A Bharatnatyam performance, classical Indian dance and its power to heal

Danseuse Sanjana Chandawarkar on how Bharatnatyam helped her recover from a sports injury.

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Sanjana Chandawarkar’s Bharatanatyam journey began in Bombay as a five year old.

When her family moved to Sydney, she continued her tutelage under guru Hamsa Venkat and soon became an integral part of the Samskriti School of Dance. Excelling in this art form was her dream and arangetram its natural progression.

Bharatnatyam3.Indian Link

However, Sanjana’s journey to this destination has by no means been an easy one. A sports injury tested her determination.

“I am a strong believer of everything happening for a reason in life. These challenges helped me to understand myself and be aware of my own body. Dance has the power to heal,” the biomedical engineer explained, acknowledging her guru’s patience and perseverance during this difficult phase.

Yoga helped Sanjana find focus. “It not only allowed me to mould myself to the physical requirements of Bharatanatyam but also shortened my recovery time exponentially”, she added.

By embracing innovative themes, bold choreographic techniques and a unique style of delivery, Sanjana paid obeisance to her guru’s driving philosophy, a quote by George Bernard Shaw – I dream of things that never were and ask why not.

“Bold statements often have to come from deep within and it is very important for both teacher and student to feel it in order to take the audience with them,” Hamsa emphasised.

Approaching the arangetram as a service to the divine, Sanjana’s repertoire for the evening was an exquisite kadamba garland, incorporating myriad blossoms for a multi-sensory feast. Be it cartwheels or complex emoting, her personality shone through.

Bharatnatyam1.Indian Link

Music is intrinsic to a Bharatanatyam recital and the orchestra, comprised of Sai Vigneshwar (vocal), Hamsa (nattuvangam), Pallavarajan Nagendran (mrudangam) and the Sritharan siblings Saumya (veena) and Venkhatesh (flute) sustained the narrative in great harmony.

The invocatory Omkaram and Swaranjali, a jathiswaram composed by Mohan Iyer, showcased beauty through movement. Soon, the audience was transported to the Chennakeshava temple at Belur, in a scene where the danseuse is mesmerised by the sheer grace and fluidity of the dancing sculptures that adorn the temple and bring Chennakeshava to life.

Varnam, a showpiece for the night, was dedicated to Lord Krishna and his divine manifestations. Snapshots of his colorful life unraveled – from adorable truant, eternal playmate and charismatic lover to cosmic creator. It was also an exploration of the self as the danseuse connected with key aspects of her persona.

The full impact of the dialogue between Arjuna and his charioteer was not lost on Sanjana – the conflict between action and inaction, material and spiritual, ephemeral and timeless.

“Arjun’s reaction to Krishna’s advice and the revelation of His Vishwaroopam was one of the many special moments for me in my arangetram.  The musical ensemble allowed me to feel the presence of the divine in every moment of the dance and I thank them all for bringing me so close to the divine through their music,” she said.

Bharatnatyam2.Indian Link

Throughout the performance, music and dance effortlessly collaborated like soul mates, to weave a rich tapestry. Delving into the creative process, Hamsa complimented the team not just for their ability but also their attitude, “They were willing to experiment with us and worked as a team, where all our energies were channelled towards one goal…the best outcome on stage that day. In fact, the whole music composition for the piece on the lion and mouse started only days before the performance,” she added.

Small deeds and little gestures can have an enduring impact – that was the moral of Kathanam, an endearing rendition of the old Panchatantra classic.

Aananda Thaandavam was a tribute to the patron of art form as the syllables tha thi, nom and tham emanate from his radiant being.

The padam in Begada was a bold depiction of love, the queen of emotions, where the nayika fearlessly flaunts her passion unencumbered by social norms of the day.

Swati Thirunal’s Dhanasri Thillana was Sanjana’s penultimate piece, an exhilarating expression of bliss. She concluded with Omkaara Kaarini, a dedication to many forms of Devi, saluting the power vested within each woman.

Bharatnatyam.Indian Link

Hamsa could not have been more proud of her diligent shishya. “Though I was fully conscious that Sanjana had gone through severe physical trauma…my way of dealing with it was not with sympathy but with the attitude that I am going to keep the bar high and she has to make that extra effort and build resilience to get there. The satisfaction she felt after the performance and the determination she now feels to move ahead with confidence, more than compensates for the challenges along the way,” the guru concluded.