Technical Commentary by Suthanthiraraj, Teacher, Mridangist and Flautist
Humble and gentle, dancer choreographer Chidambaram R Sureshquietly launched his book 108 Bharathanatyam Jathis last month in Blacktown in a quaint School Hall on a winter’s evening in a self-funded event.
Self funded? Why? For his work does not fit any criteria of any government grant. His work belongs to a small minority of Tamil minority. Furthermore, correct me if I am wrong, so far multicultural grants are not about a specific tradition or culture. It is about the ‘collective’. The collective is a vote bank. It requires no genius to work that out.
Yet we are here today because of Chidambaram R Suresh’s sheer determination and love for his craft. This is the strength and resilience of the Indian Classical Arts community to keep going despite little or negligible recognition.
108 Bharathanatyam Jathis is the first comprehensive record of traditional and newly composed Bharathanatyam Jathis to be published in Australia. The book has a significant international reach through its online outlet where readers and practitioners can download the sound files of the rhythmic patterns to understand its correct nuance, spacing and time signatures.
The practice of Indian teaching of music, dance and rhythm lies heavily in the verbal system. Even today, written texts of rhythm music cannot fully replace a verbal face to face student teacher learning. It is still a challenge for writers to convey in the written form the nuance, the tone, the feel or the rasa aesthetics arising in a composed piece through the written.
Yet for the past few centuries books and recordings, CD and DVD modes, have brought eminent writers and researchers to establish a few widely recognised common system in the written form. Chidambaram R Suresh’s first herculean effort is to write what is in his mind and then to translate it to English and to then a formal written form that expresses exactly what he wishes to convey. This is worthy of not only appreciation but is worthy of an award for his steadfastness.
Jathi is a pattern which is followed by the dancer in a traditional bharathanatyam format of dance.
But before I venture into simplifying in English a complex concept and practice such as a Jathi, I feel the need to say a few words about the writer’s origins.
The writer composer comes from the southern town of Chidambaram, hence his name Chidambaram R Suresh. This is a South Indian practice and custom to add the name of one’s home town to one’s name.
Chidambaram is steeped in artistic and archaeological history. An important landmark and tourist attraction, the Thillai Chidambaram Nataraja temple, is believed to be more than 3500 years old. Built during the dynamic reign of the Chola period, pillaged and destroyed numerous times through history but revitalised in the 12 and 13th century, the temple is considered as representing one of the panchabhoothas (five elements), ie space, by South Indians. The temple is revered through poetry, literature, music, art and dance forming the body of Tamil cultures across the world, which are centuries old.
It is from this town that Chidambaram R Suresh originates, born into a family of musicians and artists. I would say to own one of the first editions of 108 Bharathanatyam Jathis would be an asset to any family in Australia as a keep sake for many generations to come.
On the day of the launch, eminent elders of repute from the community were invited to share their words of appreciation and encouragement respectfully. Among these eminent elders were such as Bhuvana Venkatraman, Malathi Nagarajan, Mrs Lakshmi Natesh Kumar, Mr Suthanthira Raj and Thirunanda Kumar, Founder of the Kamban Kazhagam and a few others.
His guru/s, acclaimed percussionists and nattuvanars, esteemed musicians such as Dhananjayans, Narthaki Kalaimamani Natarajan, Uma Anand from Annamalai University, OS Arun and many others from India virtually presented their review of his book, through pre-recorded video messages. Thank goodness for technology. His students demonstrated select rhythms in dance demonstrations that developed from simple to complex rhythms with precision and pizzazz.
Most impressive was his wife Shobana’s recollections of the challenges she faced through two years of Covid in trying to get Suresh to document and keep a record of the jathis, as and when he composed behind shopping lists and bills to getting the book published in its fully edited version without errors.
One local politician chose to rush in late and leave early after forcing his way in to say a few words of promise ‘that the book shall be made available through all local public libraries …. soon’ Well, if that happens, I shall applaud. Until such time I fail to see the need to ponder at yet another promise …
To buy the book please go to https://www.samarpanainstitute.com/product-page/108-bharathanatyam-jathis-1
On the Technical Aspect of Jathis
by Suthanthira Raj
(Teacher, Mridangist and Flautist)
In Sydney, Jathis are written both in English and Tamil so that every Australian born child and parent can learn and understand them. This book is a great resource for both dance students and teachers. In order to make it easier Chidambaram R Suresh has also developed an audio file for these 108 Jathis.
In the beginning, the book deals with all traditional thalams. Its notation, symbols and all the other basic methods used to express the pattern is defined to assist with accurate reading. All the Jathis are written with thala notations (rhythmic score). This is in order of increasing Avarthanams (rhythmic cycles).
The content of the book progresses from simple Adi thalam one Kalai (8 beats per cycle) Jathis which are simple to learn. With the help of the audio link students should be able to put the thalam (Using a hand count system) and learn the Jathis.
Later, more complex and intricate Jathis set in two kalai Adi thalam (16 beats per cycle) have been composed. These rhythms can be learnt with the help of a teacher and the recordings. Further there are more patterns where various shifts (2,4,6,7 etc) occur lending more complexity.
The book progresses to composed Jathis in the traditional six Yathi (patterns) namely Sama, Mritanga, Damaru ,Srotovakam Kopuca and Vishama yati. Just a brief description of one of the Jatis: Damaru is an instrument (in Tamil called Udukai).
It has wider base and tapered down to the middle and again tapered up to the wider base. See picture above. The jathis are composed to reflect this shape (ref page 63 of the book). Outstanding creations of these kinds of jathis for those six Yati. Each Yati representing different shapes is very interesting.
There are more Jathis composed in two kalai (Double time signatures) (16 beat cycle) including various shifts. Also Jathis in Tisram( 3or 6 time units per beat) are presented.
There are some outstanding Trikalam jathis (three speeds) too. It is very pleasant to hear Tirukala Jathis with changes in speed, again introduced in simple to intermediary to complex range.
Finally composed jathis in Chappu thalams (7 divisions) are notated. Out of five he has covered three Chappu variations. Kanda Chappu (2.5beat/cycle), Misra Chappu (3.5batts/cycle) and Sankirna Chappu (4.5beats/cycle)
This book is a great asset to the students and teachers of Bharathanatyam. Learning these jathis will help the students to perform Nattuvangam with proper tempo and good pronunciation of the Sollukkatte .
To buy the book and download the audio recordings for the jathis please go to https://www.samarpanainstitute.com/product-page/108-bharathanatyam-jathis-1