‘Learning Sanskrit for Better Performances’

Sanskrit is the mother of all Indian languages and reading, writing and conversing in India’s ancient language is a blessing for someone born in the land of ancient epics, more so someone who practices and promotes an Indian art form. Bengaluru-based Bharatanatyam dancer Ashwini Bramhasa speaking exclusively to Natyahasini, discloses that she has always been fascinated by temple structures, monuments, and ancient scripts. “That is the sole reason I wanted to learn Sanskrit. I am not fluent yet, but it helps me understand the slokams or songs that are written in Sanskrit. Also, it helps in better performance,” says Ashwini.

After finishing a basic spoken Sanskrit course conducted by Vibhu Academy, Bengaluru, Ashwini, embarked on a course on textual study of famous plays written by Kaalidasa – Abhignana Shaakuntalam, Kumaara Sambhavam under the guidance of Guru Sri Arjun Bharadwaj. On her take home from these plays, the Bharatanatyam dancer says that it gave her a glimpse of ‘the way of life’ during that period and how people would react in certain situations. “For example, if we are doing some Javali or padam, the naayika most of the times would be Rukmini or Satyabhama or Radha; now I try to think which song would fit for Shankuntala’s (Abhigyaana Shakuntalam) situation and how she would react,” explains the dancer.

Eight-Year Break: Ashwini confesses that she began learning Bharatanatyam at the age of 10 from Guru Babul sir, while studying in School for a period of five years. “After a gap of eight years, I started learning again from Guru Savithri Vijayakumar of Abhinaya Group of Performing Arts, when I moved to Bengaluru for work. I finished my arangetram with Savithri ma’am in April 2019. Although it was hectic for me because I had to finish my nine-hour shift then practice at least for four hours, but I enjoyed doing it all. All along that time, my Guru took care of me like her own daughter,” she says. 

Top prize winner in Shri Harsha Natya Kendra and District Rotary Nachley event, awarded the title of Laya Kala Rani, Ashwini says her arangetram was literally her first solo dance performance. “I had never performed solo until then and was not confident in abhinaya at all,” admits the dancer, but announces that the most memorable part of the day was her Varnam (Dhanyasi). “In sanchari, I portrayed Draupadi vastraaharam story for which my parents, my guru and everyone were happy and surprised to see me do all the expressions. So, I gained confidence after that day; to at least try and give my 100 per cent and come out of my comfort zone and do other things,” says the dancer.

Full-Time Into Dance: After completing her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, she worked for five years with a MNC in Bengaluru. She resigned her job and since the past three years, she has been pursuing the art form, full time. “Right now, I am teaching dance at a Montessori on contract basis and take online Bharatanatyam classes. Simultaneously, I attend online and offline classes at Upadhye School of Dance. I also attend Natyashastra course regularly taken by Arjun Bharadwaj sir,” she says.   

Speaking about her Gurus, Ashwini says that Guru Savithri ma’am under whom she joined to learn Bharatanatyam again really encouraged her to pursue dance and make a grand solo debut. “After the long gap, it was difficult for me to regain the form and body language. Savithri ma’am gave me the opportunity to perform at multiple places like Chidambaram, Sri Villiputhur and DD Chandana,” says Ashwini. At the Upadhye School of Dance, the dancer says that after joining the school, she gained a completely new perspective. “I learned basics of music, layam and talam concepts and theory. There is exposure on how to treat your body being a dancer and all the pre and post exercises that must be done to avoid injury. One also gets to attend a workshop once in six months- it could be theory, abhinaya, strengthening and body conditioning etc. In short, the USD provides a dancer with all the exposure that is required to grow and evolve and enjoy doing what one is doing,” says the dancer. 

Teaching The Art Form: Ashwini, who has been teaching at the Abhinaya Group of Performing Arts for the past two years, says that while teaching the young children, firstly, she tells them the background for involvement and then teaches the choreography. “It helps them connect with the song and makes learning easy,” says the young teacher.

On the spread of Indian art forms and interest among the young, Ashwini agrees that this is thanks to social media platforms. “Comparatively the acceptance of a career in this field has increased in the last few years,” she says. Ashwini, who has performed on Parichay Season 2, says online platforms are helpful, and a lot of dancers are ready to take part in such series. “Being a beginner with no lineage in the art form and no background, it is very easy to lose direction and jump into multiple boats at the same time. I am fortunate to have Gurus who don’t let me lose my way. Also getting an opportunity to perform without paying is very difficult at this level. Because we won’t be having many contacts in this field and not sure where to go. So, I am grateful to be able to take part in Parichay series,” she says.

Recalling a performance at IISC Bangalore in November 2022, Ashwini says that the audience gave a standing ovation to Kalinga Nartana Thillana which was choreographed and performed at the cultural event organised as a part of Asian Society for Innovation and Policy. Decoding her major goals, Ashwini says that it is to continue learning and understanding the Natyashastra tradition. “Learn the Karanas decoded by Dr. Padma Subramanyam; To be able to learn different art forms; Collaborate with artists to gain experience and story-telling through dance,” she says.

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