Geeta Chandran interviewed by Shreya Kumar, a student of LSR college, DU (2004)

History

Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form of South India, said to be originated in Thanjavoor of Tamil Nadu. It was known as "Daasiyattam" since performed by Devadasis in temples of Tamil Nadu in ancient times. Many of the ancient sculptures in Hindu temples are based on Bharatanatyam dance postures.
It is one of the oldest Indian dance forms, has a tradition of more then 2000 years.

Bharatanatyam is thought to have been created by the Bharata Muni, a Hindu sage, who wrote the Natya Shastra, the most important ancient treatise on classical Indian dance. It is also called the fifth Veda in reference to the foundation of Hindu religion and philosophy, from which sprang the related South Indian musical tradition of Carnatic music.
The conquest of India by the British took its toll on the arts as it did on everything else Indian. In the westerners' eyes, the devadasi tradition was considered little better than prostitution, and thus treated; it was inevitable that it fell into disrepute. With the gradual impoverishment of the overthrown royalty, court patronage also dwindled. Under such a puritanical atmosphere, the classical science of dance was ignored, and a dancer was considered a woman of ill repute. An Act of the Madras Presidency banning temple dancing sounded the death knell for dance.
By the 1930s however, the rising national consciousness that had awaked across India led to reformation not only in the social, but also in the cultural spheres. As a means to kindle self-worth and patriotism, the interest in indigenous, traditional art forms increased, and so came about the transformation of the dance style that came to be called Bharatanatyam.

Technique

Includes
abhinaya (mime) - dramatic art of story-telling
nritta - pure dance movements, reflecting different rhythms
nritya - combination of abhinaya and nrittta

MUSIC

The music of Bharatanatyam is based on Carnatic classical music. The instruments used are Veena, (stringed instrument traditionally associated with Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of the arts and learning). Flute, Mridangam and Violin. The dance direction or 'Nattuvangam' is done by 'Nattuvanar' giving the Taalam accompanied by singers.
Languages - Tamil (predominant),Sanskrit,Telugu and Kannada are traditionally used in Bharatanatyam.

Dance has survived because it has adapted itself to changing situations, changing audiences, and there is no reason to believe that the same evolution will not continue in the days to come, as artists venture into unfamiliar territories, and conquer them.

Interview with Geeta Chandran by Shreya Kumar
Geeta Chandran
Dance style: Bharatanatyam (Thanjavoor style)
Gurus: Guru Swarna Saraswathi, Guru K.N. Dakshinamoorthy, Guru V. Krishnamoorthi and S. Ayyappan

Q What is the relevance of classical art in a globalised world ??

It is certainly a changed scenario today. The society now is a highly competitive and consumeristic, where everyone tries to measure everything and grab as much as possible. When we learnt classical there were no stakes, we learnt because it was a done thing in every south Indian home to be literate in the arts, we didn't learn it to acquire any skills. Dance is Reposeful it has its own pace. No one can expedite that pace. One needs to understand the layers, which it gradually unfolds to a student of the arts. It talks about value systems, which are eternal. It talks about aesthetics and beauty not incase of a beauty pageant but at a very different level of mind, body and environment. It talks about the sensitivity and openness of the mind. It connects you and your body. And of course it roots you to your culture, which is probably synonymous to classical dance. These are just a few things why I feel classical art is relevant in the globalised world of today.

Q Challenges as a performer ??

I think the biggest challenge is to reach out to the audiences especially if you are a dancer in a city like Delhi where the Audiences can be so diverse ranging from restless school and college children to corporates or foreign delegates to an urban elite audience. There has to be a certain type of understanding with the audience, you need to tailor your performances accordingly and not perform the repertoire the way you've learnt it. Certain dancers think that classical is rich enough to capture an audience but you just can't perform a 45-minute Varnam blindly to an uninitiated audience.

Q What is the difference between the way you learnt Bharatanatyam and the way you teach it now ??

The essence is the same because the vocabulary of dance does not change. The methodology may change but the ethos, spirituality and philosophy cannot change. However circumstances, the environment and the varied options given to students have changed. Earlier the students would reach out to the guru pursue the guru, who was temperamental, he taught if he wished to whereas now the guru has to reach out to the students and make sure the students remain motivated to learn dance. It's a complete reversal of sorts. Also I feel the students are given so many options today that they easily opt out of dance as it is a physical activity which is very demanding and its difficult so it does not suit the temperament of students today because they want it all easy and quick, that didn't happen in the past as there was a long gestation period. Hence keeping all this in mind one has to develop a teaching methodology, a relationship with the student so that dance can float above it.

Q How do you assess your contribution to the classical arts ??

I don't think I have contributed very much to the arts; I dare not be pompous enough to say anything as though I have. Every generation contributes so there are little things but no major contributions. Due to being born and brought up in north India and practicing a form of south a lot of Hindi lyrics like Meera Surdas Vidyapati have been taken into the dance form. I have worked on Haveli Sangeet, which means offering dance and music to the lord in the temple. It was very inspiring and I still visit the Radha Ramana Temple in Vridavan from where it all originated. I have also been working on a lot of Bhakti Kaal Poetry, which talks about Krishna in the Vaishnavite tradition. This has been an addition in the vocabulary of dance, as it has not been done before. Also to communicate with the other art forms and to work with them like it could be dance a puppetry or dance and theatre. And if one complements or enhances the other it can be a very fulfilling and exciting experience.

What is the relevance of classical arts to young people today ??

This question should be asked to the youngsters actually as the young today are so preoccupied with themselves. Its me myself my career my car my things, its necessary for them to get a larger prospective. But the ones who have discovered the arts have benefited. Even the students who attend just the lecture demonstration have come and told me how the have benefited. There is a fault with the system as it doesn't allow the young to be exposed to the beauty and the grandeur of the arts and hence they do not know what the arts have in store for them. We are now working on a cultural policy at the NCERT where I am one of the members of the panel and we are trying hard to see how it can be integrated as a part of the curriculum.

Q You've recently authored a book so tell us something about it ??

Writing has been one of my forms of expression, whenever I have felt very strongly about something I have written it down however I had not planned on writing a book. About three years back a publisher (Niyogi Offset) asked me why don't you author a book and I just laughed and thought book and me? I don't think I can ever get down to write a book especially with the erratic performing travelling and teaching schedule. But he kept insisting and persisting and even started working on the visuals. And then I started thinking what could be the content of my book.

All books on dance spoke about the technique and stance and the look and glance. But my concern was to as to how to make dance accessible to anybody and everybody, and for that I thought the best would be to share my experiences as a student of dance, as a performer, as a student in dilemma whether to take up dance as a profession or not, as a choreographer, role of the critics, what the traditionalists would say, the role of patronage, iconography etc the key issues of dance which I thought were necessary to be brought out. The basic idea was to spark off a discussion or at least people should start talking about it. So my husband, Rajiv and I started working together on it, he was like a third eye to my thoughts. After a number of readings and discussions we finally came out with our book and it has received good reviews so one is happy about it.

Q How did innovation to thematic presentations begin ?? 
I don't think anybody would be honest about it but I think the fact is that I wanted to be different.
With what I learnt I presented it in themes like a pure Shiva evening or a pure Kartikeya evening, which I've let my students also do. And also I had the support of my guru who also believed in putting themes. Then collaborative performances and group choreographies happened where innovation was required. Then I think the process just began to the extent that we even used Tchaikovsky.

Geeta Chandran is the founder president of Natya Vriksha. She is also a choreographer, Carnatic vocalist, and writer. And has recently authored a book titled 'So Many Journeys'. Additionally, Geeta has worked in theatre, television, film and video. Apart from the numerous titles, She has received the DANDAYUDHAPANI PILLAI AWARD for Bharatanatyam in year 2001 and also the achievers of the Millennium Award. She has also been awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi's Senior Fellowship for year 2003-05

For further queries contact Geeta Chandran at
NATYA VRIKSHA
B 45 Gulmohar Park, New Delhi 110049
Phone: (011) 26518124 / 26964964
Email:geetachandran@hotmail.com

Interns

  1. Ananya Tiwari
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  3. Excellent Hansda
    School/College : IIT Roorkee
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  4. Ashwarya Samkaria
    School/College : Delhi University
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  5. Tarini Singh
    School/College : Hansraj College, Delhi University
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  6. Sachi Shukla
    School/College : National Institute of Fashion Technology
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    School/College : Miranda House, Delhi University
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  10. Renu Deshwal
    School/College : Daulat Ram College, Delhi University
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