Thursday 11 December 2014

Notions of “classical” in Bharatanatyam: a cultural operation of the classes - arguments of the cosmopolitan Margi and indigenous Desi, repertoires of the Nayak period - Dr. Swarnamalya Ganesh

India’s greatest wealth, development and civilisation have been stirred by its political and cultural processes (Talbot, 2006). In turn, the political agendas have used culture as a medium. In this paper, I will talk specifically about Bharatanatyam and the political history that surrounds this dance form during a certain period. Just as religious norms and practices were varied in India, in spite of emerging a single codification, so also dance, its practice and purpose remained varied notwithstanding the many treatises that documented it. Hence, one could believe that the codification evolved more as a documentation of the existing practices rather than a rulebook. However, these treatises have over the centuries brought about a semblance of a common code for Bharatanatyam. The important question is; what defines Bharatanatyam as classical? Rather, what is classical and by that definition which aspects of Bharatanatyam lend it its classicism? Many a times the term classical is interchangeably used with the word Margam. Margam means the “path” or a newly created space, a certain vision. The other term used alongside Marga is Desi, which means regional. But “regional” is not an antonym to the word path. Desi signified all aspects of art that were not intentionally created but rather were products of human evolution. During the later parts of 20th and the 21st centuries these terms and their connotations took another turn as “folk” and “classical.” Common comprehension of the term folk is any form of dance that is performed by the rural people, to music that is regional, reflecting the inherent cultural practices of the people there. It mostly is a naturally evolved practice, both ritualistic and entertaining in nature. Keeping this definition, can we then say that classical is performed by people who have consciously learnt an art form, performing to music that is more cosmopolitan in nature, reflecting values that are popular among many different cultural groups? Let us therefore pitch this idea of what is classical and what is folk.  

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