My Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder of Kolkata, is teaching me the steps in Ananda Natamaduvar Thillai, choreographed by Srimat Vanda Alase Hazra.
To be clear, I am only discovering the beauty of Bharatanatyam belatedly in this lifetime, and realistically, I will likely never take my expression of this particular piece anywhere beyond the walls of my own practice space.
This is enough.
I have watched my teacher’s video recording of this piece so many times. It explores some of the rich mythology and iconography of Lord Śiva. To be able to get inside of these images takes my appreciation of the piece to another level. It is embodied prayer.
I am beginning to grasp the idea that a dancer does not pretend, in the dance, to be a devotee, god, or goddess… The dancer enters a state where he or she experiences this as a dimension of reality. And when one watches this, that experience is like a lightning bolt straight to the heart. The viewer too drinks in the experience. The viewer too becomes...
To have this possibility of experience – both as rasika (viewer or, literally, taster) and as dancer – is a gift beyond what I imagined possible when I embarked on the journey of Bharatanatyam study.
I’ve been practicing and teaching yogāsana for many years, but a few months ago took a Hanuman-sized leap into the world of Bharatanatyam: Indian Classical dance.
I’m 62. To be honest, I’ve had many doubts about my capacity to explore this exquisite dance idiom. At one point I even – and I say this with a degree of shame – wished I had another face, another body. I was forced to confront this – and eventually settle into the truth of who I am and where I’m at in this lifetime. This venture really churned up the oceanic depths of my self, revealing the hālāhala, the poisonous attitude, that I had hidden at my core.
My teacher, who at 26 is the inverse of my current age, has been a providential guide on this journey. Where I saw limitation – he sees creative potential. This has freed me to begin to look at myself in the same way. There is no limit to creative potential. It is the Divinity that inhabits each of us.
On International Dance Day I want to offer a profound thank you to Supratim Talukder, my Bharatanatyam guruji. May he and all dancing spirits continually find new ways to celebrate the ecstasy of embodiment .
Our life, like a river, strikes its banks not to find itself closed in by them, but to realize anew every moment that it has its unending opening towards the sea. It is as a poem that strikes its meter at every step not to be silenced by its rigid regulations, but to give expression every moment to the inner freedom of its harmony. – Rabindranath Tagore: The Problem of Self from Sadhana.
Or perhaps life is like the highly codified art form of Bharatanatyam.
One must first learn the rules of this intricate dance idiom in order that the Divine might find expression through it. The latter cannot happen through force or calculation, but only and ever through Grace.
When it does come together, Divinity dances among us and we are utterly transformed.
I experience this in Supratim Talukdar’s expression of Arekar’s choreography Ardhanarīshvara…
Today, as my online Bharatanatyam class was finishing up, the next student, a little girl from Dubai, Zoomed in. My teacher (Kolkata, India), myself (Ottawa, Canada), and little Adhanu (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) were all on the screen together. I doubt that Adhanu speaks much English, but she certainly understood me waving hello – and responded enthusiastically. My teacher then requested that I perform Namaskaram to end my class, and Adhanu leapt up to perform Namaskaram to start her class.
So she and I danced together, touching the earth with our fingertips and bringing Earth’s blessing up to our eyes, then saluting God, the Guru, and each other.
Today the sun shines. The banks of snow begin to warm and sink into the still hidden earth. Spring is not yet here, but its song is whispered. Our winter souls recognize the melody and start to thaw…
Today I had bharatanatyam class #19 with Supratim Talukder. In spite of his observation that my attempt at Natta Adavus #8 was woefully lacking, I feel flooded by an irrepressible optimism. Guided by his observations, I will improve. And he introduced me to some rhythmic footwork in the Pancha Nadai. I love playing with rhythm. My father was an amateur percussionist, and I carry on his love of rhythm. I’m SO excited to explore this new footwork! Beating out rhythms with my feet…
The rhythm of the changing season fills my soul. Time to get out for a walk – to taste the promise that fills the air.
Samputa, in the exquisite gestural language of Bharatanatyam, is one of the double hand gestures. The right and left hands are cupped together to create a container. A little treasure box.
I find the image apt for many of the traditional Sanskrit names given to the poses in Yogāsana. For example, Vīrabhadrāsanaencodes the whole story of the death of Lord Śiva’s beloved wife Satī. Overcome with grief and rage, Śiva rips out one of His dreadlocks, throws it to the ground, and the fearsome Vīrabhadra arises, ready to avenge Satī’s death.
Investigation into the stories behind the names of the poses can take our practice of yogāsana to another level. Taking Vīrabhadrāsana – literally “Blessed Hero” – again as an example, how might this familiar pose transform if we allow ourselves to embody the dharmic or righteous rage of this avenger? What does it mean to take dharmic action in the world?
The sadhana of yogāsana is a treasure box freely bequeathed to us from the rich culture of India, its birthplace. Do we have the courage to open it up and investigate what lies within?
On this day, the 72nd celebration of the Republic of India, I offer my heartfelt thanks to the land of Bharat for the priceless treasure of yogāsana!
My main sadhana, for many years, has been yogāsana. I practice, like most hatha yoga practitioners, on a yoga mat. About 68 by 24 inches. A container. A sacred space. A safe space.
But today, I rolled it up, and stood in the middle of the floor in my practice space. I was starting class #14 with my Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder, via Zoom. Today’s class focused on improvisatory movement prompted by various types of cues: situational, musical, emotional… Once I allowed myself to surrender to the process, it felt incredibly liberating. 75 minutes spun by. And afterwards – I felt like I had let go of a lot of stuff. You know – all the individual and collective angst related to this pandemic and life in general. I just – danced it out! It felt so cleansing – like I had just breathed in a truckload of fresh air. Without a mask.
I followed my class up by getting back on my mat and doing some asana. It felt – quite different. There was more space in my body. Familiar poses felt new.
I’ve been working on some improvisatory movement around the theme of the lotus with my Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder. I’m realizing that this is not easy work. I keep falling into movement that is over-articulated, or cliché, or just not connecting… My teacher, while kindly encouraging, is also uncompromising. You need to find your inner movement, I’m advised. Find your inner lotus. But –
This morning, as I sat for my prānāyāma practice, I let my awareness settle on grounding – on the muladhara. The muck that we are all rooted in. Tentative rootlets insinuating, exploring down.
Then, gradually moving up to that liquid space of generative creativity. Of water. From the root, finding the gentle caress of flow.
And all the climbing energy centres echoing this watery origin of movement, of sway. Svadhisthana.