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Embarking on a journey of Rasas

By: Shalini Rao

Valley of Words|Shabdavali Literature and Arts Festival is in its 7th season, and its Iti Nritya vertical that covers the classical dance forms is now in its second year. VoW has at its centre the objective of bringing the arts and culture to the masses, especially introducing the youth to our rich heritage, so the rasas continue to entertain and educate the people in the times to come.

In 2022, during its debut, Iti Nritya provided a platform to four young dancers, and it was very well received. This motivates us to continue this initiative and this year we will be having three more who will perform at our flagship event in Dehradun on the 16th and 17th of December 2023.

We welcome you to celebrate this festival of Rasa with Shubhatrayee Dilip Satwe from Pune (Kathak), Venu Ayachit from Ahmedabad (Kuchipudi), and Srijaini Ghosh from Kolkata (Mohiniattam).

“Yatho Hasta thatho Drishti, Yatho Drishti thatho Manah Yatho Manah thatho Bhaava, Yatho Bhaava thatho Rasa”- Natyashastra

“Where the hands go, the eyes follow; where the eyes go, the mind follows; . where the mind goes, Emotions take shape; And where there is the emotion, Rasa takes form.”

Rasa in a result of an interaction between a work of art and its audience. Rasa as a meaningful word first spread in the air of ancient India, and riding on the winds of time it remains as relevant today. Rasa theory forms a very important and meaningful part of Indian aesthetics; and Rasa is the ultimate aesthetic experience resulting from a spectacle. According to Natyashastra, Rasa is the emotional essence distilled from a synergy of a script, a musical score, a choreography, lyrics, and a performance; and which comes alive as an aesthetic work of art - evoking an emotion or feeling in those witnessing it. The effect - the rasa – further causes a pronounced resonance in those who are ready and open to embrace it, letting it trigger their own native emotions; they then become rasiks (connoisseurs) of the art form.

When we listen to a song or watch a performance that moves us, it can be said that its creators have been successful at birthing the appropriate Rasa within us; it is especially so if we find the genre appealing to our sensibilities – we become rasiks. And if we are to extrapolate something defined so beautifully two millennia ago in Natyashastra to our contemporary language we will find the creation of Rasa akin to a process of communication culminating into its intended effect.

If we observe closely, we find Rasa around us everywhere; in our living rooms, in the books we read, the movies we watch, the art forms we pursue, and in all our conversations. Rasa is that intangible, yet discernible, effect of an interaction that manifests in every person. It may differ in its degree of impact depending on our own individual emotional quotient and interests, and yet it affects us all in more ways than we can imagine. The above sloka only explains its manifestation so beautifully. A dancer communicates through hand movements (mudras) with her eyes following those actions, further illuminating her inner feelings; and when that feeling gets transposed onto the one witnessing it all, does rasa take form there.

All those motivating speeches that have moved us to take definitive actions (veera rasa); all those songs that have moved us to tears (karuna rasa); all those stand-up acts that have left us exhilarated (hasya rasa), and more such; are all examples of rasa theory in action in contemporary times. It is therefore not very difficult to see how immersed we already are in the Rasa. Understanding the Rasa theory can help us become more empathetic and sensitive, furthering our communication skills to better outcomes, an enriched life, and a better tomorrow.

VoW|Shabdavali and Iti Nritya is also a step in the same direction; distilling the essence of our ancient and glorious culture of classical dance forms and bring it alive for the Rasiks, and in some cases even creating more rasiks. We aim to introduce, democratise, and spread the ancient wisdom of Rasa through Iti Nritya. This current edition of Iti Nritya promises to continue this inspirational journey that started more than two millennia ago, so we can carry the wisdom of the ages to the times to come.

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