Book Review | Articulating India’s dance vocabularies of desire

The ultimate aim of Indian art is “rasa aswadana”, tasting of aesthetic delight. Any aspect of it dealing with human emotions would find itself on the periphery of “rasa”. The classical treatise, Natyashastra, describes eight rasa. These are, namely, shringar rasa for erotic emotions, hasya for levity, karun for bathos, raudra for fury, veera for heroism, bhayanak for fearsomeness, bibhatsa for the macabre and adbhut for surprise. Later scholars have added a ninth one for serenity, known as the shanta rasa.

Bharata offers a clear definition of vibhava (determinant), anubhava (impact) and vyabhichari bhava (transitory feelings) atop the bhavasthaye (the basic psychological state).

Shringar is widely accepted as “rasaraj”, or the king of the nine rasa. Bharata states “whatever is pure, bright or beautiful in the world is compared with shingar”. Ordinarily taken to mean desire, shringar in Indian classical dances represents love in its myriad hues — in union (sambhog) or separation (viraha). The Natya Shastra has set out a detailed classification of the different stages of romantic love, giving rise to a delicate vocabulary to be rendered through abhinaya (expression) and dance.

Edited by renowned Odissi exponent and teacher Sharon Lowen, Shringar in Classical Indian Dance is a collection of articles focussed on shringar and its various interpretations. Lowen, who is a disciple of Kelucharan Mohapatra, was entrusted to conceive the format, and invite articles from thinking exponents of the various Indian classical dance styles.

American by birth yet Indian at heart, Lowen has mastered not just Odissi but also Manipuri and the Mayurbhanj and Saraikela schools of Chhau, too. She has published articles and authored books alongside her brilliant performance career.

Shringar has developed historically. In this book, it has been interpreted through Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Vilasini Natyam, Mohiniyattam, Sattriya, Kathak and Odissi, respectively, by Kamalini Dutt, Anuradha Jonalgadda, Anupama Kylas, Bharati Shivaji, Anwesha Mohanta, Shovana Narayan and Lowen herself. An introductory overview of shringara in natya (communicative dance) by Nritya Kalanidhi Guru Lakshmi Viswanathan in order to contextualise the focus on specific classical genres is a thoughtful contribution.

In her article, Lowen covers the vast canvas of her subject by taking the reader from the second century BC through the different dynasties that ruled Utkal. She takes her perspective not only from Abhinaya Chandrika and Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda but is also informed by Odia composer-poets Kavisurya Baldev Rath, Gopal Krishna Patnaik and Banmali Dasa and the Mahari and Gotipua folk traditions.

Captivating photographs add value to this volume. Shringar being universal, its appeal is not limited to the scholar and practitioner of dance.

The writer is a musicologist

Shringara in Classical Indian Dance

Edited by Sharon Lowen

Shubhi Publications

Rs.2,495

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