Kuchipudi and Vilasini exponent Girija Kishore speaking to Natyahasini firmly believes that all Indian classical art forms are ‘Sopana Padams’ or the stepping stones to attain salvation. “The true essence of our art forms is to seek beyond and attain oneness with the supreme ‘aatma’. The literature of the vaggeyakaras basically depict Bhakti as a prime aspect for achieving deliverance. Though on the surface of it their songs appear as external practices, a deeper understanding of their compositions reveal that they preached spirituality to attain union with the supreme almighty,” she says.
The dancer shares that recently a sudden revelation changed her entire perception towards her personal and professional life. “A powerful shift of my journey to seek and develop a better understanding about the true essence of my very existence and my art as well, propelled me, to embark onto the spiritual path,” she says. The Director of Sri Guru Sarnya Dance & Music Academy says that she wanted to work towards integrating a new aspect of a more spiritual approach in dance. “Understand the profound insights instilled in the works of the great saint poets for a most exalted inner experience. I started to depict this concept of spirituality through my performances, which is seen in my recent performance – Thathvardha Ramayana,” she states.
Mesmerised by Swapna Sundari: Girija reveals that while pursuing Masters from University of Hyderabad (UoH) in dance, she happened to witness a Vilasini Natyam performance of Padma Bhushan Swapna Sundari ji, an artist supreme and a storehouse of knowledge. “I vividly remember that evening which became a watershed moment in my life. It was a thrilling experience watching a performance by a virtuoso like Swapna akka. I was awe-inspired by looking at the scope and depth of abhinaya in Vilasini Natyam. Naturally, the dancer in me thriving to fathom the depth of dance in general and abhinaya in particular got fascinated to Vilasini Natyam,” says the Natya Kuntala awardee.
The Vilasini Natyam exponent states that she was so inspired by Swapna Sundari ji personally, after learning about her endeavour to set out on the task to preserve, revive and carry forward this forgotten legacy which was at the brink of collapse. “As a part of this mission, akka’s decision to choose a few trained classical dancers for teaching this long forgotten, sacred dance form brought me a rare privilege of getting associated with the veteran guru and learn Vilasini Natyam. It was definitely not an easy task learning Vilasini Natyam initially, especially for a dancer who’s already trained in another dance form, may it be Kuchipudi or Bharatanatyam or any other dance form for that matter. There’s a lot of un-learning and re-learning to understand and get the body dynamics of Vilasini Natyam right. One has to engage with it intelligently. Akka’s wit and wisdom ensured great fun and a lot of learning during the classes,” she states. The dancer acknowledges that she had performed Vilasini Natyam on many stages and occasions across the nation along with Swapna akka as well as with co-dancers. “We had also adapted few segments of the temple ritual dances to stage to be able to take it to a wider audience across the country,” she says.
Performing @ Rangbagh: Girija states that after completion of training in Vilasini Natyam, she had the fortune of performing in the annual Brahmotsavams of Sri Ranganadha Swamy Temple, Hyderabad for over 15 years now. “Rangbagh is the only temple in the post-colonial India where the temple ritual dances were reinstated back to their actual place of origin after the Devadasi Abolition Act was imposed on the temples. Dancing within the precincts of the temple carries a different emotion all together. Taking part in the annual Brahmotsavam of this over 350-years-old ancient temple is considered to be sacrosanct and above expression to us Vilasini Natyam dancers. The temple, instilled with cosmic energy, exudes a serene and peaceful feel,” says the dancer.
The Vilasini Natyam exponent appeals to the government and other temples under private supervision, to look into the aspect of restoring the temple dances back to their field of origin and encourage artists (dancers, singers, musicians) by appointing them into the temples. “This would, by and large, help the rich heritage of this archaic art form of ritual of worship through dance, and the dancers pursuing it, from getting obsolete further,” she says.