Sinhalised Bharatanatyam a big draw
A Sinhalese Bharatanatyam guru, who learnt the art in Chennai under Adyar Lakshmanan in the early 1960s, has added a Sinhalese flavour to the South Indian dance in order to popularise it in the Sinhalese community which, in the past, had shunned it as the “dance of the Tamils”.
Thanks to Guru Miranda Hemalatha, in Sri Lanka today, Bharatanatyam is almost as “Sinhalese” as it is “Tamil”, and is as popular among Sinhalese girls as it is among the Tamils. Presently, there are about 15 established Sinhalese gurus in Colombo alone.
A teacher of 48 years standing, Miranda has adapted for Bharatanatyam, themes from Buddhism and Sinhalese traditional lore and used Sinhalese songs.
“When I came back from Madras in 1966, I found that Sinhalese audiences were bored because they could not understand the songs and themes. I concluded that if I were to make headway as a Bharatanatyam teacher in Sri Lanka, I had to make it relevant for the Sinhalese by adding local elements to its repertoire,” Miranda told Express recently after putting her 106th Sinhalese student through an arangetram. She first used a poem by Mahagama Sekera and had it set to music by Pandit Amaradeva. “The audience loved it,” she recalled with delight.
But it was hard to find lyricists and composers who could fulfil the demands of Bharatanatyam. The music had to gel with the mime, movement and the rhythmic changes characteristic of Bharatanatyam.
“I finally found composer Shelton Premaratne to be ideal, because he knew both Carnatic and Hindustani music, the latter being more familiar to Sinhalese audiences. I chose ragas which were common to both Carnatic and Hindustani music, such as Bhageshwari, so that the music retained its South Indian character while appealing to the Sinhalese,” Miranda said.
“I chose the 6th Century BC Buddhist story Patachara about a Buddhist nun, and Wessanthara, the story of a king who gave everything to charity. I performed a keerathanam on Lord Shiva with Sinhalese lyrics written by Wimal Abeysundara,” she said.
Miranda found that the typical slow moving Sinhalese song could be presented as a padam in which the movements are graceful and the footwork minimal.