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Fascinating picture-painting dance

June 10
01:50 2011

Samprita Bajpai performing

ST LOUIS: St Louis recently witnessed a revival of the dying art Chitra Natyam as demonstrated by Samprita Bajpai of Gurukul Academy Kansas City at COCA (Center for Creative Arts). The three-hour performance was under the auspices of Abhinaya, a non-profit organization for the promotion of classical dances of India, in St Louis, Missouri.
Samprita has learnt many of the classical Indian dance forms and was fascinated by Kuchipudi and has become a master at this. With a pleasing swift footwork and neat hand movements her performance won applauds from all those attending it
Her full length recital which included the Tarangam – dancing on a brass plate with a pot of water on her head holding a lighted candle, and two lighted candles in each hand was a treat to watch. However, the Chitra Natyam where she painted a peacock was watched by the audience, Western and Indian, with bated breath.
Chitra Natyam, or picture painting dances, is an ancient temple tradition from Andhra Pradesh that is almost extinct now. In the olden days, during festive seasons, dancers would perform in the temple courtyards and would etch animal figures with their feet on the floor, which had been sprinkled with color. The audience would then walk up to the painting to view it. Guru C.R. Acharya of India was the one who tried to bring this art form from the temples to the auditorium to a larger audience. The challenge was how to present it, since in an auditorium it was not practical for the audience to walk up to the stage to view the picture.
The first time Guru Acharya was presenting it, he spread a wet cloth over the color, so it would not shift while dancing, and decided to hold up the screen to display the painting. What he did not realize was that the wet screen would soak up the color randomly and not only where the feet fell. Therefore the first time the peacock ended up looking like an alien. Guruji was heartbroken. Then after many years of brainstorming he came up with another idea. This time he built a frame and attached the screen to it, so that it would not touch the floor directly. While the dancer danced on it, the fabric would only touch the floor wherever the feet put pressure, thus creating a more definite line for the picture. The method worked, and that is the principle being followed by a handful of his students to this day.
Mayura Kauthuvam and Simha Nandini are the two pieces in praise of Lord Kartikeya and Goddess Durga that are commonly done by painting the peacock and the lion respectively.

Ashwin Patel

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