Somewhere off the coast of Cambodia, an historic ship from Mamallapuram docks on an exquisite seashore after many weeks of journey. Vassals of Mahendravarman I disembark, bringing with them the Tamil and Sanskrit script, the spices of south India and the perfume of the arts that originate alongside the banks of the Cauvery. While many vassals and rulers had come and left earlier than them, their arrival in Southeast Asia was a marked turning level in the historical past of artwork and tradition.

The affect of Hinduism and Indian tradition in Southeast Asia is usually understood as a perform of conquest and commerce. Yet the story of Indian dance is a little more complicated. Could actions have been traded? Can repertoire be acquired? As is commonly the case with embodied kinds, the evolution of their observe rests in the particular person our bodies of the practitioners. It was so for the Indian vassals that arrived in Java, Sumatra, Bali, Siam Annam Borneo, and Cambodia.

The earliest connections between Indian dance and Southeast Asia have been recognized by Padma Subrahmanyam and Kapila Vatsyayan. Both prolific students made the remark that the sculptural arts of Southeast Asia mirrored a deep understanding of codes inside the Natyashastra. This is especially mirrored in the ninth century temple complicated of Prambanan in Indonesia, the place we discover 62 dancing sculptures, labelled in accordance with the postures delineated in the fourth chapter of the Natyashastra, titled ‘Tandava Laksanam’. This dance catalogue of kinds is the earliest of its variety, pre-dating the visible catalogues of dance that we discover in Thanjavur, Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, and different websites throughout Tamil Nadu. It is fascinating to notice that the concept of visually documenting the sequence of dance postures in stone, as they seem in the textual content, might have originated in Southeast Asia.

Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia

Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia
| Photo Credit: AFP

As a deeper exploration of this concept, Alessandra Lopez y Royo spent a number of a long time partaking with the dance archaeology of this web site, in the try to report the karana sculptures and embody them in observe. Edi Sedyawati, a Javanese scholar, explored the connections between India and Indonesia and the way it has impacted the Balinese and Javanese dance repertoire. Numerous different students have investigated this relationship in different elements of Southeast Asia together with Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.

The widespread hyperlink

This analysis, though variegated in manifestation, converges at a single, potent realisation — the Natyashastra was a textual content that discovered resonance throughout the artwork types of South and Southeast Asia. It is that this commonality, says Aravinth Kumarasamy, arts director of the Singapore-based Apsaras Arts Dance Company, that permits kinds from each cultures to collaborate fruitfully. A pioneer in furthering the embodied dialog between Bharatanatyam and Southeast Asia, Aravinth has labored with Javanese, Balinese and Cambodian dancers throughout his spectacular profile of productions. He says that Padma Subrahmanyam has been a mentor, and certainly one of the driving forces behind exploring these commonalities.

“It is straightforward to organically put these artforms collectively. While the manifestations of the Natyashastra could also be completely completely different, there’s a shared physique of data that permits us to have interaction in the identical context. Kumarasamy recounts an instance from his manufacturing ‘Anjaneyam’, the place the character of Sita needed to carry out a sanchari. “It is troublesome to clarify the idea of a sanchari to Javanese dancers, particularly with a language barrier. But after watching it as soon as in rehearsal, they only instinctively understood what we have been doing and created a counterpoint in the Javanese type.”

Over the years, Aravinth’s works equivalent to ‘Amara’ (dancing tales of Banteay Srei), ‘Angkor’ (impressed by the stunning bas reliefs on the partitions of Angkor Wat), and ‘Anjasa’ (on Buddhist temple structure) have celebrated the historical past and tradition of each India and Southeast Asia. “With each manufacturing I grew to become extra excited to unravel this sturdy join.”

Mohanapriyan Thavarajah’s latest book

Mohanapriyan Thavarajah’s newest e-book
| Photo Credit: Apsaras Arts Dance Company

The temple complexes at Angkor Wat have stunning, intricate panels depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha. The newest e-book of Mohanapriyan Thavarajah, principal dancer of Apsaras Arts Dance Company,  Temple Dance of Apsaras: A dancer’s view of Angkor Wat, is an extension of his analysis on the famed temple complicated and explores the angika abhinaya of the Cambodian custom. Mohanapriyan notes that the evolution of the kind resonates with that of Bharatanatyam, with related shifts in patronage, from temples to courts and comparable prominence of devadasi dancers. “There are solely 5 mudras used popularly in Cambodian dance,” he explains, including that “some characters put on masks”. This is certainly one of many distinctions that he has found in his observe and interplay with Southeast Asian kinds.

Aravinth furthers these observations by noting that Southeast Asian dance kinds are much more collaborative than Indian ones. “In Bharatanatyam, we’re all educated to be solo artistes whereas the Southeast Asian dance custom and coaching prepares them for ensemble work. Every dancer has a selected position to play.”

When requested about the viewers reception of those collaborative productions, Aravinth is notably passionate. “As Indian conventional artistes, we’re obsessive about the diaspora. It is all the time about [performing at] Carnegie Hall. We have an already current discerning viewers of rasikas in Southeast Asia, who really perceive the nuances of our work. More dancers have to acknowledge that and carry out broadly in these areas.”

The Bengaluru-based author is a dancer and analysis scholar.

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