Nattuvangam As I See It
We all know that the person who utters the shollukkattus and wields the cymbals in a bharatanatyam recital is the Nattuvanaar and his role is Natttuvangam. So the more specific question that arises is, "is it that the verbalization of the Jatis or Nritta performed by the dancer is Nattuvangam or is it that the dance interpretation of the shollukattu is nritta?"
This takes us back to an earlier age when the Nattuvanaar was none other than the Guru himself or herself. So the jathis are composed by the Guru and so too the dance movements including the choreography, also come in as a natural consequence. What inspires the Guru then to compose a jathi or a theermanam as it is more authentically called ? a new varnam perhaps also a rare taala, perhaps in an unusually slow or fast pace, perhaps, being choreographed for an outstanding young dancer showing prodigious grip over Laya perhaps……. This inspiration could come from anywhere, but the creativity sprouts as an integral whole – a simultaneous picture of the creation seen in its intricate and classical elegance as a beautiful sequence of spoken rhythmic syllables coming across with a clear voice and diction, resounding with the mridangam and merging into the soft sounds of the jingles as the dancer executes the adavus deftly.
So that brings us back to the original question – “What is Nattuvangam?”
You have a live programme and you have a recording of the items you are to perform, you have engaged a Nattuvanaar who uses the recording to learn the Jathis by heart and with a few practice sessions there is harmony between the Nattuvangam and the Nritta and the program goes off well….. So the Nattuvanaar was not the guru. He or she learnt the jathis from the recording and the role was fulfilled.
In the modern day this is a common scenario. Even as Nattuvanaar for my sister ( having learnt Jathis from her) I always realized that she would have missed the reassuring and affectionately commanding presence of the Guru sitting in the ensemble. She would have missed the feel associated with the rendering of the jathis. I have heard Guru Dhandayuthapani Pillai’s audio recordings, as Nattuvanaar. I have never ever heard as joyful and impactful rendering as that ever in my entire life, and that too in spite of the distortion of the electronics! Why so ? Guru Dhandayuthapani Pillai would pack his spirit and soul into his presentation. That is what made the difference.
Nattuvaangam, as I see it, is not about memorizing and uttering syllables in a monotone or even with modulations alone, but it is about delivering the essence of rhythm, music and the profound divinity associated with it. It is not about outdoing another accompanist or making your presence felt but about taking the responsibility for doing justice to our hoary artistic tradition. The Nattuvanaar is essentially the conductor of the ensemble. Attention of the Nattuvnaar (- Guru, if the dancer is lucky) is riveted on the dancer and his or her movements. The Nattuvanaar (guru) is in full know of very bit of the dance and is therefore in a perfect position to guide the ensemble.. The cymbals are in perfect sync with the nritta or abhinaya, as the case may be and the Nattuvanaar’s voice embellishes the movements of the dancer.
So, to me, it would be incorrect to give precedence to either the nritta of the dancer or the shollukattu of the Nattuvanaar because in reality they are both equal partners in the spiritual journey. There is no escaping the fact however that there can be no substitute to the Guru’s Nattuvaangam for the best outcome of a recital. Of course, the Guru here is meant not to be just a prefix but a real mentor backed by his deep involvement in and knowledge of the art.