Aadya Kaktikar/ 701

Indian classical dance is largely an oral tradition with no written syllabus. However post India‟s independence, due to partial institutionalisation of the dance into universities, a framework for teaching has emerged. However, the traditional teaching method of the Guru-Shishya Parampara is still predominant and dance is directly transmitted from the teacher to the taught. According to Bourdieu and Foucault, the body is symbolic of social forces and is inscribed with notions of power, status and knowledge (Thomas 2003, 56).In the context of Indian dance, the question of understanding gender and its hierarchy in dance is as huge as it is complex, complicated and diabolical (Michaels and Wulf 2011, 1). The negotiation of Gender and its impact on the physical and social body of the dancer is further complicated by the fact that India is. Indian classical dance is primarily a religious- aesthetic practice. Both movement and Hindu philosophy are critical parts of the learning process and cannot be divorced from each other. A study of Indian philosophy of dance, drawing on works of Western theorists and recent writings on Indian dance and philosophy by Indian and European scholars, reiterates Sherry Orther‟s view that “the way sexual difference is perceived and organised vary from culture to culture and are often quite contradictory” (Thomas 2003, 35) . The Indian milieu brings forth important ideological differences between Indian and Western philosophy of sex and gender. However, a social context textured by simultaneously negotiating five dramatic transformations; urban, industrial, democratic, national and social (Guha 2010, 5) has brought forth a dance practice which is highly gendered. It is interesting to note that how a dance practice based on a philosophy of harmony of male and female form has come to a point where dance has become a site for intense gender struggle. Sex, Gender and Hindu philosophy: concurrence and contradiction to Western thought. In the Samkhya (hindu dualist) philosophy, the world is divided into Purusha and Prakriti, culture (male) and nature (female) (Roberts 2005, 3). This binary divide in Western philosophy has negative connotations and has been used to explain inequalities between man and woman (Thomas 2003, 35).This divide seems to reinforce the belief that the Indian society is patriarchal. However, this duality

Aadya Kaktikar/ 701
represents subject and object; a split between inner reality without name gender or form and between the outer reality of name gender and form. The Purusha (culture) can only exist as a reference to Prakriti (nature) and vice versa, just as darkness can only be expressed in terms of light. They both come into existence at the same time, neither one autonomous or independent of each other. This is in contrast to the Western thought of Eve being created from Adam‟s rib. “In the Hindu mythology, a male form is essentially incomplete and presupposes the existence of the female form.”(Pattnaik 2008, 31) The circle is Prakriti (female/ nature) and the square is Purusha (male/ culture). The square is oriented differently at different times but is always anchored to the circle.

(Pattnaik 2008, 80) The Samkhya philosophy says that the male and the female elements share a horizontal relationship (Roberts)rather than a vertical one as suggested by second wave feminists who believed that women were universally accorded a lowers status as compared to men (Thomas 2003, 34). The philosophy also challenges Laquer‟s model of „homologues‟ (Thomas 2003, 40) and Emily Martin‟s assertion that “the male is the standard of judging the female” (Thomas 2003, 40). Gender in Hindu mythology and subsequently in Indian classical dance, is associated with behaviour and quality, and not with the body. Therefore aggressive, violent war-like behaviour is masculine (Tandava in dance) and soft, sensuous, amorous, erotic behaviour is feminine ( Laasya in dance). This is in line with Oakley‟s reasoning that notions of feminity and masculinity are constructed by behaviour (Thomas 2003, 36). However, the Indian classical dancing body is asexual. It is merely a tool for conveying a story or narrative. A classical dancer takes on many roles (both male and female) during a performance.


Aadya Kaktikar/ 701
Not only is gender transgressed in a mythological sense, and even partly reversed, the body itself becomes the space for its transgression, the preferred space for realising mythological/ ritualistic ideas and concepts. (Michaels and Wulf 2011, 3)


2.female abhinaya by a male dancer


The most important part of training, and one that most students struggle with the most, is Abhinaya or the emotive technique. The ability acquired by training, to dissolve ones personal identity (of gender and age) and take on those of the character being portrayed is the cornerstone of the Indian classical dance practice. As is evident from the above pictures, the idea that gender can be transgressed and that the claims of feminists that “gendered identities are not stable…but are produced through discursive practices” (Thomas 2003, 48) is illustrated in the body of the Indian classical dancer. During the course of study, students learn to master gestures of expression and employ the body and its limbs for physical and emotional expression. Students are taught for example, how to use the eyes, eyebrows, cheeks and lips to show the smile of a cunning wife or that of a shy young man. This seems to be in concurrence

Aadya Kaktikar/ 701
with Featherstone‟s belief that a disciplined/ trained body is essential for individual expression (Thomas 2003, 52). However the essence of training is different in the two contexts. In the Western consumerist theory, according to Foucault, a freedomunfreedom duality exists (Thomas 2003, 54) where the training of the body constrains the body by its idealisation. As opposed to this, in the Indian philosophy, training frees the dancer‟s body from the constraints of gender and its hierarchy. “The true aesthetic experience, creation of Rasa, de-individualises the

individual”(Kanak Rele 1996, 80).

Inspite of the fact that the philosophical concepts underlying Indian dance and the training process focus on creating an asexual trained body, the actual practice of dance in India is highly gendered practice.

The Classical Indian dance tradition, was performed by and still strongly identified with the Devadasis, a sect of artist- professional women, dedicated to the temples. This cult was abolished in 1947 under the social reform movement as it came to be associated with religious prostitution in post-colonial India. According to Janet O‟ Shea, the classical arts underwent a purging, as the Devadasis represented precolonial feudal India and could not be allowed to cross over into a unified post colonial India (Hubel, 161). Devadasis became icons of aberrant sexuality, and as Gilman‟s study shows (Thomas 2003, 43), shape perceptions in contemporary culture. These reforms were brought about by feminists who are largely responsible for many of the legal rights women enjoy in India today. The suppression of one group of women by another by taking over their roles is an area that requires further study.

As the reformation process of classical dance was led by feminists, escalated the „feminization‟ of the dance, becoming an almost exclusive women‟s pursuit (Iyengar, 229). Dancing men are by and large not considered‟ normal‟ and it is the men in the audience who are uncomfortable about dancing male bodies on stage (Iyengar 233). However, the greatest dance teachers of post colonial India have been men. A quote from Dattani‟s play Dance like a Man (1994, 166) sums up the gender dilemma facing male dancers today.

Aadya Kaktikar/ 701
“A woman in a man‟s world may be considered being progressive. But a man in a woman‟s world is – pathetic.” (as in Iyangar 2010, 228)

While both male and female dancers struggle to find their space, personal identity and its meaning is a topic of debate amongst dancers. A duality of new dimensions is emerging. There is an ongoing tussle between tradition and innovation, between adopting an Indian identity or a global identity. In these uncertain times, dancers are either adopting the role of „traditionalists‟ or „reformists‟; both groups being nonpermeable and confined to their „identities‟. Middle class Victorian morality is still a force to reckon with even after 70 years of India‟s Independence (Srinivasan 2007). The current dance curriculum, institutional or traditional, is ill equipped to face the above challenges. New narratives of classical will have to emerge in order to negotiate the gender challenges posed by post modern India.


Aadya Kaktikar/ 701


“Cambridge Journals Online - Abstract - K. N. Panikkar‟s Teyyateyyam: Resisting Interculturalism Through Ritual Practice.” Web. 27 Nov. 2012. Vijaisri, Priyadarshini. Recasting the devadasi : patterns of sacred prostitution in colonial South India. New Delhi: Kanishka Publishers, Distributors, 2004. Print.


Aadya Kaktikar/ 701

Iyengar, V. 2010 The Lords of Dance in Chakravorty, P. and Gupta, N. (ed) “Dance matters : performing India.” Routledge, 225-234

Guha, Ramachandra. Makers of modern India. India: Viking, 2010. Print.

Michaels, A. and Wulf, C. Images of the body in India. New Delhi: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Pattanaik, Devdutt. Myth = Mithya : a handbook of Hindu mythology. New Delhi, India: Penguin Books India, 2008. Print.

Srinivasan.A The Apsara in the text: some notes from the field in Seminar on “The Natyasastra: text or context?” et al. “Knowledge tradition text : approaches to Bharata’s Natyasastra.” Sangeet Natak Akademi ; Hope India Publications, 2007 146-167

Hubel, T. 2010 The High cost of dancing in Soneji, D. (ed) Bharatanatyam : a reader. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 160-181

Thomas, Helen. The body, dance, and cultural theory. Basingstoke [etc.]: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.



Aadya Kaktikar/ 701
Photo credits 1. Stephan Pikkar (personal collection of Aadya Katikar) 2. Mayadhar Raut photo collection 3. Siddharth Mishra (personal collection of Aadya kaktikar)


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful