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  DANCE COLUMN
THE FOLK DANCES OF TAMIL NADU


Jyothi Venkatachalam
By JYOTHI VENKATACHALAM

Tamil Nadu has rich tradition of folk arts and crafts displaying traditions, skill and dexterity handed down from generations. The folk music and dances represent the fustic ethos, aesthetic values and melody. The conduct of folk dances and music on occasions of temple festivals and community functions gives entertainment, mirth and merry to the villagers. Among the many different folk dances, Kummi, Kolattam, Karagattam and Kavadi Attam are the most popular and enjoyed by people with abiding interest and enthusiasm.

Kummi

Kummi is a simple folk dance where dancers form circles and clap hands in a rhythmic way. It is a light and gay dance with lot of skips this famous dance is usually performed during temple festivals, Pongal, the harvest festival and during family functions like celebrating the coming of age (onset of puberty) of the girl-child etc. It is performed only by women. The first line of the song is sung by the leading lady, which the others repeat. This dance has been greatly influenced by the classical Bharatanatyam style.

Kolattam

'Kollattam' or the stick dance is one of the most popular dances of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Kolattam, derived from Kol (a small stick) and Attam (play), also is called Kolannalu or Kolkolannalu. A combination of rhythmic movements, songs and music, Kolattam is performed during local village festivals. It is known by different names in different states of India. The Kolattam group consists of dancers in the range of 8 to 40. The stick, used in the Kolattam dance, provides the main rhythm.



Karagaattam

Karagam is a folk dance with musical accompaniment performed balancing a pot on the head. Traditionally, this dance was performed by the villagers in praise of the rain goddess, Mari Amman and river goddess, Gangai Amman. There is another part to this dance called Shakti Karagam, which is performed with a fire pot on the head. More often, it is danced with decorated pot on the head and is known as 'Aatta Karagam' and symbolizes joy and merriment. The dance is performed in temples and on festival occasions as entertainment. This is one of the more popular rural dances today. Earlier, it was performed only to the accompaniment of drums but now it includes songs also. Today, the pots have transformed from mud pots to bronze ware and even stainless steel in modern times. The pots are decorated with a cone of flower arrangements, topped by a paper parrot. The parrot rotates as the dancer swings along. Both male and female performers participate in the dance. Acrobatics similar to circus are included such as, dancing on a rolling block of wood, up and down a ladder, threading a needle while bending backward and so on.

Kaavadi Aatam

The ancient Tamils when they went on pilgrimage, carried the offerings to the gods tied on either end of a long stick, which was balanced on the shoulders. To lessen the boredom of the long travel, they used to sing and dance about the gods. Kavadi Aattam has its origins in this practice. Special songs were composed to be sung while carrying the Kavadi, which were known as Kavadi Sindhu. The Kavadi is a semi-canopy made of bamboo strips and a light pole. The cover of Kavadi in saffron cloth decorated with peacock feathers and balancing pots on both ends embellish the tiny Kavadi. This is mainly a religious dance, performed in worship of Lord Muruga.

These folk and tribal dances are living art forms that go through constant improvements. The skills and imagination of the dances and dancers influence the performance. These folk dances also have been responsible for linking the past and present. They sustain the long continuity of our ancient traditions. We shall learn more about the folk dances of Kerala in our next issue.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at jvenkata@yahoo.com






Preeti Shah
RIVETING RECITAL ON “OM” COMES TO TALLAHASSEE
Story provided by India Association of Tallahassee

Atlanta based Bharathanatyam dancer Preeti Vinayak Shah was commissioned to direct and perform a group dance production for the Florida State University (FSU), College of Music in Tallahassee. Co-sponsored by the India Association of Tallahassee, “Om Pranava Shabdham – The Primordial Chant,” was presented by Shah and five of her senior disciples on Sept. 9

The two-hour long program on Hindu deities and their association with the chant “Om” enthralled the mostly Western audience with its elaborate costumes and choreography.

After an introduction by Srini Kishore, president of the India Association of Tallahassee and art connoisseur, the program commenced with a prayer to Lord Ganesh. Hindu deities such as Ganesh, Karthikeya, Shiva, Vishnu and Shakthi were chosen because of their close association with “Om.”

The next piece portrayed Parvathy, played by Shah, with her friends in a pure dance item. The choreography by Shah was done is such a manner that a “question and answer” type of footwork ensued between her and four of her disciples.

The highlight of the first half of the program was the piece on Chamundeshwari. The battle sequence between Shakthi and Chanda (demon) was superbly executed by Shah as Shakthi and Supriya Shridharan as Chanda. The item ended with the fierce slaying of the demon in a dramatic pose that captivated the audience.



Preeti Shah and her dance group.
The second half of the recital focused on the dancing couple, Shiva and Parvathy. Shah’s rendering of the Pandattam wowed the audience. With playful movements and innocent facial expressions, she drew the audience into the piece. The Tandav that followed was spellbinding.

The finale item based on the powerful “Mrutyunjaya Mantram” – inner dialogue of Shiva and Parvathy in relation to the outer world – left the audience speechless. Audience members were asked to chant “Om” with emcee Archith Seshadri.

Kati Schardl, art critic of the daily newspaper Tallahassee Democrat, said, “Preeti was simply poetry in motion. Surely, she was guided by the Gods in her performance! She was absolutely riveting.”

Joining Shah were her disciples, Jessica Garro, Ashwathy Mohanan, Shruthi Panicker, Supriya Shridharan and Praveena Vadrevu in production. Srini Kishore presented a vote of thanks.

More information about Shah and the program is available at www.natyam.com


MUSIC

INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC – AN APPRECIATION
By LAVANYA DINESH

Indian classical music is by far the most ancient and complex of all music forms in existence today. Yet it is deeply alluring and mystifying. It continues to touch and transform the hearts and lives of millions all over the world.

The myriad forms, genres and facets of Indian music range from austere classicism to popular music.

The Indian classical music tradition is rooted in antiquity – its known history can be traced to at least 2000 B.C. It is highly advanced both aesthetically and scientifically. Classical music practitioners – both vocalists and instrumentalists – go through years of rigorous training from accomplished and revered ‘gurus’ or teachers and usually need to attain a certain caliber before they allow themselves to perform in public. Though a trained ear can decipher the subtlest nuances of classical music, even a lay person can enjoy and be moved by its ornate melodies.

The basis for the classical music tradition is the raga, which is a melodic entity in itself. The raga provides a ‘tonal framework’ for composition and improvisation. The main components of this highly stylized art form is sur – a melodic tunefulness; shruti – intonation or microtone; and taala – the time measurement using rhythmic cycles.

Indian classical music is rooted in ancient Hindu religion, culture and spirituality. The music arose from man’s deep longing to be one with the Supreme Being. The factual theoretical aspects are strongly derived from great treatises such as Bharata Muni’s Naatya Shastra (5th century A.D.) and Sharaga Deva’s Sangeet Ratnaker (13th century A.D.).

Indian music in its purest form is performed as an offering to God. It started to flourish in temples and then in the courts of kings. Under royal patronage and dedication of able gurus, it spread all through India.

Indian classical music is popularly categorized as North Indian or Hindustani classical music and South Indian or Karnatic classical music. Though the territorial north-south divide is fast disappearing, their distinct flavors remain. The most popular instruments used are the veena – an ancient string instrument; the sitar – a stylized offspring of the veena; the sarod, the santoor, the violin, the sarangi, the dilruba, etc., which are stringed instruments. Wind instruments include the bamboo flute or bansuri, the shehanai, the nadaswara, etc. The saxophone, the clarinet, the guitar and the mandolin are some of the Western instruments that have been beautifully integrated into Indian classical music. The most popular percussion instruments are the tabla, the mridanga, the pakhawaj and other Indian drums. Each of these instruments has an interesting evolutionary history of its own.

India is rich with accomplished, talented and dedicated performers and gurus who have scaled great heights, achieved tremendous success and moved millions of audiences. Some well-recognized contemporary maestros include Pandit Ravi Shankar, who popularized the sitar in the west; Pandit Jasraj who has done the same for vocal music; late Ustad Allah Rakha and Ustad Zakir Hussein, who have made the tabla a household name around the world; Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia (bansuri); Ustad Amjad Ali Khan (sarod); Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma (santoor); late Ustad Bismillah Khan (shehanai); Pandit Ram Narayan (sarangi); Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Annapoorna Devi (sarod). Other musical giants include vocalists Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, late M. S. Subbalakshmi, Dr. Bala Murali Krishna, Kishori Amonkar among others. India has witnessed and will continue to see the rise of many talented and uplifting musical geniuses that enrich our day-to-day life.



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