Vyjayanthi Kashi: When Emotions Communicate..

Apr 14, 2016
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Vyjayanthi Kashi, the Kuchipudi exponent based at Bangalore having more than 30 years of experience and exposure as Performer, Guru, Therapist, Choreographer and Researcher, sharing her views and opinions with Welcome Kerala Magazine , during her visit to Kerala Sangeeth Nataka Academi, Thrissur,  last year. 

Vyjayanthi Kashi, based at Bangalore, is an exponent in Kuchipudi, one of the eight Indian Classical Dances. She has choreographed and performed in many national and international festivals round the globe. Kashi who is trained in Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Temple Ritual dances has proved her talent as a guru, therapist, actor, researcher and organizer. Dance therapies of Vyjayanthi have created a repertoire of healing approaches. She was conferred with various awards including the Presidential Award from Central Sangeeth Natak Academy, Karnataka State Rajyotsav Award, Zee Astitva and more.

Vyjayanthi Kashi is a current member of the Central Sangeeth Natak Academy and the ex - chairperson of Karnataka Sangeet Nritya Academy. She is the founder and artistic director of the Shambhavi School of Dance in Bangalore, a Gurukul of Indian classical dance and music with a vision to promote artistic and professional excellence.

Vyjayanthi was trained under world-renowned Gurus like the Late Vedantham Prahlada Sarma, P V G Krishna Sarma, Padmashree Vedantham Satyanarayana Sarma, and Bharath Kala Prapoorna Korada Narasimha Rao. She has also learnt the art of drawing images with the feet termed as Chitra Natya from Late Guru C R Acharya, a pioneer in this kind of dance form. Kautvams are unique temple ritual dances performed during festive occasions in the temples of Andhra Pradesh during yester years. Vyjayanthi Kashi, who has been honored for her outstanding contribution to Kuchipudi by the Central and Karnataka State Government, has conceived and choreographed variety of dance productions, both traditional and contemporary. Krishnarpanam, Yagna, Stabda, Rudramma Devi, Ambe, The Eternal Kanya ,Navarasa - nine sentiments, Women of India - The ultimate creation, Srishti - creation of the universe ,Ardhanareeshwara - the two energies and many more.

Vyjayanthi Kashi is married to Vijay Kashi, a well-known film actor and theatre person. Prateeksha Kashi, their daughter is a rising star in the field of Kuchipudi and an actress too.  The mother-daughter duo has performed in many stages all over the world.

Over the 30 years of experience, how you see the differences in teaching?

I feel nice to address this question, which could be so informative not only to people from the dance fraternity but to parents as well, who are the first source of inspiration to children. During my times, learning was a very slow process but was detailed. When I say detailed, the teaching was not focused on just making a disciple to dance on stage to get name or fame. The teaching system involved understanding your body, your mind, your Guru’s way of life, the field of dance, and understanding that you have a responsibility as a human being. The whole system of learning finally meant to make you a better human being. When you are a good human being, it adds a great deal to your performance quality as an artist. So probably the Gurus were testing your patience, trying to, not only mould every part of your body with the technique of dance, but was also trying to play with the emotions which are directly connected with the psyche of a human being. So patience is one Mantra to win over not only God but your Gurus heart as well. I still remember in my learning days, several times, I myself had this experience. If my Guru was not in a mood, that day I had no lessons in spite of the fact that I had to travel huge distance to attend the class. We also repeated the same thing for several months to learn something new. As a student I did get irritated. But the Guru was testing my patience. We must remember that our Gurus are human too. So I had to wait.

I want to quote an incident from the mythology that the Saptha Maharshis waited for, some say 94 years, and some say 84 years, to absorb the knowledge from the Adi Guru, Lord Shiva. We are talking of dance which came from the Vedic period. And today people want in six months to create a dancer who can go on stage. I do agree that we have to move with times but there is something that has to be learnt in a gradual process; like you take 16 years to become a teenager, that is life’s law of nature. Just because you are the only child, just because you are exposed to so many things you can’t become a teenager at nine. You wait to be a teenager, you wait to be an adult, and you wait to be an elderly person, so these are the laws of nature which we must wait. And that, which comes in slow and deep becomes a part of your body, of your conscious, of your learning. I appreciate that today children are very fast, very dynamic, very grasping. But I would still say if not as slow as we learnt, be slow and absorb into your system rather than rushing to be on stage.

Your daughter Prateeksha is trained Kuchipudi by living with you. Could you pleases explain about her studies?

Even in her example, though Prateeksha was breathing dance in the house and seeing, (my husband is an actor) and we have many artists coming in, she saw my senior students grow with her, even then I did not make her do the Rangapravesham till she was 19; because I personally feel that a person begins to dance with life’s experience; the teenage adds glamour, a special feelings to a girl, to be on stage. Plus, a little experience and exposure to life and the sweet 16 helps handle emotions which is the life of any style of dance. So she did her Rangapravesham at 19. Today we see, sometimes even children of 10 years doing their Rangapravesham, which I do not appreciate.

Could you say something about your roles - Guru as well as a performer?

As a performer it has been a glorious journey. In this journey of dance I have enjoyed pain and pleasure, failure and success, love and hatred, which has certainly enriched my life.

Being a performer, I have performed on all kinds of stages right from the uneven tiny stages in remote villages, to dancing in the grand opera theatres equipped with the most modern technology.  My experience as a cultural ambassador, performing, teaching, sharing and interacting through dance in many parts of the world has groomed me into a better person and made me feel proud of my mother land INDIA and appreciate other cultures as well.

Donning various role like Kunti the Mugda Nayika when she meets Lord Soorya, Seeta the virtuous Queen, Draupadi the rebellious pativrata, Gandhari the dejected wife, Ambe the revenge’s princess, Jhansi Ki Rani the Patriotic Queen, Sharmistha the ill-fated Asura Queen, Akka Mahadevi the philosophical women, Kubje an ardent devotee and many more have helped me handle life’s various roles with grace, one complimenting the other. In my opinion, every committed dancer enjoys a glorious tenure of ten years, like I did. I treasure them and now I am happy to move on to the next step as a guru & choreographer trying to spread the parampara that my Gurus shared with me.

My role as a Guru has been so influenced by the way my Gurus thought me. After all every ardent student is a replica of her Guru. Isn’t she? The only difference being, most of my gurus when I trained under them were above 50 years in age. Hence they hardly performed and showed me the technique. It was more a teaching through the display of hands and more of learning through listening to the various art related incidents and life experiences of great artists.

As far as I am concerned, I insist on a very strong foundation, working with the technique for a minimum of one year. After this they explore the traditional margam of Kuchipudi. If they are patient enough to stay with me through these periods, then I begin to give them a total package following the Guru Shishya Parampara. When I say whole package,  I mean, other than giving them the repertoire, I teach them the art of performing, teaching ,choreography, art of makeup, stage design, lighting  and probably everything related to making one a good solo performer . They are also exposed to group works and other forms of dance, which helps them, understand and appreciate other forms of dance as well. Most of my students are given ample opportunities to dance along side with me for many regional, national and international festivals. These opportunities are stepping stones for the student to grownup into individual dancers.

In my opinion, it is a great experience for students, to have a performing Guru, though the disadvantage could be irregular classes. I regret that I did not get the opportunity to perform with my Gurus except on one or two occasions with my Guru Koradagaru. As I mentioned earlier the process of leaning itself was so very slow.  There was hardly any opportunity for youngsters and the art scenario was totally unlike today. The latest trend I observe these days is, after having years of good training under a Guru, the students attend two or three short term courses, workshops or learn 2 or 3 items from famous personalities or traditionalists and call themselves as the shishyas of those Gurus whose name is in vogue and forget the efforts of the Gurus who have given them the basic foundation. I just wonder how one could be so unfaithful to an art form where a Guru’s place is unquestionable. 

Well to conclude, being a Guru has made me grow wiser and patient observing and absorbing the change of time an attitude of disciples. The fact remains that in spite of teaching thousands of students, each guru leaves back only 5 or 6 shishyas to carry the guru parammpara.

You are a Guru to a number of students, including your daughter Pratheeksha. Do you think it’s a dilemma while you choose your partner in the stage while you perform?

Till recent times, I was mainly a soloist. It was only to provide a plat form to my younger ones that I started to choreograph group works. Opportunities were given to them based on their talent, experience and age. It was on International Dance Day 2012 that one of the senior Gurus of Karnataka, Smt Lalitha Srinivasan wanted me to do a duet with my daughter Prateeksha. Till then I had never given a thought to perform a duet with any of my students including my daughter.

The performance with my daughter was very much appreciated and also it the chemistry we share on stage is so amazing that I must express that it is a special feeling for me to perform with a daughter.

As a guru and a choreographer, I want to put the best dancers on stage. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have a very pretty and talented daughter. Also since dance is in her genes and as she breaths dance at home, surrounded only by artists most of the time, it adds a special value to her dance which many people fail to understand. Many a time’s people misunderstand the situation and presume that the daughter is being promoted. This is what are very challenging and sometimes a dilemma. People fail to understand these situations and gossip that the Guru is being partial to her daughter. But that’s not the truth. Bharata had 100 children. But today we know more of Tandu who taught Tandava to the world. After all, the Guru has only four or five students who may carry forward the legacy. I only hope that each one should be able to put oneself in others place before jumping into wrong conclusions.

But thanks to this beginning of a duet with my daughter, that the trend seems to have caught up and I find many Gurus dancing with their daughters now.

If my students rise up to the extent of doing justice to dance along side with me, I would be more than happy share the stage with them.

Among the choreography productions you did, which one is acknowledged the most by the international community and why?

So far I have choreographed around 30 dance dramas, more than 40 solo compositions and around 60 group works. Most of them have been highly acknowledged which I understand as success from the number of performances that has been staged.

The theme of the Pancha Maha Bhoothas called Shrusthi, Kunti, Yagna, Krishnarpanam, Jhansi Ki Rani, Navarasa, Ambe, Gandhari,  Eternal Kanya, Bhavya Bhoomi, Rani Rudramma Devi  are some of the most popular ones. In the recent times  my production called KUBJA from Krishna Charitam ,where I play the role of Kubja and my daughter Prateeksha Kashi  plays the role of Lord  Krishna, has brought tears of happiness roll down the eyes of many a Rasikas.

I feel that ultimately when the stories and the emotions touch the heart of an audience, that is what is really appreciated.  Even before I select any subject, I read it many a times and see what impact it has on me. Only when I am convinced, I move further in having a detailed discussion with the script writer, Musician and myself. In most of my productions there is an equal balance of Nrutha, Nritya and Natyam with lot of importance given to the theatrical elements. After all solo kuchipudi has its roots in the Yakshaganas which is so rich are Sahithya, Vachika and Satvika .While choosing the artists great care is taken to ensure the artist can justify the role. As a choreographer my concentration is not just to make it a visual feast to the eyes but an emotional treat to the Heart.

We have noticed that in recent years many of the classical arts have got hype in the society and in the market. Could we assess it as a real growth in terms of artists as well as the rasikas?

Yes I agree with you that today we see allot of hype being given to the classical arts in comparison to the past. Also we see a lot of youngsters taking to art as a profession than during my times. The face book, watts up and many social Medias are filled with invitations of many dance festivals and performances happening round the globe. But does this mean real growth is what one wonders. I guess everything has two sides to it, the positive and the negative E learning is replacing the Guru Sishya Papampara. Recorded music is being replaced by live Music. Distance education, you tube learning; Video learning is being accessed many a times by the younger generations.  So the dependency on Guru and Musicians is over looked. Many a time’s students are competing with their own Gurus. Some students are making use of this media very intelligently and concentrating more to gain popularity rather than giving time to learning and specializing in the art. In our days scholarly critics reviewed our performances. But today anybody can make articles and criticism and up load it on the internet .These days if one knows to use the technology well she or he can make his own publicity on watts up; face book etc. Undoubtedly the technology and the change in way of life have changed the art scene. According to me, when there is a lack of value based education, any growth seems negligible.   A parent or guru must inculcate values in a Sishya, that’s what I strongly believe in.  In earlier days, the Gurus wanted to make us a good human which he felt was the foundation of a good dancer to be. But today, the world has changed drastically. Is this real growth is yet to been seen.

 I heard about the temple ritual called Kautvams?

Kautvams are a special kind of poetry also known as Kavithva which was used often in the Alaya Sampradaya. They were also called Prenkhani dance of yester years performed in the temples. Many a times they were set to rare tala patterns, like Mallika Modu, Vinayaka Tala ,Lakshmi Tala etc.

In the Nuvid temples of Andhra, these Kauvtams were performed on special occasions. My Guru Late C R Acharyulu , who is a pioneer in re- inventing this kind of art form , learnt many things by studying old manuscripts like Talapatra Grandhas. He travelled to temples in many regions including Chennai, Chidambaram, Kalahasthi and more and carried out research.

According to him, during the annual Brahmotsavam which was conducted in Temples, the devadasis danced specially, evoking wonder and admiration from all.  A wonderful dance called Chitra Natyamu was an unforgettable event of the last day of the festival. In the evening, idols of the temple’s deity were taken around in ooregimpu(procession) on a chariot.
Prior to chariot leaving the temple, the devadasis danced and created pictures with intricate footwork. After they drew the image of the deity’s ‘vahana’ (vehicle-usually an animal or bird, like a lion or a peacock) with their skilful nritta, the chariot set out on its perambulation, passing over this image. The villagers believed in the sanctity of this ritual. Such traditional dances had no recorded documents. Only descriptions of people and experiences of the previous practitioners of those dances were available for Guruji. Though he could not find enough evidence to support this view, he composed them after thorough study of the available material and came up with four important compositions - Simha Nandini, Mayura Kautvam, Mahalakshmi Udbhavam and Ganesha Kautvam

They are from the rare text and the agama Sasthras. He brought it on it stage and he taught it to very few people who he felt had the devotion to continue the tradition. Following my Guru’s philosophy, I have taught it to very students, because, my Guru told me, teach it only to those who have Bhakthi and not to those who have the tendencies to commercialize it. Probably he too followed the philosophy of Lord Krishna who quoted give people what they deserve. 

So while you perform in a stage, you draw pictures on the floor or in wall?

In the Alaya Sampradaya, the Chitra Natya was done on the floor. My Guru C R Acharylu was the first Guru in Kuchipudi who brought it on to proscenium stage. He realized that when it was drawn on the floor, it was practically difficult for the audience to see it. So he developed a system, where we place a specially designed frame, to which a plain white curtained is kitted. This is then placed over the floor area which is sprinkled with colored rongoli powder .As the dancer dances using different pada karmas over the frame, the impressions made with the feet are created on the knitted cloth creating the Chitra. Once the item is completed the frame is lifted over and displayed before the audiences. To present this item on stage requires a lot of pre and post preparations. I perform this item rarely these days because of many restrictions on well equipped modern stages .Recently; I performed it in NCPA Mumbai, as part of the Mudra lecture demonstration series which was very well applauded by press and rasikas.

What about the dance therapy you experimented?

 I strongly believe in the teachings of the famous Guru and philosopher Siddhalingaswami of the 14th century who mentions, 'The body is sick when the soul is weakened and it is afflicted when the soul is afflicted. Thus healing the body is achieved by healing the soul, by restoring its strength and restoring and returning its substance to proper order. '

Indian dance works on the deeply philosophical, emotional and highly religious moods. When these are rightly and timely offered to mentally retarded, physically handicapped children or people suffering from certain diseases and depressions, it will act as the powerful aid of inner and outer strivings and provide a wholesome curing to all kinds of disability to a noticeable extent. For example, the 108 Karanas in dance have a therapeutic impact on the body. The navarasas (nine expressions) have a therapeutic impact in the psychology.  Using these concepts, I have worked in many schools in U K, Germany and other countries. In India, since dance has gained more popularity as an entertainment or a way to spiritual bliss, it is yet to be explored more as a therapy, though it has been a part of the Natya Yoga.

There are many schools, community houses, which uses dance for the old age people to help them become happier; to help physically challenged or mentally handicapped children, they use a lot of such therapies. For example, many movements in dance are simple physiotherapy. But we add emotions to it, with rhythmic movements, chanting Mantras etc. So the impact is more.

Dance therapy helps in enhancing emotional-physical unity of individuals, effecting changes in feelings, cognition and physical functioning. It can be used with varied age groups of children in and outside classroom situations. It can be modified to suit a wide range of diagnostic categories; the mentally challenged, physically disabled, slow learners, emotionally disturbed, the visually & hearing impaired, children with cerebral palsy and autism, etc. The Natya Yoga as it is popularly known, is a treasure house and a solution to many a problem of the past, present and future.


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