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The Fruitful and the Fulfilled: Looking at Adi Rasa and Shringar Rasa in the Folk Aesthetics of Bihu

Prerana Choudhury, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Abstract
This paper seeks to explore the folk aesthetics of the springtime Bihu festival of Assam. The concept of Rasa, a significant part of the classical aesthetics found in Bharatmuni’s Natyashastra, has been outlined and illustrated through the Bihu songs- the dancing, the gestures as well as the overall ethos of the festival. A major aspect of the paper is the dialectics that form between the folk and the classical canon; an effort has been made to understand the juxtaposition of the two as well as the formation of the classical from the folk. Bihu as a celebration of eros, romance and fertility forms the core of the argument; adi-rasa and shringar-rasa form the primary essence of this celebration and this paper. This folk festival is undergoing rapid modernisation which has brought the dance form onto the urban stage that has led to the metamorphosis of the otherwise agricultural nomenclature of Bihu into a more ‘sanitised’ version of the same.

[Keywords: aesthetics, folk, rasa, adi-rasa, shringar-rasa, modernity, eros, romance, Natyashastra, gamusa, Huchori.]

I. Introduction
Rasa, the essence of a work of art, literally translates to ‘taste’ or ‘savour’. Theorised by the ancient sage Bharatmuni (between 200 BC and 200 AD), rasa refers to the specialised emotion inspired by the performers in an audience, which enables the viewers to relish the performance and engage with it in a manner that is deeper and more involved than in the actions of everyday living. It is what demarcates a performance, a work of art- or even a celebration- from the mundaneness of daily existence and thereby aestheticises the emotions provoked in the viewers by the ‘spectacle’ created to inspire good thought which in turn will inspire good living. The moral injunction within a classical framework such as that of the rasa theory is undeniable- it would be largely reminiscent of the question about art’s moral responsibility in place throughout history- specially in the context that the Natyashastra itself arrived at a time when society faced decadence, and it was left to the realm of the arts to elevate man from moral downtroddenness. (It is said that the four Vedas Brahma created- Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda- were not allowed to be studied by the lower castes and the women of society; so Brahma created the Natyaveda to be studied and practised by all.) Is the experience of rasa subjective or objective? Different philosophers and scholars thoughout history have provided their own perspective on it based on their philosophical stances. Although the navarasas per se are objective categories in terms of codification of the aesthetic experience through particular words themselves, Bharata stated how rasa and emotionneed to be felt in experience while words exist as the suggestions of the same. This democratic rendering of rasa stresses on the ‘experiential or subjective side of poetic meaning’ which ‘seems rather pointless, for ultimately everything is an experience, such as a colour, taste, or emotion, and can be known as it is in itself only through direct acquaintance.’

II. “The Springtime Bihu of Assam”- a Celebration of Eros
One of the seven northeastern states of India, Assam encompasses numerous ethnic communities, each with its own distinct cultural flavour, thereby negating the notion of a homogenous ‘Assamese’ identity. The contours of such a representation would be multifaceted, then; not simply as a result of diverse tribal identities but also as a consequence of the interaction between the ‘greater’ mainland Hindu influence that has seeped into the region and interacted with ‘indigenous’ tribal faiths, ensuing a process of assimilation. This can be said to have been possible because “(t)he religion described as Hinduism is a body of beliefs and customs traceable to various sources- Aryan and non-Aryan, Indian and non-Indian, modern and old. It is absorptive in character and has an attitude which has found itself expedient in dealing with people of various grades of development- from believing in a super soul to worshippers of stones and trees… Indian folklore is as much the Hindu’s as it is the tribal’s.” A melting pot, hence, Assam fuses communities that trace their origin to the Aryavarta, the Tibeto-Burmans and the Ahoms who are descendants of the Shun community from China’s Unan province, alongwith traces of Dravidian and Austric people as well….Access Full Text of the Article

What is Performance Studies?

Richard Schechner, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University

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Because performance studies is so broad-ranging and open to new possibilities, no one can actually grasp its totality or press all its vastness and variety into a single writing book. My points of departure are my own teaching, research, artistic practice, and life experiences.

Performances are actions. As a discipline, performance studies takes actions very seriously in four ways. First, behavior is the “object of study” of performance studies. Although performance studies scholars use the “archive” extensively – what’s in books, photographs, the archaeological record, historical remains, etc. – their dedicated focus is on the “repertory,” namely, what people do in the activity of their doing it. Second, artistic practice is a big part of the performance studies project. A number of performance studies scholars are also practicing artists working in the avant-garde, in community-based performance, and elsewhere; others have mastered a variety of non-Western and Western traditional forms. The relationship between studying performance and doing performance is integral. Third, fieldwork as “participant observation” is a much-prized method adapted from anthropology and put to new uses. In anthropological fieldwork, participant observation is a way of learning about cultures other than that of the field-worker. In anthropology, for the most part, the “home culture” is Western, the “other” non-Western. But in performance studies, the “other” may be a part of one’s own culture (non-Western or Western), or even an aspect of one’s own behavior. That positions the performance studies fieldworker at a Brechtian distance, allowing for criticism, irony, and personal commentary as well as sympathetic participation. In this active way, one performs fieldwork. Taking a critical distance from the objects of study and self invites revision, the recognition that social circumstances– including knowledge itself – are not fixed, but subject to the “rehearsal process” of testing and revising. Fourth, it follows that performance studies is actively involved in social practices and advocacies. Many who practice performance studies do not aspire to ideological neutrality. In fact, a basic theoretical claim is that no approach or position is “neutral”. There is no such thing as unbiased. The challenge is to become as aware as possible of one’s own stances in relation to the positions of others – and then take steps to maintain or change positions.

Balancing Tradition and Modernity: A reading of Tendulkar’s Ghasiram Kotwal

Shukla Chatterjee (Mandal), Dr. B. C. Roy College of Pharmacy and AHS, Durgapur, India

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Abstract

India, the country of cultural diversity, has a long tradition of dramatic performance with regional specificities. More commonly, it is known as folk tradition/folk theatre It is the folk theatre that gives the essence of the Indianness. During the 1970s, most of the prominent playwrights of India broke the barriers of regional language and produced many good plays at the national level. Most of their experimental works were centered on bringing the performance tradition or elements of folk theatre of India into the popular theatre. Thus we find Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana (1971) using theatrical devices of Yakshagna, a traditional form of theatre, widespread in Karnataka, Utpal Dutt using jatra in Surya Sikar (1972). Badal Sircar, experimented with folk elements of theatre and incorporated them into the proscenium theatre to evolve a new kind of theatre which he called the ‘third theatre’ or ‘street theatre’. Similarly Vijay Tendulkar, like his contemporaries, experimented with various forms of folk theatre in Ghasiram Kotwal (1972). But Ghasiram Kotwal is also a different and more important play in balancing tradition and modern in the history of Indian theatre. For an eminently successful and subtle realization of its importance in the long run, it is necessary to discuss the play critically. This paper is therefore an attempt to read how Tendulkar adopted the different folk forms of theatre and used it to represent on stage a power politics and the effects of oppression, a very contemporary and modern/postcolonial issue.

The Therapeutic Value of Indian Classical, Folk and Innovative Dance Forms

Arpita Chatterjee, Barasat College, West Bengal State University, India

Dance provides an active, non-competitive form of exercise that has potential positive effects for physical health as well as mental and emotional wellbeing. Dance therapy is based on the idea that body and mind are co-relational. The therapeutic approaches with various forms of Indian dances are a new entrant to dance literature. Ayurveda held dance as a power of healing (therapy) and inner awareness (psychology). Indian philosophy also supports the facts of Sangeet (song, dance and music) for benefit of human health physically as well as mentally. The powerful dance form of Bhangra (Punjab), Karagam (Tamilnadu), Chou, Rayabese, Dhali (West Bengal) gives good health and strength. The fast footwork of Kathak dance helps to release anger and tension. Manipuri dancers make rounded movements and avoid any jerks, sharp edges or straight lines. It gives them undulating and soft appearance, proper body control and peace of mind. All these body movements, body balancing, expression, muscle movement, muscle constriction and relaxation have a strong effect on therapeutic movements. In India today the dance therapists are conscious about this matter and in therapeutic sessions they actually improvise different dance movements according to the need.

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