Roots re­vival: In­dia's clas­si­cal dance is back en vogue

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page -

STU­DENTS el­e­gantly curve their hands be­fore break­ing into syn­chro­nised foot­work at a class in New Delhi, where grow­ing num­bers are sign­ing up for In­dian tra­di­tional dance classes rooted in Hindu mythol­ogy.

Class par­tic­i­pants range from pre-teens to sur­geons and mar­ket­ing man­agers, but they have all cho­sen to learn tra­di­tional In­dian dance, which emerged from the coun­try’s tem­ples cen­turies ago, over West­ern op­tions such as bal­let, jazz and hip-hop.

“Tra­di­tion is be­com­ing pop­u­lar now,” said Nitya Pant, a Mum­bai-based mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive who prac­tises Odissi, an an­cient temple-based dance that hon­ours Hindu Lord Ja­gan­nath, Lord of the Uni­verse.

“No other form can give you the sat­is­fac­tion that clas­si­cal dance gives you,” added the 29-year-old. “You feel like you’re one with God.”

Such is the ap­peal that Pant flies to Delhi, spend­ing around 7250 ru­pees ($100) ev­ery week­end on flights just to train un­der ac­claimed dancer Mad­hu­mita Raut.

In­dia is home to eight ma­jor clas­si­cal dance styles in­clud­ing Odissi and Bharat­natyam – a genre orig­i­nat­ing in the coun­try’s south­ern tem­ples more than 2000 years ago – that tell sto­ries of gods through fa­cial ex­pres­sions, hand ges­tures and rapid foot­work.

They run deep in In­dia’s cul­ture and are per­formed at mar­riages, folk fes­ti­vals, school con­tests, on re­al­ity shows and most no­tably in Bol­ly­wood films.

While rea­sons for en­rolling vary from ex­er­cise to ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar points in col­lege ap­pli­ca­tions, Na­banita Baul Dutta says dance saved her from de­pres­sion.

“Dance is hap­pi­ness to me,” said the 23-year-old house wife, who has been learn­ing Bharat­natyam in Delhi for the past year. “Af­ter mov­ing to Delhi, I went into de­pres­sion ... Then I found

akka [guru], I came to her and I got out of de­pres­sion,” said Dutta. In a cramped liv­ing room, Dutta’s guru Aayur­shi Neeraj re­cites a sol­lukattu – a se­quence of syl­la­bles that cor­re­spond to move­ments – keep­ing rhythm with a wooden stick and plank.

Her stu­dents clasp their hands in front of them and stamp out beats with their feet.

“Bharat­natyam to me is spir­i­tu­al­ity, it is a med­i­ta­tion and it’s a favourite dance to Lord Shiva,” said Neeraj.

A garage-turned-stu­dio in an up­mar­ket part of the cap­i­tal serves as Raut’s stu­dio where she taught Odissi, a more flu­id­mov­ing dance in which face and hand move­ments are per­fectly timed.

Pant and five other stu­dents mir­ror Raut as she forms mu­dras (hand ges­tures) to a steady chant.

“My chil­dren also learn dif­fer­ent forms of danc­ing. To­day they are learn­ing Zumba, rumba, some­thing like that and one year back it was hip-hop,” said 47-year-old Raut, list­ing off dance crazes that slipped in and out of fash­ion.

“They know that Odissi is for keeps,” she added, com­par­ing the al­lure of tra­di­tional dance to the en­dur­ing ap­peal of clas­sic texts.

“There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween lit­er­a­ture, a cof­fee-ta­ble book and a mag­a­zine,” said Raut, who has more than 60 pupils and a grow­ing wait­ing list. “Shake­speare will be there al­ways,” she added. Tem­ples to con­cert halls

Once per­formed in tem­ples and royal courts, In­dia’s clas­si­cal dance has found in­ter­na­tional res­o­nance with troupes per­form­ing around the world.

Thanks to a mush­room­ing In­dian di­as­pora, tra­di­tional dance schools have popped up glob­ally, piquing the in­ter­est of other na­tion­al­i­ties as well.

Back in Delhi, the stu­dents say the West looks to In­dia in search of spir­i­tu­al­ity, cul­ture and his­tory, which is why this clas­si­cal art has gained in­ter­na­tional pop­u­lar­ity.

“What is lack­ing, es­pe­cially in the US and so on, they don’t have a very rich cul­tural his­tory ... I think they seek and they want to find that piece of an­cient his­tory, that art form,” said Pant, who has been learn­ing Odissi since she was 14.

“They’re lean­ing to In­dia be­cause we’ve had the most an­cient civil­i­sa­tions and that’s why In­dia and its cul­ture has be­come so pop­u­lar.”

Her guru Raut, an award-win­ning dancer who has lived, taught and per­formed in Europe, the US and Ja­pan, be­lieves In­dian dance tran­scends bor­ders among peo­ple and coun­tries.

“To­day it’s mu­sic, to­mor­row it’s cos­tume, day af­ter to­mor­row it’s move­ment. It’s so grace­ful. There’s no end to it,” Raut said.

“It’s a vast trea­sure and it can be shared and it will only spread and spread.” –

Pho­tos: AFP

Dance stu­dent Priyanka Venkateswaran watches an Odissi dance les­son un­der the tute­lage of ac­claimed dancer Mad­hu­mita Raut in­side a garage-turned-stu­dio in New Delhi.

Stu­dents per­form dur­ing a dress re­hearsal performance of the Bharat­natyam dance on Novem­ber 11.

Twenty-six-year-old Kis­han Manocha (third left) par­tic­i­pates in an Odissi dance les­son un­der the tute­lage of Mad­hu­mita Raut on Novem­ber 10.

Tra­di­tional dance is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in New Delhi.

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