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The Deva of Movement

April 30, 1941 — Field Club, Bombay, India


The Dance is a philosophy in itself and may learned scholars have said the through the dance can come moksha or salvation both to the audience and to the dancer, if they are properly tuned to it. Though this may sound very exaggerated to many who know only the modern dance, it is my own experience that there comes a moment during doing dance a revelation and a spiritual light as great as though any worship in a Temple or Church.

I fell that in India art has always been impersonal, and that it has never been for the onlooker either to praise or to criticize, but merely to feel. In modern days unfortunately art has become merely a matter of fame. There are may true and great artists who are old-fashioned, who belong in the village, and who are still unconscious of publicity or fame, and thee is something very spiritual and simple in that one-pointed devotion to art, a devotion which is not concerned with the outside world.

It is also sad that combined with the revival of interest in the arts has [be]come a very grave menace to India — the danger of ugliness masquerading as Beauty. Perhaps people do not know enough about art, particularly the dance, to be able to distinguish the real from the unreal, for anyone with even a few month’s learning and with very little knowledge, by the aid of costumes and orchestra, is able to win an audience.

Besides real knowledge of the dance, belief, is a most essential requisite for the dancer. It is no use to dance on the themes of Gods and Goddesses. I know that there is appoint with which many people will not agree, but here is a certain something a dancer can produce when or she believes, which is never possible otherwise.

Bharata Natya in South India has been degraded not so much by the professional dancer but mostly by the audiences who were willing to encourage vulgarity. However the dance itself is such, and its form is such, that in the hands of the right person, it can easily assume its rightful and original place.

I have seen practically all types of dance throughout India, but the classic style, the beauty, the dignity, and the obvious grandeur of Bharata Natya, in my opinion, cannot be equaled by what I might call its daughters. While every form of dance, whether it be folk, semi-classical, or classical, must have a place in the nation, just as there must be a place for all types of people, Bharata Natya is satisfying to every type of person. Yet it must be emphasized that its technique is difficult, and I feel Bharat Natya is meant only for the few to learn, as it needs many qualifications before the dancer can really be called an artist and not a mere technician.

Few dancers know the true meaning of the hastas, mandalas, etc., but learn the poses for the sake of effect. Like everything in ancient Indian art and science, every detail is thought out, every detail is well conceived, every detail has ap lace and meaning. Just as the ancient South Indian bronzes were made to the correct proportion according to the Agama Sastra, written for the help of those who wished to attain the best results, so were rules and regulations made for the position of the body and the hastas in Bharata Natya. In modern days sculptors are copying these bronzes, and attempting to follow the Sastras, but they are not able to produce the beauty that was achieved by the artists of ancient days, because though they follow the rules, they have lost the spirit. Rules in themselves are not enough. Words are not enough. Knowledge is not enough. There must be a spirit which one might almost call “a Deva of Movement.” This spirt is intangible and can never be described, as nothing great in the world can be described. But this spirit is most easily and profoundly available through the art of Bharata Natya when it is properly conquered and understood.

Bharata Natya is obviously an art meant for the temple. It is surprising to feel the perfect harmony between the temple architecture, the sculptures, the temple dance — Bharata Natya, and the temple music like the “Nagaswaram”.

India was never a land where the arts were separated form life. The arts were taken from life and life was given by the arts. This is a very important principle that should always be remembered by those artists who desire a renaissance in the arts. In my own School and Art Centre, Kalakshetra, I very specially emphasize this Indian spirit in which the daily life and mind of the dancer or artist is consecrated to the Highest, in which the artists will think of no reward, or of public opinion. Public opinion changes from time to time while true art never changes. I am more interested in making artists than in creating technicians, though it can never ben possible to produce many great geniuses. In the same spirit in Kalakshetra we have classes in literature, in drama, in music, in sculpture, in art, in Kathakali and Bharata Natya, for I feel that no artist can ever be a fine one unless he or she learns more than the one art in which he is most deeply interested. A background in which the emotions and the mind expand and become cultured will directly affect the art. Therefore, there is needed a profound knowledge of literature in the student’s mother-tongue, in English, which is the language of communication. They need to be well versed particularly in Sanskrit, for Sanskrit gives an atmosphere which is unique and essential for all arts. So it also opens the doors for a deeper knowledge. Dance pupils must have a general education, as well as a knowledge of the stage, of the costume, of colour, lighting etc.

How sat id is that in these modern days people treat the dance so lightly that they think anyone can learn to dance in a few months. If a chemist is not allowed to compound medicines without full knowledge and experience, how can a dancer manage with a mere smattering of knowledge? While no scientist will be respected unless he has a good knowledge of his subject, it seems as if any dancer can acquire a reputation purely by showmanship and advertisement. There are many fields of art by which India can be very strongly influenced — surely the cinema is one. We often look upon Indian art with the eyes of the westerner, for our ideas of adapting art to modern conditions are so varied. An Indian who dances in the West and becomes famous in foreign countries becomes much more famous in India. However famous the artist is in a village, he is neve fashionable in India until he makes one visit to America and is acclaimed by the American press. We at once put him on a pedestal. It is really strange that we cannot see beauty for ourselves.

I find that many people as me whether I believe in the proper blending of may forms of the Indian dance. ON principle I am opposed to it. I do not say that this is impossible, but I do say that those who have attempted to blend the various types of dance have, so far as I have seen, have blended them with poor knowledge of each system rather than because they know it fully.

Each dance-form has its own special and unique emphasis. For example, thought Kathakali greatly resembles Bharata Natya in the hastas Kathakali is Natya or Dance Drama in which various dancers take the different parts of the drama. It emphasizes Abhinaya, but its emotions are portrayed din conventional facial expressions achieved through very clever muscular training. In Bharata Natya, the dancer is the story-teller who portrays the many characters, and their emotions through expression. Therefore were the Bharata Natya dancer to have little feeling it would be most difficult for her to be expert at Abhinaya and if she has not feeling there can be no Abhinaya at all. So even with so many likenesses, it is difficult to blend the arts of Bharata Natya and Kathakali.

I know definitely, so far as these two dance forms are concerned, many modern dancers, after seeing one or two performances, carry away an impression of one or two movements that they like and then they incorporate them in their own dances without fully learning the best way of expressing those movements. To those who have specialized in any of the arts, the result comes as a shock. Many Manipuri teachers of the dance have expressed the same opinion. To each exponent of a dance-form such mutilation of  his art, introduced for the sake of building up what is called the “modern dance” is a sacrilege.

Is the modern dance to be created purely from lack of knowledge and a blending of the ugly, or is it to be the result of a deep and life-long study and experience, with a wise-blending, if there is to be a blending at all? In my own dancing there are certain expressions which I have changed — I have attempted to create a costume and stage-setting which is both simple and direct; I have introduced may great and beautiful songs of South India which had never in the past been used as themes for the dance. But I have tired to do this in the spirit of India and her glorious traditions, so that I could go further along that road towards which the great sages of ancient India have pointed. True choreography is like a hymn to the Devas of Movement which raises ordinary mortals to sublime heights.



Source: Some Selected Speeches and Writings of Rukmini Devi Arundale (Chennai: The Kalakshetra Foundation) 2003, pp. 34-38.