Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A deck of cards with a Classical Touch Bharatnatyam Dancer Jayalakshmi Eshwar

The original article in Hindu 

The Hindu : Features / Sunday Magazine : Dance with the cards

Read the unedited version here.....

A full hand - set of sequential cards from the 13 cards of diamonds, clubs, spade or hearts - yes that is the typical rummy.  Fast track it to the world of dance and it is a set of three cards of Kathak, another with Chhau and top it off with a set of four of from say Bharatnatyam and voila full hand – that is the dance rummy game devised by danseuse Jayalakshmi Eshwar. Unlike the traditional deck of cards of 54, this has a whopping 90 cards covering the 9 traditional classical dance forms of India. It is a game for children six years and above. The deck of cards can be used to play two different games one of course on the lines of rummy. The game innovative, thought provoking, educative yet fun has been conceptualised, researched and executed by Jayalakshmi Eshwar. Jayalakshmi, a trained Bharatnatyam dancer from Kalakshetra is the Head of the Bharatnatyam Department at Triveni Kala Sangam and also runs her own troupe – Abhinaya Dance Group.

A talented multifaceted personality, she has maintained the traditional and purity of the dance form yet has embraced modernity with technology. As she says, “in today’s age, children do not have the luxury of time to learn the way it was done earlier. Neither do the gurus have that kind of time available. Today after the 8th standard, students get busy with the board exams then it is admission, where is the time to learn slowly. So an audio visual medium can be played in the evening at home and learnt from.” Thus both her books cum instruction media, one on a how to on Bharatnatyam a step by step guide on dance  and the other one on the use of hands – Hastha Prayogaah in Bharatnatyam come with an accompanying audio visual CD.  The card game was an extension of this mindset. As she recalls, “my second son Avinash Kumar is from NIFT and was working with the toy industry. He then suggested that I develop a game for children based on the dance form.” The earlier idea revolved around Bharatnatyam but research proved that the general knowledge on dance as a medium was more or less absent.

The game in itself is very interesting. It has been painstakingly put together. Be it the in depth research in getting the information or the succinct manner in which it has been written in the cards, such that it is informative yet not academically overbearing. The cards are larger than normal cards measuring approximately 5 inches by 3 inches. Each of the nine forms are represented by a different colour. The dance forms covered are: Bharatanatyam, Chhau, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniyattam, Oddissi and Sattriya. There are 10 cards in each of the 9 dance forms.  The 10 cards are actually 10 broad categories giving information on each of the dance form. These are – state of origin of the dance form, introduction on the dance form, reference texts on the origins of the dance form, temple / tradition which it is associated with, few gurus and exponents of the dance form, costume, two cards on the ornaments worn in the dance form, instruments accompanying the dance form and the technique or nritta position. The information has been patiently compiled with help and suggestions from co-artistes of their particular tradition, Sangeet Natak Academy and CCRT.  The information on costumes, ornaments, musical instruments and accompanying photographs were collected from well wisher friends each a master proponent in the field of dance. For example Guru Shashadhar Acharya, the well known proponent of Saraikala Chhau has provided these for the cards for Chhau. Similarly for Kathakali it is the well known International Centre for Kathakali, New Delhi.  The photograph used in the depiction of the costume in Kathakali is that of Sadanam Balakrishnan.

The detailing in the card is mind boggling. For example, in Kathak the list of gurus and exponents is large encompassing – Shambhu Maharaj, Lachchu Maharaj and Achhan maharaj, the exponents include: Sitara Devi, Pandit Briju Maharaj, Uma Sharma….. Similarly for Chhau the banks of the river where it is performed annually is beautifully put while the exponents have been drawn out carefully in the case of Bharatnatyam. A charming compilation is on the comparatively lesser known dance form is Sattriya from Assam. The set of 10 cards tracing the origins from 15th – 16th century to the tradition by Vaishnav Saint Srimanta to Sankaradeva to the gurus Maniram Datta Moktar and further detailing on the ornaments and costumes is a mine of information.

The colour codification of the dance form is also interesting. Satriya is brown while Odissi from the neighbouring State is a deeper shade of the same colour.   Kathakali is represented by green while Mohiniyattam from the state is bordered in dark green. Another little quirk that Jayalakshmi has introduced is that in each of the card at the top the entire name of the dance is not written. As she says, “I just wanted the first two letters or first letter of the dance form written. This will provoke the child to use his intellect and understand the dance form while playing. It is not only educative to the child but also to the parent, many of whom are not aware of the minute nuances of the dance forms.” It is true, people may know the dance form but not the intricacy like names of the instruments accompanying it or the ornaments worn.
The game is played like rummy. It can be played by 4 to a maximum of 9 persons. Each player is dealt 10 cards and the rest of the cards are kept in the middle. For winning the game, three sequences ( 3 cards of two dance form and 4 cards of another dance form) has to be made. The second way of playing it is as a simple question answer format. The cards are simply dealt.  Each player reads from one card giving out all the information, after which proceeds to ask questions on the information read out.  This helps the child memorise facts about the dance form. In the offing apart from her book on feet movements is another card game exclusive to Bharatnatyam to be played by a student. What else can one say except dance playing on!

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