The scents of red roses and sandalwood flutter and die in the maze of their gem-tangled hair / And smiles are entwining like magical serpents the poppies of lips that are opiate-sweet / Their glittering garments of purple are burning like tremulous dawns in the quivering air / And exquisite, subtle and slow are the tinkle and tread of their rhythmical, slumber-soft feet.
These words were chosen by famous Indian woman poet and freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu in order to describe an Indian dancer who surrenders to the magical flow of Indian music. Indeed, Indian dance is a kind of journey into the past and into the mythical world of multi-cultural India. Based especially on hand gestures, it is a way to tell at least 5,000-year-old tales of these exotic lands.
"In India, there is a saying for citizens who go abroad: You should either speak English or know Indian dance in order to express yourself," Rajesh Rapaka said in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. Born in Visakhapatnam, India, Rapaka is the trainer of Turkey’s first professional Indian dance group: Ankara-based Nataraj Dance Group.
"Every gesture or move symbolizes something in our dance. Although the music in the background is in the Sanskrit language, a viewer can easily understand what the dancer wants to tell just by watching the gestures," he said.
Entertaining gods, goddesses
With their spiritual aspects, Indian classical dances were originally performed in temples in an attempt to entertain various gods and goddesses. The importance of dance for the Hindu religion also manifests itself in the depictions of the major Hindu god Shiva, who is often represented while dancing the Tandava, a divine dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution.
Pointing out that the phrase "Indian dance" mostly invokes an image of Bollywood dances for the rest of the world, Rapaka said those dances do not reflect the whole. "We have various classical dances, some of which are Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Kathakali," he said.
"One can observe the richness of Indian culture in these dances, which have descended from father to son systematically," Rapaka said while underlining that performing a dance in a temple requires devotion to the art of dance.
"Dance training is a long process in India. At the age of 4 or 5, classical dance training starts. After eight years of training, a student gets a chance to appear onstage. We call this arangetrum, which means debut," Rapaka said, adding, "Dancing in a temple is a great honor and not everybody can reach it easily."
The richness of Indian culture can be tracked not only in wiggly and charming dance figures but also in colorful and stylish dance costumes, which generally bewitch Westerners.
Special Indian fabrics
"The costumes are made of special Indian fabrics. Especially women’s costumes attract people because of their colors, embroidery and accessories," Rapaka said. The original costumes for women dancers were 5-meter-long fabrics that women wrapped around their body. "There were various wrapping techniques, yet in today’s world, we have costumes tailored," Rapaka said.
An important component of an Indian dance costume is jewelry. "In a classical dance, women wear at least 30 pieces of jewelry from head to foot, which makes the costume very heavy," he said. Jewelry is not only an ornament but also proof of various stages of a person’s life in India.
Are you ready to learn Indian dances?
Colorful costumes, graceful gestures, beautiful eyes, flowing words in Sanskrit, sparkling accessories and the magical world of mythology, imagine all these and let an Indian dance scene carry you to another world. But how does one become more than a viewer?
"Just lend your ear to the music and act on impulse accordingly," Rapaka said. Currently delivering classes on Indian dances in Turkey, he said those who look for creativity and something new prefer to learn Indian dances. As the trainer of Ankara-based Nataraj Dance Group, Rapaka said he has students from different professions, including computer engineers, historians and archaeologists.
"We are like a black hole for those who are interested in Far East cultures. Through dance classes, we pick them up from Turkey and carry them to India," Rapaka said. Nataraj Dance Group accepts new students only at certain times of the year. The acceptance for new students will start in May.
Rapaka is satisfied with Turkish women’s interest in Indian dances but complains about Turkish men’s prejudices against the dance. "Turkish men keep themselves aloof from Indian dances, thinking that they are so feminine. Indeed, we have some dances which can be performed just by men and very masculine," Rapaka said.
In terms of Turkish folk dances, Rapaka finds the dances of the Black Sea region very vivid and interesting. "As far as I know, Trabzon district is very rich in terms of dance motifs," he said.
Living in Turkey for many years, Rapaka is also well-acquainted with Turkish people. "Like India, Turkey has a wide range of cultural diversity," he said, pointing out similaritiesin terms of their family structure and friendly manners.
For more info on the Nataraj Dance Group visit: http://nataraj.dancegroup.googlepages.com/