her to choreograph Kalidasa’s Kumara Sambhavam in 1947, for which Tiger Vardachariar composed the music. Papanasam Sivan scored Andal Charitram, Gita Govindam, Abhignana Shakuntalam, Kannapar Kuravanji and others. Mysore Vasudevachariar came to Kalakshetra in 1953 with his grandson Rajaram. He composed the music for the six- part Valmiki Ramayana until his death, after which Rajaram took over. For Rukmini Devi, these musicians provided the backbone on which she built her productions.

Over the years, encouraged by her husband, Dr. George Arundale, Rukmini Devi had acquired land in the village of Tiruvanmiyur, a short distance away from the Theosophical Society. In 1951, a sapling of the
great banyan tree in the Theosophical Society’s grounds was planted at Tiruvanmiyur. The new campus was consolidated in the years that followed until it covered one hundred acres beside the sea. Gradually, other trees were planted on the sandy stretches of land. Kalakshetra moved to its new¬† campus in the 1960s. Rukmini Devi and her associates undertook the Herculean task of finding the funds and the energy to build up the institute once again. They built roads, planted trees, found committed architects, engineers and building material during a period of shortages, to create a sylvan oasis of art and education which has provided an inspiring education to all those, fortunate enough to study here. The campus continues to elicit the admiration of all, who come to visit or attend performances here.

Rukmini Devi had long nurtured a dream to build an auditorium for dance and music which would be aesthetic, Indian in spirit, and that would provide an ideal setting for her choreographic work. Her dream was realized when the Bharata Kalakshetra auditorium, built in the Koothambalam style from Kerala, was inaugurated in 1985.

The founder of Kalakshetra, Rukmini Devi died in 1986. After her, Sri K. Sankara Menon became the director. In 1993, Kalakshetra was taken over by the government. In the hope that its groundbreaking work in the revival of the arts in India would continue, the Indian government deemed it an institute of national importance by an act of parliament and has since given the College its support. After Sankara Menon’s death, Sri S. Rajaram took over as director. Since April of 2005, Leela Samson, a leading practitioner of the Kalakshetra style, has been heading the institute.

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