Bharatanatyam is an art oceanic in width and depth. I have taken you a few steps on its shore. I hope the vision you have had of this ocean will inspire you to dive into it and cull its pearls yourself.
FRIENDS FROM INDIA had spoken of Balasaraswati. I heard she was to perform at Weslyan University and drove up. She came out on the small, makeshift stage, stood for a moment or two, looked about, moved her feet slightly causing the ankle bells to tinkle. She went over to the side where the musicians were. Looking quite like a mother, she leaned over to talk to one of them who was her daughter. Shortly the musicians started to play and she began. The transformation into the dance was instantaneous and vivid. It was as though illumination came on from all angles at once. Here was bharatanatyam done in full splendor and magnificence, and here was a dancer such as one rarely has the opportunity to see.
SRIMA TI BALASARASW A TI WAS an exemplar and teacher of the wholeness of dance. In spite of the temporizers of Madras who tried to excise the sensual element from dance, she always insisted on the authenticity and dignity of the erotic component. She was a true yogini of dance. While still in her youth, hampered by ill-health, feeling misunderstood, it became her deep wish to dance before Shiva, or Murugan, in the temple of Tiruttani. Entering the inner chamber, bribing the watchman, breaking the law, she danced in solitude saying "Lord, I offer to you humbly both myself and my art."
Soon after, Balasaraswati's power as a dancer began to be recognized world-wide, and she traces the upturn in her fortunes from that solitary moment within the shrine. We are all in the debt of that moment. This debt inspires diversity, as an integral element in human growth and development.
I make my prostrations to the Balasaraswati I remember first seeing in Jaipur, in Rajasthan, in the early sixties. And again to the Balasaraswati who became my wife's teacher in the seventies. And again to Bala as Saraswati, as Laka, these Goddesses of dance, who inspire-us to keep practising, that we dancers, musicians, and poets of North America may find the right confluence of old and new, to give our culture and place here and now a dance it can call its own.
BALASARASWATI WAS ONE of the people I treasure in my life. She was lovely as a dancer and she had a vibrancy of living which was most engaging.I shall miss the knowledge of her presence. I have such a tender memory of her at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland when we sat under a grand piano together and she told me delightful stories of the dances of India.Those of us whose lives she touched were blessed by her presence and grace.
THE SUPREME ARTISTRY of Balasaraswati, both as a performer and as a teacher has created a unique awareness and appreciation of India's great traditions of dance. This awareness has created in America a remarkably broadening perception of India's immense impact on world culture.
BALASARASWATI WAS ONE of the world's greatest artists. She would have been so if she chose music, painting or modern dance. The fact that it was bharatanatyam that she chose is to the glory of India. But she was bigger than anyone country or culture. She surpassed her form to achieve a universality where very few walk. That was the real and rare accomplishment of her life and her extraordinary gift to us. We miss her so, but we are grateful that her daughter carries on the tradition.
I FIRST SAW Bala dance in Tokyo in April 1961, and you would have had to be blind to miss the fact that you were in the presence of a great dancer, one of the greatest I ever saw.
I last saw her dance in Madras in February 1968, but the contrast could not have been greater between the huge empty stage in Tokyo and the fairly large hotel bedroom in which I was recovering from dengue fever in Madras, and to which Bala had brought some musicians in order to provide me with compensation for having obeyed my doctor and therefore missed her recital a couple of days earlier! Whether on the biggest or the smallest scale, she was an unforgettable artist, and I never knew whether to admire most her control of wit and pathos in her padam, or the majestic sweep of great classical episodes; her wonderful rhythmic energy when she was in full stride, or her olympian disregard' of audience while she was preparing for a number or leaving the stage.
Or was my best memory of all hearing her gently singing in her own room, only a year or so before she died, my own favourite "Krishna Ni Begane Baro."
I FIRST HEARD OF Balasaraswati in 1951. Some eight years elapsed before I was privileged to meet her in her school in Madras. Soon after we saw a concert of her art, with many more to follow. In 1962, shortly after her first tour abroad to Japan, Bala was presented in Europe and the United States; the rest is history: A great artist has given us a glimpse of a truly transcendent art, a gift to the world to be cherished for as long as there is memory. Surely she will dance forever in the halls of Amarapuram.
I REMEMBER WHEN I was very young, and I first saw Balasaraswati dance at the All-Bengal music Conference in Calcutta. Since then, I had many opportunities to see her perform, and I am a very great admirer of her art and her person. She called me 'brother' when we worked for the American Society for Eastern Arts in 1965 in California. Truly, I consider her to be the great Maestra of bharatanatyam in this century.