Art reference

Padma Subrahmanyam’s unified vision of art

Padma Subrahmanyam explains how his distinct style of Bharata Nrityam is influenced by Sadir, regional forms, languages, history, architecture and, of course, the Natya Shastra

Padma Subrahmanyam explains how his distinct style of Bharata Nrityam is influenced by Sadir, regional forms, languages, history, architecture and, of course, the Natya Shastra

In the clamor of divisive stories vying for attention in India today, Padma Subrahmanyam represents a unified vision. As veteran dancer and scholar Nrithyodaya’s institution celebrates her 80th birthday from August 5, she may have a long-term perspective, not only in terms of her decades of experience in the arts, but also because of his early introduction to the idea of ​​India. Nrithyodaya’s birthday theme is “80 celebrates 75”, a reference to the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and a removal of the cap to the institution’s founder, freedom fighter and film director K. Subramanyam , Padma’s father. She reminds us that her father’s 1939 feature film

Padma Subrahmanyam, whose life’s work has been devoted to the research and interpretation of classical dance and literature of India, with particular emphasis on the Natya Shastra, is resolutely moving away from a discussion of politics today and where modern India might have strayed from the ideals of the freedom fighters, saying, “As a dance historian, I often separate myself from my own work . However, his work exemplifies a holistic view and an acceptance of intertwined flows.

“My work can be understood as a revival of a common grammar of dance and theatre. Because that is what the Natya Shastra gives us. It was a common grammar not only at pan-Indian level, but more than 25 years ago I recognized it as pan-Asian.

Padma Subrahmanyam's dance is inspired by temple sculptures and murals

Padma Subrahmanyam’s dance is inspired by temple sculptures and murals | Photo credit: Courtesy: Nrithyodaya

The Marga, or grammar of movement described in the Natya Shastra, which she resurrected as part of her research, is the link between all Desi-s (regional forms), she notes, just as Sanskrit is the connection between different languages, and here it even includes Tamil, which is commonly accepted as part of the Dravidian family unrelated to Sanskrit.

“I’m not someone who thinks there’s an iron curtain between Sanskrit and Tamil,” she remarks, referring to the strong emotions generated by the language debate. Politics aside, what is the connection between these two languages?

“I am not a linguist. I am not a philologist to give you a precise answer to that. From my experience of studying Sanskrit literature and Tamil literature, I am able to see a lot of parallels. I can’t believe Tamil has nothing to do with Sanskrit. Sanskrit was the lingua franca, no one denies that. What is older is not my problem. Both are beautiful ancient languages, which have had many concessions. Sanskrit, as I understand it, is a language named because of the concept of Sanskriti, of refinement. It was therefore consciously developed by the intellectual prowess of rishis and great poets like Kalidasa, since Vedic Sanskrit is different from Kalidasa’s Sanskrit. Similarly, Tamil has evolved over 2,000 years. If someone speaks Sangam Tamil, you will not understand that as Tamil at all.

She adds: “My mother composed a few hundred songs in Sanskrit and Tamil. So I am able to see an extraordinary connection between the two and I don’t believe in the (Aryan-Dravidian) race theory.”

The dancer in her youth

The dancer in her youth | Photo credit: Courtesy: Nrithyodaya

School corner

Returning to the Natya Shastra, she says, “Bharata has mentioned so many tribes, so many ethnic groups. There is no mention of Aryan and Dravidian. So, as someone who has absolutely no interest in power (not my cup of tea), I only understand my country from an academic perspective.

She is looking at “this whole set of Bharatavarsha from heaven,” she says. “I look at it as a whole. So I can’t think of parting. There are regional beauties.

Desi forms (including Bharatanatyam, Kathak and other dance styles classified as classical), she explains, have their own character, influenced by regional tastes and other factors.

Back in the 1970s, one recalls, Padma Subrahmanyam was perhaps the only household name in Chennai associated with a scholarship as well as an active performance career. As well as lecturing on the 108 karanas which she recreated in dance motion after painstakingly studying the Natya Shastra, related texts and sculptural evidence (also establishing that these sculptures were movements and not static postures), she performed solos and group productions, demonstrating her style. , whom she came to call Bharata Nrityam.

| Video credit: KV Srinivasan

“Many people confuse Bharatanatya and Natya of Bharata. Bharatanatya is Desi, Natya of Bharata is Marga,” she says. “Bharata Nrityam is a name I had to give to make people understand that it is a combination of Marga of Natya Shastra and Sadir of Bharatanatyam.” She counts among her gurus in Bharatanatyam, Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai and Mylapore Gowri Ammal.

She was also the first organizer of the Natya Kala conference in 1981, the popular annual Krishna Gana Sabha event which brings together scholars, dancers and audiences from various disciplines.

“All my life I have tried to bridge the gap between history and theory, theory and practice. And I think I’ve achieved something in this direction, ”she laughs.

Broader perspective

Many regard her as a thought leader in the cultural field, and with much chauvinism that has permeated society today, affecting the understanding of what is pan-Indian or pan-Asian, she once thought. how his words might be quoted in contexts that reinforce a sectarian perspective on Indian history?

“I never thought of myself as a leader. Because I’m in my own world. I don’t have enough time to think, to do my job. I’m a nationalist. I care about my homeland, I cares about the welfare of my people.

One of the ways to accomplish these priorities is the free dance education provided by Nrithyodaya since its inception, she adds. “Thinking of whole India is not new to me. It was my father’s idea. I am carrying forward this legacy. We had two or three top teachers for Bharatanatyam, Manipuri (Kamini Kumar Sinha was brought from Santiniketan) which was not taught anywhere else, Kathak which was never taught in any South Indian institution, and of course Kathakali (Guru Gopinath). under one roof. And I continued this attitude by taking the whole region under one roof, while respecting the regional taste. And I was able to identify which aspect of Natya Shastra is present in each region. That is why I ‘calls Natya Shastra the mother of all currently known forms.

Nrithyodaya has led Natya Shastra Shiksha camps and trained countless dancers in Natya Shastra practice and theory. Several dancers trained under Guru Padma will perform on his 80th birthday.

Among the productions planned for the performance is ‘Valli Kalyanam’, revived after more than three decades. It was originally choreographed for artists based in Singapore, she states. Her music, like that of most of her other productions, is composed by her, because, as she says, “music and movement come together in my mind”.

Another production being revived is ‘Harihara’, a half-hour piece from the history of Chalukyan, with lyrics by Shatavadhani R. Ganesh. “It was originally choreographed for two dancers, Padmini Ravi and Nandini Alva. But now my six Karnataka-based senior dancers come together – Anuradha Vikranth, Rukmini Vijayakumar, Veena Nair, Dhanya Nair, Samudhyatha Bhat and Samanvitha Bhat. Another highlight of the three-day event will be “Amara — Dancing the Stories of Banteay Srei from Cambodia” by Apsaras Arts from Singapore.

The writer specializes in classical dance.