Pakhwaj,

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Pakhwaj,

pakhwajAn instrument that always reminds me of the mrdhangam.

It is either played solo or as the all important time and rhythm keeper of traditional performing arts.

The young Pakhwaj Player Pratap Awad who accompanied Sri.Bah’uddin Dagar during his sessions at the goa university shared with us the mythology of the instrument—

The divine designer Vishwakarma’s wife was enchanted by the gentle yet firm sound created by the rain drops dropping on the earth. Inspired by this Vishwakarma created the mrdangam, he shared with us of course various other mythology around this too. But this was truly inspiring.

The early  instrument was made of earth and wood. It eventually evolved to its form today.

It was a pleasure listen to this young boy who was so passionate in playing the instrument and sharing his knowledge with us. He particularly rendered a rendering of a Shiva stuthi with no musical accompaniment other than the Pakhwaj, the definition of the percussion was so wonderful that I actually wanted to go on stage and render the dance version of it.

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RASA VARSHA—THE FLAVOR OF RAINS

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respite from the rain, at my hometown

स्थलीभूमिर्निर्यन्नवकतृणरोमाञ्चनिचय-

प्रपञ्चैः प्रोन्मीलत्कुटजकलिकार्जृम्भितशतैः।

घनारम्भे प्रेयस्युपगिरि गलन्निर्झरजल-

प्रणालप्रस्वेदैः कमपि मृदुभावं प्रथयति॥

Sthalī-bhūmir niryan-navaka-trna-romānca-nicaya-

prapancaiḥ pronmīlat-kutaja-kalikājṛmbhita-śataiḥ |

Ghana-ārambhe preyasy upagiri galan-nirjhara-jala-

praṇāla-prasvedaiḥ kamapi mṛdu-bhāvaṃ prathayati ||

Atop a mountain, the earth, revealing a body bristling with goosebumps from top to toe in the sprouting grass and yawning all the while with thousands of just-opening kuṭaja buds, betrays a certain tender thrill towards her lover, the monsoon, with the sweat that trickles down in the form of the coursing waterfalls.

Second verse in the ‘Vara-ārambha’ section of the Saduktikarāmtam

The romance of the rains, described by the poet, performed by the dancer or the actor. They are all entwined, the thinker, philosopher, the seeker, poet and the dancer.

This article has been an retrospection for me.  Display of memorabilia and artifacts collected by me through the  mythical countries that I have traversed so far in journey on the mystic path. I say mystic as Varsha or the season of rains weaves mists and myths. From the rains ithat meant  chai pakora and college canteen I realize I have travelled so far.

Anyone who has witnessed the intensity of an early monsoon storm will understand why the word for rain – Varsha—has come to mean a year in many Indian languages. The annual arrival of rains, the season primarily known by the feminine form Varsha is probably the most dramatic, and awaited metrological event of the year.

Ask any performing artist, about monsoon, the answer might range anywhere from

“off season”

“no work”

“irani restaurant”

“chai pakore”

“creative inspiration.”

The first four,more often, as performances during the rains are very few and very far in between.  As described by one poet,

देवे वर्षत्यशनपवनव्यापृता वह्नि-हेतोर्गेहाद्गेहं फलकनिचितैः सेतुभिः पङ्कभीताः।

नीध्रप्रान्तानविरलजलान्पाणिभिस्ताडयित्वा शूर्पच्छत्रस्थगितशिरसो योषितः संचरन्ति॥

Deve varṣaty aśana-pavana-vyāpṛtā vahni-hetor gehād gehaṃ phalaka-nicitaiḥ setubhiḥ paṅka-bhītāḥ |

Nīdhra-prāntān avirala-jalān pāṇibhis tāḍayitvā śūrpac-chatra-sthagita-śiraso yoṣitaḥ saṃcaranti ||

When god rains, women, busy trying to fight the raging wind, covering their heads with an umbrella made of a cane winnowing basket, grabbing hold of the edges of roofs with their hands and treading on makeshift bridges of piles of planks for fear of the mud, go from house to house in search of a fire.

Verse 59 in the Varā section of the Subhāitaratnabhāṇḍāgāram ~ challenge of the pouring rain, the chill breeze  does not inspire people to go to a performance if at all one does get to the performance the production supports like power may or may not function,.

Monsoon in India spans the months of nabhas and nabhsaya ie the months of mist clouds, or sky. Starting on from the month of sravana and bhadrapada. The Indian monsoon splits into two episode the south west one that hits in June and May and the northeast one that appears in December. The scope of the canvas now becomes very large. Like the poet valmiki mentions in the Ramayana

नवमासधृतं गर्भं भास्करस्य गभस्तिभिः।

पीत्वा रसं समुद्राणां द्यौः प्रसूते रसायनम्॥

Navamasadrantha garbha bhaskarsaya gabasthibhi

Pitva rasa samudrana dyau prasute rasayanam

For nine months the sky drank the ocean’s water sucking it up through the sun’s rays and now gives birth to a liquid off spring the elixir  of life.

Early  in our careers our  when our internal journey or the spiritual growth has not yet begun. Adulation is a necessary fuel.  The initial healing effect of the rain is quickly overcome, and when trapped indoors due to incandescent rains we tend to get depressed with the lack of movement, and momentum.  This is the tamasic state in our life, where the mind has not yet begun to open.

But slowly we learn to observe what we have been miming, after Varsha arrives with greenery, birds, droning of insects, not to mention the dramatic resonance of the thunderstorms, and lightening  a new understanding of nature emerges, the wonderment! this is the point where the transition from the tamasic to rajasic occurs, we are able to interpret what a philosopher or a poet has to say and  create a new visual.

Varsha is also a period of education many artists tend to read other poets and dramatists work, this alongside the vibrant nature, the effect is orgasmic. The thunders, lightening, drone are all nature production supports. The performing artist who is starting out is on a tamasic, with lot of energy we replicate what is put forth by either another director, or choreographer, it is our induction period, we learn along the way, getting sensitized to seeing things around us. For example all through my  career I found one thing very strange, with all the elements of sound the drone of insect is very rarely mentioned by the poets, except for a rare madhukara by  Kalidasa  in Shakuntala, indragopa  is the only other insect mentioned,

indragopa or the firefly is an rain insect, scholars identify it with kha-jyothi or the khadhyoti  the insect that torments lovers by twinkling like the stars, particularly when the monsoon clouds are dense.

इन्द्रगोपैर्बभौ भूमिर्निचितेव प्रवासिनाम्।

अनङ्गबाणैर्हृद्भेदस्रुतलोहितबिन्दुभिः॥

Indragopair babhua bhumir nicit’eva pravasinan

Ana gaorbaairdhibedha surta Lolita bhindubhi

This couplet attributed to Vararuchi describes the earth glistening with indragopas as if covered with love’s arrows dripping from ripping apart travelers’ heart. If it were not for this poetry I would have never discovered the indragopa, still less learn appreciate him.

As we grow in the rajasic mode, we are on step one to satwik where we begin to ask more profound questions and want answers, we look at social issues, we take on as educators, now Varsha becomes a period of introspection, where we question and seeks answers these emerge as literary compositions and translate to performance.

We transcend from learning through others creation, using poets and dramatists to share our learning, people may choose to call this education, or learning. We have now begun to achieve the purpose of theater (contemporary Bharatnatyam, falls in the category of ekaharya of the natyashastra)

Bha-ra-ta-natyam,

Presenting an important event, or thought using drama that has elements, of rhythm, music and a range of emotions.

Each of my performance has been a learning experience. I shall address only those that were interwoven strongly with the rains.

Starting from  the poem badal dekh dari mein  of  Meera Bhai where she describes the fear evoked by the thunder, the fascination with lightening, the soothing sound of the rain drops and need for Krishna by her side. May be this was the first hazy exposure to  the male and female entwining and even more nebulous understanding of mortal and divine. Of course the fact that nature could influence relationship was something that still did not occur. It was only later I could appreciate the fact, that Meera, was considered Radha, for Radha represents the human need to be part of the divine.

Then came the famous kannada play Muddanna- manorameyara sallapa, where the pouring rains have entrapped the poet Muddanna and his wife Manorama to their house, they are bored of playing chess  and Muddanna tells his wife let me tell you a story do you want to listen to it in prose or poetry? The wife replies “padyam vadyam “that is not poetry but prose. It made me aware that conversation and serious conversation was possible during the downpour for neither of the people can walk out. More important the need to sit and converse without walking out, was away of bonding. The subtle acceptance of the importance of conversation to sustain any relationship.

Then came the rains of introspection with ashadada ondu dina,  or ashada ke ek din the story of Kalidasa, where being  forced to stay indoors in the rains Kalidasa and his estrange lover Mallika reminiscence their bygone days, until her drunken husband returns bringing them to her present. That was the time I learnt that one had to move on in life the heroine Mallika did, she had a life without Kalidasa albeit a painful one, but Kalidasa had to imagine romance because he was without a companion, sometimes I wonder maybe that is what makes Kalidasa so romantic in his poetry the grocery bill and mundance routine never interfered.

As I out grew performance, and picked up the baton for directing I started with Malle Bantu malle a simple folklore on the water cycle. The link between the heat, the evaporating water, the formation of clouds, then finally the rain.  The children performing it were 6-10yr olds, what usually used to be a labourious, and monotonous concept, was learnt in just 20mnts of the narration, for the visual was erected for them, by themselves. Later on they would look at the blazing sun and visualize the water from Mandovi being sucked up.

In mrichakatika we had translate the romance of wetness, between a rain soaked Vasantasena and a dry charudutta. The description of the  world that is a sleep, Indra’s elephant Airawata that takes the shape of the clouds

एते हि विद्युद्गणबद्धकक्षा गजा इवान्योन्यमभिद्रवन्तः।

शक्राज्ञया वारिधराः गां रूप्यरज्ज्वेव समुद्धरन्ति॥

Ete hi vidyud-guṇa-baddha-kakṣā gajā iv’ ānyonyam abhidravantaḥ |

Śakr’-ājnayā vāri-dharāḥ sadhārā gāṃ rūpya-rajjveva samuddharanti ||

Like elephants these clouds, streaming rain, bound about their girths with chains of lightning and charging against each other, seem to be uprooting the earth on Indra’s orders with silvery ropes.

The visual for this was created with the underlying focus of experiencing the forbidden, the unattainable, afterall the affluent ganika was above charudatta’s reach in the routine organize of life.

5.21 Mcchakaika of Śudraka

At the end of the act, Cārudatta takes Vasantasenā into his house leaving us with a final description, this time of the sound of the rains – or rather the rain, rather than the more normal that of thunder which seems more popular.

तालीषु तारं विटपेषु मन्द्रं शिलासु रूक्षं सलिलेषु चण्डम्।

संगीतवीणा इव ताड्यमानास्तालानुसारेण पतन्ति धाराः॥

tālīṣu tāraṃ viṭapeṣu mandraṃ śilāsu rūkṣaṃ salileṣu caṇḍam |

saṃgīta-vīṇā iva tāḍyamānās tālā-‘nusāreṇa patanti dhārāḥ ||

A high-pitched plink upon the tāla leaves, a murmuring patter upon the branches, a harsh clatter upon the rocks and a violent crash upon water – the rain falls, keeping the beat, like vīṇās in a concert.

The range from Mrichakatika, Malavikagnimitra, I realized that romance, between unmarried couple was an accepted norm in ancient India, the elaborate rituals, of preparing for the event, enjoying the event in its totality, and then the clandestinely meeting lovers being discovered are all documented. Particularly Mrichakatika documents these across the caste and economic barrier. Marriage only comes as an approval from the society. But once married the sanctity had to me maintained.

To me now Varsha has full cycle, I enjoy the cool breeze without getting wet, the delgue within me I warm till it turns a lava and that comes out as a script, learning the movements of trees, the birds, the drone of  indragopa’s  my new performance emerges on the canvas, each Parjanya (down pour-catharsis) liberating and exalting, it is truly a rasa anubha. I have even begun to seek the solitude presented by the season.

Rasa like the down pour of rains is the catharsis of a performance, it is what turns a mundane event to a divine experience and is brought out to you through the path of Bharatnatyam or a relevant point  dramatically using emotions, movement, music and rhythm.

introduction to terminology in anga.

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Natyashastra guides step by step to create the emotion.  These are given technical terms and are very structured. One major area of work is Anga, or the body movements.

The movements of the feet are padabedha’s and Chari’s. The Chari carries us forward. These Chari’s if performed with both feet on the earth become bhoomichari’s and if performed with one or both legs in air become akasha Chari.

            The combination of foot and hands are unique, and these are called as Karna’s

            The combination of two or more Karna’s become angahara.

            The combination of angahara becomes mandala.

            Just as we have bhoomichari and akasha chari, we also have Bhoomi Mandala and Akasha mandala.

            The movement of the hands have 3 units, the hastakshetra, the hastaprakara and hastamudra. Hastamudra’s are gestures of the fingers and palm. These are again 3 in variety,

            The asamyuta hasta, which is symbolic in manifestation and is single handed.

            The samyuta hasta which is also symbolic in manifestation but both hands are used.

            The nrtta hasta which is aesthetic in value.

            Each movement begins and ends with a definite posture, and we call this the stanaka. Or the Stanah ( the position)   the chari or movements are used to perform the rangakramana which literally means conquering the stage.

what an unintiated seeks in a classical dance.

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What is Nrtya – classical dance appreciation for the uninitiated. We’ve all seen dances performed during various occasions, movies, yet we cannot really understand the finer details. Any dance performance allows us to soak the following experiences. • Visual, through the eyes. • Audio the music used. • Emotion, our mind is inspired by to think or experience profound reactions Those are the essential things we focus on when we talk of dance. When we sit down to see a performance we see the dancer, then we hear the music, then the movements begin some pirouetting, sometimes jumping or stamping the feet, this goes on till the end of the performance. People notice also the costume of the dancer, We can again sum it up as • The dancers physical appearance, • The costume and presentation of the dancer. • Finally the co-ordinated movement. The synchrony in rhythm between the beats of the music and the dancer is also important. The experience can be summed as, Visual, — the aesthesis of vision Sound – the rhythm and sound has to blend and soothe. Finally the Rasa factor which is unique to Indian dancing. In a nutshell it is the emotion simulated in the observer. It is unique in the sense it neither belongs to the creator of the art, nor is the person who experiences it transient. It is essentially an elevation into the spiritual plane from the through the body and mind planes.