While the skies are adorned with a bouquet of rich hues and colours, the lush green earth bursts to life with the melody of the chirping birds. Amidst the sprawling lawns of the Indian Institute of Science campus, one often cherishes this moment of tranquility. On a chilly evening, as tumbling strains of melodies drench the air in fluttering rhythms, the beauty of a rosy amber sunset fills one with awe and admiration. Soaking in the spirit of nature, as you take a walk down the decorated lanes of the campus towards the Gymkhana, echoes of taal and laya reverberate throughout the area.
Ki Ta Tha Ka … sings Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi exponent Jayanthi M Eshwarputhi as she patiently guides a batch of students. Unlike her usual class, this batch is filled with some of the brightest minds of our country. Pursuing their PhD in various subjects, these students have sought solace in the thunderous beats and intricate movements of Indian classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Kathak.
Lost in a state of trance as each of the dancers perform with sincerity, one can't help but wonder what dance means to them. “Your hand is a paint brush and your body is the canvas. Through dance, what each of you must strive to do is paint a beautiful picture with your expressions. Let the rhythm flow into your body. Surrender to the art form sincerely, only then will you understand what it truly means to let go,” said Jayanthi as she instructed her Bharatanatyam students to perform the tenth natadavu.
For Nandini, a PhD student in Centre for Product Design and Manufacturing, it was a childhood dream to become a dancer. Mesmerised by the grace and elegance of classical dance forms, she was determined to understand and learn the detailed nuances of Kathak. While practising her flamboyant rhythmic footwork, the aspiring dancer revealed that the thrill of dancing knows no bounds. “I have been taking dance lessons for the past two years. What started as a stress-busting activity soon blossomed into a more evolved regimen that taught me the importance of focus and discipline. It is easy to get distracted especially when you are conducting experiments for your research. Dance instills that sense of discipline in you,” said Nandini.
According to Preeti, a second year PhD student in the Materials Engineering Department, patience and perseverance is the key to mastering any art form. Acknowledging the fact that pursuing a PhD is no easy task, she said that dance helps one to be motivated and can be extremely rejuvenating. “Dance is the most alive form of expression we have today. All exhaustion simply vanishes the minute you step out of the dance class. Instead of being lethargic and tired, I feel charged to continue working in the laboratory. My research revolves around polymer composites. Sometimes, the stress and pressure can really get to you. Some days you put in your 100 per cent and things don't really go the way you would like them to go. Well, it is a learning process in the end,” she said and further added that any art form takes you on a journey and teaches you to look at things with a different perspective.
While Ananya, who is currently doing her research in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, feels that each of India’s myriad art forms tend to open up new horizons, ideas and inspiration; Manika Shahaa, fourth year PhD student in the department of molecular reproduction development and genetics, believes that dance instills a sense of calm in all. The duo also agreed on the fact that Indian classical dance forms are a perfect blend of art and science. “Sometimes, you are under tremendous pressure to deliver. And, amidst handling all the chaos, I find myself longing for something better and inspiring to take my mind off the crazy schedule,” said Ananya with a beaming smile.
On the other hand, one of the biggest challenges that Manika had to face in the initial stages was overcoming her fear and reluctance to perform. She first caught a glimpse of Jayanthi’s alluring dance moves at a workshop conducted in IISC. “When I joined IISC, I came with the intention of conducting research and our lab works on breast cancer. One day, I had the privilege of attending a Bharatanatyam and Kathak workshop. It came as a blessing in disguise. In the beginning, I was very conscious and refused to move for I was under the impression that the participants were already well versed with the nuances of classical dance. Undoubtedly, dance has taught me the importance of planning and discipline. In fact, I would say that it is a form of meditation,” she said.
One step at a time
With grace and fiery determination, as Sanjeev puts his foot forward in an artistic manner, he confesses with a faint smile that he always wished to master the art of dancing.
“There was something about Bharatanatyam that I was attracted to. Dance gave me that feeling of liberation and positive energy that cannot be compared to anything in this world. I feel relaxed and peaceful when I return to my lab in the evening,” said Sanjeev who is currently working on DNA pathway repairs and pursuing his PhD in Biochemistry. He further added that dancing builds motivation and pushes you to break all boundaries constantly.
Performing every chakkar and bol with agility and precision, Sandeep, who is currently pursuing his PhD in chemical engineering, sincerely believes that Kathak is one of the most beautiful and enticing dance forms known to mankind today. Apart from being visually exciting, he also feels that Kathak paves way to comprehending emotions and expressions that form an integral part of our life. And, perhaps in the intricacy of this ancient nomadic art form, Sandeep has found his solitude.
“I learnt Kuchipudi as a kid but I didn’t really get an opportunity to pursue any dance form seriously. Last year, there was a dance show put up by IISC and I was stunned after the performance. No longer could I contain my emotions. I soon enrolled in didi’s class. It has been a lovely experience so far. Today, learning dance has become my prerogative. What I have observed is that when you learn any art form, you begin to appreciate all minute things in life. For instance, chirping of birds, a magical sunset or even the beauty in rustling of leaves, everything comes alive,” he said.
Learn to surrender
Like many dancers, Jayanthi too believes that dissolution of ego or identity is extremely important for any artiste. Affectionately known as didi, she tries her best to mentor each of these dancers while educating them on the importance of keeping our ancient culture and heritage alive. According to her, the first time you practice any movement, you pay close attention to technical details. However, after a certain point, you learn to surrender. “Let the dance form consume you. You need to feel it in your veins. I keep telling my students that pain is your best friend."
As a guru, she has seen these dancers evolve right before her eyes. And, today it has probably become an integral part of their spirituality. “I can safely say that dance has made a big difference to their lives today. Earlier, they would keep missing classes but today each of them is much more sincere. After all, dance has everything in it, be it literature, poetry, music or spirituality. And, as a dancer, it is your responsibility to share the beauty of these art forms. It has to be an unconditional and selfless act,” she said.