Once upon a time, the world was in a state of complete uncontrolled chaos. The legend goes that the demigods and the sages approached Brahma, the creator of the universe, and requested him to create a new Veda which would simultaneously entertain as well as reach, so that people would be uplifted from their present misery.
Brahma, taking the essence of the four existing Vedas, evolved a new system of visual education known as Natya of dance. This he expounded to Sage Bharata, who in turn taught it to his 100 sons. Lord Shiva contributed his own cosmic dance technique to the art form, enhancing the beauty of this creation. His wife parvati introduced the feminine concepts into the art form and taught it to Usha, daughter of Banasura. Thus dance came down into the world.
The greatness of dance as an art form is evident from this line from the Vishnudharmottara Purana: “To worship God by Natya is to fulfill all desire, and to one who does so is unfolded the path of salvation.”
With mythology such as this, it is not surprising to find that ancient Indians considered dance the highes form of worship. A dance was considered to have the efficacy of a 100 yagnas or sacrifices.
All art in ancient India was temple art, not because it was necessarily a part of the temple, but because the aim of all art was the perfection of spiritual identification. Similarly, temples were more than places of worship. They were also centers of learning, community centers, institutions, theaters, even places of rest for the weary traveler. Almost all community activity centered around the temple. The celebrations and rituals, of which music and dance were an integral part, were sources of entertainment and recreation.
Concord Hindu Temple is keeping up this ancient tradition in the Bay Area. It is not only a place of worship but also a center of cultural activity. On January 6, the temple is the site for a Karnatik music concert and a bharatnatyam dance recital to celebrate Thiruvembavai.
The Karnatik musicians are two well-known vocalists: Kala Yer of the Kalalaya School of Music and Vani Ratnam. Iyer has performed extensively for All India Radio and all over the United States. Ratnam began her study of music at the age of 10 under Sethuraman, a disciple of Rangam Iyengar. She has performed all over Indian and the U.S. They are accompanied on violin by Anuradha Sridhar, and on mridangam by N. Narayanan.
Following the music recital comes a bharatanatyam performance by an exceptionally talented 17-year-old with five-year history of professional performances. Uma Iyer trained under K.P. and Katherine Kunhiraman of Kalanjali, Mythili Kumar of Abhinaya School, and Vishal Ramani of Raag Tarang School. Her knowledge of Karnatik music enhances her ability to bring out the nuances and intricacies of bharatanatyam. Uma has also received advanced training from kirshnaveni Lakshmanan of Kalakshetra, and the Dhananjayans of Bharata Kalankali. She dances in the traditional Pandanallur style as taught in Kalakshetra. The choreography of her dance is by Rukmini Devi.
If you want a deeper understanding of Karnatik music, the musicians from this concert will present a lecture demonstration at Stanford University on January 26. Here you will have the opportunity to learn about the foundations of this music: the melodic basis or ragas, the rhythm or tala, as well as the distinguishing ornamentation or gamak. The program is organized by Stanford India Association.