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Jyothi Venkatachalam

Kanak Rele is a name to reckon with in the world of Mohiniattam. Her tryst with dancing began when she was 5 years old. Her desire to learn something other than Bharatanatyam brought her into the world of Mohiniattam. Today she is one of the most distinguished dancer – scholars of India. She began her training in Kathakali (the oldest theater form of classical dance, also from Kerala) under Guru Karunakar Paniker and Raghavan Nair and later learnt Mohiniattam from Chinnammu Amma.

The President of India has honored her as “A pioneering dance educationist and top most Mohiniattam exponent.” Just as poet Vallathol established the Kerala Kalamandalam to revive and glorify Mohiniattam, Rele founded the Nalanda Dance Research Centre in 1966. In 1973, she founded the Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidhyala wherein she developed, expanded and ensured that this beautiful dance form retained its distinctiveness among other classical dance forms of India. She has conducted intensive research in Mohiniattam and was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Mumbai. It was on Kanak’s proposal that the University of Mumbai introduced the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Dance), Master of Fine Arts (Dance) and Ph.D. in Dance Degrees.

Dr. Kanak Rele
She is a qualified lawyer who has done research in International Law at the University of Manchester U.K. Mohini means “Dance of the Enchantress,” and Rele with her dedication, grace and mesmerizing eye and graceful body movements personifies the same. She has traveled all over the world giving solo as well as group performances to spellbound audiences.

Rele played a key role in introducing courses in dance and other arts in that university. She has written a book on Mohiniattam, and several articles and papers. She also has experimented with dance therapy. She has performed widely, and contributed several new compositions to the Mohiniattam repertoire. She firmly believes that one can grow in dance if there is committed dedication. Dance for her is a complete entity. Rele has been conferred various honors, including the Gaurav Puraskar of Gujarat (1989) and the Padma Shri (1990). She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for her overall contribution in the field of classical dance. She was awarded the prestigious Kalidas Samman award in 2005-2006.

Rele continues to ceaselessly strive to rejuvenate Mohiniattam and introduce new and richer dimensions to the field of academics and research in classical dancing. Today, Rele is equally recognized for her pioneering work in both these fields.

Recognizing her superb grasp of dance academics many universities in India and abroad are seeking her guidance to start and develop performing arts faculties in general and dance faculties in particular. Rele has done pioneering work in nurturing research for dance and allied subjects. The Nalanda Dance Research Institute founded 35 years ago is recognized officially as a research institute by the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology. Under her dynamic directorship, Nalanda has been acclaimed as premier institution for education in dance internationally. Kanak Rele’s deep study of the dynamics of Indian dancing has resulted in her theory of “Body Kinetics in Dance,” which is internationally recognized. She has documented the works of her teachers for her study of this theory.

Today, the dancing queen is recognized as an outstanding teacher and dance scholar. She has trained a generation of brilliant students who are winning acclaim for their chaste and intense performance. Even at the age of 69 years, Rele is still a dancer, an author, an educationalist, a lawyer and to top it all a Padmashri recipient of 1990. She still dances with the right expressions to the beats of her heart.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at


Lavanya Dinesh

The Indian music system is referred to as “Raagdhari Sangeet’ or raaga-based music. The raaga or raag is a melodic entity – a combination of specific notes in a particular order, which make it unique and different from any other raaga. Raaga is the soul of Indian music. It is not just a tune or melody but a melodic mould, a continuum which is also an ever-changing and evolving entity.

A raaga acts as a tonal framework for compositions and improvisations. Typically, a raaga includes numerous compositions composed in many genres (both traditional and unconventional) such as Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khyal (vilambit – slow paced, madhyalaya – medium paced or dhrutalaya – fast paced composition), Thumri, Tappa, Hori, Kajri, Dadra, Chaturang, Ghazal, Geet, Bhajan, Abhang, film music, etc. Raagas allow vocalists/instrumentalists/composers to create a new song or melody all the time. Using the basic scale and rules of one particular raaga, any trained musician can generate an infinite variety of melodious phrasing and sequencing.

Every raaga in Indian classical music has certain fundamental rules prescribed by various texts. Here are some of them:

A raaga must have a minimum of five notes or ‘swaras’. The universally identified seven notes or ‘sapta-swaras’ in Indian music are SA (shadj), RE (rishabh), GA (gandhar), MA (madhyam), PA (pancham), DHA (dhaivat) and NI (nishad).

A raaga must always have the base note SA from which to start and almost always contains either MA or PA or both. SA and PA are constant notes, their relative position to each other never changes and they are called ‘prakriti swaras’ (natural notes). The swaras RE, GA, DHA and NI have two variants. They are either ‘shuddh’ (pure) or ‘komal’ (flat or minor). The MA note can be sung ‘shuddh’ or ‘teevra’ (sharp or raised). RE, GA, DHA, NI and MA are changeable and hence called ‘vikruti’ swaras. There also are various other fixed, natural, sharp and half-tone note variations, which form the complex system of microtones known as ‘shrutis’.

Every raaga has a structural framework of linear progression called the ‘aaroh’ and ‘avaroh’. The aaroah is the ascending scale of a raaga while the avaroh is the descending scale of the raaga. For example, the raaga Bhairav has the following scale: Aaroh – SA RE GA MA PA DHA NI SA and Avaroh – SA NI DHA PA MA GA RE SA.

There are three octaves or ‘saptakas’ (registers) that are taken into consideration in everyday practice and performance of a vocalist or an instrumentalist, an octave being a continuum of seven notes. They are the ‘mandra’ (lower), ‘madhya’ (middle) and ‘taara’ (higher) saptakas. The beginning note (swara) of the aaroh is SA and it belongs to the middle octave or madhya sapthaka. It is referred to as the ‘aadhara shadj’, meaning the foundation or base of reference from which the melodic structure is derived. The aaroh then ascends note by note and finally goes up to the upper SA of the taara saptaka or higher octave. This SA is referred to as the ‘taara shadj’.

There are numerous classifications of raagas based on their salient features and characteristics. The ‘Janya-Janaka’ raaga system theorizes that there are parent raagas making way for offspring.

These raagas that have emerged from the parent have minor differences either in the application of vikruti swaras or one to two notes being altogether omitted. This is called ‘varjya’ or omission. If only five notes are used in the aaroh-avaroh of the raaga, it is called ‘audhav’ (omission of two notes). The use of six notes where there is only one varjya swara is referred to as ‘shaadav’. When all seven notes are used, the raaga is called ‘sampoorna’. Some raagas for example are audhav in the aaroh (five notes) and sampoorna (all seven notes) in the avaroh (descent).

For example, raaga Khamaj is shaadav in the aaroh and sampoorna in the avaroh. This feature along with the use of komal, shuddh and teevra swaras in different combinations creates hundreds and thousands of raagas. Raaga Bhairav (a sampoorna raaga) uses komal RE and DHA, while raaga Ahir Bhairav (also a sampoorna raaga) uses komal RE and NI. Though all other notes are similar, these two raagas are imbued with totally distinct emotions with the switch of a single note position. This is the beauty of raaga-based Indian classical music.

To be continued.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music. She regularly performs at musical venues both in India and the U.S. She has three album releases to her credit. The artist has worked as a music critic and feature writer for The Times of India and Deccan Herald and can be reached at

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