The Centre for Women’s Studies, School of Social Sciences, at the University of Hyderabad, on 23rd August, 2019 organized a programme on dance. The event was attended by academicians and students from different departments. Prof. Rekha Pande, Director of the Centre of Women’s Studies in the University welcomed the gathering and introduced the Centre for Women’s Studies, its main motive, significance and research initiatives. The Centre is interdisciplinary in nature targeting multifaceted issues and its major thrust area of study is primarily women. She emphasized on how dance is a powerful form of expression with the combination of gestures and facial expressions and also a medium of communication.  She spoke about how scholars are divided into two groups. Scholars like Ray Birdwhistell, feels that body language are as diverse as verbal language and no position of the body or expression of the face has a universal meaning. However, other scholars like Paul Ekman, speak of an inherited basic human emotions such as disgust, anger, sadness, enjoyment, surprise and fear which have a universality of expression. She also explained how dance is being used by women since centuries to express themselves especially through such dance forms like Mohiniyattam, a female centric dance form.

Professor Anuradha Jonnalagadda, from the Department of Dance gave introductory remarks about the event citing how dance holds significance in the cultural expression. She stated that it is imperative here to say that dance is not only the medium of entertainment but has also enabled women to earn livelihood since ages.  She drew attention towards the prominent role of female in dancing activities. Women’s participation in dance and other performance activities is also recorded in ancient Indian sources like ‘Natyasastra’. Sanskrit terms such as, ‘Nartaki’ for female dancer, ‘Nata’ for male juggler, ‘Nati’ for female juggler, ‘Natya’ for drama were frequently used in ancient India for people associated with this field. In explaining the element ‘Lasya’ (associated as Feminine Grace) of dance she opines that it was never a delicate way of dancing but it’s the association with the woman and her body subtle moments that makes the dance gracefully expressive.

Introduction of the key speaker and performer was delivered by Mr. G.V. Anna Rao, who has established himself as an organizer and connoisseur of classical dance performances in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. Mr Rao introduced Dr. Anupama Kylash, a trained Kuchipudi dancer who has been actively performing over 25 years and has been performing Vilasini Natyam dance for over 14 years. She has given more than 1000 performances in India and overseas. She completed her doctorate from University of Hyderabad. She later, established “Anubhav”, a Centre for Dance, Music and Literature in Hyderabad. Dr. Anupama is also a ‘Vishaarad’ in Hindustani music from the ‘Akhil Bhartiya Gandharva Mahavidyalay’ and an ‘A’ grade artiste of Doordarshan. Adding to her accomplishments, she has authored two books entitled “Nayikas in Kshetrayya Padams” published by the prestigious ‘Writers Workshop’ Kolkata and “The Nayikas of Annamacharya– An Interpretation for Dance” based on her Doctoral thesis. She also received ‘Vishista Pruskara’ in 2007 and ‘Natya Saraswati’ award from the department of Performing Arts, Bangalore in 2017. Presently, Dr. Anupama is serving as Faculty for the Masters programme at the University of Silicon Andhra, Milpitas, California.

Then, Mr Rao introduced the performer of the day, Dr. Mythili Maratt Anoop, a Mohiniyattam artist and trained in Kathak. Dr. Mythaili completed her doctorate from Humanities and Social Sciences department, IIT Bombay in Performative Semiotics of Mohiniyattam. She also worked as guest faculty at the University of Hyderabad. Her publications include ‘Mohiniyattam, An Indian dance Tradition: A Language of Feminine Desire’ and contributed a chapter in the edited volume titled ‘Scripting Dance in Contemporary India’. She also holds the Tagore scholarship for cultural research. After this a book entitled, Mohiniyattam, an Indian dance Tradition: A Language of Feminine Desire” authored by Dr. Mythaili was released by the dignitaries.

Thereafter, Dr. Anupama, the key speaker was invited on dais to present a paper on “The Concept of Lasya in the Textual and Performative Traditions of India”. Dr. Anupama cited ‘Tandava’ and the distinction between the usage of compound words for associated ideology.  To understand Lasya, it is needed to understand the concept of Shiva and Shakti. The contiguous knowledge disconnects with the land and considers ancient knowledge as ‘Primitive and Tribal’. She mentioned about the lacuna of western culture or urban nation in understanding of these ancient wisdom, although Indian dance forms have their origin on Land and the idea of bonding from its land and water thus emphasizing the understanding of the terms in reference with ancient wisdom.

She made the argument that it is significant to understand the intrinsic idea behind ‘Lasya’. She quoted Bharata, the author of ‘Natyasastra’ that “coming in contact with the other” is Lasya. Further, she goes on defining the term ‘Lasya’ and its etymologically, the root meaning being bronze in colour, glittering or shining. The English word Lust has also originated from this word “Lasya”. Another Sanskrit work Amarkosa also defines ‘Lasya’ as a symphony of singing, dance and music which generates harmony and energizes activity. In elaborating the different dimensions of ‘Lasya’ she elaborated that Natyasastra describes it as the mutual attraction of male and female energies or ‘union of both energies’. So, the subtle dance movements as per the cosmic idea of dance creates a union which was considered as a form of female activity that ultimately manifests in producing energy. This energy is always measured in cyclical idea. Dr. Anupama further mentions about the 7 types of Lasya. Where Lasya is a symbolic feminine activity generating harmony through any performing tradition. Lasya is also an effort to establish harmony between space and time.

Dr. Mythili, before giving her Dance performance gave an overview of her book ‘Mohiniyattam’ in relation with semiotics of performance. Her work was concerned with the topics like the nature of dance as a language of communication, subjectivity created in dance and the discourse about Indian dance. She explained the mythological story of ‘Vishnu Mohini’ as a cross dressed lord Vishnu. Mohini here means ‘to generate desire’ which is also associated with bisexuality, deception and delusion. She goes on explaining that it played a vital role in generating the Indian psychoanalysis different from its western counterpart. Moreover, she explains that Mohiniyattam as a dance is very coded. The basic idea behind is that body does not exists as priority but through dance it is way to dissolve body in the space. Attam here represents clear demarcation between performance and audience. Thereafter, she gave three performances expressing different human form of emotions. In her first dance performance, ‘Padama’, where the nayaka is separated from the lord Padamanabha by the God of love ‘Kama Deva’, she is waiting for the lord and the emotions of grief due to separation, sadness and waiting for the lord was beautifully expressed during the performance. In her second presentation named as ‘Venugoplala’ the story goes as a girl is married to another man, but she is in love with the Krishna, the girl is having conversation with Krishna that she has to take leave as her husband arrived, but says I love you never forget me and my love towards you. Here the idea of love even after separation from the lover is very prominent. Mythili in her attempt to portray the emotions of love and separation simultaneously moved the audience by her facial expressions. The third performance represented Bhakti tradition in India. Here she symbolizes a feminized form seeking union with the God. Mythili performed on the sufi composition of Amir Khusrao. Where devotee is seeking the ultimate union with the God. 

Lastly, the event was concluded with a valedictory note from Pooja Chetry, research scholar of Centre for Women’s Studies with vote of thanks to the dignitaries, professors and students who were part of event and enjoyed talk as well as enticing performance in the auditorium.

Report prepared by, Dr. Manu Jayas, Post-Doctoral Fellow (UGC), Department of History