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Revisiting ideas

Folk and classical are distinct, but not devoid of each other, remarks Shatavadhani Ganesh in a lecdem on the overlaps in these two sensibilities

Ever wondered to what ragas Kannada popular folk numbers like Munjaneddu Kumbaranna or Ghallu Ghallenuta Gejje come close? Or what karanas of classical dance do some of the steps of Hrithik Roshan or Prabhu Deva resemble? Classical in Folk, a lecture demonstration on the blending of classical and folk art in literature, music and dance, organised by Kala Premi Foundation explored such questions at Seva Sadan, Malleswaram recently.

Chairing the session, Sanskrit scholar Shatavadhani R. Ganesh laid out the definitions of folk and classical art and the gradual development of the classical from the folk through the course of history. He said: “Although it is difficult to identify where the folk ends and the classical begins, some fundamental differences exist between Marga (classical art) and Desi kale (folk art).”

In his observation, folk art is something that is usually carried out in groups. Its very nature is inviting people to participate. Whereas, classical art is presented to the audience who are often connoisseurs of the art form. “Desi is something that is visible all around us. But Marga needs to be deliberately searched for, for its attainment. Hence, Desi can involve the whole community whereas Marga is designed for an individualistic practice,” he explained.

“Folk is utsaha bharita. The exuberance comes out largely as nritta as there is tremendous footwork and less use of hastas,” observed Shobha Shashikumar, Professor, Department of Performing Arts, Jain University. Therefore, “elaborated roopakas are presented in Marga, whereas only upa-roopakas or glimpses of lifestyle or worldview of communities are presented through folk,” added Ganesh.

Explaining the difference between the two in music, vocalist Ranjani Vasuki observed: “If classical music is full of kampita gamakas, folk songs comprise plain notes. Also, folk music often has simple beats that are catchy whereas classical music can have complex metric cycles.”

Revisiting ideas

According to Ganesh, if the classical helps in structuring the folk forms, folk enriches the classical with its myriad variety and richness. Demonstrating it, Ranjani Vasuki showed how, for instance, tunes of Himayalan folk music have given rise to many soulful ragas including Raga Pahadi of Hindustani music. She further sang popular folk songs in Kannada, Telugu and Hindi by placing each one under a specific raga. From Akkamahadevi’s compositions, Balamuralikrishna’s to Annamacharya’s, she sang more than a dozen songs that held the audience spellbound.

“For something to become shastra/science, it should have consistency — if performed in the prescribed manner, it should provide reliable results. This should be kept in mind when something from the folk tradition is being adapted into the classical,” he emphasised. Koravanji, for instance, has been skilfully adapted into classical dance forms by many Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi artistes. “But to do that mastery over the art form is required,” he cautioned.

Deciphering the Indian classical movements in folk forms like Bhangra, Lavani, Karaga and also in popular cinema and western dance, Shobha, aided by daughter, showcased different charis and karanas and their adaptations in different dance forms. When Shobha showed how many of Rajinikanth’s and Amitabh Bachchan’s movements are a variation of edaka kreedita, most in the audience were taken by surprise. “Similarly, udghatita karana can be found in Bhangra,” she observed.

In her concluding remarks, Shobha said: “Folk is rich in technique. It often comes close to a sport. It is only when satvika (psycho-physical representation) is the ruling factor of all other abhinayas, then it can be categorised as ‘classical’.”

Although the dance demonstration was unique in its format, it would have been more comprehensible and enthralling if Shobha had her disciples dance to longer bits of folk items instead of showcasing just the steps. However, it was a well-thought-out presentation.

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