Monday 26 February 2024

Interview - Saroja Vaidyanathan's son on her philosophy, Part 1 - Shveta Arora

On 21 September 2023, when Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan left this world to take her place in a higher one, the world of dance lost one of its leading lights. She was mourned not only by her disciples but by contemporaries and gurus in all dance and art forms; not only in Delhi, but all over the world; and not only by rasikas, but by people whose lives she had touched despite them having nothing to do with dance at all. She was universally loved and respected in Bharatanatyam and in life.

Many tributes of Guruji were written following her demise, which mentioned her 'conservative family', an early marriage and then the decades of awards and honours that recognized her undeniable prowess in Bharatanatyam. A Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awardee, Guruji began learning Bharatanatyam at the age of seven from Guru Lalitha of Saraswati Gana Nilayam (putting her in the parampara of Guru Kattumannar Muthukumaran Pillai of Thanjavur). She also learnt Carnatic music under Prof. P. Sambamoorthy at Madras University. An indefatigable 'content creator' from before it was called 'content', she wrote four books, compiled an encyclopaedia on Bharatanatyam, produced a DVD about the basics of Bharatanatyam, and was a member of every conceivable body related to dance, including the Ministry of Culture and ICCR. Over her decades of teaching, not only in Delhi but in Bihar, where she first started classes, she has trained hundreds of dancers to their arangetrams and thus produced perhaps not only performers, but also teachers of dance. Her choreographies featured prominently in international and prestigious events like the Queen's Baton Relay (2009), the XIX Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony (2010), the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (2017) and many more. She broke a world record with a day-and-a-half-long Bharatanatyam marathon relay in 2017 and her choreographies on the Ganga, pollution, AIDS, yoga and other subjects have been much acclaimed. Of course, the Ganesa Natyalaya in Delhi, the result of decades of her work, is a physical testament to her forest she created, starting with herself as the single seed.

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