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Dancing without the Gods

2021, Bangalore

How do two non-Hindu bodies engage with a dance form that has been soaked in Hindu mythology? How does the process of reinvention of a dance form like Bharatnatyam sit in relation to the values enshrined in our constitution? At the time when the constitution of this country was being written to safeguard the interests of its citizens, particularly the marginalised minorities, what kind of forces led to the reinvention of its dance forms that was driven entirely by upper-caste Hindu interests and imaginations?

What kinds of unimagined trajectories would a form like Bharatnatyam have taken if, at the time when the constitution of the country was being framed, all its dance forms had been declared secular by law? What value would the secular have brought to these dance forms? Would a secular framework have allowed for these forms to be impacted and enriched by the lived experiences of its practitioners? Could the secular have rescued these dance forms from the thick cloud of reverence that emerges from their allegiance to religiosity? Would the secular have safe-guarded these dance forms from the repressive grips of the state that has dedicatedly stifled the creative potential and critical abilities of these forms by linking them to an imagined ancient history?

Mandeep Raikhy and I met in Bangalore and spoke about some of this. In response to some of these burning questions, we set up an exploration between three elements: our bodies, the architecture of Bharatnatyam and the banner with SECULAR INDIA written on it. The immediacy of each others' bodies and a constant negotiation with the banner began to disrupt the Bharatnatyam vocabulary in several ways. The outcome of our exploration is a provocation- What does it feel like to dance without the gods?