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The long road ahead: Nrithya Jagannathan
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

January 17, 2007

On the evening of January 2, 2007, Nritya Jagannathan presented a special program titled 'Shanmatham' for Mylapore Fine Arts. It was based on Adi Shankara's presentation of six paths followed in sanatana dharma. Concept and choreography were by her guru Krishnakumari Narendran.

Pranamamyaham in gowlai, a composition of Mysore Vasudevachariar, expounded the theme of "ganapatyam." This was followed by a song on the sun, an excerpt from her guru's production Navagraha Ula, representing the second philosophy of sauram or worship of the sun. Lyrics for this song are by Krishnakumari Narendran and the music composed by K Subramaniam. Next in the line up is the concept of Shiva worship or Shaivam. The kriti used was Muthuswami Dikshitar's kedara raga kriti, "Aananda natana prakasam." Fourth comes Vaishnavam or the worship of Vishnu. In Nrithya's presentation, Rama, one of the well-loved incarnations of Vishnu was presented through the song "Sri Rama Jaya Rama," a composition of Thyagaraja in Karaharapriya.

The fifth philosophy is that of Kaumaram or worship of Muruga. The song used was an excerpt from Ramalinga Adigalar's Thiru Arutpa, beginning with the words, "Oriumaiyudan ninandu malar adi," with music composed by maestro Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. Last comes the philosophy of Saktham or worship of Shakti. Bharathiyar's famous song "Yadumahi nindray Kali," highlights Shakti as the primordial force responsible for creation and destruction. Summing up all these philosophies, the final item was Adi Sankara's 'Bhaja Govindam' immortalised by the late M S Subbalakshmi. The thrust of this song is that irrespective of what we are or what we do, what is most important is the path of true bhakti.

Nrithya has a passion for yoga as much as for dance. She teaches yoga at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai. A young artiste who received two awards in 2006, Nrithya shares her thoughts on the recognition as well as the Chennai season.

You are the recipient of two awards in 2006 - the Yuva Kala Barathi from Bharat Kalachar and Natyarangam's Vasanthalakshmi Narasimhachari Award. How do you feel about the recognition?
Dance has been a passion for me since I began dancing nearly 21 years ago. What I am today, not just as a dancer but also as a person is what my guru Krishnakumari Narendran has made of me. What is increasingly becoming obvious is that it needs a lot of perseverance and effort to be accepted and recognised as a dancer. While I dance simply for the joy of dancing, I'd hardly be true to myself if I said I don't care about the recognition. The recognition matters to me because it is a validation not only of me but of my guru too. And for me that is so important. I received the letter from Natyarangam Trust informing me that I had been selected as the recipient of the Vasantalakshmi Narasimhachari Endowment Award for the year 2006 on 5th July, the day I returned from a quick visit to New York to perform at the annual Tamil Convention of FeTNA. To me it was the best advance birthday gift I could have received (I am a Cancerian) and the first thing I did was to share the news with my teacher who had stayed back in the USA. With the elation, for me it was also the realisation of the immense responsibility that came with the award. As my teacher always tells me, "It is not the appreciation that is important. What is more important is to never fall beneath the standards that we have set for ourselves. Standards that constantly need to be set higher and higher." For me receiving the award, the first formal one of my dancing career, was a tremendously humbling experience. When news of the Yuva Kala Bharati award came to me, it was the same. In fact, I could barely believe it. We live in a time when the giving and receiving of awards is in many cases ruled by "sponsorship."

To receive not one but two awards in the same year from two such reputed sabhas, Narada Gana Sabha and Bharat Kalachar, without my "lobbying" for them, is more than an honour. It is a blessing. And I am grateful to both Natyarangam committee of Narada Gana Sabha and the advisory committee of Bharat Kalachar for having considered me worthy of this great honour. To be sharing a dais with so many eminents is both inspiring and humbling. Receiving these awards only highlights for me how much further I need to travel in my journey as a dancer. And as I received the awards, I made a mental commitment to myself that I would do my best to live up to what is expected of me as a dancer committed to this art. It is a matter of great joy and pride to me that I have been with my guru Krishnakumari Narendran since the inception of my training 21 years ago. Beyond any doubt, behind Yuva Kala Bharati Nrithya Jagannathan stands the untiring dedication, rigorous training, uncompromising perfection and loving motivation given to me by my guru. These awards are not for me. They are for her.

Your comments about performing in the season.
I realize that for a person who is serious about dance and who wishes to be known as a performing artiste, it is necessary to perform. But always, I find that it has been a struggle to get slots to perform during the season. At least at the entry level the only way a dancer can get a performance slot is by paying for it and with the number of dancers growing in proportion to the number of sabhas, I find that there are more young dancers willing to pay to perform. This is a trend that I find hard to compete with. I also don't see the point of this. Today, after twenty odd years, I am lucky in that there are some city sabhas who respond to my application, based entirely on merit and pay a nominal remuneration without expecting any sponsorship. Although, what I have to spend for a performance is definitely much more, at least I have the satisfaction that I am being invited to perform based on merit.

In the last 16 years or so since my arangetram I am at times bewildered by the sheer number of young dancers who have just completed their formal debut, vying for a prime time slot. Visibility is no doubt more when a dancer is seen performing in the season. It is important to me that people know me and accept me as a senior dancer of Krishnakumari Narendran. I am happy that this is happening and I must thank the sabhas who have encouraged me over the years and who have provided me with an opportunity to realize this dream. But I am also aware that a long road lies ahead.

Being a yoga teacher, your advice to young dancers.
Relative to the number of years I have been a dancer, the number of years I have been practicing yoga is much less. But doing the post-graduate diploma in yoga at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram has opened my eyes to how related the different aspects of Indian culture are. Dance is for me in every way, yoga. Dancers, especially Bharatanatyam dancers by virtue of the techniques involved, do have a tendency to develop knee/back and other problems. I have found yoga very helpful in keeping the body and mind fit and healthy. Working with the breath also does a great deal for stamina. It has helped me to learn the technique of deep breathing, as I don't find myself getting breathless. In fact, I feel quite strongly that including yoga as a part of a dancer's training curriculum is a vital step that will contribute significantly to the overall development of a dancer.

Nrithya can be contacted at: