I am overwhelmed by the response I am getting for my first blog. Thank you. With your approval, I continue.
I stood below the Great attic wondering. I knew I had a wealth of information on the chola times from the great research works of Sri.Nilakantha Sastri, Sri.Nagasamy and many other historians. I poured into all their works for days. I also read interesting points of view on various Chola temples and arts from people like Kalaikovan. Meantime, I had to submit a small 50 pages research paper on a topic of my choice for my M.A. final semester. If you remember I had mentioned the Tanjore quartette in my last blog. Now is the time to talk about them a little more.
The Tanjore Quartette are the four brothers whos names are Chinnaiyya, Ponnaiyya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu. They were court poets in the court of Tanjavur before each of them moved to Mysore, Tirunelveli (2) and Travancore respectively.
The TQ were great composers, dance masters and musicians (students of none other than Muthuswami Dikshitar, one of the carnatic music trinity). Most of the dance repertoire we have today is their contribution. The very format that we have for concert performance today is believed to be their creativity. However, the TQ did not invent this path or margam but discovered it from the larger mixed bag that was the court and temple dances. For this, they drew heavily from texts and practices that were passed on to them as traditions. So technically, they stand at the very fulcrum of an operation were a long continuity is recognised and validated through conformity. This conformity is not absolute and unchallenged but one that accommodates regional and present changes that form a vital part of futuristic traditions.
During and after the chola times the techniques and concepts of southern dance go far and wide including in them everything from solo religious dances, festival dances involving large groups of dancers, dances of victory and war, dance for rain, dance for love, martial arts, mime to poetry, dances as part of minor dramas, dances as part of elaborate rituals for rural deities, dances for the learned and elite and commoner, magic, puppetry and myths.
The existence of dancing techniques like the usages of karanas (units of dance which are the combination of foot and hand movements: Natya sastra; 4th chapter) can be seen and understood from the extraordinary documentation of them on the temple walls as immortal sculptures. Example: the karana panels of tanjavur (there are 108 karanas in total that are elucidated in the Natya sastra but the tanjavur series has only till the 81st karana. This karana is called sarpitam. We have no proper reason why the series got discontinued. Perhaps Rajaraja was over thrown/died before its completion or the learnt sculptor died or war broke out? The beauty is that the remaining 27 empty slabs are seen as unfinished poetry even today). However, no documentation of any form of Chola dances are available to us. No evidence of how these karanas were exactly danced during the chola times, in what form and how is available. So it will, until miraculous further findings remain only scholarly guesses.
As a practitioner of Bharatanatyam and a performer I am a die-hard Tanjore Quartette loyalist. I almost exclusively perform only their varnams, swarajatis and other pieces. Why? because, they are of the highest musical and lyrical quality. As a singer I enjoy singing their bhairavi s and todi s so much. It is soul full and steeped in tradition. The second reason is that I have been trained by Gurus (both Smt.K.J.Sarasa amma and my Gurus Tiruvazaputhur Kalyani Granddaughters) who are hereditary dancers (devadasi families). They adhere to tradition and have taught me to appreciate only the best. To evoke any emotion in me, my ears have been trained to want the most thought provoking and emphatic music and sahitya. Thirdly, I believe that the quartette have set a trend and a standard which has not been reached by anyone else until today. Their brevity of words, accent on long syllables and notes, usages of short jatis, rare ragams and rarer musical phrasing is a delight to sing, dance, listen and watch!
Now, I was torn between wanting to know how their genius arrived at this amazing repertoire and from where and my un dying love for Rajaraja and chola times dances. Like I had already mentioned not much we know of the chola dances per se except of the karanas and names of some dances. Ofcourse, Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam has researched the karanas from the natya sastric point of view and has practically reconstructed them.
My curiosity was to understand the present by seeing its relevance to the past. Past here was still chola (a good thousand odd years ago) to the Tanjore quartette (Maratha 18th century).
I packed my bags. A bag filled with questions, doubts, queries and enquiries. I drove towards tanjavur. A few hours later as my car came to a grinding halt I jolted up from my sweet nap and looked up and a smile spread across my face!
More in my next…
With one foot on the ladder to the Attic!