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Dance Drama (In Theory and Practice)

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Item Code: NAK550
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Author: S. Ramaratnam
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9788121512589
Pages: 402 (125 Color and 20 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.5 inch x 9.0 inch
Weight 1.40 kg
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About the Book


Dance Drama in Theory and Practice is a documentation of nearly a hundred years of growth and development of a precious art-from that developed in south India, more particularly in Tamil Nadu. The origin of Dance Drama may be traced to the Sanskrit Drama may be traced to the Sanskrit Drama which is firmly grounded in lyrics and music. Texts like Natyasastra and Abhinayadarpana are the basis for both Dance and Drama. Dance forms like Bharatnatyam kudiyattam Kuchipudi, Kathkali Yaksagana and Bhagavatamela. As also Bhajana traditions too might have contributed to the development of Dance Drama.


The book consists twelve chapters in which the first two chapters are introductory by nature. The dance dramas of some of the important dance schools are discussed till the eighth chapter. The contributions of some of the senior artists in the field are acknowledged in the ninth chapter Artistes of the  younger generation who have come to the fore in the twenty-first century and their presentation are analysed in the next chapter. There are also some new trends in the present-day dance dramas which are discussed in the penultimate chapter. In the last chapter some pointers to the future are highlighted. The book is well-served by illustrations. Pictures and drawings.


About the Author


Dr. S. Ramaratnam is the Vice Chancellor (designated) of Jagadguru Kripalu University, Odisha. Before taking up the present assignment, he was workin as the Vice Chancellor of Sri Sri University, Odisha. Having worked as the Director of Management Institutes and Principal of colleges, he has more than forty-five years of experience.


A major part of his career was spent in Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College, Chennai where he worked as Professor of Sanskrit and the Principal He is an MA, PhD in Sanskrit and Principal He is an MA, and MPhil (Management), etc.


Dr. Ramaratnam is truly a multifaceted personality. He has been awarded titles such as Samskrta Ratna Sahitya Vallabha, Kalasastra Parangata and Bharata Kala Nipuna. He has worked as Visiting Professor at Oxford and Mauritius Universities. Dr. Ramaratnam has presented papers in conference held in several countries He has authored a number of books and over fifty articles in leading journals.




Indian Art, particularly the field of Fine Arts is spiritually oriented. It is very difficult to trace the origin of fine arts in India, but references to music and dance are found in the Rgveda itself. A number of gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon are associated with some aspects of the fine arts or some musical instruments. Sarasvati is the Goddess of learning as well as music. She plays on flute and Lord Krsna plays on flute and Lord Siva on a small drum called dakka.


Dance has an age-old tradition in India. Like other arts, dance is also given a divine origin. Thus, Lord Siva Nataraja is hailed as the originator of the Tandava dance while Goddess Parvati is said to have evolved the Lasya dance. We find the Lord in a dancing pose in the sculptures and bonzes of many temples, particularly in the south India. We also have dancing poses of Lord Krsna (Kalinga nartana) and Lord Ganapati (Nartana Ganapati). India's


court consisted of celestial dancers like Urvasi, Rambha, and Tilottama. One of the auxiliary sciences of the Vedas is Gandharva-veda which is dedicated to music. Hence, Bharata calls his art as Natya-veda. Incidentally, Bharata's Natyasastra is the earliest available work on music, dance, rhetoric, and theatre. Bharata is said to have imbibed the art of dance directly from Lord Brahma. The term sastra; science, associated 'with natya (dance/drama), has given the arts respectability and credibility. There are records to prove that dance and music were imparted to both girls and boys. Kalidasa's Malavikagnimitra mentions male dance teachers and their corresponding female dance students. We also learn from the play that dance competitions were quite common and were usually held in the courts of the kings. It is also evident that music and dance were patronized by the kings. Dance and music teachers were given generous funds for promoting the arts.


The temples functioned as the centres of art. Music, dance and drama were staged during temple festivals. Dance flourished in the temples and there were female dancers called devadasis exclusively dedicated to dance performances in the temple. Beautiful dancing poses were carved in the sculptures of the temples, particularly belonging to south India. The 108 karanas, sculptured in the temples of Tanjore and Chidambaram are an evidence to the popularity of dance as an art form. Exquisite dance poses are found in the sculptures of other temples as well. The drum beating dancer's sculptures of the Belur and Halebidu temples in Karnataka are very well known for their intricate carving and the expression of emotions. Being associated with temples, dance was considered as a divine art and it was handed down from generation to generation through the gurukula system of education.


The dance form as available in the south, called Bharatanatyam, got embellished by the advent of the Tanjore Quartet, Chinnayya, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu (nineteenth century) who systematized this art form and made it into a performing art. The conservative social system prevented family ladies from taking to dance and the trend continued till the beginning of the last century; consequently, dance became the exclusive property of a handful of devadasis, patronized by the petty kings and the zamindars. The art was given a new impetus and credibility as a performing art by the efforts of visionaries like Smt Rukmini Devi Arundale and Sri Krishna Iyer. Thanks to their efforts dance became a popular performing art patronized by the general public in the 1930s and '40s of the last century.


Sanskrit drama also has an ancient tradition and the dramatic art attained its peak during the days of Bhasa and Kalidasa. The ancient Sanskrit drama had a good measure of music and dance. This aspect of Sanskrit drama might have paved the way for the evolution of dance dramas in Indian tradition. Dance itself is a wonderful art and the Dance Dramas are even more absorbing. Most of the dance dramas presented in the last century were based on mythological themes, though certain innovations were made by some of the Dance troupes. Bold and new themes are experimented in the group dances/ presentations and dance dramas of the present century.


Dr Ramaratnam, a Sanskrit scholar and academician, has made a deep study of dance forms and the dance dramas from the middle of the last century till the first decade of the present century. He has given an excellent portrayal of the dance dramas of the various dance schools and dance troupes who have given memorable performances, thereby enhancing the value of this art form. He has given an almost complete account of the all dance schools and their productions. This work is a combination of material from primary sources with the author's analysis, original thoughts of the author and a compilation of reviews from the media and the websites. It is an excellent work on dance dramas and it will provide an able guidance for the dance artistes.


Narada Gana Sabha has come forward to meet the entire cost of the publication of this volume as it will be of great help to dance artistes and dance lovers.




DANCE DRAMA IN THEORY AND PRACTICE is the outcome of almost a decade of study that I have been doing in the field of Dance Drama. There is still much more to be done but I thought of writing a volume on the first phase of the Project. The Project was undertaken by me under the Senior Fellowship scheme of the Department of Culture during the years 2001 and 2002. A Project Report was submitted in the year 2003; the same is now enlarged, updated and published. Though initially it was planned to confine the Project only to the current dance dramas, it was later decided to extend the study to the earlier dance dramas also. What was started as a documentation of the present- day dance dramas has ultimately grown into the study of the Origin and Development of the entire Dance Drama tradition. It was planned to restrict the study to Tamil Nadu only but the scope of the study has been extended to the entire south India. Consequently, the volume has swelled to the present size.


The origin of Dance Drama may be traced to the Sanskrit Drama which was firmly grounded in lyrics and music. If we remove the dialogues and replace them with gesticulations, we will get a dance drama. In tracing the origin of Dance Drama texts like NatyaSastra and Abhinasadarpana have been very helpful. All aspects of Bharatanatyam, Kudiyattam, Kucipudi, Kathakali, Yaksa- gana, Bhagavatamela, Bhajana tradition, and Harikatha have been studied in relation to the Dance Drama.


In the preparation of this volume, care has been taken to strike a middle path. The Sanskrit content has been kept at a minimum level. Intricate technical details have been avoided keeping in mind the general reader.


As for the artistes, information has been drawn from their respective websites. Some of the artistes like Sri Dhananjayan have developed very useful and informative websites. They were very useful in compiling this volume. The reviews from leading newspapers have also been used.


This study is more or less a literary study, that is, it is a view of dance drama from a student of literature. In addition to excerpts from songs employed by the artistes, additional verses and stanzas from great poets have also been added to amplify a particular scene of depiction. It may be useful for the artistes of the younger generation who may be looking for original sources for their own dance drama.


Any project of this nature must have an eye on future. Quite unexpectedly the researcher has actually traced the history of Dance Drama of approximately seventy years period. I is a considerable period looking at the changing scenario in the field of art. In the present-day world with the channels of communication available even a five years period is quite significant. Changes occur very fast. In this context, this documentation has assumed considerable importance. When the artistes realize that they are part of history and that their dance drama could make an epoch making turn, they will be more responsible in every aspect of the production. Changes have been taking place in the dance drama right from the choice of the theme. Instead of directly borrowing from the Purana, the artistes look for mixed themes, Purana plus history plus current happenings. The music is classical plus folk plus Western. The costumes are traditional plus modem. The dances are Bharatanatyam plus folk plus modem. A time may come when the artiste need not know a particular type of dance. It may be enough if they know some "movements." Recorded music and multi-media equipments have become the order of the day. The main question before the artistes now is-should they be satisfied with a small but appreciative audience or should they do something extra in order to pull the crowds? Well, nobody will be able to solve the puzzle. But quality and purity will always stand the test of time. One has to be patient. One can draw the example from two important entrepreneurs in Chennai. One is Grand Sweets and Snacks and the other is Rangachari Cloth Store. They had a very humble beginning and had only small business for nearly twenty-five years. But persistence paid.' Quality stood the test of time. One can see how big they have grown over the years.


I am thankful to the authorities of the Department of Culture for approving this project I am beholden to several artistes who have helped me with the synopsis of their productions and photographs. The dance dramas have been staged; reviews have appeared; they have already become a public property. Yet a number of artistes go into the shell when asked to give details of their productions. They seem to have these questions in their mind though they do not come out openly-who arc the other artistes you are going to cover? Let them give their information first, then I will give mine. Well artistes are artistes; they are emotional; they are possessive. They have to survive the severe test of competition. They are at the mercy of the sabha secretaries. They are in the hands of the critics who can make or mar them. The dance drama producer cannot hope to make much money. He/She will be satisfied if the break even is achieved. What they want is a good response from the audience. So if the artistes hesitate to share information, it is understandable.


In compiling this volume, most of the artistes are covered. If any artiste is left out by mistake, I apologise to them. Most of the dance dramas presented till the end of 2010, are included. If some are left out, it is not because of negligence, but on account of space problem. The dance dramas presented after 2010 will be included in the subsequent volumes as and when they are prepared. Ideally, one such volume has to be brought out once in every five years. For chapters 9,10, and 11, I have depended almost entirely on the reviews published in The Hindu. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and the author of this book presents them for the benefit of the readers. Some are reviews of an entire festival (including Curtain Raisers); therefore, there may be some additional information other than a particular dance drama. They are retained for the sake of general reader interest.


There are invariably, repetitions of themes like the Ramayana Krsna jananam, Annamacharya, and Candalika. They are still retained since the treatment of the theme differs from artiste to artiste.


I must thank my family heritage for my interest in arts. In my childhood I was constantly hearing Jayadeva's Gitagovindam being sung by my aunts and their gurus. All through our life, my wife and I stayed in Mylapore, the cultural centre of south India and so we had opportunity to witness glorious performances by artistes of reputation.


My own background of Sanskrit learning and a work on Sanskrit Dramatic traditions for PhD helped me. Later on, artistes like Dr Ambika Kameshwar worked under my guidance for their PhD. I am grateful to the some useful its like the Wikipedia which I have made use of in this book. Besides these, I am particularly indebted to the Editor of The Hindu new paper for having not only


permitted me to use their articles but also for having provided me with a CD of important photographs from their archives.


In the preparation of this volume, diacritical marks have been added wherever necessary, keeping in mind the needs of the general reader. Diacritical marks are not applied, in general, for the names of artistes, their schools and their productions. Thus, titles such as Seetha Kalyanam, Panchali Sabadam, etc., are retained as they are. Similarly, the names of the artistes like Nrithya Choodamani and Natya Kala Acharya are not given with diacritical marks generally. Sanskrit names and names of characters adopted in the vernaculars are also retained as they are in the latter.


I salute Goddess Sarasvati whose blessings I seek ever and anon for continued progress and furtherance of knowledge.




List of figures




A curtain Raiser








Introduction to Dance, Drama and Dance Drama


Foundation of Dance Drama


Dance Dramas of Kalakshetra


Dance Dramas of Shree Bharatalaya


Dance Dramas of Bharatakalanjali


Dance Dramas of Natyalaya


Dance Dramas of Nrtyodaya



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