This article is reproduced from narthaki.com
What is disturbing
in the Bharatanatyam scene today is the slow death of Margam evolved
by the Quartet in a structured manner introducing nritta and nritya,
including abhinaya, to make the transition from one to the other
easy and smooth for the artiste and the viewer alike. It was the standard
fare offered by dancers till about the third quarter of the last century
after its great revival in the earlier quarter. Its heyday was reached
during the twenty five years after Independence when great gurus
like Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Kattumannarkoil Muthukumaran
Pillai, Tiruvidaimarudur Kuppaiah Pillai and Vazhuvur Ramaiah Pillai strode
the field like giants and groomed many students who later became international
stars. Think of the days when Vazhuvurar recited jatis in his leonine
voice and Kittappa Pillai sang jatiswarams melodiously. The climax
was reached when, under the nattuvangam of Vazhuvurar, Anandhi and
Radha danced and M S Subbulakshmi joined the team to sing padams for abhinayam.
As a sample of those glorious days, I give below the unbelievable contents
of a BN performance by Anandhi and Radha at the Indian Gymkhana grounds
on the then Brahmanwada Road, near King's Circle in Matunga, Bombay (as
it was then called). It was in aid of the Gymkhana Building Fund held on
April 4,1947. Vazhuvurar was the conductor and MS joined to sing padams
All the seven songs between the two intervals are mentioned as padams in the programme brochure and were obviously sung by MS. (Note the absence of a javali.) The performance started at 8pm and one does not know when it ended. There were two intervals. What a sumptuous fare was offered to rasikas! Think also of the value one got for money in those days by paying what would look today as a small price for an admission ticket. It is unfortunate that in those days we did not have the facility of videographing the event. Not only the old timers but even the younger generation of dancers and rasikas will wonder whether those golden days will ever return
There were contemporaneously new trends also like the dance productions of Kalakshetra which, however, preserved the basic grammar of the format in spirit. There were thematic dances like the Kuravanjis and fusion, the latter attempted by Uday Shankar. However, all these attempts were on a limited scale. Margam continued to be the bread and butter of most of the topnotchers in the field. But in recent years, it has gone into the background with fewer and fewer dancers giving attention to it and the leading lights of the profession taking to thematic dancing, fusion and modern dance. (See the article on "Neo-Classical and Modern Dancing and Margam in Bharatanatyam" in http://www.narthaki.com/info/articles/art262.html). Aficionados of the dance form are not sure whether Margam would survive after a decade if the five star dancers cut themselves away from their roots. One reason given by the latter is that the audiences have no patience or time to go through a three-hour recital on traditional lines. This is, however, belied by the splendid response to Margam based programmes this writer has observed at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai in recent times. Not only were the large halls (with 1000 seats) filled to the full, there were also cases of those without advance booking for the smaller auditoria (200-300 seats) being turned back. I feel the real reason for the decline may be that the average artiste does not have either the passion, or the patience, or the physical stamina to traverse the path of Margam. She (includes he also!) can no longer dance a varnam for an hour with dripping sweat and panting breath even in air-conditioned halls. This is because of the poor conditioning of the body. Reputed gurus and institutions teaching BN, Kathakali, etc., have always emphasised physical fitness as a prerequisite for a professional dancer and have incorporated exercises like yogasanas in their curricula.
I remember reading somewhere that Vazhuvur Ramaiah Pillai, nattuvanar nonpareil, was born in 1910. But I tried for several months without success accessing websites, dancers and others to get the authentic information on his date of birth. Eventually it was found to be December 24,1910. Thus this year marks the birth centenary of Vazhuvurar also. Arguably, according to some experts, it was he who gave the nattuvanar and the other accompanists a place of importance on the stage by seating them on the side of the stage. Till then they used to move behind the dancer in Sadir. He also introduced the practice of the dancer entering the stage from the side in a dramatic way, as exemplified best by Kamala, instead of walking casually to the centre to start the programme. These are, of course, minor details. He blazed a new trail making BN more popular through his own bani and the media of movies. His style may need another article to discuss. The sculptural poses in Tillana were conceived by him and they are now standard fare in all schools of BN. It is a happy coincidence that the Vadivelu bicentennial and the Vazhuvurar centenary fall in the same year, making it a double delight to celebrate
Akademi (Central and regional) and cultural institutions here and abroad
should observe both the landmark occasions together. In particular, the
Chennai sabhas should keep this in mind for this year's December
music and dance festival. They should arrange for concerts of all the
banis of BN, based on Margam. Besides providing a stimulus to its revival
without any detriment to the other experiments currently going on, it would
also restore the Nattuvanar to his rightful place of importance
on the stage. (See "The Rise and Fall of the Nattuvanar" in http://www.narthaki.com/info/articles/art234.html).
This year may be declared the year of Margam in the world of BN.
In Tamil Nadu, which can take credit for the birth of BN, if the Chief
Minister agrees to head the Celebration Committee despite his busy life,
it would give a great boost to the occasion and emphasise its importance.
The event may be called "Bharatanattiya Marabunerit Tiruvizha" in
Tamil Nadu and "Margam Mahotsav" elsewhere. (Marabu = tradition
or convention, Neri = path and Tiruvizha = great festival.
The't' after Marabuneri provides the sandhi link required
by grammar.) In Tamil Nadu, it should be celebrated with at least one programme
based on Margam in every district headquarters with live orchestra
(not recorded music) when local artistes besides the established ones may
be given chances to perform. Opportunities may be given to the different
schools of Bharatanatyam besides Vazhuvur. Ideally, the items in the programmes
should be compositions of the Quartet and Vazhuvurar. It will be a unique
and valuable opportunity to rediscover some of the forgotten gems of the
BN repertoire. I remember how a few of Syama Sastri's rarely-heard kritis
were found during the bicentennial celebration of his birth in 1962. D
K Pattammal gave a concert on May 5, 1962 in Tiruvarur that was relayed
in the National Programme of Akashvani. She sang such songs as "Dayanidhe"
(a Begada varnam), "Devi Brova" (the only song in Chintamani) and
"Tarunam Edamma" (in Gaulipantu, arguably the only Tamil song of
the vaggeyakara). Subsequently they became popular on the concert
circuit. The celebration of vaggeyakaras' days thus serves a useful purpose.
Seminars may be organised to discuss the role of Margam, trends
in BN, training (including physical exercises), dance therapy, choreography,
etc., and future directions to draw a roadmap.
The author, an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, is a music and dance buff.