Spreading Fragrance of Bharatanatyam across the border

-Chinmaya.M.Rao Honagodu

Translation-Sriharsha K.S

Bharathanatyam, is a famous classical dance form of South India and ambassador of Indian culture and heritage. Dance makes life more meaningful and joyous even if you can’t dance, because it is the only activity which involves body, mind, soul and space simultaneously. The beauty of Bharathanatyam lies in the fact that it not only entertains our mind but also takes us to divinity.

MEENA-9Flowers open in the hands of the dancer, and birds fly off from the tips of fingers, each muscle of the face is transformed, the eyes move in blandishments of scorn, and the eyebrows express horror or suspicion, even as the whole face expresses different and often contrary feelings in the same breath such as dance drama, performed according to the most delicate nuances of a musical piece, or a poem, through the vehicle of one body, is surely unmatched in any art.”
– Mulk Raj Anand, BHARATA NATYAM -Indian Classical Dance Art.

MEENA-PHOTO-5 OKToday we find Bharathanatyam is popular worldwide and people from different parts of the world come to India to learn this. Out of such people rarely some people try to spread it across in their country. Meena from Bulgaria is one such extraordinary personality. She came as a tourist to India and was attracted by Bharathanatyam. She is consistently learning Bharathanatyam coming to Chennai every year and has achieved the level of scholar. She is giving performance in different countries and also teaching Bharathanatyam in her own country. Please read about her in her own words.

1-How were you inspired to learn BHARATA NATYAM?
My greatest inspiration comes from my Guru – Acharya Choodamani Smt.Anitha Guha. Other inspirations are the amazing Temples of India and the state Tamil Nadu itself.
All has started from one picture. There was a beautiful lady on it and the writing “Bharatanatyam”. I didn’t know what is it but I liked it so much. I dreamed to find it someday. It was a long time ago, I was a child. There was no access to information and browsing at the Internet so it was really hard to find out what was on that picture with the name “Bharatanatyam”. But one day I found it. And from this moment my whole life has changed.

2-Are you a dancer of any different style before starting BN?
Of course I have always loved dancing and theatre. I used to perform a lot in plays and singing in childhood. I did some classical western dances – tango, rumba and a lot of free style dancing like these ones on MTV. But dance wasn’t my profession until I found Indian classical dance.

MEENA-83-When and how did you search your BN Guru [teacher]?

Night after night I was watching videos of Medha Hari on the Internet. I was completely enchanted from the purity of her lines, her grace and the feelings she invoked. After some time and a lot of searching on my path, I reached her Guru Anitha Guha. It is a real love story. Love from the first sight. I liked her from the very first moment – from the moment I heard her voice on the phone. When we met, tears start falling down from my eyes and I couldn’t help it. But these were tears of happiness. Now I know why – for she has changed my life. I learned from different teachers in Europe and India – Bharatanatyam and Kathak teachers from Pune, teacher from Kalamandalam school in Kerala,
Kathakali teacher from Kochi… All of them were great and I respect them a lot. But from the moment I saw Anitha Guha, I had no doubt that she is my Guru. It was about 4 years back. Now I travel every year to Chennai to learn from her. I love her style. Her taste is the same as mine and she answers my questions even before I had asked them. All that she is doing is just perfect for me.

MEENA-14-How does it feels to learn BN?
-at the very first class……
-in the mid……
-in recent days…..
When I started to learn I had that funny feeling that it’s more like remembering from the past rather than learning. I perceived fast and remembered well. After learning of the basic steps I start working on some more difficult positions and on some of the Karanas. Now I try to improve my stamina and Abhinaya.

My Guru Anitha Guha makes me dance in all of the batches – from beginners to the senior-most. She demands a deep aramandi, typical for Pandanallur style, so it is always hard. There is so much to learn, isn’t it awesome!

5 – Is BN your full time profession of you or any other job?
Bharatanatyam is my profession. I quit my job as an attorney at law and became a dancer. I was a senior partner in a law company and used to have office near the Parliament. I have worked seven years like lawyer.

MEENA-36-When did you take BN as profession?
Many years I didn’t know that it is possible to start learning such sophisticated and refined dance tradition at matured age. I though it will be just a dream for me, because I haven’t start learning at the age of three… When I realized that it is not so, that the dedication and passion are much more important, I left my job. There were some doubts and fears in the beginning. Then my husband encouraged me to follow my dream. He told me that may be it won’t be easy and probably I will never be as good as Indian dancers, who start to learn at the age of three, but at least I can try. Because, the only way to fail for sure is not to try at all. After his words I suspended my rights as an attorney and became dedicated to dance only. Although sometimes it’s hard to be a dancer, I never regret my choice. I think I found my own path in life. I am happy.

7-Tell about your family and family support for your BN?
I belong to an old Christian family. Initially my family was very surprised by my strong interest in foreign tradition.
But now they support me and they are proud of me. They are still surprised, but simply they like what I do. Most funny is my 85 years old grandma. Each time she asks me “Meena, how come you start learning this dance? I wonder and I can’t find the answer! May be there is such thing like re-incarnation…” Then we both laugh.

MEENA-128- Your feelings on Indian, Indian culture and BN?
About 10-12 years back I came to India for the first time. Like most of the tourist I visit Delhi, Agra, Rajastan, Goa, Mumbai… I liked these places a lot, but South India I liked the most. I like Tamil people, I like the heat, I like Karnatic music, I like silk sarees, the crowded streets of Chennai and green parrots on the trees near Pondybazar, pongal or idly for breakfast, the mango season and coconuts… Now I plan my visits to Chennai directly and if I have some free time I travel in Tamil Nadu. There are so many Temples, so many historic places here. Another 10-12 years are not enough to see it all.

Indian culture and especially Indian philosophy are very dear to me. Dance is the bridge that I use to understand Indian philosophy. More precisely I mean Vedanta and ancient traditions of India. Do you know, in my country, people love Indian classical arts and traditions. People from different occupations and with different lifestyles areequally charmed from Bharatanatyam. Many of them see it (or see anything like it) for the first time and they love it! Although different in many ways, our cultures have many common points. Our tribe is very ancient and it came somewhere from Asia. Our language is similar to Sanskrit, we have words like “veda”, “chakra”, ‘sweta” and others with the same meaning. Even my name – Meena is common in my country too, same like in India. My country is called “Bulgaria”. Who knows – may be we are some of the lost descendents of the same Aryans who were in India in the past times.

All classical arts of India are great. I believe Bharatanatyam is the best, because the practice is very powerful and it elevates the mind. It is so powerful that always when it’s practiced with pure heart it gives results. I have seen this many times.

9-When you started your own BN Institute and Where?
I learn in India and I teach back home in Europe. This position helps me see dance from many perspectives and it is always a challenge. In Sofia, Bulgaria I own a school for Bharathanatyam called “Nataraja”. It was founded in 2009. For my first Bharatanatyam class I made a big Saraswati pooja, held simultaneously in Sofia and by priests in Chidambaram, blessed by my Guruji.

MEENA-1310-How is your Guru’s co-operation and support for your BN institution?
School Nataraja strictly follows the tradition of the school of my Guru – Bharathanjali. I am like the Bulgarian brunch of it. Sometimes it’s hard for my students, because I make no compromises. But the fruits of this hard work are sweet. :)
I have full support from my Guru, the only thing which separates us is the distance. One of my biggest dreams now is to invite my Guru with her students in Bulgaria. I dream for a big concert with live Indian musicians like it is in Chennai.

11-About your dance class,and your teachings?
My class is Bulgaria is still young. People are few but all of them are very dedicated to dance. I had to teach a lot of theory in the classes because many things that Indians know are not known here. I have to explain for example what is “Trimurti”, “namaskar” or even “mudra”. But do you know? My students love that. They value equally theory and practice. They are not in hurry to dance on stage or to learn many choreographies. Just like the students of my Guru in Chennai, they prefer to work hard and to learn well the basics. I am very proud of their bhavas and good aramandis! I have students from different professions – actors, yoga teachers, accountants, architects, doctors, journalists.

12-Did you finish any exams related to BN? If yes when? what course?
So far I don’t think about Bharatanatyam degree. I am more concerned to be good in practice than having a diploma. I already have a master degree at law with two specializations and studying second master degree in Indology. I read a lot. My house is full with books and dvd’s of Bharatanatyam and other classical dances. I have almost everything published on these topics – both old and new. And of course, I have a lot of notes written in my teacher’s classes.

MEENA-1113- About your BN Guru.
My Guruji is a rare woman and a great dancer. She has good and pure personality. And second, she is very giving and patient teacher. She is a non-performing Guru, all of her energy is concentrated on us, her students. She is a wise lady with cheer nature. She is an excellent choreographer who is able to pick up the best in every one. I am sure I own any of my success to her.

14- Memorable moments in dance profession? Any good or bad experience?
Experience is always good, everything is learning. One of my best memories is the first Bharatanatyam concert in Bulgaria performed by Bulgarians, which I made few years back. The audience liked it. The hall was so crowded, that we had to make a second concert, because there was no room even for standing people. I was very happy, it was a magic moment for me. I have warm feelings about all the concerts with my teacher Ujwalji and the group in Milan. I love the classes with my Guruji and adore dancing her choreographies. This year, at December I will dance together with my students of Bharatanatyam and I am very excited about that.

15-Most of your photo sessions are made in temples, why? What is the reason?
Bharatanatyam have been born in the Temple and according to my humble opinion it looks better there. It would be great if this art could come back to the Temples instead of trying to change and to be “modern”. I mean that the
stage is great, but Temple is greater.

16-Did you finish your Ranga Pravesham- arangetram?
I have not. It’s at my future plans. Please, come!

MEENA-217-In how many countries did you perform?
So far only three – Italy, Russia and India, and of course I perform back home in Bulgaria. This September I am invited to Prague, Czech Republic for the first time.

18-What aspect you like more in BN?
Rasa. I like this in all classical dance styles of India. But as to Bharatanatyam I like mostly that beautiful blend of ancient drama with the Dravidian tradition. I like all about Bharatanatyam – from the stories or poetry, which is
interpreted with beautiful Karnatic music, the graphic lines and softness of the dance, to the beautiful costumes and jewelry.

19-Are you making any new experiments in BN?
My last “experiment” is to choreograph small items for my students.

20-What you feel about your BN classmates?
I feel very good with my classmates in India. Everyone is kind to me and treats me well. I know that sometimes senior students are not tolerant to new ones. But it is not the case in my class. I feel no competition there, but partnership. And I miss a lot my classmates when I am back to Europe.

MEENA-721-Except BN your interesting subjects?
This list is going to be long! I like yoga, ancient cultures, religion, philosophy, reading, Sanskrit, Tamil, Aurveda, singing, music, movies, swimming, skiing, ice-skating, photography, I do scuba diving, parachute jumping, acrobatics and more…

22- Your words about life?
Life is just a performance and it is good to play your part at its best.
Happiness is the practice of wisdom.
Life is a state of mind.

23- Your ultimate goal?
Parampadam Vaikuntha, moksha.


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