There is a pressing need for dance practitioners of Southeast Asia to interact with each other to consolidate their common cultural heritage says India’s Bharatanatyam doyen Padma Bhushan Dr Padma Subrahmanyam.
Indian classical dancers in Malaysia should take the initiative to make the practitioners of the dance traditions of Southeast Asian countries to feel they are part of the whole.
“Learn Indonesian, Cambodian and Thai dance and make comparisons. Take something of theirs and give something of yours,” noted Dr Padma who on Sunday delivered a lecture entitled Ananda Coomaraswamy: The Dance of Siva and Its Influence in Southeast Asia.
The lecture at Universiti Malaya (UM) was organised by the UM Sri Lankan Endowment Fund in colloboration with the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Indian Cultural Centre High Commission of India Kuala Lumpur and History Department and Indian Studies Department, UM.
To a question by Sutra Foundation chairman, Datuk Dr Ramli Ibrahim on whether India can learn from the genius of Southeast Asian classical dancers such as in Bali, Indonesia who have no need for so much stylised mudras (hand gestures) as they achieve the same effect with just a few mudras, the 73-year-old dance maestro adds, “There is enough scope that Natya Sastra (treatise of dramaturgy by Indian sage Bharata Muni) offers for creativity.
“Are we going to add any glory to Natya Sastra. We have to get it from there (Natya Sastra). Natya Sastra is the common grammar meant for the entire Asia and there is internal evidence to say it was meant for the entire Eurasia not only Asia but Eurasia together and it is for us to make use of it.
“It is our duty to understand what is there and an unlimited scope for creativity is there and the fact is each region has preserved only some aspect of this encyclopedic work.
“So amalgamating that will definitely produce a Bharatam theatre which will be Asian theatre.”
Warning about the danger of westernisation of Southeast Asian dance traditions, Dr Padma who has done in-depth research into the 108 karanas (dance action) of the Natya Sastra and found karana sculptures in Southeast Asia said, ” Asia has to revitalise and validate her own culture and only in that context I am saying that there is enough, so much in fact from the Eastern world.
“Make an amalgam of that because not everything is preserved in India. What is lost in India is found in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand.”
Referring to the dance style of Balinese dancers and other Southeast Asian dancers, Dr Padma said, “If you want to retain Asian character to whatever you perform you have to go back to our roots. It is not as though one should not perform just the hand movements, but it is also there (in Natya Sastra).
“We have what we call nritta hastas (decorative hand gestures) where there are no abhinaya hastas (gestures conveying expressions) involved at all but even that nritta hastas are communicative in a style called vakyartha abhinaya to give the meaning of a whole sentence or mood.
“This is what is performed by Indonesians whereas we lost that in India. So an exchange will enrich both sides.”
“To Cambodia and perhaps other Southeast Asian countries, my humble suggestion is that they follow Coomaraswamy’s book, Mirror of Gestures for reviving their ancient roots to nourish new flowers and fruits in their dance field.”
Mirror of Gestures, a translation of Nandikeshwara’s Sanskrit manual Abhinaya Darpanam dealing with the physical aspect of dance, is a follow up of Coomarasmy’s book, Dance of Shiva which deals with the metaphysical aspect of dance.
Dr Padma added that in many places except the Indian subcontinent hand gestures have been lost. Reviving the hand gestures in Southeast Asia will enhance the dance and preserve Asian culture as in the name of creativity, a lot of Western values had been brought in.
By R. Sittamparam
Picture courtesy of Padma Nrithyalaya Arts, Seremban.