Failure of Rasa: Story of Indian Dance During COVID-19


  • Kaustavi Sarkar



What is the premise and promise of Rasa during a period of confusion, turmoil, and fear of human connection? “Rasa is the experience of a state of generalized stasis that results from an accumulation of empathetic responses to performed sequences of emotional experience” (Coorlawala 25). As a practitioner-scholar of traditional Indian dance, I negotiate with tenets of performativity based on texts, such as the Natyasastra, Abhinaya Darpana, Sangeet Ratnakara, Abhinavabharati, Natya Manorama, and Abhinaya Chandrika, among many others that explicitly or implicitly deal with affective communication of narrative, musical, rhythmic, and metaphoric content.

In this article, I explore the complexities of Rasa during a complete lockdown of live performance. Rasa appears in ancient Vedic literature as flavor, liquid, taste, and selfluminous consciousness, among many other meanings. Rasa theory is used across live performance, visual art, and new media. This essay focuses on artistic practice that is collaborative, socially-engaged, external to formal institutions of production, less prescriptive than say, the traditional repertoire in classical Indian dances, and that was produced during the COVID-19 lockdown.