Bharatanatyam: the rhythm to which I breathe
- Melvin Varghese, NY
January 4, 2007
(Melvin Varghese won the Second Prize of 50$ in the Dance Essay Competition conducted by Cultural Centre of India, OH, on the topic "Why is being a dancer important to me.")
Dancing has been a major part of my life ever since I started learning Bharatanatyam at the age of six. I have always shown an avid interest to pursue the classical arts, something that other first generation Indian-Americans normally try to stray from. In a time when parents forced their daughters into a dance class, I was the only boy in my class who wanted to learn how to dance. Even in India, male Bharatanatyam dancers are rare, its number diminishing, and here I was to change the circumstances. I also felt out of place coming from the Bronx to a class of students who resided in wealthy suburbs. Transcending barriers, I was ready to learn this ancient dance deeply rooted in the Hindu tradition. And I was a Christian for that matter!
I have stayed with Bharatanatyam for so long, it has taken over a decade of my life. It's surreal to even say that. But there was a point when I felt something was missing and so did my parents. We realized that I reached a turning point in my career where I should go further and excel on a more professional level, namely pursue an Arangetram.
Arangetram is considered the first professional performance of an artist who exhibits full knowledge and mastery of the art, which takes many years of experience to do. At this time I had gone through a number of teachers and I had even spent summers learning in India. I was fortunate enough to learn under the tutelage of my first teacher's guru, V Krishna Kumar. However, after learning a few items from the virtuoso, he unfortunately passed away due to a heart attack. I was fortunate again to learn under his senior disciple, Chandrakala, who became my current teacher. One of the reasons I love the Indian arts is because of the 'guru-shishya parampara' or teacher-student relationship, an age-old tradition that is the foundation of trust in a given art. When we inquired about an Arangetram, she was hesitant at first because of her high standards. However after studying under her for a couple of months, it was decided that October 30, 2004 would be the date of my Bharatanatyam Arangetram.
The night of my recital came sooner than I expected. But before I knew it, I had performed my last item called Mangalam, thanking all those who have blessed me in a special way. That day, I felt like a true Indian artist, one who gives memorable performances, although my performance was far from flawless or inspiring. Nevertheless, it felt great actually accomplishing one of my life's goals. I realize now that it is my responsibility to continue keeping this living art form in existence. This is not just a job, but this is who I am. The beats "Takita Taka Dhimmi" are no longer empty phrases, but the tempo to which I walk and the rhythm to which I breathe.
Melvin Varghese is a student of 12th grade at Cardinal Spellman High School in NYC, USA. He learns Bharatanatyam from Chandrakala Raghavan, Sri Amruthakala Dance Academy.