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Bharati Shivaji on Mohiniyattam

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The interview was conducted by Sahapedia in Delhi in 2016.

In the beginning when I was in my hometown Jamshedpur that was in Bihar at that time, I started my first dance lessons in Bharatanatyam from a guru who was imported from Chennai. My mother is a Carnatic musician, she was the disciple of Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer. She followed that bani and so she was very keen that I learn music and dance. She was very keen that I pursue dance. But in Jamshedpur, a small little town, we did not have (any choice) except for the Carnatic music lessons that she conducted.

 

So she got a guru from Chennai. He followed the Vazhuvoor school of dance. His name was Jankiraman and I learned my first Bharatanatyam steps and a few items from him. I used to perform in the neighbouring steel towns like Bokaro, Dhanbad, Bhilai, Durgapur and the neighbouring areas. So that is how I started learning Bharatanatyam.

 

Later I came to Delhi. I wanted to continue my dance. I was pursuing music side by side but dance was my main passion. I started continuing my Bharatanatyam lessons under Lalitha Shastri. Guru Lalitha Shastri was one of the seniormost disciples of Rukmini Devi Arundale of Kalakshetra. So the style was totally different. They followed the Pandanallur style. So I had to start right from the basics. I learned Bharatanatyam under her for a long time.

 

My interest in music also continued. I got an opportunity to sing for the Odissi dancers. I got closely associated with Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra. He started persuading me to learn Odissi. I liked the style—very beautiful and very graceful. I wanted to learn it. But my body was so used to the movements of Bharatanatyam. But he worked very hard on me and thus I started to pick up Odissi from him.  

 

Then he suggested why don’t I sing for the dancers. And thus I started singing for the Odissi dancers. That was for a brief while. But it was a great learning experience for me. That kind of music. And it was the time when Odissi was being evolved—I am talking of the 1960s, the mid-60s. So that was the time when Guruji used to talk about how Odissi was resurrected and how they tried to get all the gurus together and reconstruct the dance form and all that. So although it made no sense to me at that time because I was very young and immature, I just watched how he composed and choreographed, and watched Sanjukta Panigrahi and Sonal Mansingh dance. They were the two seniormost disciples of Guruji. I was very fascinated by that very beautiful style.

 

Then once I just happened to attend an evening of Indian classical dance by Indrani Rehman in Delhi. She was presenting an evening of recitals of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi and then at the end she did two items of Mohiniyattam. So that got me absolutely attracted. I thought that it had a very beautiful style.

 

She was looking like a Mohini herself because she was so beautiful on the stage and the movements were so languorous and so soft, more graceful than even Odissi. I thought, why not I just go backstage and ask her. I was completely enchanted, not even knowing which land it belonged to, where it hailed from. So I went backstage and asked her. She said she had learned it from Chinnammu Amma in Kerala Kalamandalam and so one would have to go there to learn Mohiniyattam.  So I thought it was impossible for me to go all the way to Kerala. At that time my child was very young and so I just left it at that. I was feeling very sad that I wouldn’t be able to learn this dance form.

 

And that was the time when we had a few dance critics who used to come home and discuss dance in the evening. So I just expressed my desire: that I would love to learn Mohiniyattam but didn’t think that in Delhi it was going to happen, chances were very remote. I didn’t think anybody would have even heard of this dance form and I might have to give up this idea. They were my well-wishers. So one day, Mr. V.V. Prasad—he was the dance critic for The Hindustan Times at that time—said there was somebody here called Radha Marar who followed the Kalamandalam style and taught at Natya Ballet Centre or some other school in Delhi.  

 

I went and met her. So she was doing these classical ballets, the dance dramas that they did, Krishna Leela, Rama Leela and things like that. But I said I wanted to learn Mohiniyattam. So she said, ‘There are no takers for it here, no one wants Mohiniyattam. You are the only one who seems to be interested. Maybe a few steps and items then'.

 

So she told me very reluctantly that if I wanted I could go to her. So I used to go in the afternoons and learn some basic steps from her. The few items that she remembered were cholkettu and jatiswaram and things like that. After learning the items I felt that the movements were getting very repetitive. The same movements in all the items, there was no variety. I asked her why the dance form didn’t have a rich repertoire like Bharatanatyam has. In Bharatanatyam each step is so different from the other but here it all looks very similar. So she said you just wanted to learn something and I have taught you. No more questions. If you want, take it or you leave it.

 

I came from a background of very rich and established structured dance forms like Bharatanatyam and also I was watching Odissi being worked on by lot of gurus. Guru Kelu Babu also was working on it and choreographing new items and adding to the repertoire. So I said, why couldn’t Mohiniyattam be done like that. I was restlessly asking myself. With the little repertoire that I learned from Radha Marar, I performed a few items in India International Centre.

 

And Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay—she was the Acting President of IIC at that time—was just coming down from her office upstairs, and she opened the door and looked into the auditorium and saw that there was some Mohiniyattam performance going on. She was also the Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi at that time. She was holding three offices in fact. So there was a call from her office the next morning and she said she wanted to meet me.

 

The next morning I went and met her. She said, ‘I want to do something for Mohiniyattam. It needs to be enriched. It needs to be rejuvenated. But I am looking for a dancer who will take it up seriously. If I offer this scheme to you, are you willing to take it up?’

I readily agreed to this. I don’t know what made me just agree to it not knowing whom she was going to send me to. I knew nothing about it. She said, ‘This is a two-year scheme under a fellowship scheme that we have. It was a revival of dying art forms. One was Dhrupad and the other was Mohiniyattam’. So these were the two they had selected. And so she said, ‘I will call you after a few days, then you come. Because a few people are coming from Kerala, I have called them and you will have to work with them’.

 

I said, okay and then after a few days I got a call and then I went to Sangeet Natak Akademi and in her office I was introduced to Kavalam Sir. Film maker G. Aravindan was there with him. And so she said, ‘He is Kavalam Narayana Panicker and you will have to work with him’.

 

I did not even know how she thought that how a dancer would work with a theatre person. I don’t know. I dared not ask her who this person was. I did not know anything about him. In fact, nor did I know much about Kerala at that time. So I was wondering why she was asking me to work with that person. She says, he is a great theatre director and you have to work with him. And instantly, when I saw Sir, a rapport was built. After a few days, I had to go to Kerala. And I was just kept wondering what I was going to do here with all the theatre people and theatre activities going on here, and where Mohiniyattam fitted in.

 

So it was very strange feeling. As it is I was an outsider. I don’t belong to Kerala. I come from Thanjavur, a totally Tamil background. So I kept thinking how this was going to work. But Kavalam Sir made you feel very comfortable and was a very wonderful human being. He knew I was very nervous, very shy. And I was a total stranger here to this whole culture. So he used to talk to me. Introduced me to everything, the culture of Kerala. How different it is from Tamil culture in terms of music, in terms of the tala traditions and regional traditions. Slowly I got fascinated with this whole thing and so then I started asking ‘Why not sir, why can’t we take this, why can’t we take that’. Slowly I started suggesting because the long years of training in Bharatanatyam had made me very confident about what I was asking. I knew what Mohiniyattam should be having and what it was deprived of.

 

At first I listened to all that he was saying and also when he explained the various regional cultures, regional traditions of Kerala, all that was very helpful for me to understand. So then I felt these are the elements from these sources which could be incorporated in Mohiniyattam. Slowly I started thinking on those lines. But before that I had no idea about this whole thing. It was so different. And so the classical dance forms and then the dance-drama traditions that Kerala had. Amazing, amazing! The semi-classical dance form, the ritualistic dance forms etc. So many varieties which Tamil Nadu doesn’t have. So he describes to me how even the musical tradition is so different from that of the Tamil culture. It was very wonderful that I had the unique opportunity of going to the original source. Kavalam Sir would say, you see the Sopana Sangeetam is like this and this is how they sing in Bharatanatyam. This is how they sing in other styles. But look at this, this is how the regional rendering is done.

 

The finest example is the Gita Govindam. Gita Govindam is sung in temples in Kerala. So he called Njeralattu Rama Poduval. He used to sing and go on singing non-stop. One would never be able to stop him anywhere. He would just go on. And so it was so nice to see the person playing the idaykka and then singing away. It was a very beautiful experience. And so much of bhakti bhava that came through, emanated through the music, that it was not technical. But it is basically the Bhava sangeetam. So that was very fascinating. So I said, the ashtapadis that they sing are very different from what I used to sing for Odissi. The lyrics in Odissi are full of shringara, bhakti shringara. But the rendering in Kerala is different. So that set me thinking, why can’t we incorporate that. And Kavalam Sir is a pioneer in reviving this Sopanam Sangeetam. So it came out very beautifully. We used to have a lot of interactions. Kerala's own Sopanam raga, Dwijavanti is very different from the Dwijaivanti of Carnatic music and the Jaijaivanti of the Hindustani music. It has a certain very unique feature about it. So that is what gives it a regional colour and adds richness, enriches Mohiniyattam. So this is how one started interacting. Then he used to compose the music and I used to choreograph it. And of course we had Paramasivam Menon who used to help us with the choreography.

 

But it was for a brief while. This inspiration that I got from Kavalam Sir gave me an insight into the regional culture of Kerala, so that was very beautiful. But somewhere it all stemmed from this deep bonding that I had with Mohiniyattam. Now something which I never had for either Bharatanatyam, or Odissi. It was basically something which I felt, why is this dance form so, born in such a rich land and yet being deprived. I had that kind of maternal feeling for Mohiniyattam. I felt a lot of concern for this dance form. So much could be done to nourish it. With the soil being so rich, why could not we draw from these traditions and incorporate it. So in that way I started my journey. I did not dig into the past of Mohiniyattam very much because I was not interested in it much beyond the extent the dance form required.

 

I was concentrating more on the aesthetics of Mohiniyattam. By aesthetics I mean those characteristics that give it a unique identity of its own. It did not have an identity earlier because, a little this way, it would lean towards Kathakali, a little that way, towards Bharatanatyam……

 

Earlier, very few dancers concentrated on Mohiniyattam. It was not until the '70s the awareness came that like Kathakali, for example, it could stand on its own. Earlier there were only a few items in Mohiniyattam. So that kind of thing was not doing justice to this dance form. So I felt it was needed. With all these tala traditions and the ragas and the unique regional rendering of music and so many other things, it could always incorporate all that, draw inspiration from these allied dance forms. We could always indigenize, there was so much possibility. So I got involved in exploring all the possibilities for Mohiniyattam. I must say Kavalam Sir did inspire me a lot. But for him this would not have happened. I was very fortunate that Kamaladevi introduced me to him, to work with him instead of sending me to an institution like Kalamandalam or even to Kalyanikutti Amma. Of course it invited a lot of criticism and opposition. There were so many adversaries but it didn’t matter. That was because first of all Kavalam Sir was not a dance guru. He was not a nattuvan. He was a theatre person. And here I am, a non-Malayali. I don’t belong to Kerala. And I knew nothing about Kerala culture. What could I tell the people of Kerala about Mohiniyattam? This combination of a theatre person and a Tamilian coming together to work on Mohiniyattam was too much for them (the critics). So it went on and well, it didn’t bother me. It did not matter.

 

I started my journey on my own. I wanted to explore myself. Kavalam Sir was the primary source for me but at the same time I felt it necessary to see these other sources where I was going to draw from. I felt that I must go and interact with them personally. I wanted to search for the common element that I was looking for. Kavalam Sir was very excited, very impulsive and fiery about all these things. An art form like theatre could take in all that but not a gentle dance like Mohiniyattam.

 

You see, there are rich possibilities but you cannot just put everything, cannot impose everything on this dance form. Beyond a point it cannot take. But it can take a lot of variety. So of this I wanted to convince myself. Like in Nritta for example, I felt was the techinque of Mohiniyattam was very limited. I wanted to see what were the other rich possibilities. I went to the Krishnattam group in Guruvayur. I had a workshop with them, a few classes there, there I found Nritta is so beautiful. It is so lasya. The movements are very beautiful. And I thought why could it not be incorporated in this. There were a lot of things like that. Like even the ritualistic dance forms, like the theyyam for example, if you see it without the headgear and without the costumes, the movements are very beautiful. And the vaaytari, their mnemonics are so beautiful. So all those little things were there, but unless you went there, stayed there and interacted, you wouldn't understand.

 

When dance is the main language, the spoken language doesn't matter so much. So it was very easy for me to see them, demonstrate and then learn a few things. And even the tantric mudras that they have, discovering all these things were very fascinating. But certain things, certain relevant things were taken from there. and then I went to see a lot of other things. Then the other was the Padayani. So I did not know the geography of Kerala. But I was so excited. Like a schoolgirl I used to just take a bus and go from Trivandrum to Kannur and from Kannur go to Pandalam and then to Kadammanitta. I used to travel like that. Because it was so beautiful, it was such a lovely, heavenly experience for me. And it was all so totally new for me. So I used to meet all these. And Kadammanitta Vasudevan Pillai was a great man. (It was wonderful) just to go and stay there and learn those talas and the music. What a powerful singer! Even the dance. From there I was able to also incorporate a few movements. It gelled into Mohiniyattam. And of course Kavalam Sir was the inspiring force. There is no doubt. I wouldn’t even have known that such a tradition exists in Kerala, I wouldn’t have known at all.

 

And then the other tala inspiration was Kumaran Nair’s Arjuna Nritham. Arjuna Nritham was another rich source. Very rich source. I went to a small little village in Kuruchi and stayed there and recorded his music. I worked with him. I called him over to Delhi. Very beautiful. The tala is very different from what I saw in Vasudevan Pillai’s house. And so in that way it was very interesting.

 

Then there are the tiruvatirakkali and the kaikottikali. They are so different. Those movements easily flowed into Mohiniyattam. That was not a problem at all. So then like that, there were so many other things.

 

I worked with Pallavur Appu Marar. So he was another giant in tala traditions. The tayambaka and the panchavadyam and melam. And so I learnt a lot from him too. It was very enriching. Very enriching. So that was how I tried to satisfy myself. The Guruvayoor Devaswom invited us to perform because it was not done there before.

 

My performances reflected my research and my work and you can say my work reflected my dance. It was easier for me, as a performer it helped me a great deal. I was not someone who just went about with a pen and paper, collected everything, and documented. No. I didn’t want that. I actually wanted the practice of it. I practised on what I gathered. Also there was my own satisfaction of meeting these people in person and knowing the history and then how it evolved and how they were continuing and what were the characteristics and the uniqueness of each tradition. So all that was very important for me. And then came the actual practice of it. Otherwise, if you just spoke about it and not practised, it wouldn’t have helped me.

 

The first and foremost thing that comes to my mind when I think of doing anything new in Mohiniyattam is whether it suits the mood of the dance. All my choreographic work has been like that. Mohiniyattam has great potential of expressing itself through so many legends and so many episodes and things which we have not explored. Like many of my choreographic works, some are rooted in literary traditions. some in musical traditions, while some are pan-Indian. So I started thinking on pan-Indian possiblities. It was very important that you don’t restrict Mohiniyattam only to the borders of Kerala. It should be known outside, it should travel across, it should reach a wider audience. So how do we do incorporate those themes just like that unless they have something common with Mohiniyattam. For example, you know in Kerala we performed Chandrotsavam. Chandrotsavam ('moon festival'), written in the 16th century is an old text by an unknown author. The story is so beautiful. It speaks about Medini Venilla and Maralekha and all those devadasis and how she is cursed by Chandra for having spied on him. And so he says for 100 years you will be live as a mortal being here on earth. And after you perform the Chandrotsavam, I will come and take you back. In your previous birth, you were Chandrika, my wife. So it is something so beautiful and so unique to Kerala. So regional. So I felt why couldn't we do this. It was very difficult because it is in Manipravalam. Not that I was very good in Malayalam ever. It took a couple of years for me to work on the script, edit it because Chandrotsavam was 600 shlokas or something like that. Huge work. But then I just selected certain things which would suit certain episodes, edited them and choreographed it. It was very interesting. The first dance-drama in Mohiniyattam was Chandrotsavam. We performed it at the Triveni Kala Sangam. I remember even Kamaladevi attending it.

 

She was very proud of taking me everywhere. She would introduce me to everyone. 'She is my protégé', she used to say. She was a very unique person. She would know when I would have returned after my visit to Kerala. She would say, Bharati, you have to come and meet me. I want to know what you did there. she would want to know everything. Very passionate. And so she would call me and then, on the third floor—I think, they have the NSD Repertory in SNA—during the lunch time, we would meet and want to know all that I did—what were the new choreographic works and whom all did I meet. I went to Guruvayoor, I learned the vaaytaris of toppimaddhalam. How different is toppimaddhalam from shudhmaddhalam! I thought this woman was amazing. She was not a dancer but had a vast knowledge about all these things. So she was another inspiring force for me. Then she said, Why don’t you take the toppimaddhalam and incorporate it in your choreographic work. So I got a toppimaddhalam from Guruvayoor as she suggested. The toppimaddhalam vaaytaris are very different. So in that way it was lovely to have worked with this percussion. Pallavur Appu Marar was one person....I went to Pudussery all the way just to see him. And he spoke in his broken Tamil and tried to communicate somehow. I said, 'Sir, I want to learn some talas'. 'Oh okay! Kitataki ta ku hem, kitataki theem…' He would start off and it went on and on throughout the whole day and with the beautiful tala structure he gave me I choreographed (and performed) something in Thrissur. I was so fortunate that Pallavur Appu Marar himself played for me, which he had never done for anyone else.

 

He was a tayambaka expert and he conducted and controlled the whole Thrissur Pooram. He would control the whole 300 percussion ensemble there but he played only for me on the stage. Everybody was shocked and surprised. I was in awe. I forgot my lines even on the stage because he was playing for me. What a personality! Everybody was shocked to see him playing for a dance performance. So that was the kind of experience and opportunity that I got.

 

I have been very fortunate to work with Vasudevan Namboodiripad from Killimangalam. He was also very helpful to me. He used to give me unique and rare compositions. He would say, 'Bharati only will be able to do it.’ He helped me with that whole script of this dance drama ‘Athira’. The legend of Athira, Thiruvathira,. It is a folk legend but he gave me the entire script of it. He worked on it and gave it to me. So wonderful. I mean I had such lovely people to help me and support me.

 

M.K.K. Nair again was a great source of strength and support for me. He helped me a lot. So such people were there. And somehow my language barrier did not matter to me. All these people were there to guide me and what mattered ultimately was the dance. It is the dance, you see, it is the mood and then the flavour and so there I was able to work on that area well enough. But of course the spoken language was difficult for me but it didn’t matter to me. It just didn’t matter to me because the work was so interesting and so intense.

 

The hairdo is very important. If you see the sculptural evidence in Kerala temples, those hairdos are all like this (gathered up in a bun on one side of the head.) What was this controversy about it? In Suchindram temple, there are sculptures of two devadasis. One is Seethamma who is believed to have come from Tamil Nadu. Of course Suchindram earlier belonged to Kerala but was very close to Tamil culture even then. And then the other sculpture with a beautiful hairdo, with a coiffure up like this (gesturing) and she is called Malakutty. See the difference. They are stones. They are sculptures. So they can’t go wrong, isn’t it?

 

I have innovated or added certain movements to my repertoire. In the temples of Kerala like Trivikramangalam, Tirunavaya, Mahadeva Kshetram and Vaikom you can see, there are certain movements, very very lasya. I have mentioned it in my book with photographs and illustrations because it is very important for the viewer to see that this is where I am inspired from.

 

We cannot claim that these movements are from Mohiniyattam but there is certainly some kind of a lasya mood, a flow is there, there is no doubt about it. So those movements can be incorporated into Mohiniyattam. There was someone called Mitra Namboodiri who used to be also be part of this project. He was a Yatrakali artist. And so he used to say that how certain movements from that form were so much closer to Mohiniyattam. But they all would be lost if you didn't preserve them in some form or the other. So why not incorporate them into some suitable art form. They would only enrich Mohiniyattam. There are so many other things, but one can’t just take for the sake of proving a point. You can’t do that. As a performer you have to see whether it has a natural affinity to Mohiniyattam. It has to gel with the dance form. It is very important.

 

I used to learn Rabindra Sangeet in my childhood when I was in Jamshedpur. So those lessons came very handy for me when my daughter Vijaylakshmi grew up. She started doing her own productions. She is also a very serious Mohiniyattam practitioner. And she has her own views. Very contemporary views, I would say. I taught her. She also started with Bharatanatyam but she was a witness to all this work that was going on. So naturally she imbibed it. So she was a Bharatanatyam dancer but she automatically felt that she would be able to relate to Mohiniyattam.

 

She also, like me, had her own views on Mohiniyattam, like how one can bring innovations in the art form and also she felt Mohiniyattam need not be confined to only one mood. That is the nayika pining for her lover all the time. No. there is much more to Mohiniyattam. That is where she started working on other allied dance forms like Kalaripayattu. She felt Kalaripayattu had a lot in common with the inner movement of the body in Mohiniyattam. So she choreographed Unniarcha. And she is a girl with her own mind. She went to Vadagara and then to Chavakkad. She stayed with a Kalari artist and learned the kalari—getting up at four in the morning and learning all those Kalaripayattu movements.

 

She went Vadagara and got to know about Unniarcha’s life. She got the music and got the whole script done. Then she choreographed Unniarcha. So it was very interesting to see that she felt dance need not be limited to just playing the pining nayika all the time. There is much more to grace, inner grace that we are looking for today.

 

So she thinks that her productions have a certain social relevance. Like, for example, she did one production called Paryapti in which the Bengal musical tradition and Kerala musical tradition, the percussion, blended very well. In Bengal the idol worshipped during Durga Puja is made of clay taken from people of different sections of society. Like they go to a prostitute’s house and to a pandit's house, and then ask for the soil from their doorsteps. So she thought why couldn't we bring these marginised women into dance. So we did that. It was very well received and so much so that we got to perform in Calcutta and then in Assam and it was a very lovely experience in that way.

 

Then came The Rain where she blended the Kerala music and Mayilkoothu. She performed that with Kavalam Sir’s composition. Swan Lake of course was her baby. So that was a main point of disagreement and fight between the mother and the daughter because I felt that it was scandalous to have western music in Mohiniyattam. And so she said, 'Oh no, why not because you just see, it is also very lyrical and Tchaikovsky’s music in particular will beautifully blend, the theme also is very common. We must certainly adapt it in Mohiniyattam'. For the first show we did not invite anybody because I did not want anyone to see it but Kamani was booked, everything was done. She said, 'Never mind, even if it is only empty chairs, we are going to do it'. And so we did it. Santosh Nair performed as the prince. It went off very well. People got to know about it. And then we were made to repeat that show the next month. And then like this we did it all over the world and everywhere in India, at many important festivals. We have done 49 shows so far.

 

Swan Lake was a very unique experience because we did not blend or we did not add any Indian music to it; we danced only to Tchaikovsky’s music. What was the most beautiful and fulfilling experience was to be invited to perform at the Bolshoi Theatre itself in Moscow. So that was the greatest, yes, it was so wonderful. We were very nervous. The Russian culture minister said, 'We were very worried for you the day before you were going to perform, like, what you were going to tell us about the Swan Lake tradition?' They found a lot of things were in common between Mohiniyattam and ballet. You know, the white costume and the movements and the lyrical quality of both the styles and then we didn’t have to do anything to impose anything on anybody. It just flowed together. So it was very easy to do it. So the only thing was we didn’t take the full two hours. We only took one hour ten minutes as we had edited it. And so it was entirely her idea. In the beginning I said I was not going to do it but she made me do the Queen’s role. It was well received. So we have had about 49 shows so far.

 

And now we are planning certain new productions also. But it is not something that you can just create out of thin air like that. It has to go well with the dance form. That is what is very important.

 

We performed to Rabindra Sangeet too. Bhanusingher Padavali. We were invited to perform in Calcutta Science Auditorium. We performed it at the Kerala Kalamandalam. We had a workshop there in the morning on how we adaped Rabindra Sangeet and then we performed in the evening. And it was something new but was well received. 

 

I want to work on so many things, all in the pipeline but we have no funds. That is the tragedy of the whole thing, that we have no funds at all.

 

Mohiniyattam is not very rhythmic. It is everything to do with bhava. And it has a very, very intense style. So it will attract only those intense people who will appreciate it. But it is not easy to reach upto that level also. To appreciate also you have to be qualified. You have to be a rasika. If you are not a rasika, you can’t appreciate it.

 

The other thing is it is not the fault of the audience. It is what is delivered to them. You have to also make it interesting. Our productions are made interesting so that we are able to widen our viewership also, not just pan-Indian, not just regional, but also global. It is very important to think big for Mohiniyattam. I thought big for Mohiniyattam. I wanted it to go to all over the world. Like we went to Theatre de la Ville to perform. People get to see what is the essence of Mohiniyattam. What are the salient features of Mohiniyattam? So we always combine it with a lecture-demonstration, a workshop and then a performance so that people know what is going on, what are they going to see in the evening. So in that way it becomes educative and people also know, what are the various inner aspects of Mohiniyattam. What is the technique? Everything has to be explained and participated in. They should participate. Like the National Choreographic Centre in Rennes in France, they invited us for a workshop. So it was very interesting for them also. It actually attracts mostly westerners. A lot of students who come, they are mostly westerners who are very serious dancers. They like to learn. Here we have to persuade them, coax them and all.  It is so taxing. Then maybe out of ten students two or three would come out well.

 

We have been conducting a festival called Mohiniyattam Collective. So Mohiniyattam interacts with other styles, similar styles. Like for example, Mohiniyattam with Manipuri, Mohiniyattam with Odissi, Mohiniyattam with Chhau. Mohiniyattam with Sattriya. So it will be very interesting to see that also.

 

And then in Mohiniyattam Collective we had Mohiniyattam Global where foreigners who learn Mohiniyattam come and perform. I also did Ramcharitmanas but the music is very different. Ramcharitmanas is based on chaupai ​(metre with four feet). And we did it in Mohiniyattam. And there we also included Manipuri, Chhau and Kathakali for the swayamvaram. Swayamvaram, where all the contestants come, all the kings, so there we had different styles. So that kind of thing. The base is always Mohiniyattam. But if the theme demands, we do take liberties like that. It is nice to incorporate and include these other traditions.

 

Sahapedia: Thank you so much for talking to us and sharing your memories and knowledge with Sahapedia.

B.S.: Thank you so much.