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Transformational learning
- Mamata Niyogi-Nakra

August 5, 2015

My curiosity in finding out about Transformational learning sprouted a few years back when ballet dancer and dance historian, Vincent Warren, referred to me as a Bharata Natya guru. I pointed out to him that I think of myself as a dance teacher and prefer not to be called a guru. He came back with a quick repartee, "Your own Guru Krishna Rao gave you Maha Maya Award in 1992 as one of the distinguished gurus he was honoring." I did not have an answer to that and have been looking for one ever since.

For some time now, I have been personally grappling to find a definitive answer to who is a Bharata Natya guru - to enumerate the qualities of head and heart that make him one, to define his distinctive style of training and to discern the profound paradigm shift that not only affects his immediate circle of learners but others that follow, even when he is gone.

Sunny Cooper in an article On Transformational Learning mentions: "The study of transformational learning emerged with the work of Jack Mezirow (1981, 1994, 1997)." According to him, "Transformational learning is defined as learning that induces more far-reaching change in the learner than other kinds of learning, especially learning experiences which shape the learner and produce a significant impact, or paradigm shift, which affects the learner's subsequent experiences (Clark, 1993)."

Really! Transformational learning, as a study, surfaced only around the year 1981 with Mezirow's work! "Have you not heard?" I might ask, there were those gurus in India, of the bygone eras and their ways of teaching, which by any stretch of imagination, ought to be qualified as transformational.

The same article suggests "Boyd and Myers (as cited in Imel, 1998) considered grieving to be a critical phase in transformational learning, as the student realizes that old patterns of thinking, perceiving, beliefs and values are giving way to new patterns." Here again, nothing unusual about grieving while studying at the Gurukula. Many a shishya would indeed testify it is not uncommon to be severely dressed down by gurus, to a point of grief and humiliation.

All this to remind ourselves there's hardly anything new under the sun as we do stand on the shoulders of other giants to see farther. For centuries in India, a guru has distinguished himself from other genres in the field of education by being transformational as a teacher. From time immemorial, the transmission of the Performing Arts have been traditionally carried out within the Guru-Shishya Sampradaya (teacher-student clan) following a well founded and clearly laid down Parampara (system) in which learning or teaching has been transformational.

We gather on Guru Purnima to pay our respects and offer our gratitude to all our gurus, who have illuminated the path of learning and teaching Bharata Natya for centuries.

Mamata Niyogi-Nakra is the artistic director of Kala Bharati, Montreal, Canada.

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