Bharatanatyam

Mysore Style Bharatanatyam – Mysore Parampare, shyli, bani…

by Dr. Aparna Sindhoor

Bharatanatyam is one of the classical dance forms from India. It has its origins in the temples and courts of Southern India. Now Bharatanatyam is performed and practiced all over the world. The form encompasses strong techniques in footwork, rhythm training, musicality in movement and Abhinaya (acting or lyrical technique.)

All art forms, including Bharatanatyam, are ever evolving. Influenced by local cultural, socio-economic and artistic development, the tradition is always stretching the form. The beauty of Bharatanatyam is in this evolution and expansion. Since the time we have known about Bharatanatyam in history, the form has been continuously evolving with several influences which has led to the development of various styles of Bharatanatyam, such as the Pandanallore style, the Tanjavour style, the Mysore style, etc. These styles are also known as shyli or parampare or bani. To put it simply: the STYLES (or the regional variations) make the FORM.

I trained in the Mysore style of Bharatanatyam for fifteen years with the legendary teacher Padmabhushan Dr. K. Venkatalakshamma (1906-2002). Mysore is a small city in South India in the present day Karnataka state (previously known as Mysore state). The Mysore shyli or style developed predominantly in the Mysore Wodeyar’s court, specifically during the times of Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1894-1940) and Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (1940-1950). The royal patronage played a key role in the development and upkeep of the dancers and the style.

The Mysore style of Bharatanatyam has its own charm. The nuances of any style are in its presentation and teaching methodology. Mysore shyli Bharatanatya focuses on the lyrical and expressive aspects of dance versus angular movements.

Jetti Tayamma (1857-1947) is the pioneer of the Mysore shyli Bharatanatya. A dancer, choreographer and teacher, she was very well respected for her dance and scholarship. She trained in dance, music and literature under teachers such as Subbarayappa, Kaveeshwara Giriyappa, Chandrashekara Shastri and Basavappa Shastri. She was appointed as an Aastana Vidushi (Palace Dancer) in the Mysore palace at the age of fifteen. She resigned from the palace after a few months, began performing at different religious and social occasions, and teaching dance. Based on her versatile training, Jetti Tayamma created her own style of Bharatanatya that is now known as the Mysore shyli Bharatanatya. Lalitha Srinivasan, a senior dance teacher in the Mysore style Bharatanatyam says: “The Pandanallore shyli is defined by strong lines, the Mysore shyli is flowery. The Bharatanatya in this area [Mysore or Karnataka] is clearly different.”

Jetti Tayamma was known to be a very creative artist with great ability to choreograph impromptu dances. Artists, poets and scholars would gather together and challenge Jetti Tayamma to create a dance on the spot to a poem or a song that they composed. She would improvise effortlessly. She is also known to have brought Astapadis from the Sanskrit poet Jayadeva's (12th century) Gita Govinda, poems about love and sensuality, into the repertoire of Bharatanatya. Lalita Srinivasan says: “The astapadis and Amaru shataka (7th century) shlokar [verses] were not performed by any other style before. The Mysore style was known for those pieces. Now other shylis also perform these pieces. There is a possibility that the king Lakshmana Sena who ruled the state of Orissa also ruled the Mysore state in the twelfth-century. Jayadeva’s songs might have come from the Lakshmana Sena’s court to Mysore court.” Karnatic music (South Indian Classical music) is the base for the songs used in most Bharatanatyam styles. Mysore style Bharatanatyam uses Karnatic music as well. But Jetti Tayamma also choreographed dances for Thumree, love songs sung in Hindustani music.

Jetti Tayamma was a great teacher. She trained several students: including her daughter Ranganayaki, S.N. Swamy, Muguru Sundaramma and my guru Dr. K. Venkatalakshamma. Many well-known dancers of post-independence India such as Uday Shankar (1900-1977) and Indrani Rahman (1930-1999) also trained with Jetti Tayamma for some time. Ragini Devi (1893-1982,) an American woman, saw Jetti Tayamma perform and was so impressed that she decided to become a dancer herself.

Individual (sometimes institutional) aesthetic choices are informed and influenced by society, culture, economics and environment. For example, the choice of songs often reflects the regional language or the language of the dancer’s family. In the Mysore shyli there is a large repertoire of Kannada Javalis, representing the regional language and also the preference of the palace audiences. Jetti Tayamma and Venkatalakshamma’s love for Sanskrit, Telugu and Kannada literature permeates their selection of songs. Venkatalakshamma and Jetti Tayamma were both well known for their abhinaya performance. My guru performed even when she was 80 years old. A long patronage of dance in the Mysore palace, individual artists’ contributions to the form and the cultural-socio-economic influences have enabled the beautiful Mysore style of Bharatanatyam to pass the test of time. Now it is my turn to keep the evolution going by teaching the Mysore style, performing it and helping to continue the tradition in a meaningful way that enables our students, society and art lovers to be a part of an ever evolving tradition of Mysore style Bharatanatyam.

Aparna Sindhoor’s Gurus:

K.Venkatalakshamma:

K.Venkatalakshamma(29 May 1906 –1 July 2002) was a renowned Bharata Natyam dancer. A doyenne of the Mysore Style of Bharatanatyam, she was the last representative of the Mysore court tradition. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian honor, in 1992. Venkatalakshamma was born on 29 May 1906 in a Lambani family in Tangali Tanda, Kadur. At the age of eight her grandparents took her to the royal court of Mysore to learn Bharatanatyam under the tutelage of the well-known dancer, 'Natya Saraswati' Jatti Thayamma. Venkatalakshamma learnt the art of dance in the gurukula system and made her ‘Ranga Pravesha’ when she was twelve. She learnt Sanskrit from Asthana Vidwans Devottama Jois, Shanta Shastry and Giri Bhatta, the essential components of Carnatic music from Dr B.Devendrappa and C.Rama Rao and performed with her guru Thayamma for nearly 30 years. Venkatalakshamma was appointed "Asthana Vidushi," royal court dancer, by the great king Krishna Raja Wodeyar IVin 1939 and soon she became a household name in the world of Bharatanatyam.[3] She is credited with taking the Mysore style of Bharatanatyam to its zenith. She served as Asthana Vidushi for an incredible 40 years in the courts of H H Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, the last of the Mysore rulers. After 40 years of service in the palace, Venkatalakshamma, the famous abhinaya exponent, opened her own institution, Bharatiya Nritya Niketana. When the Faculty of Dance was founded at the University of Mysore, India in 1965 Venkatalakshamma became its first head of dance department and retired after serving for nine years in 1974.The Mysore University awarded her an honorary doctorate recognizing her service to Indian dance. She passed away in 2002 leaving a legacy of dance with her students including Smt. Shakuntala (grand-daughter), Smt. Lalitha Srinivasan and Dr. Aparna Sindhoor among others.

Dr SMT.LALITHA SRINIVASAN:

Smt. Lalitha Srinivasan is a dancer, teacher, choreographer and a research scholar. She heads the Nupura School of Bharathanatyam founded in 1978.She has to her credit numerous dance ballets like Chitrangadha, Sri Krishna Parijatha, Lasyotsava, Prem Bhakti Mukti, Koushika Sukritam, Gowdara Malli, Deva Kannika, the latest being Anveshane and Nisha Vibhrama etc. and is especially lauded for her innovative works like Anga Bhava, Kavya Nritya, Sulalitha Nritya which is a revival of a 16th century dance form – the Suladi, and Nisha Vibhrama. In addition to the numerous dancers she has tutored, she is the holder of the prestigeous Shiromani, Priyadarshini awards at the national level and Karnataka Sangeetha Nritya Academy and Kannada Rajyothsava awards at the state level and was also a fellow of the Ministry of Human Resource Development – Government of India. Lalitha initially a student of Guru Keshavamurthy, later specialised in abhinaya under Smt. Dr.K.Venkatalakshamma. She has also learnt the Muguru style under Jejamma. Thus, a blend of several Teacher’s styles, Lalitha's mastery over abhinaya is a treat to watch. She has danced all over the country, and also given innumerable Lecture Demonstrations, including the one at Madras Music Academy, Gayana Samaj, Ganakala Parishath, Natyakala Conference of Krishna Ganasabha, Chennai etc.Lalitha , who is known for her experimental work has contributed immensely to the field of Dance. Her research work ‘Sulalitha Nritya’ for which she had the fellowship of Central Cultural Department, modern concept in Anga Bhava and Kavya Nritya are mile stones, not only in the History of Nupura, but also in the History of Karnataka’s Dance Tradition. Her Studies at the Wesleyan University at U.S.A. has added another dimension to her creative work. The ‘Nitya Nritya’ – a National Festival of Dance, is the foremost of its kind conducted at Bangalore. Lalitha has touched all facets of Dance and has carved a niche for herself in her chosen field of Art. State Sangeetha Nritya Academy has brought out two of her books. She was the President of Karnataka Nrityakala Parishath for the years 2008-2013.