A custodian of traditions

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 3 August 2018

Bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarsini Govind will be performing in the city today. She loves the dance form for the elasticity it gives the artist

Acclaimed as ‘abhinaya queen’,  Priyadarsini Govind will be performing for the first time in Pune today. The Chennai-based Bharatanatyam artist, who has been invited by Nrityayatri Art Movement Foundation, a non-profit organisation, will be presenting traditional pieces  of the dance form. 

The programme titled, ‘Sampradaya: Unfolding the Traditions’, reflects Govind’s repertoire and thought process. When asked what does tradition mean to her, the senior artist replies, “When I mean Sampradaya, I mean a tradition that has been followed by me. As an artist, I have always enjoyed performing the traditional repertoire. When I say tradition, I use compositions which are many years old. I am not performing, for instance, a concert driven theme, or any contemporary relevant theme. What I am performing is our nayaki-nayaka bhava. My opening piece is written by contemporary composer, Subramanya. And, then I am doing an old varnam, which has been written by nattuvanar. I am also doing a composition which is 2000-year-old, from Tamil epic, followed by a jawali and then a beautiful bhajan by Tulsidas, followed by a tillana, influenced by the dhrupad style of singing. I conclude with an abhang.”

But when it comes to traditional dance form as this, what are the positive changes that have been incorporated in it? Govind explains that any art has to evolve; as man evolves, so does the art that we practise. “What is most beautiful about the traditional art form in our country and what I love about Bharatanatyam is its very deep spiritual aspect. When I say spiritual, I mean the quality that makes you delve deeper into yourself. To become a true artist, you have to transcend technique and training. What I love about Bharatanatyam is its flexibility in terms of technique; the way it allows so much of absorption and yet retains it core. It has the ability to absorb different languages, different kinds of poetry, the sheer elasticity it gives the dancer is something that I really love,” she elaborates.

Govind, who has trained under Swamimalai K Rajarathnam Pillai and Kalanidhi Narayanan, also believes that the guru-shishya parampara, is something very important to our art form. “Today we may be in the internet age, but nothing can replace the guru, the hands-on learning that a student can have from guru. You are lucky if you are able to find a guru, who shows you the way in art. I think that is something very crucial for generations to come and generations today, the kind of complete surrender and trust that you should have in teachers,” she adds.  

But in this technology-driven age, which is going to stay, would it be possible for students to be able to surrender to their guru? In her matter-of-fact manner, the artist points out, “Internet, or any kind of technology advancement, has its pros and cons. The learning that you get on internet can only teach you little. The kind of artist that you grow to be is also shaped by who you are learning from and what you learn.” 

The answer leads to the next question on how is an artist supposed to learn or be taught?

“The first thing that your guru teaches you is by example. My gurus never played favouritism. They always taught that art is above individual. And, they gave all they had, to the students. There is nothing that they didn’t teach if they felt that the student deserved to learn. Both my teachers had a great sense of beauty and aesthetics. Kalanidhi mami opened a world of imagination for us through abhinaya. Rajaji was a great musician and his sense of beauty and grace, was what we absorbed both consciously and unconsciously.”

All the students of art — whether it be music or dance — take great pride in their identity, gharanas and style. The competition then is not always healthy. When Govind took over as director of Kalakshetra in 2013 (she retired in July 2017), there was lot of opposition to her as she was an outsider. How did she sail through? 

“I think art and artist are beyond technique and style. It didn’t matter to me that I haven’t learnt the Kalakshetra style, or not taught by Rukmini Devi. But as an artist I must be able to appreciate the immense work that she has done for the art form, its education and beauty. My teachers have taught me to appreciate art as an artist and not to be stuck on a style or technique. I think we are richer if we learn all that is good from each other,” she says. 

“When it comes to identity, I think we all need it. Even when it comes to mainstream education, we study in different schools and we are proud to say so. We all are searching for an individual identity. That will always be relevant.” 

ST Reader Service 
Bharatanatyam dancer, Priyadarsini Govind to perform today at a festival organised by Nrityayatri Art Movement Foundation, at 6 pm, at Tilak Smarak Mandir. You can book tickets at www.ticketees.com

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