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Soraya Franco St.Georges

The Indian dance Karanasrescue research.

Saint-Georges, Franco Soraya: "The Indian dance Karanas rescue research", 17th International Congress on Dance Research, Naxos, 22-26/10, 2003.

Research proposal: Identification of the ancient Indian Karanas dance style, its contribution on the living tradition of India and its influence to the Western classical dance.Exploration of the ancient sacred Indian dance style through treatises, iconography of temple sculptures and the living traditions of India.


This research will focus on the efforts to preserve the Indian Dance “Karanas” as one of the oldest forms on the dance culture heritage the influences of such dances forms to the western classical dances. And here the dilemma: Fidelity to historical truth or novelty? One of my questions is. There was dance route along with the old world traditional trades Routes? And if it is so, in which form this dances traveled, by means of sculptures, paintings, art objects or real encounters and exchanges between the first missions or traders? My hypothesis is based in an experimental work made a few months ago with an Indian Sanskrit Scholar who is also graduated in Anthropology, dance and drama. We started working and translating the 4th chapter of Natya Shastra original text about certain cadences of movements described as the dance “Karanas” and deciphering the notated movements in practice at the dance Kalari (studio) to my great surprise, I found a lot of movements and steps very similar to our western classical ballet, steps that could easily be the ancestors of today glissades, grand jettes, pas de chat, hand to feet stretch attitude derriere or a la seconde (180 degrees), even fouettes. How to explain this similarity?

The NatyaSastra has been the center of attention and also many controversies of several critical scholars in the east as in the west now for over a hundred years, but only a few scholars have been connected directly to dance specifically (Still in India not many dance scholars have been in contact with this treatises, because even in India it’s very difficult to find a dance scholar researching in ancient history, still being an active dancer and also understanding Sanskrit, as well as in the western side it’s difficult to find a western classical or contemporary dancer who is interested research in ancient history of dance, who practice Indian classical dance and understand or have Sanskrit notions.

Apart from the evidences which can be gathered from archaeological remains, sculptural relief and mural painting, dance historians have rarely benefited from new sources –archaeological or textual, and the dance researchers must be satisfied with only reinterpretation of old documents by non dancers scholars.In any case, despite all the unresolved questions with this research, I think this would be the first time a western scholar in dance goes through this text in depth with practical experiments, and attempt a comparative dance cultural study on the first Ancient treatise of dramatology and dance in human history.

I also think, that considering the significant work in cultural preservation achieved in recent years, it would be useful to have an in-depth flashback revision on the dance history during the events of the old traditional trades routes and afterwards.However, A work of this magnitude, which covers the history, and technique of a highly stylized form of one of the oldest dance tradition in the world, within the dimension of an interdisciplinary approach, cannot be executed without the help of the scholars, archaeologist, historians and dance notators, so our aim with this proposal is to get their attention for further collaboration linking them in order to complete this work.

1. Objectives of the project

1-To throw new light on the hidden original treasures of this ancient Indian classical dance style, which disappeared from living tradition before the 5th century A.D.

2- To decode and notate the material in order to obtain a greater understanding of it and make it accessible to the dance community throughout the world.

3- To carry out a lecture and practical demonstration with a performance highlighting the results of the research.

4- To identify the links and evidence of the connections between the Karanas movements and the Western classical Ballet.

5- To conduct a further research on the musical elements of the dances, from its origins to the present day.

2. What are the Karanas?

The Karanas are a sequence of dance units and movements, which were used to decipher and illustrate the tradition of Sanskrit drama (song, music and dance) in ancient India.

3. What prompted the quest?

We, dancers, choreographers, teachers and dance researchers have always had the quest to explore the origin of classical dance movements and its repercussion on the contemporary dance forms of today. At the time of our meeting, we already were linked by the same exploration, sharing the spiritual beauty of the intangible richness that is withheld in dance. Our first realization was that despite many achievements in this field, there was still much to do. To this day, most research has been carried out by academics and Sanskrit scholars, with only a handful of contributions by actual dance practitioners. For the first time, we intend to bring together dancers, masters, choreographers and scholars, with both an Indian and western Classical dance interpretation to revive the Karanas dances, which have all but fallen into oblivion.

4. Mythological evidence for the karanas

We found evidence of the Karanas in many treatises, mythological stories, temple sculptures, iconographies and paintings. In the Ramayana and the Mahabharata we found mention of it in certain chapters. In ancient India, they were performed throughout the entire continent.

5. Status of this dance today and geographical extent

Since the Karanas style disappeared during the 5th century A.D, we cannot see it in its original form today. We still find some glimpses of it in the mythological, religious, folk and other forms of dance traditions still practiced today. We also find some fragments of it latent in stone sculptures and paintings in different parts of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

6. Practical demonstration of the Karanas dance and its repertoire

Karanas movements are meant for dance and Sanskrit drama performances. In ancient times the performance began with a Poorvarang (introduction) and a Pindy (group) dance before the actual play began. Our practical demonstration will be as close as possible to the original in order to keep the spirit and meaning of the scriptures intact. Actually, the choreography work and background research is already at a very advanced stage (3 years of research on the scriptures and dance experimentation). However, one or two more years will be necessary to finish the work and a repertoire of a performance reconstruction of minimum one hour and thirty minutes of music, dance and drama.

7. Elements of the music

The Sama Veda containing the hymns and chants, contributed to the musical part of the Dance Karanas. This music is also called the “Gandharva Song”(the celestial music). It is still in practice in the only living Sanskrit drama tradition- Koodiyattam. The four types of instruments that are described in the Natya Sastra are the Toto (leather), Susir (air), Ghono (metal) and Anoddha (string). Even if our research is mainly focused on the dance aspects, the music is integral to the dance. We shall therefore consider with special attention the original aspect of the music and rhythm in relation to the practical outcome of this work.

8. Identification of the main western classical dance movements related to the Indian dance Karanas

Most of the main positions and movements of western classical dances are found in their more ancient Indian counterparts. Thus, we extended our research to a reconstruction of the past in order to discover the trajectories of Indian classical dances in ancient times and the nature and extent of their influence on western classical styles of dances. Western classical dance movements bear many similarities in lines, positions, form and structure of movements with the Indian classical style. Our aim is to show that the basis of Western Classical dance movements as they exist today can be found encoded in the thousand-year-old manuscript, the sacred treatise “Natya Shastra. ”In order to do this, we are in collaboration with a professional dancers and performers from east and west, to be able to identify all the positions and steps, which stem from ancient Indian dance. A very important aim here is to provide a translation of terms from the original Sanskrit (base movement) into French dance terminology, of the similar movement identified, for the benefit of the connoisseur, as well as illustrations for the non-initiated and a notations system for dance masters and professionals of all times.

9. Budget (in rupees)

1- Tours and travel expenses and operating costs for one year: Train fares and travel expenses for 4people (50,000). Board and lodging during tours (30,000).

2- Library and documentation research: Books,and other documentation (20.000)

3- Documentation material: microfilms, photocopies, photos, videos, books (c.f point 4 below in the Research tools)

4- Translations of original treatises from Sanskrit to English (20.000).

5- Research tools: Computer (40,000). Video camera (40,000). Photo camera (15,000). Audio CD recorder (10,000). Laser printer (4,000). Internet, floppies, CDs, papers, microfilms, films, photos (18,000). Miscellaneous expenditures (8,000)

5-Publication and stage performance: Publication of book,about 400 pages including colour plates (75.000) in 1000 copies. Stage performance, artists7 musicians & 1 dancer (20,000); Choreography work (15,000); music composer (10,000); auditorium fees (10,000); lighting and sound (5,000); performance brochure and invitations (4,000); technicians (1,500); Film, video recording and editing (2,500); costumes (5,000); miscellaneous (3,000); refreshments (4,000); Total expenditures to complete the research (410,000)

Publications, demonstrations and performanceTotal expenditure in USD 9,200

Financial previsions for 2004-2005: For the first year of research (2004) we require a minimum of Rupees two lakhs or an equivalent in USD.For the second and final year (2005) we require two lakhs & 10,000 Rupees, to disseminate the outcome of the research through publication, video and performances.

10. Plan of action – Timetable

The research, spanning two years, will be divided into eight 3-month terms.

1st term: Collecting data from the dance treatises, manuscripts and other rare books from libraries and museums in different parts of India and analysis thereof.

2nd term: Visiting the various sites in the country and documenting the friezes of the dance sculptures from temples, museums and other available sources.

3rd term: Trips to various parts of India to see and document the living traditional art forms that are related to our research .

4th term: Interviews and data analysis from the different sources and information processing.

5th term: Linking the textual data with the illustrations, the living dance traditions and work on the practical representation of the research.

6th term: Dance training for the dancers who will perform during the practical demonstrations.

7th term: Choreography and notation of a piece with original elements found in the text.

8th term: Presentation of the performance reconstruction dance recital, book publication and lecture demonstrations.

11. Publication and stage performance.

A book in English (approx. 400 pages) will be published following completion of the research, containing a compilation of the dance documentation and illustrations. A stage performance through a production will be presented featuring the reconstruction of the dance karanas (details in the budget).

12. Future plans

We are convinced that a collection of these precious materials will be an invaluable source of information for the dance community, as well as for the preservation and upkeep of the global heritage of dance. We therefore plan to house all documents collected, including our own contribution, within a permanent collection which will be open to the public and could be entitled “The House of Karanas”.

13. Associated collaborators

In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of our research, we are looking forward to link associates experts from different fields to our project (for example, sciences, ethnology, anthropology and a skilled professional for the notation of movements). We think it would be very important to notated this work in the Laban notation so we are going to proceed to extent it to the LabanDanceNotationCenter to join the project in order to transcribe the Karanas dance steps, movements and resultant choreography.

14. About us, the project initiators and leaders

Mr. Piyal Bhattacharya (West Bengal): Graduated in anthropology and currently working on a special graduation in Sanskrit, both from the CalcuttaUniversity. Studied and performed modern contemporary and Indian classical dance for the past ten years. Worked on a reconstruction of the classical dance of Bengal with Goutam Ghosal and has been involved in several other projects in dance research. This year he is graduating from his 6 years diploma in Kathakali from Kerala Kalamandalam, the National School of Kathakali Dance Theatre. He has now been working on Sanskrit texts on ancient Indian dance and theatre for over six years.

Mr. Goutam Ghosal (West Bengal): Undergoing studies in ancient Indian History, Goutam Ghosal has been studying and performing contemporary modern and Indian classical dance for the past 15 years. Worked on a reconstruction of the classical dance of Bengal with Piyal Bhattacharya. He was involved with several other dance research projects. This year he is graduating from his 6 years diploma in Kathakali from Kerala Kalamandalam, the National School of Kathakali Dance Theatre. He has been working on the movements of the ancient Indian living dance traditions, focusing more particularly on the dances of eastern and southern India, for the past 5 years.

Ms. Soraya Franco (France/West Indies)): Soraya Franco studied dance at the National Ballet of Cuba, the “Centre national de la Danse” and Theatre Contemporain de la danse in Paris and the Paris Opera Ballet. She has been dancing professionally for over twenty years, and is also an accomplished ballet teacher and choreographer. She has worked with many classical and contemporary teachers and companies in the world, studied and practiced Yoga in India with both renowned and hidden masters. Combining her knowledge and research on the anatomy and movement analysis, with her experience in bodywork techniques, she created the programs “Ballet Fitness” and “Yogadance Therapy”™. She is a member of the Dance Commission of the International Council for Physical Education, Sport and Dance (ICHPER&SD) and has participated as a soloist in many international dance festivals. She has also received two international Awards in her dance career (Unesco-Fipc Scholarship and ICCR Award). She is currently pursuing her studies and researching in Indian Classical dances and yoga (Mohiniattam and Bharata Natya) in Kerala Kalamandalam with the support of ICCR (International Council for Cultural Relations in India). Project leader, researcher and one of the interpreters of the Karanas.

15. Conclusion

We dance scholars, consider very important and urgent to do this research because this is part of the fragments of the living treasures of our intangible heritage disappearing today.According to the Natya Sastra, Kuttiyattam the first ancient Sanskrit drama of Kerala in South India (recognized as Patrimony of the Cultural World heritage by Unesco) is the nearest remain of the theater as stated in the N.Sastras. As far as dance is concerned we cannot find an art form which can be define it today as stated in the N.Sastras, but we still find glimpses of it in the many of different living traditions in India.

With the Karanas as we mention, there has been too many controversies because of the corrupted theoretical translation of non-dancer scholar on one side and because most of the studies are based on the sources of archaeological remains, but sculpture and painting mislead and modified the dance interpretation because as any other art, are also rule by their own very different laws and codified in other treatises like Silpasastra and VastuSutra Upanisad, two of the authoratives text on temple architecture, sculpture, form and sacred image making. So again the Karanas were reduced to the limits of what it was fixed on the stone by the interpretation of the sculptor.

We still do not know the reasons of the early extinction of this dance form, it can be so many reasons, and one of them could be the fall of the great Hindu dynasties by the diverse invasions and followed by the Muslim rule, other the technical difficulty of this highly stylized art form and only appreciable by a minority.Many of the studies made about the Natya Sastras and especially the dance Karanas have been made on the base of text alone and literature, which can be very valuable until one point, but when we refer to the study of performing arts there must be a practical and empirical counterpart to confirm the research and that is what is missing in the past.Other of the point of research will be the role of these dances in the Devadasis tradition in the drama rituals of early Hinduism.

Nonetheless, our intention with this study is not to revise the complete Natya Sastra, but only the dance Chapters. Despite of the open debate on the Karanas today, we think that history of ancient Indian dance and its influences on the western classical dances is not beyond the realm of scientific enquiry and with common sense on one hand and good dance knowledge and the collaboration of other sciences on the other hand, we can truly achieve a better understanding of what is proposed today.According to the Natya Sastra Dance should be graceful (Lasya), because the purpose of dance is beauty, purification and enlightenment. Bharata Natya Shastra

References of this research

Ancient Dance Treatises

1.Natya Sastra (200B.C.-200A.D.)

2.Abhinavbharati by Abhinavaguptachariya (9th century A.D.)

3.Sangita Ratnakara (11th-12th century A.D.)

4.Sangita Ratnakara with two commentaries of ‘Kalanidhi’ & ‘Sudhakara’.

5.Nrityayodhahay by Asoka Malla (16th century)

6.Sangita Damodarah by Subhankara (16th century)

7.Samgana Sagare by Subhankara( 13th century)

8.Sangitasiroupnishadsarodharo by Suddha Kalasa( 14th-15th century)

9.Nritya Ratnabali by Jai Senapati(13th-14th cent.)

10.Vishnu Dharmattora Puran (8th-9th century)

11.Nartana Nirnaya by Pundarik Bhitthala(17th century)

12.Natya Sastra Sangraha ( 16th-17th century)

13.Natya Darpana (12th- 13th century)

14.Sahitya Darpana(14th century)

15.Pratapa Rudriyam, and others.

Sites to visit

Among all, there are a few very important sites we would like to mention:

1. Chidambaram Temple, Tamil Nadu. 2. Kumboghatam Temple,T.N. 3. Haledid Karnataka. 4. Belur.Karnataka. 5.SunTemple,Orissa.6.Temples of Bengal and Eastern India.7.BhubeneswarsTemple, Orissa.8.Temples of Hampi.Karnataka. 9.Temples of West India.10. Temples of North India

International Sites to visit (eventually, a second part of the research): 1- Temples of Nepal. 2- temples of Sri Lanka. 3-Cambodgia – Temples of Angkor. 4-Indonesia- Temples of Bali.


Old Traditional Trades Routes Project directed by M.T.Ciolek. Asian Studies Monitor Aus.Web

F.B.J Kuiper.Varuna and Visudaka: On the origin of Sanskrit Drama

Drama and Ritual of early Hinduism. Natalia Lidova.1994

The Natya Sastra and Bharata muni.Gosh. IHQ,1932

The list of all the other works deserving special notices and references for our work became inexhaustible so we prefer not to mention all of them.

Ms. Soraya Franco St.Georges




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