Navratri Celebrations with Traditional Salangai Attam Dance
The Art and Its History
Salangai Attam is a form of dance where dancers wear giant anklets and dance to the wild rhythm of traditional drums. Sounds easy? The anklets weigh eight kilograms each!
The dance form has its origin in western Tamil Nadu and even finds mention in ancient Tamil Sangam literature. In spite of its rich historical background, this traditional art form is slowly disappearing from the hearts and minds of people.
Initially performed only in small local temples, KKC Balasubramaniam from Perundurai shaped this art from into a performing art and took it upon himself to train and inspire youngsters, bringing them together to rejuvenate this ancient dance form.
Sadhguru Supports Reviving Dying Art Forms
Amidst many struggles, the biggest encouragement came from Sadhguru himself in the form of an invitation to perform for Mahashivratri almost ten years ago. This was the troupe’s maiden performance.
After their first break, there has been no looking back. Thanks to the enthusiasm of several students and young professionals who have joined, the troupe is becoming increasingly popular, having performed in the World Kongu Tamil Conference held in Malaysia in 2017-18. Last year, the troupe participated in Isha Gramotsavam at Texvalley, Erode.
This time, the troupe presented Perun Salangai on September 29, 2019, as part of the Navratri Cultural performances in Isha Yoga Center.
The Troupe Leader Kavi Bharathi Introduces the Performance
Kavi Bharathi: “This is not about just this one form of dance, but it is also about the thousands of other art forms of our rich heritage. Today we are losing all these art forms. Nobody seems to have bothered about it. Now slowly, it has become one of several things that have become the responsibility of youngsters. A great yogi like Sadhguru supporting this cause is a matter of great pride and delight to us.
Though many of us are engineers, we are proud to say that we are farmers. We are not doing this for money. Today if so many of us are participating in this performance, it is because we became aware that this art form was slowly disappearing from the minds of people.
We could have found jobs in various countries due to our educational qualifications, but that won’t make us happy. The happiness that we derive by living in our homeland is something that we can never get anywhere else in the world. The life that we get to live here is so intense and lively.
When the audience joins us in dancing with such great joy, we as artists derive happiness that we would not get by earning enormous sums of money.”
A Short Tête-à-tête After the Dance
Q: How many performers do you have in your group?
Kavi Bharathi: We are not just these eleven people whom you see here on stage today. Our group has 600 other dancers who are not here right now. We train people for free in this art form, because we want the art to reach people, and we also prepare them for a performance. Whoever is free joins in to perform.
Q: Do you all have different professions?
Kavi Bharathi: Yes. Some of us are engineers and there are a few entrepreneurs amongst us, too. Though we have our own separate professions, we do this for the sake of art.
Q: What inspired you to revive these arts?
Kavi Bharathi: We have a culture and tradition which has prevailed right from ancient times and has been handed down to us through the ages. Right from the time a child is in the cradle hearing a lullaby, to when the mourning song is sung, art and spirituality are part of life. We don't need a separate inspiration for this art form; it is just a way of life for us.
Q: And how old are the performers?
Kavi Bharathi: The troupe consists of people from ages 6 to 80 years old. I’m twenty-six right now, and I started learning this when I was eighteen.
Q: Did it take a long time to learn?
Kavi Bharathi: We started learning this in the local temple celebrations, improving slowly but surely with each and every performance. This art is our heritage, but today it has faded away by almost 95 percent. It seems almost dead. But it is very valuable because this art gives you control over the body, mind and even the nerves. If we shun this type of art, we become prone to disease and our health deteriorates.
Q: What does it take to learn this art?
Kavi Bharathi: Anybody who is willing can learn, but our Guru has set some conditions. Those who want to learn this art should not drink and smoke. Those who perform this while drunk, their heart may not be able to take it. There is a real chance of having a heart attack. If an addicted person wants to learn this, he should have completely recovered from the addiction, only then can he join us. Like this, we have also managed to change the culture in the youth and move them away from addictions.
Q: If you perform for free, then how do you make a living?
Kavi Bharathi: I am into coir spinning and also agriculture. Before this I was working in IT. I resigned my job and now I am doing this. It’s actually very enriching. I have never been so happy in my life!
Editor’s Note: Find out what Sadhguru has to say about the Importance of Festivals.