Who Killed Manavi Cheykona raada?

Bharatanatyam is a fantastic and a spectacular dance form. I say this with a reason. Imagine one dance form, that was performed facing the Idol in a temple, with curtains on, rarely seen by the audience outside, and if they get lucky to catch a glimpse, its only the back of the dancer they see. From here, to being one of the most popular classical dance forms of the world, performed in every corner, on every big and small stages is quite a journey.
Bharatanatyam as any art form welcomed variations and experiments with open arm. This might be the reason for both its popularity and being most criticised dance form. Either ways, this definitely is the reason why so many ‘styles’ in bharatanatyam came up.



Some say “there are as many styles of bharatanatyam as there are dancers”. But for classification purposes there are only four : Tanjavoor, Pandanallur, Vazhuvoor and Kalakshetra. Whilst I cannot make out much difference between Tanjavoor and Pandanallur, I can mostly make out Vazhuvoor and can definitely make out Kalaskhetra.

No matter what the style be, the music and the kind of compositions that are used to dance are the same. Coming to talk of compositions, some are written for bharatanatyam and some are adapted. How beautiful is the adaptation is again a hugely debatable topic. There are several popular compositions that were written decades back, but still are very popular and are performed even today by dancers of all styles of bharatanatyam. Sometimes a composition is often and frequently performed by dancers of one particular style and that becomes a kind of flagship dance piece that is usually identified with that particular style of bharatanatyam.

For eg: The varnam : Manavi chekona raada, in raaga Shankarabharanam, Adi tala.

This dance piece is performed so often and frequently by the students of kalakshetra style of bharatantyam that it became a flagship dance piece of kalakshetra style and is identified with it.

Over years I have seen many dancers of all styles perform this dance piece. Much to my disappointment, not a single dancer could stir any emotion in me, let alone the bhava working its magic. I don’t want to be partial to any style here. However, completely ignoring or cutting down on the essential elements that communicate the ‘rasa’, fails to achieve the goal. Yes I agree that every performance cannot be a soul-stirring experience. Much depends on the rasika too. Even the natyashastra/abhinaya darpana say that. But atleast there should be a sincere effort to try make each performance, an experience that it is meant to deliver.

While performing to a composition, a dancer should help the composition, what it set to achieve, thereby realising her own goal of executing it. Particularly in this case, I have been a witness of mere various physical interpretations of the verse, than emotional. Let me explain. It is like how many different ‘sancharis’ one does while the line repeats. There is nothing wrong with that, but yes, there is, when its done mechanically.

I was watching a very popular dancer(not a kalakshetra style dancer) execute this dance piece on a DVD. Why did I use the word execute? Well, that’s what she did, execute and not perform. Her beauty, her perfect body, aramandi and perfect execution of foot work shadows her absolute lack of abhinaya in this varnam.This not just a case with her, but with almost all of the dancers, I saw performing this varnam. Especially in the recent times. I am as much of a traditionalist as anyone when it comes to technical perfection in terms of aramandi etc, but where is the bhava? I ask. Where is the sringara, the tease, the blushing, the absolute openness on how the felling of love is tormenting? Yes the story is told in the sancharis, but without an iota of feeling- at least that is what the rasika feels. It is as beautiful as reading out a melodious song.

Is this a case of a chewing gum that lost its flavor due to over chewing? or is it just that one style is very restrictive or is it the dancer’s incompetence? Whatever the reason, one of the most popular varnam has been mercilessly and collectively killed. I am yet to see one dancer perform this varnam that can keep me glued.

However tempted I am here to provide links and mention names, but I refrain for one reason that classical dancing is not a bread-earner in India. Yet so many people, small, young and old, religiously study it and practice it and pass it on generation to generation. They do it for the love the have for the dance, and not with an ego of being a great dancer themselves. The above was not about them, but was about those 1% of flag bearing professional talented dancers(and those that like to think and display themselves as exceptionally talented dancers) that influence these rest 99%.

Whatever it is, this is not a singular case. Another composition that came to light in similar conditions is “Bho Shambho”. One dancer I met in a dance festival recently claimed that she has choreographed it herself and went on to do the worst duplication of the most viewed video on youtube.

Does a little use of breasts, glances, lips, eyebrows, shoulders hurt so much to communicate the bhava and rasa?

Response from a dear friend and an ardent rasika : I just read the post.. its not the case just with manavi.. so many varnams have been killed.. specially mohamana and kamas which have more of explicit lyrics… Vazhuvoor le its done with more of oomph!

On Dance,Bharatanatyam,Tanjore Quartet,Disco, Of Glorious past and not so glorious present


The inspiration behind this writeup is the the previous three articles on www.bharatanatyam2dance.wordpress.com.

Let me start by first exploring this- what is dance? Dance is the physical interpretation of music. What is good dancing and what is bad dancing? Like beauty is it not a very personal thing, is it not something only the viewer of the dance can and should judge? If not then why do different people have different opinions and favorites?

What is divine dancing? Is Bharatanatyam only divine and no other dance form? Ok. I will give the author of the abovesaid blog some lieniency. Are only the Indian classical dances divine? This author seems to make a lot of fun for other dance forms. Any dance, where one is enjoying the dance, without the knowledge of self- is divine( limiting this only to dance- i believe anything done without the knowledge of being or self is divine) be it hip- hop, ballet or jazz etc. I feel the author of the above said blog should see a few programs to realize that there are dances which would physically challenge all the aspects of even the author’s best Bharatanatyam dancer.

I am a Bharatanatyam dancer myself. But to say that only this form is good and divine and everything else is inferior, is not an idea I agree to. This author has even criticised dances in discos. Well I doubt the author has ever been into a disco. I feel one of the best places to observe what it means to dance- just dance, is a disco.  Is enjoying dancing not one of the purposes of dance itself? Is it not better than dancing infront of a audiance who are munching chips while the dancer is trying hard to catch their attention?

Have you ever heard a dancer saying, “This item was revealed to me by such-and-such Apsara in my meditation?”  is what the author comments in article . Well, since when did Apsaras and Gods started appearing in meditation? One should meditate to understand what it is and what are revealed thru it. Or is there any other meaning than what I understand that the author was trying to put across?

I still await the answer from the author for the question on what is glorious past? What is the current shit? What is art and what is not?  Hpw was an Alaripu was performed say 500 yrs ago, when Bharatanatyam was known as Sadir attam? This dear author was not even born, and because the author can’t find answers on the internet, so the author cannot say anything.

Although some idiots corrupted by the western pseudo-culture dare to expose their lack of brain by stating that “The body of a dancer of today considerably differs from that of an 11th or 14th century dancer, especially one known only from temple sculptures.” , it is an archaeological fact that the human bodies in South India were no different 50000 years ago from what these bodies look now. It is the styles of sculpture that came and vanished. The bodies remain the same “  The author seems not to be  aware of the evloution process.

“there are no contemporary Bharatanatyam dancers whose death would result in the immediate death of 1000 of their fans” there is nothing on this earth that can produce such results, God didnot design human such a way. Else all the people who lost their beloved would die immediately.

the real dancing happens in the invisible worlds, where it is much more fun Please explain in detail…

Have you ever met a contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer who has at least 1 spiritual experience??? Since when people started talking loudly about their spiritual experiances to all
Tom Dick and Harry? The author can please enlighten whether the author had herself/himself had one such experiance? Iam sure he/she would know if her /his favorite dancers had one- we all would like to know, don’t we?

Tuition was… free of cost. What was Guru Dakshina?

The author speaks endlessly regarding that perfect physical posture, that perfect expression – a dancer not having them  for which the below is the conversation that happened between us.

the way you rip apart each one above, you sound as a considerable authority on the art form. considering this you might as well.

Dear, reading the above, has indeed stirred what has been on my mind since quite some time. Is a perfect araimandi more important that giving oneself into dance itself? i fall into this catagory.
Is dancing in itself more important than looking for people to clap for you? Very recently, due to some misunderstanding, i have been denied a slot for performance in a show in Sydney. I was dissappointed, I practice every day in my kitchen-dining space. Thats when my husband asked me this- Are you not happy that you have enough space and time to dance every day? is it not enough?


Oyoyoyoyo! You are making such irresistible compliments! ) Wow! )

Is a perfect araimandi more important than giving oneself into dance itself?

The concentration and laya are important factors to touch the rasas, and to create a powerful spiritual atmosphere. Many good musicians (the violinist Sikhamani is a good example) “dance” (even their bodies move) while playing music. Are they dancers? No, they are musicians.

However, Bharatanatyam is not just about the inner, invisible things: it is about expressing (perfectly or not so) the inner experiences in the physical form. Without a perfect instrument and a perfect expression, the higher, spiritual truths, cannot be embodied.

We can also ask, what if the dancer cannot put her fingers into a perfect mudra? If you find a perfect body position, automatically your mind will move into a certain state.

If millions of people feel ecstatic at a disco when they give themselves into dance itself, is it important that they don’t dance Bharatanatyam? ;)

If you are “looking for people to clap for you”, you need either to become a pop star or to consult a psychiatrist. ) Seriously, if you feel such a need, your pranas are not circulating properly (some channels are open, and you lose energy). Go, sit in padmasana )

  • mallika Says:
    July 29, 2008 at 9:46 am Bharatanatyam,
    Now we are discussing something important here. While you are talking of araimandis, mudras etc, how much do you delve into the dancer really enjoying the dance herself. Iam a firm believer that one can give what one has, be it money or love or any feelings. While I was in theatre, doing skits and plays, one of my seniors told me, if you are not feeling it within, it shows to audiance mallika. And same goes for dance.
    While there is such rush to become celebrities ASAP and remain so as long, be it in any field. I feel this is a question that one should ask oneself, ‘am i feeling bhakti, when iam potryaing it?’
    Can you really deny the fact that most of the dancers are up there looking for people to clap for them?For all of them, its time to take a closer look and deeper meaning at what krishna said ‘ karmanye vadhi kaaraste, maa phaleshu kadachana…..’
    FYI, if a perfect body pose is what leads to rasanubhava, then iam still to watch it. but i expreianced a stir in me when i did watch priya murle do a varnam, without a araimandi.
  • mallika Says:
    July 29, 2008 at 9:51 am one more thing, its not only ectasy that we are talking about. if we are so insistant on being physically perfect poses, it doesnot need bharatanatyam. Even PrabhuDeva is physically perfect when he does his moves. or any bhangra dancer from punjab.
    what takes bharatanatyam is that inner spiritual feeling, felt and transmitted. Unless one feels, no transmission can happen.
  • Bharatanatyam Says:
    July 29, 2008 at 11:28 am I agree with you that there is no such a thing as an absolute physical perfection (in the types of bodies that humans have today). Moreover, people always see not the reality but what they expect and what they want to see.
    You can captivate their minds even without a perfect araimandi, no questions about that. You are absolutely right that a perfect araimandi is not as important as the dancer’s enjoying the dance.The dancer’s body’s perfect physical position is as unachievable as a violinist’s absolute precision in taking notes. If a musician is sometimes off-key, is it important? Or rather, can YOU hear it? Even among the most professional violinists, there are no perfect ones: the notes cannot be taken with an absolute precision. The average (untrained) human ear can distinguish 22 microtones in an octave. My neighbour can hear only 6, I guess! (So if some short-sighted people believe that PrabhuDeva (or Jothika) is physically perfect when he does his moves, it is because these spectators do not have a sharp (well-trained) eye, and do not understand what is Bharatanatyam.

    Rasanubhava is not just a “stir”, my dear.

    Can I really deny the fact that most of the dancers are up there looking for people to clap for them? No, I can’t. But these dancers will not be able to bring Tejas through them.
    In fact, it is quite obvious (and boring) when the dancer is aware of the audience and tries to please them.

  • The author seems to have not much information on the Dance itself and its history. Much to my shock the author and me had the below conversation for the article http://bharatanatyam2dance.wordpress.com/2008/01/03/the-hereditary-ones-and-back-to-karanas/#comment-141

    mallika Says:
    August 2, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    whats wrong with the TQ compositions? u seem not to like them. iam still thinking about the margam format though.
    may be ’cause i am trained in tanjore style?

    Bharatanatyam Says:
    August 2, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    think the TQ compositions are nice. u seem not to like them.

    They are ok, if the dancer is good I enjoy watching them, no problem. I have seen, for example, Sakiye performed at least 100 times by all kinds of dancers of all kinds of styles, in solos, duos, trios and groups! )

    However, the kings that the TQ compositions extol are no longer alive. The kings are dead.

    Imagine a contemporary composer composing an item dedicated to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms.Jayalalitha and containing lines praising her. As soon as Mr.Karunanidhi takes over again, this item will lose its relevance. Maybe the composer would end up in jail! ) The composer whose mind is tarnished by the desire/need to please a VIP will never produce a real masterpiece. For Rs.20000, some (second-rate) composers in Chennai will write you the lyrics and the music.
    There are short-term (politically correct) items, and there are long-term items not marred by politics/business.

    Think about what was BEFORE the present margam was introduced 200 years ago.

    Oy-yo-yo! ) Maybe ) Which Tanjore style, may I ask you? )

    mallika Says:
    August 3, 2008 at 9:09 am

    how many tanjore styles do u know anyway? how can you comment on anything that you have not seen or felt, for eg sundari? Dance is the physical interpretation of music and in that music lies the feeling and etc. thats y bharata never told how to dance. he laid guidelines, he left the interpretation part. he wanted each human being/dancer to feel, interpret and reach that point of understanding/realization. gods dont show their teeth? r u sure? what abt ur fav kali?
    while everything in the nature has undergone a change, including all kinds of art, y not dance or say bhartanatyam? y r u against it? no change or innovation or even bettermetnt can happen without such out of hte box thinking. yes i agree to the point that it might now be called, present day bharatanatyam of present day tanjore style of guru so and so…. but can u take an example , say a simple compsition and choreograph it exactly according to what sage bharata had written and meant in natyashastra? once u do that we will talk further.
    darling, not everything that is old is great, and not everything that is new is shit

  • Bharatanatyam Says:
    August 3, 2008 at 9:37 am How easy is it to infuriate you! )

    how many tanjore styles do u know anyway?

    Many. More than 50, I guess.

    how can you comment on anything that you have not seen or felt, for eg sundari?

    I did watch Sundari in that DVD. I tried not to laugh! ) Did you see how she drops her jaw? ) Comic! )
    What I meant to say that I did not see her in person, when she was younger. I guess she danced much better

    gods dont show their teeth?

    I said, “devas” (the Sattva-loving powers of Mind). Not even the Mahadevas or the powers of Svar, who are above the 3 guna’s.

    r u sure? what abt ur fav kali?

    She is the exception, since she has to clean up the world’s garbage. Dirty job. ) Unlike devas, She is not attached to any guna.

    while everything in the nature has undergone a change, including all kinds of art, y not dance or say bhartanatyam? y r u against it?

    No. I believe even Urvasi has been evolving in her style ) The apsaras (or devas) cannot evolve unless they take birth on earth. All evolution is happening here.

    can u take an example , say a simple compsition and choreograph it exactly according to what sage bharata had written and meant in natyashastra? once u do that we will talk further.

    OK. I’ll talk to you in 40-60 years’ time. Sure ( My creative talent is (at the moment) zero. I would have to do a lot of pujas for Brahma )

    darling, not everything that is old is great, and not everything that is new is shit

    Fine. I will be happy if you show (or tell) us what is there new that is not shit. )

  • mallika Says:
    August 3, 2008 at 10:37 am dear bharatanatyam,
    you mistake my thoughts as fury. you have not infuriated me. just like cleaning the garbage that u do is mistook by many.
    you not only have to open your eyes wide enough, but also your mind to let in some freshness and see things in a new and better perspective, then you will realise what is new and what is not shit.
    while i really like and respect your honesty, pls dont hide under any pretext…. did u really think that way when i askedu abt sundari? welll….. there is something that is above everything- that is truth. and only our inner self knows whether we are true or not, right or not.
    not only the devas, but also such human who is self realized and has reached the ultimate bliss thru meditation will have that kind of smile u have mentioned above.
    to think that one knows everything and what one sees exists and what one knows only is right – is not a very good idea.
    pls list down the 50 kinds of tanjore style of dancing in detail and i will tell u which one is mine.
    how do u know that devas have that smile, and do u know the reason behind it, all the reasons that are there all the time?
    why such frustration?
  • The author is obiviously unaware of the various kauthuvams and varnams like ‘manavi chekona raada’ by the Tanjore quartet.

    Coming to the latest post by this author where the author poses certain questions on the commercialisation of Bharatanatyam.
    The author starts by talking how mean it is to claim a copyright on one’s work and how glorius were the people of the past that they did not do any such thing. Indeed, Ramayana was always, Valmiki Ramayana, then came Tuslidas’s Ramanayana, then came our Ramanand Sagar… same goes for Mahabharatam and Bhagavatam… Iam tempted to name Pothana here….. Whilst it would have been beneficial to tell the readers that it was Vighneshwara who actually wrote Mahabharatam while Vyasa was narrating it and while is pen/thing with which he was writing broke, he broke off  one of his tusk and wrote the rest of Mahabharatam with it. Iam looking for a composition where I can choreograph this piece.

    The author then quotes the following:

    Read what Minakshi tells us:

    The most popular legend is that of the amazing young tribal boy Ekalavya on being rejected by the ace trainer Dronacharya, raised his statue and with great dedication practised the art of archery and left behind Arjuna, the master archer, who actually learnt the art under the living guru. And the heartless guru asked for his thumb as gurudakshina or fees, and made him inferior before his royal disciple.

    This is the most funny conclusion I have ever read, except Rama doubting Sita and subjecting her to the fire test. The author misses the basic comparision of Ekalavya’s act to what is happening in the present day Bharatanatyam world. Can we not see the similarities between what Ekalavya’s learning and present day online bharatanatyam courses, DVD teaching and distance certification courses? If this is right, then Drona was wrong indeed. 

    I posted a comment for the above article for which I am still waiting for an answer.

    mallika Says:
    August 8, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    what is sadir attam? to be precise, how did it look when one danced in that style,an alaripu or a padam,and may be not the present day bharatanatyam style? who dances that way now? how can one know? how can one say that that is only nice and not wat we do today? if one teacher charges some amount as a fee, but teaches more than for the said hours, is it wrong? is a bharatanatyam teacher supposed to teach free, when the student is someone who can afford the fee? what is the avg fee for bharatanatyam, rs.300-500 monthly for thrice a week hourly classes? how many students cannot afford it? how many children who cannot afford such money really find bharatanatyam interesting? should one just pull everyone into dancing, whether or not its his interest? like one is pulled into academics?
    who is a ‘true bharatanatyam guru’? if we have ’sa, ri, ga,ma,pa,dha,ni’ ,we create ragas based on these seven swaras. now all the ragas will contain only these swaras, then what is original- this is without going into the details of the origin of the swaras themselves?




    iam still thinking about the margam format though. 


    may be ’cause i am trained in tanjore style?