Mesmerising Life of Balasaraswati, Dancer: Book Review
Book: BALASARASWATI – HER ART AND LIFE
Author: DOUGHLAS M. KNIGHT JR.
With the first touch and glance this wonderful book, I knew I was being transported into a different world. What I did not know then, was that I was holding am exquisite piece of precious history that was to reveal to me the enchanting background of not just a fabulous Bharatanatyam dancer but was also to enrich my very being with the treasure chest of information of the place I had been living in for ages.
Chennai, Tamil Nadu – I thought I knew all the nooks and corners. Chennai – home to me for decades now. Yet, the author, a writer not of Indian origin by writing this book has opened the eyes of all those readers who thought they knew all about the city, about the beautiful traditional dance form and about the graceful dancer Balasaraswati. The fact that the author, Doughlas M. Knight is the son-in-law of the dancer and has had the unique experience of having studied and performed with the dancer’s brothers and then with the dancer’s daughter, Lakshmi makes him just the right person to pen this wonderful book, a work of art in itself.
“Living with Balasaraswati’s family for more than three decades has taught me something about how a hereditary art form endures. Being a household participant in the artistic process, I observed how a hereditary system functioned; how it protected and nurtured a family art; how it enabled the production of revolutionary art; and how it framed hereditary artists’ understanding of their position in their community. Writing this book is the fulfillment of a commitment to give voice to that process and to a family of hereditary artists.”
In this biography, I realized as I read that unlike other books, I could not just keep taking all that the book had to offer to me. I had to give back too by way of understanding, appreciating and respecting the background, lifestyle, origin and history of events that existed before, during and after the esteemed dancer’s existence. I realized that unless I too interacted with the book as the waves of culture and history carried me and down, into and inside the wonderful world that made this dancer who she was, I was not going to do justice to the author, his book and to Balasaraswati.
Balasaraswati and Lakshmi, Kilpauk, 1978, Photo by Avinash Pasricha
“My mother taught me so many things,” said Lakshmi. “Respect for art and for anything one endeavors, to maintain one’s principles no matter what the cost. This thought was ingrained in her. She was unique, a supreme being to me. I understood her as an artist and as a person and I am truly grateful that I was capable of understanding her as both. I could comprehend the artist on stage as well as the mother and friend…She had to fight to prove how wonderful the art is. How could we forget how she was transformed while performing – and moved the audience! How dancer and audience became one!”
Balasaraswati with her grandson, Aniruddha Knight, Madras,1983, Photo by Doughlas Knight
“Devotion to art is identical to devotion in the practice and pursuit of spiritual realities, for the dancer’s sake and for the sake of the community that benefited from the dancer’s pursuit. Through her discipline and humility Balasaraswati became a vessel through which the art flowed, an offering at once to God and to others who were witness to her offering.”
Balasaraswati, 1972. Photo by Jan Steward
The book overwhelmed me completely. I am sure those who have heard about Balasaraswati, those who like the traditional dance form and those who can appreciate the passion seen in the work of the author will feel the same too!
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