little consideration to the fact that they represent living traditions in
different parts of our country. Kathakali is more often than not presented outside Kerala as one of'the four classical dance styles of India', rather than as a living expression of Malayali culture. Yakshagana is appreciated for its quaintness, as a piece of 'folk art' or a primitive version of our legendary Sanskrit theatre, rather than in terms of an entre into an understanding of Udipi society. The various dance and theatrical styles are regarded as part of some long lost, common, pan-Indian tradition rather than as diverse expressive forms tied to unique systems of thought, all of which in equal measure help to make up that complex of societies that we label as 'Indian'. Even Bharata Natyam and Odissiare looked on as the dances otdevadasis or maharis while we pay little attention to the fact that they have today been embraced (and perhaps transformed) by the general 'middle-class' public in citieslike Madras, Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar. The normal contemporary venue of a Bharata Natyam recital is not a temple but a 'sabha'-
We seem to have forgotten that such unificatory attitudes towards our culture were the result of a specific historical era when it was necessary to create for ourselves a sense of national identity as part of our struggle for independence. We needed then to unite under the canopy Ľof a common culture that was opposed to the culture of the colonial power and at the same time cl?imed to be as valuable as the latter. Consequently, we oversimplified the notion of a common heritage, looked for similarities in the tremendous diversity of beliefs and practices, and tried to present ourselves in terms of an integral whole. This resulted in the creation of a set of unifying myths about our cultural forms that today, long after their original political purpose has been served, threaten to hamper rather than promote an understanding of our arts.
Some of the more common myths that I refer to are:
(i) that our classical dances belong to a single common tradition, and that they have remained essentially unchanged for the last two thousand years;
(ii) that these dances are 'art' and represent a separate Sanskritic tradition that is removed from the 'less civilized', 'folk' traditions;
(Hi) that they are somehow universal in meaning and aesthetic content (and intent); and
(iv) that our dances are 'religious' (as opposed to 'erotic' or 'secular') in a very Western sense of the term.
22 April-June 1983