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Beauty,Spring 2005
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Meera Jain

Thak, Thik, Thak, Thik, Thak, Thik. Her feet struck the wood floor as she began to throw her body in diverse positions. Eyes lined with kajol, darted from side to side following the direction of her arms. The harmonious rapture of vocals and instruments hit me as I began to drift away into another domain. In all the music I had listened to, I had never heard such a line nor listened to anything delivered in such an eloquent and fervent manner. Song after song, I began my descent into an abyss of admiration for the euphonic bliss that poured out of the boom box. It was a Saturday evening in New York City and I was attending a classical Indian dance concert given by my aunt, Pranita Jain. She was the founder of Kalapriya dance studio and is internationally recognized especially in the Indian-American community.

Bharatanatyam originated in Tamil Nadu, India. The dances are performed on the basis of theories of the various books. The difficult facial expressions and hand gestures communicate the story to the audience. The performance starts with the prayers to the God, Ganapathi and worship of Nataraja Moorthi. Her repertoire that evening included "Krishna Leela" which described various episodes from the Hindu deity Krishna's life based on Hindu mythology and "Bharatotsvam: A Festival of India" which portrayed the diverse regions and culture of India. Her performance including the repertoire lasted two and half-hours, the audience was brought alive through the music and beauty of her dance. Her costume included a skirt with many pleats and jacket of Kanchipuram and Banaras silk. She wore lots of glittery stones on her neck, ears, hands and head to attract attention. Her hands and feet were adorned with mehendi, an intricate design drawn with henna.

Pranita's live group of musicians began to beat their tabla; she entered the arena in which I would be transformed to find her dance simply beautiful. As I reflect on what happened in my experience, I find one individual who defines it precisely, "One of the most beautiful, subtle, sophisticated and graceful dance forms in the world, Bharatanatyam is performed according to the most delicate nuances of a musical piece, or a poem, through the vehicle of a body. Reflecting the principles laid down in the Natyashastra treatises, it has survived in India in all its variegated forms and moods which it has gathered unto itself throughout the centuries." Dr. Kothari gathers my experience and makes me comprehend the complexity of her dance, however I see it as the simplicity and symmetry of her body expressing feeling and inspiration.

Her muscular arms juxtaposed to her two strong legs brought about the more philosophical question, does the symmetry of her body and simplicity of movement make the dance beautiful or does it prevent me experiencing stupefaction? However, what I experienced that magical night was beauty in simplicity and symmetry. By glancing at any human body, one enjoys a fine balance between the torso and trunk. Not necessarily, an equal number of limbs but the arrangement and behavior of them. The human physique arouses passion, wonder, and devotion because of its simplicity in design. The workings of the body never fail to astonish me; it is a fascinating science of how a leg can strike a floor, creating a sound that in turn can elicit an emotion from one watching. "In everyday experience our perception of beauty is tied to the culture...a beauty with it's emphasis on geometry and symmetry." As a scientist it is important to distinguish between the two, symmetry and simplicity. I think one describes the concept and the other describes the physical shape. Yet, each complements each other especially in creating a world of art forms and wonder.

I usually have seldom trouble understanding what it is about certain performances that enrapture and amaze me, but one remains a true enigma to me. Pranita kaki's (aunt in Hindi) immaculate figure and endearing smile, the uninterrupted and apt use of poignant love ballads, and the dance's overall aphrodisiacal nature, I see it as tale of the true devotee; It was directed with extreme precision as the relationship between the body and nature. She reaches out for a connection to a world above and does it all with closed eyes and no certainty of a positive outcome. It is this relationship that strikes a cord deep with me and further espouses my adherence to the ideals of symmetry.

Musing like a scientist I grasp a fundamental thought. Either way I turn and look at Pranita dance; I will never fail to find it beautiful. Rotating it will grant me an additional viewpoint and her body will always have an "underlying design of beautiful symmetry." Nature designed our body to be symmetrical and simple, Zee and other scientists including myself see that "nature, whose complexity emerges from simplicity, is cleverer. The rules of the universe can be stated simply and yet give rise to complex patterns." Pranita can perform her dance ensemble with ease but as a spectator, the story behind her dance is turned into a web of lust and seduction, I find it complex because I don't know how to perform it.

Zee helps me to understand that reality is arranged in layers, and that experiences occur at different periods, each one building upon the one before. He challenges me to extend his ideas on to my experience. "We can understand the atom without understanding the atomic nucleus. Physical reality does not have to be understood all at once." I can understand the dance without understanding what really occurs, and that is simplicity. Pranita's body defined rotational symmetry, her arms propelled her to move in certain direction and it occurs because of gravity. Through the common knowledge of physics laws I am able to enjoy her performance and see her symmetrical body gracefully dance.

My experience of watching Pranita kaki's (aunt in Hindi) symmetrical body takes a new level of understanding. I agree with Zee, that as a scientist one must question why and how it occurs, but to reduce her majestic motions to the "electrons interacting with fundamental particle of light" is to rip the grandeur away. One should instead infer how the biological makeup of her body affects her statuesque poses, are the particles in her body colliding together as she twists her neck from side to side depicting a dance of love? Or as we descend into the workings of biological basis of behavior do we find simple facts to explain such a complex phenomenon?

Either way, I see that complexity begets simplicity, thinking like a scientist we want a definite and clear theory of how a beautiful symmetrical body can produce such difficult physical dances and artistic arousal. Pondering such ideas leads the scientific theorist to reduce the complex notions to simple analogies. A biologist by the name of David Mendes seeks to explain what takes place in daily life and how over evolutionary time, humanness arose and simplicity is perceived. As a scientist, I examine the complex question and boil them down to "it must have existed in their biology." Leaving the knowledge at that point lets me enjoy the beautiful dance without tainting the adventure. A scientist studies such things to gather knowledge from the experience, rather than create the experience with knowledge.

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