Essence of Indian Art

My one wish as a performing artist is to play my small role in reaching the essence of Indian art to more people. To make the values of our art accessible and get more people to understand that indian art forms are not ancient or outdated. That they are very much present, relatable and can be for anyone.

When most young people are asked if they want to come to a classical dance performance – they say no thank you, its too boring or we don’t understand it. They would rather see a funky hip hop and bharatanatyam fusion. Or remix of a popular pop song on youtube. And we can’t blame them. These are entertaining, no doubt. We can watch them infinite times without getting bored.

Indian classical art forms are not intended to work that way. They are meant to leave a small part of their impact with the audience even as they leave the auditorium. To make them feel something that isn’t fleeting. It doesn’t always happen and maybe I can’t really explain this feeling, but I can distinctly remember the performances that have touched me this way. It is the duty of artists to engage and educate the audience. We see more and more artists migrating towards the entertainment path only because they can reach more people easily. And I don’t mean that they do a fusion dance in the middle of a Margam, but they choreograph the traditional stories in a way that’s almost cinematic just to keep the audience interested, to get claps. I have also seen artists take non mythological topics but communicate it effectively while retaining the essence of the art form. There is no right or wrong here. I am not making any judgements, just observations. But these have often made me wonder how to reach the classical art forms in its true essence to a wider population.

My guru once told me that she feels most satisfied after performing a serious piece, when the audience is completely silent. No claps, no sound (I’ve seen this happen, people sitting with tears in their eyes) This means the audience was completely engaged, completely involved, still reveling in what they just witnessed. And they were with the artist experiencing the story and emotions as they unfolded. That to me is the potential of Indian art.

When I was younger, I too was one of the people who questioned the art form inspite of practicing it. I went through a phase where I felt like we were constantly trying to say the same stories over and over again. I didn’t realize that it’s not the story but the emotions they carry that elevates our art forms. How a naughty Krishna story never ceases to make the audience smile. How people instantly empathize with Rama even if they’ve read and seen the Ramayana performed infinite times. Even if someone who has never heard of Krishna sees an effective portrayal of his stories, they will laugh at the antics of the naughty young boy.

There was a point in life when I wasn’t dancing as much and looking back now, I almost feel like the lifestyle I lead and the choices I made then were because of the lack of art in my life. Indian art exists to uplift people.. The natyashastra was created to help people find themselves. Art makes us better human beings.

I am a Bharatanatyam Dancer, I have also recently started practicing yoga. And I can see how these practices have changed my sensitivity and approach to life. I almost feel like a different person from what I was 4 years ago. My practice has helped me discover discipline, warmth and faith.. Change first begins with yourself and this is where I am at now. Someday I hope I can share it with the world. Let’s spread the essence of indian art together.

Do check out the video I made for Kalagrit – Essence of Indian Art Festival which inspired me to write this blog. Video Link : Essence of Indian Art : Bharatanatyam

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