Download PDF Version. Much has been said about the way Tagore views his women in his poems, essays, novels and drama. Among the dance dramas of Tagore, Chandalika has a special place as it foregrounds the theme of female desire in an untouchable girl, a tabooed subject in his times, indeed even now in Bengali writings. This paper tries to show how Tagore uses the nuances of the dance form to showcase the intersections of caste, class and gender as well as the evolution of selfhood in Prakriti, the Chandal girl.

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Download PDF Version. Much has been said about the way Tagore views his women in his poems, essays, novels and drama. Among the dance dramas of Tagore, Chandalika has a special place as it foregrounds the theme of female desire in an untouchable girl, a tabooed subject in his times, indeed even now in Bengali writings. This paper tries to show how Tagore uses the nuances of the dance form to showcase the intersections of caste, class and gender as well as the evolution of selfhood in Prakriti, the Chandal girl.

O nce a highly respected and revered art form, Indian dance had fallen into disrepute under British colonialism. The then educated urbanites despised dance as an art form and did not allow dance, in any form whatsoever, in their society. The educated elites in particular, were very much against dance of any kind which they considered gross and unrefined. It was seen by the Victorian British rulers as a debauched pastime fit only for prostitutes or rustic village folk.

Hence, educated middle-class Indians did not dare to allow their daughters to learn dance any more. To perform on public stage was even a greater taboo. By his efforts, Tagore dispelled the social taboo once attached to dancing and regained full social acceptance by putting it back on the centre stage. In his dance dramas, Tagore uses the dance form in a subtly nuanced manner —where dance itself becomes a liberating force- it is both a liberating and an expression of identity and self assertion in women.

It brought the dance and the dancer closer to its audience, into pedagogy and became a vehicle through which contemporary ideas and predicaments could be articulated and could reach the masses. Dance dramas by Tagore examine alternative, non-classical artistic experiments in the realm of theatre dance inspired by the western traditions of theatre, the folk theatre tradition in Bengal as well as the classical dance forms in India. Through his dance dramas Tagore provided his audience alternatives of female representation — his female protagonists are subversive as they defy the accepted norms of the then society and instead present women confident in their choices of life that they themselves make.

Thus Tagore used the dancing body—always open to interpretation and suggestion—as a site of political resistance as it inscribes new meanings by constantly participating in and subverting the norms of culture.

They occupy a position where religion, poetry, music and dance, merge into one another. Songs and dances in these dramas are an extension of the dialogues and action, not having any separate role to play. In the dance dramas, dance becomes a part of the songs as the natural outcome of a literary consummation as it were. Tagore emancipated dance from the formal, geometrical patterns of some set movements, infused new life and spirit in the dance forms and rendered a supple touch of graceful elegance to them.

He conceived of mingling drama with dance in a subtle manner so that it would have a profound impression on the psyche of the audience. Theatre, songs and dances were finely blended in an unprecedented way in these dance dramas amalgamating in themselves Indian tradition and culture as well as western philosophies. In them, he has freely adopted in his own way the style and techniques from Manipuri, Katthak, Bharat Natyam, Kathakali, folk dances and even European dances like the ballet, as and when necessary.

In his dance dramas, the dances do not follow any strict convention or set pattern of the intricate classical dances of the past. Rather, these dances portray the inner significance or essence of the songs through the elegant gestures and expressions. In the dance dramas, Tagore lets the dances depict the story in a lucid and graceful way creating an exquisite fusion of fiction and romantic imagination. In Chandalika , for instance, the gestures and expressions of the dance-drama do not need the help of words or speech.

The dances aptly express the essence of the songs. Dance dramas written by Rabindranath Tagore can be used as points of entry into a discourse on feminism. In Chandalika Tagore uses dance as a subtle and nuanced form of self expression for Prakriti; without the dances the desire for selfhood in Prakriti would remain inarticulate. It is through the free and fluid movements of the body that Prakriti as a woman expressly articulates her desires- emotional, physical and spiritual — at once liberating the female dancing body from the strict rules of classical dance as well as traditional society that viewed dance as impure and demoralizing.

In this dance drama, to watch Prakriti, the protagonist, dance is to hear her heart speak as it were. Dance thus becomes a medium that liberates the soul and the body from a repressive culture that negates her identity, self worth and female desire. Thus he uses both song and dance as an artistic application of the dramatic form as well as its subject matter. He wanted to use dance as the essential means for the natural exposition of the self.

In Chandalika , Prakriti, in an outburst of self expression, gives shape to her joy with dance; she reveals her true self, feels liberated and moves into a state of blissful ecstasy. Her movement is artistically transformed into dance as her words are realized in songs. Somebody has charmed her speech, Maya exclaims. His use of dance reflected changing attitudes towards the role of women in society and therefore was a vital tool in the process of identity formation in women.

The thrust of his narrative was not on the spirituality of these characters, but rather on their very human, internal conflict. In Chandalika, as in his other dance dramas, Tagore avoids the glorification of traditional male heroes like Lord Buddha or Ananda. The narrative is woven around the play of emotions primarily within Prakriti. It is highly significant that Tagore made his central character an untouchable girl who not only dominates the narrative through the strength of her personality, but also shapes the course of action through her own choices.

Prakriti, like Shyama, and Chitrangada, is a fractured self who is denied legitimacy due to her caste and class and banished from the life of a normal human being. Her arrival at an understanding at who she really is occurs through various forms of rebellion against sexual and social codes. She only arrives at a true understanding of her own self and the world by journeying through experience, through making errors in judgement, asserting herself and making active choices.

It is the autonomous self development of the woman atmasakti that Tagore hints at in narrating the story of an untouchable girl. In Chandalika , Tagore uses an ancient Buddhist legend for his play, but treats it in a highly imaginative way, giving it a modernist interpretation. For Prakriti, Ananda embodies liberation, a person who has shown her a way out of the stultifying darkness of self negation, who has created a revolution in the way she perceives the world and the way the world perceives her.

Prakriti now desperately wants to possess the man who has given her the taste of freedom from the chains of social degradation that bound her soul. This adds not only to the complexities of her selfhood but also problematizes the attainment of that selfhood through the expression of her desire for Ananda. For Prakriti, the socio-culturally imposed selfhood is that of an untouchable, an outcaste; her desire would only be ratified if it is expressed within her caste and class.

To desire for the companionship, indeed, the love of a monk is like reaching for the stars for the untouchable girl. It is a taboo no one should dare to cross. Rejected by others for her caste, her untouchable status, Prakriti at first learns to negate her societal self identity; but nevertheless she questions the efficacy and fairness of her social standing and silently rages against the Almighty for this unjustness. She remains a victim to her socio-culturally determined selfhood as she internalizes the social stigma attached to her caste and class.

Yet her questionings show her inner consciousness of her self as a human and thus foreground her agency and power that remains as a latent force inside herself till Ananda awakens this slumbering, latent selfhood and ignites her passion for him.

It is through Ananda that Prakriti first learns to see herself as a human being in her own right, she learns the meaning of dignity — she learns what it is to be a woman, to serve others as an equal. With her awareness of herself as a woman comes the first awakening of desire, which turns into obsessive passion for the man who has shown her respect as a human being for the first time in her life. By giving water to the thirsty monk, it is as if Prakriti has satisfied her own thirst for self respect.

It is a kind of self ablution as it were, cleansing her from the self negating stigma of being an outcaste. Ananda has given her the power to serve others, the power to give life water , nourishment to thirsty travellers. It is in his eyes that Prakriti has seen herself as an equal to all the other human beings. She now gains an understanding of her selfhood; an awareness of her identity as a woman, and an acknowledgement of her self worth. Her desire for the monk is the elemental desire of the woman, Prakriti , for the man, Purush , and it comes only with her awareness of her still nascent womanhood.

With her desire as a female comes courage, a daring even to bring Ananda back to her at any cost, by any means. Prakriti now takes the help of Maya, her mother, an exponent of black magic. She is in euphoria about what she thinks of as a kind of baptism into humanity and her female desirous self. Translations mine. In her obsession to possess Ananda, Prakriti makes an erroneous choice. She implores her mother, Maya to use magic to bring Ananda back to her.

Seeing her desired man in painful agony, broken and defeated in spirit, his soul entrenched in darkness under the spell of the black magic that Maya uses, Prakriti understands her error in dragging Ananda, her symbol of light and truth, to a baser level where he becomes a mere shadow of his former self.

Through material desire Prakriti reaches a spiritual desire. In the Indian context, a holy man asking for water from an untouchable violates a social as well as a religious norm. To receive and to give food or water were sacrilegious for both. Through the universal image of water, Tagore intertwines the ideological revolution reflected in the social, religious, and political scene of his own time. It is through love that Prakriti transcends her socially imposed caste and ultimately signifies herself as a radical human being.

Subramanyan eds. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, Das, Sisir Kr. Chaudhuri, Bhudeb and K. Ray, Rajat K. Sil, Narasingha P.

Parabaas; Tagore Section; Feb. Tagore, Chitrangada B. Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, B. Sutapa Chaudhuri , Ph. D is Assistant Professor in English at Dr. Her research interests include Women Studies and poetry.

E-Mail: tappa21 yahoo. Sutapa Chaudhuri, Dr. Notes 1. Printworld, The articles and book reviews and other published items are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4. All rights reserved.


Call for Submission

Chandalika is a story of a girl from the untouchable caste of India. Her life as a women and then as an untouchable women is full of rejections and ridicule. The dance pieces will consist of Kathak and folk dances. Chandalika is choreographed by Shreyashee Nag. She is a Kathak dancer a dance from the North of India and a choreographer who is based in Barcelona but works between India, Spain and rest of the Europe. She is also associated with the contemporary dance world through her collaboration in production like We Women of Sol Pico Company. The piece will be performed by dancers from the Barcelona Kathak Project team, a multinational group who are trained in Kathak dance.


Chandalika, Dr. Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was a major voice of awakening in the Indian Renaissance. Besides being a prolific poet, novelist, playwright, journalist, musician, and mystic, Tagore was an innovative educator. He founded "Shantiniketan" - 'Abode of Peace' an educational institution modeled on the ancient Indian hermitage but relevant to India of his time. The school developed into Visva Bharati, a university of Global Consciousness, drawing stalwart minds--philosophers, thinkers, artists--from Europe and Asia. Tagore was the first Asian to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in for his book of poems, Gitanjali, translated by him from Bengali into English. Two of his Bengali poems have become national anthems of India and Bangladesh. In Chandalika, Tagore interfaces Love's manifold forms creating a conflict verging on violence.

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