written by Sabine Hellepart
For 18 years now, Bhakti Devi has been making ancient Indian culture understandable to contemporary audiences - this experience makes her dance performances an artistic and spiritual experience.
Lived Indian dance
Indian dance means more than perfect dance technique. If you want to bring this dance form authentically to the stage, you need an understanding of Vedic philosophy and knowledge of Indian mythology. Both grow in depth and quality over years of practice.
Bhakti Devi discovered her love for dance at the age of six. After completing eight years of dance training in Vienna, the classical Indian dance Bharatanatyam completely won her heart. She studied at the University of Vienna Sports Institute and at Radha Anjali's 'Natya Mandir'. This was followed by in-depth training with well-known figures such as Dr. Aparna Subramanian, who gave her not only the technique but also the understanding of the inner attitude and tradition.
Her career has taken her to appearances at home and abroad, to film, TV and theater productions, to festivals, congresses and conferences. These include the Air India Gala, including Washington DC - YITL Center, the ministries of culture in Cuba, the Czech Republic and Croatia, the Vienna Hofburg, the European Capital of Culture Romania, filming for film and television production and the opening of the World Peace Summits of Sri Swami Madhavananda World Peace Councils.
As a mediator of the culture of temple dance, Bhakti Devi maintains cooperation with educational institutions in Austria, the EU and India, such as the S-Vyasa University of Bangalore (India), the Institute for Theater Studies and the University of Applied Arts (Vienna), the Masaryk University (Brno, CZ).
In 2004 founded her dance academy "Indische Tanzakademie" for Bharatanatyam in Vienna.
In addition to her dance performances, Bhakti Devi realized artistic projects with the Indian violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam, the opera singer Katja Potego - former soloist at the Vienna State Opera (“Music along the Silk Road”); the artist Barbara Anna Husar (“Bharatanatyam and galactic deserts of light”) and the sitar player Dr. Chandrakant Sardeshmukh (“Indian Rhapsody”). The book “Hastabhinaya” about hand gestures in traditional Indian theater art was created with the Institute of Theater Studies at the University of Brno.
A drum roll and “the dancer appeared, barefoot, with graceful springing steps, her… delicate feet outlined in red. Heavy and light at the same time, a creature that radiated sweetness and bitterness, gazelle and lioness in one...
I had never before seen a person who united opposites so completely. Now she had reached the center of the stage and began gesturally dividing the room. As if a magician was celebrating, her hands performed magic. They let things arise and perish, drew lines and painted pictures in the air, their fingers were in ever new positions. Was this sophisticated play of hands an ornament or a deep statement?
Was it more than just the external shape? …Then she escalated into explosive rhythms that drummed her dancing feet on the floor,” acoustically amplified by the many little bells around her ankles.
But the most incredible thing was her eyes; they seemed to follow everything, to underline everything, to be aware of everything. . ... I felt that her dance was a meditation of love...
The term Bharata Natyam is made up of various word elements from Sanskrit: “Bha” – Bhava (= expression), “ra” – raga (= melody), “ta” – tala (= rhythm) and “Natyam” (= dance ), is a “connection between expression, melody and rhythm” (Bha-ra-ta).
In Indian mythology, dance is considered a work of God: struck by the five arrows of the love god Kama, the creator god Brahma fell in love with Sarasvati, the goddess of the arts he created himself. When Sarasvati returned his love, “her steps became dances, everything her mouth formed became poetry, and the play of her hands became music.” Music is therefore called 'Sangita' in Hindi, the unity of dance, music and poetry. Of the 64 arts that Sarasvati gave birth to, dance art was the firstborn.
This legend of the origin of the dance was handed down by the poet Bharata from Tamil Nadu in southern India. He lived there about 2000 years ago. Its Sanskrit manuscript is called 'Natyasastram' or fifth Veda, because this ancient textbook contains excerpts from all four Vedas.
So it's no wonder that dance is an integral part of India. But despite its thousand-year history, it was once in danger of going under. In 1947, dancing in the temple was even banned altogether. This would only change again in the second half of the 20th century. Outstanding personalities such as the dancers Rukmini Devi and Balasaraswati managed to once again gain worldwide recognition for their art. Dance in India flourished again. Today there are more dancers and small dance groups there than in any other country in the world.
There is no festival where at least one 'Nayika' (dancer) does not perform. As a mediator between heaven and earth, she wears a colorful, never black robe, bells on her ankles and rich jewelry, each piece of which has symbolic meaning. Since time immemorial, their dance begins and ends with a homage to the earth: Namaskaram.
None of her movements are random and aim only to please. This applies to the arms, hands, head and eyes as well as the feet.
The ten most important foot positions are called mandalas. They create a pattern and are said to draw good forces from the universe. That's why women in India paint such mandalas on the cleaned floors in front of their houses. They are also a “symbol of orderly thinking, and that starts with the feet.”
A basic dance unit is called 'Adavu'. These are different postures that are linked together by rhythmic movements. It is danced in three different tempos. Each of the 13 Adavu groups has certain speaking syllables that accompany the beats of the movements, e.g. E.g.: “tai ya tai ya tai ya tai” in Tattadavu, in which the whole sole is hit or “tai yum tat tat tai yum ta ha”, in which only the heel touches the ground.
The most impressive thing is certainly the variety of smooth hand movements, the sign language, unique in the world of the arts. The hand gesture, hasta, becomes a mudra when it symbolizes something concrete. Of the 45 mudras, 28 are performed with one hand, the remaining 17 with both hands.
In contrast to a more mechanistic view in the West, in the East the body is viewed more as a “holy temple”, as a “place of bliss in which wisdom lies hidden”7). In the temple of Cidambaram in southern India, the most important dance poses were carved in stone 600 years ago - but depictions of gently moving figures are not missing in any temple. The Cidambaram Temple itself is an image of the great, universal space in the middle of which the god Shiva dances his dance of bliss. As Nataraja, he is the lover of the dancer, who through her dance becomes free from everything that binds her. Here Bharata Natyam appears at the highest level: as a direct path to the development of the emotional world and the intellect, to the knowledge of space and one's own body.
Name of the author: Margret Roidl, title of the page: www.eurasischesmagazin.de