Senior disciple of Kathak exponent, Guru Shama Bhate, Vidula is a part of the performing troupe of Nadroop (kathak institution headed by Shama Bhate) and has performed in several choreographies. An art historian and researcher, Vidula has special interest in interdisciplinary studies. Being a topper in indology masters, she is currently pursuing her Phd and presented research papers on relevant subjects at international level.
Indian Art has grown over the course of time, adapting to several religious, social and political transformations. Art - an integral part of society reflects the level of aesthetic consciousness and sensitivity of people.
As an art history researcher, I am always in awe of the interconnection of various art forms, especially in Indian context. A story from an epic or Puranas, becomes a poem for a poet, a singer weaves it in swara, a dancer expresses it through gestures, sculptor carves it in stone and drama revolves around it. A very beautiful dialogue has been quoted in the second chapter of Vishnudharmottara Purana. Here, Sage Markandeya emphasizes on the interdependence of fine arts. King Vajra requests Markandeya to teach him the art of "image making" i.e. sculpture, with the objective of bringing happiness to him in this as well as in the other world. On hearing this request Markandeya says, "If you want to learn the art of Sculpture (Pratima Lakshna), first you need to be well versed with the art of painting(Chitrasutra); to know in detail the art of painting you should master the art of dance (Nrittasutra); to know dance you first need to learn instrumental music(Aatodya); for that you have to be well versed in singing(Geetshastra) and to learn singing you should first gain the knowledge of literary arts and languages." These lines echo the ultimate truth in Indian arts -circles of traditions totally interlinked, pursuing the path of creation, development and reformation, making impact on each other. These traditions carried on not just by practitioners and scholars, but also by people, connoisseurs and rulers of different eras.
This article is an attempt to shed light on one of the sections of this huge intertwined fabric; needless to say that the section itself is a large part of pan Indian ventures in the field of performing arts and iconography (a discipline that studies sculptures) and have become matter for scholarly research. We will try to understand the association between sculpture and dance by examining the sculptures of two Vishnu Avataras i.e. Narsimha and VamanaTrivikrama.
Let's begin with the 4th Avatara of Vishnu, that is Narsimha. Here is the sculpture of Sthaun Narsimha, a type of Narsimha sculpture from Ellora (Cave no.15, 7th C AD) which depicts combat between Narsimha and Hiranyakashyapu. We all know the famous story of Pralhada - the ardent devotee of Vishnu. In defense of his beloved devotee, Vishnu appeared in the form of half man-half lion, from a pillar, and torn apart Hiranyakashyapu's chest using his sharp fingernails.
In this sculpture, we can see the fierce, eight handed Narsimha grabbing the hand and shoulder of a demon. His various weapons can also be seen along with certain dynamic body postures. In the above mentioned sculpture, we can see the topmost hand of the deity, at the precise moment of aggression, to slap on demon's face. Dramatic indeed! Natyashastra provides a list of Nrittahasta with the assigned usages of it, and later Sanskrit texts related to classical dance follow almost the same format. From the dancer's point of view, it is the Pataka hasta, but the way it has been featured here, it is called as Chapetdan (a slapping gesture). Natyashastra or Abhinay Darpan (C.4th/5 5th C AD) of Nandikeshwara say nothing about such use of Pataka, but Sharangdeva in his work Sangeetaratnakara's Nartanadhaya (C 12th C AD), mentions it clearly. Not only that, there are striking similarities between Simhavikridita Karana and Narsimha's ferocious posture. Bharat gives just the method of Simhavikridita Karana, but Sharangdeva elaborates it. He narrates,
The verse says, after performing the Alat chari, one is to move swiftly, then do the Chapet hand, and repeat it with other side. This is a Simhavikridita Karana. The Gati should be Raudra, says Shrikaranagrani (Sharangdeva).
This is a wonderful example to observe the possible give and take of these two art forms. Iconography gets settled through practice and then scholars record it in the textual format. At the same time, development of iconographic depictions also inspires later texts to compose in a particular manner. One practice affects the other and the journey goes on!
Second such example is of Vamana Trivikrama, the fifth Avatara of Vishnu. Vishnu as Trivikrama, has Vedic roots. We can find fully developed mythological story of Vishnu as Vamana Trivikrama in Bhagwat Purana. To restore the authority of Indra, Vishnu in the guise of a dwarf Brahmin - Vamana goes to the King Bali (grandson of Prahlada) to ask him for land worth three paces. Bali agrees to fulfill the demands of a Batu Brahmin. Vamana then, by revealing his original identity, enlarges into the gigantic form of Trivikrama. In his first pace he covers heaven to earth, in the second from earth to the nether, and then asks Bali where he should put his foot for the last pace. Apparently, Bali offers his head to fulfil his promise.
Here is the sculpture of Trivikrama, again from Ellora (Cave no.15 C. 7th C AD), on the verge of taking his third pace on Bali's head, pointing his first finger "Tarjani" in Suchi Hasta. In the list of 108 Karanas (of Natyashastra), 100th is the Vishnukrant Karana. Smt. Godavari Ketkar writes in her published thesis 'Bharatache Natyashastra' that Bharat must have created this Karana keeping the Vedic image of Vishnu as Trivikrama in his mind. That is why he named it as Vishnukrant (krant-gone over or across). Bharat doesn't mention the uses of this karana. But Abhinavgupta the famous (10th c AD) critic of Natyashastra writes in Abhinavbharati -
In this case, the journey begins from Vedas, inspiring myth and art in later times. Particularly in performing arts, it inspired to create a vocabulary or code i.e. Karana naming Vishnukrant. We need to keep in mind that the Natyashastra was a culmination of a bigger living tradition (difficult to guess of how many years) of which the writer or the writers of it must have been a part. Then the development of the myth along with the iconographic renditions went on and again performing arts take threads from it to clarify the same old vocabulary or code mentioned in the earlier texts i.e. Abhinavbharati explains Vishnukrant by giving reference of Vishnu as Trivikrama. Texts and sculptures or paintings are the only available sources, to trace the development of classical dance through ages. Here I would like to quote famous art historian Stella Kramrisch. She writes in her introduction of Chitrasutra, 'dancing, at times, is responsible for a fusion of the various disciplines of sculpture and painting, for a desperate attempt of visualizing what perhaps is beyond visualization,' She underlines the same concurrence of fine arts.
This is how the interrelationship of art forms can be interpreted. Dance, music, sculpture, architecture or painting- all are different manifestations of the same matter or philosophy, having a common foundation. Stella Kramrisch calls it 'Magical suggestiveness of form-connections'. How beautifully she has expressed the whole point!
Finally, my respected Guru, senior Kathak exponent, and more than that, a thinking dancer-choreographer
''it's all for that one harmonious fruit which everyone seeks to taste.'' This harmonious fruit is nothing but the ultimate piece of art, we relish through our senses which give us a joy supreme.
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