Kapila Vatsyayan’s passing represents the top of a foundational second in world dance historical past and cultural coverage
My private relationship with Kapila Vatsyayan, beloved czarina of Indian tradition and the performing arts, who handed away final week, goes again to the1990s after I was conducting my doctoral analysis in India. Vatsyayan was revered as a worldwide Indian who had positioned Indian performing arts on the world map.
Her passing ends an period of scholarship within the arts, which Vatsyayan realised by working as a cultural minister, administrator, curator, establishment builder and scholar. For her multifaceted contribution to the humanities, Vatsyayan was honoured with quite a few nationwide awards. Internationally, she acquired the Rockefeller award, Congress on Dance Analysis award, the Thalia prize and lots of extra. A towering persona, an incredible orator, and a legend in her lifetime, Vatsyayan leaves behind an enormous void and a monumental cultural legacy which I hope can be reclaimed within the years to return.
Returning after her research to India, Vatsyayan turned concerned within the post-Independence nation-building initiatives of the Fifties. Her cultural imaginative and prescient was distinctive as a result of it was rooted within the cultural ethos and plurality of Indian traditions however was additionally worldwide and fashionable on the identical time. We will see this double dedication within the quite a few establishments that Vatsyayan established and her pioneering performing arts scholarship which she crafted within the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies.
An establishment builder
As an establishment builder, Vatsyayan labored carefully with Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, and translated Nehru’s imaginative and prescient of ‘Unity in Variety’ into actuality. Her imaginative and prescient is enshrined within the cultural imaginative and prescient of the three nationwide Akademis and the Centre for Cultural Sources and Coaching, which she helped conceptualise. In 1972, eight years after Nehru’s passing, Vatsyayan printed Some Features of Cultural Coverage in India, which described the numerous cultural establishments that Nehru and Maulana Azad had envisioned for the preservation and modernisation of the humanities. This guide is used as a textbook for coverage research in India and overseas. After Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, Vatsyayan conceived the Indira Gandhi Nationwide Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), as a tribute. All of the cultural establishments that Vatsyayan helped set up within the decolonial interval of the Fifties have been fashionable, nationwide and worldwide in imaginative and prescient however rooted within the ethos of Indian tradition and civilisation.
As a scholar, Vatsyayan authored over 20 books and printed greater than 200 analysis papers. I see Vatsyayan’s three early books, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts (1968), Indian Classical Dance (1974) and Traditions of Indian Folks Dance (1976), as representing a trilogy of intertwined texts that challenged the Orientalist conceptions of Indian arts. Vatsyayan not solely rejected this scholarship however created a brand new, interdisciplinary discipline of arts scholarship by recontextualizing Indian performing arts throughout the world view of Indian tradition, classical literatures, historical texts, archaeology, sculpture, portray and civilisation.
Whereas Vatsyayan recognized widespread themes, rules and methods that linked the ‘classical’ with the people and fashionable traditions of India, she clarified that this cultural continuum has been maintained by way of guru-sishya programs of transmission which stand on the coronary heart of India’s classical and people arts manufacturing. In her function as vice-president of the Indian Council for Cultural Affairs, Vatsyayan defined to the world that the guru-sishya idea of dwelling custom is exclusive to India. She introduced eminent artiste T. Balasaraswati (1918-1984) as a singular embodiment of this dwelling custom, with a household lineage going again seven generations.
When second-generation Indian classical dancers migrated to the US and UK within the Nineteen Eighties, they packed Vatsyayan’s three texts into their suitcases and used these creatively to transmit Indian traditions inside guru-sishya frameworks within the ‘Little India’ colleges they established world wide. Vatsyayan’s trilogy thus served as bridging texts linking international cultural manufacturing with the native and enabled the globalization of India’s classical dance traditions.
I had the honour of spending many hours in dialog with Vatsyayan each in India and overseas. On one event, I recall asking Vatsyayan to establish the important thing variations between Orientalist and Indian nationalist dance scholarship. Vatsyayan shook her head firmly and advised me to determine this out myself! In one other context, after we have been speaking about the way forward for Indian dance scholarship, she defined that we’re all Macaulay’s youngsters and should be at liberty to have interaction the cultural historical past of Indian performing arts from numerous viewpoints. I used to be struck by her beneficiant response and realised in that second that Vatsyayan was not only a daunting scholar of Indian custom, but in addition an anti-colonial Indian, imbued with the deep ardour to counter Macaulay’s pejorative imaginative and prescient of Indian tradition and substitute it with the true cultural historical past of India as it’s embodied within the advanced plurality of India’s tradition and her parampara traditions.
Though Vatsyayan’s passing represents the ending of a foundational second in world dance historical past and cultural coverage, I’m hopeful that her international Indian arts legacy will abide as dwelling reminiscence and remind us of the singular modernity, plurality and globality of Indian performing arts.
The author is the convener of the post-graduate
South Asian Dance Research Programme
at Roehampton College, London.