First published in Time Out Mumbai, May 2014. Cover image of Rama Vaidyanathan found online.
Choreography and pedagogy go hand-in-hand for bharatanatyam dancer Rama Vaidyanathan.
Classical dance used to be an esoteric practice, fiercely guarded and passed on to a chosen few. That’s changing and how. Many renowned dancers today are eager to share their knowledge and experience as often as they can to the delight of dance students who are looking for advanced training. This fortnight, Rama Vaidyanathan is in the city with a performance conceptualised around the dance of Krishna, followed by a workshop aimed at honing the skills of upcoming classical dancers.
Vaidyanathan’s performance complements an upcoming museum exhibit that documents the image of dancing Krishna in the medieval age through sculpture, painting, embroidery and murals. The show’s curator, Harsha Dehejia layers this visual history with literary references to Krishna from epic Sanskrit texts like the “Bhagavatam” and “Gita Govinda”. For Vaidyanathan, these texts offered a concrete starting point, helping her build on existing depictions of Krishna in bharatanatyam.
The rasa-lila is one of the most popular instances of Krishna in performance, but it is not the only one, asserts Vaidyanathan. During a telephone interview, she said, “I draw extensively from the ‘Bhagavatam’, which has vivid descriptions of natawara (dancing) Krishna. He danced for Yashoda, while herding cows and for the people in Vrindavan. Of course, he also danced the rasa-lila with thousands of gopisand each gopi thought she had a personal dialogue with him. The rasa-lila is not just a dance; it is an allegory for the dialogue that every human being can have with the supreme consciousness.”
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