CHENNAI: For a packed audience at the Kapaleeswarar Temple, the Vasant Utsav was an enthralling experience, as students of kathak guru Jigyasa Giri took to the stage. The one-and-a-half-hour performance by the students from her dance school Devaniya touched upon all aspects of Shiva. Beginning with the Ganesha Tarasirisham, the performance comprised Shiva kavith, advait — a tribute to universe and elements, a composition on Bhavani, a farewell to the Phagun season with holi, and depiction of Krishna (in romance, and in bhakti with Meera), Shivashtakam and Shivoham. “This is our third performance at a temple and it was divine,” she says, visibly elated about the response for the programme. The line-up for the event is very close to Jigyasa’s heart as she has a special place for the traditional Hindu temple format in her works.
“I have tried everything — Tamil music to Pakistani and semi-classical music, and Sanskrit shlokas. I seem to have a stronger inclination towards the traditional Hindu temple format. If I have to do Shivashtakam, I go crazy,” she says. On a high after two successful shows — the previous one being in Bengaluru for World Dance Day — Jigyasa has been slowly creating a space for kathak in the Southern city. And she can’t agree more that it has been a rewarding experience — creating inroads for kathak in a city which revels in its bharathanatyam identity. Dispelling misconceptions and creating an awareness about the uniqueness of the dance form among enthusiastic students, who sometimes mistake it for kathakali, Jigyasa says, “I have had many approaching me to teach them, thinking it is kathakali or it originates from Kerala. Many of my new students tell me that they have learnt a classical dance form (bharathanatyam) and want to learn another kind of dance. I tell them this is another classical dance form and among the eight classical dance forms of India.”
Training close to 700 students over the years, now Devaniya has 180 students currently enrolled in 13 batches at two branches of her dance school.
Her journey that began when she was seven, can be divided in two parts — in Bharathanatyam and kathak chapters. Starting in the South Indian dance form as a reluctant student, Jigyasa credits her mother, and her bharathanatyam guru Krishnakumar for working tirelessly with her for seven years before she did her arangetram at the age of 13 at Vani Mahal. “I am grateful today for that. My guru was so patient and very kind,” she says. While the arangetram was a turning point for her, as the accolades and praise led to a moment of epiphany, there were other things ordained for her. “When on a holiday in Mumbai, I happened to witness a kathak performance. I told my mother I would love to continue dance lessons, but I wanted to learn kathak. After a while, we came across Krishna Kumar Dharwar and I began lessons under him at the age of 17,” she says.
Almost 15 years ago, when Jigyasa decided to reconnect with dance after a long break from performing, she began yet another journey in dance — as a teacher. Initially training in the Benaras Gharana under Krishna Kumar Dharwar, Jigyasa gave performances in Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat and Chennai. After her guru’s passing away in the late 80s, it was a big gap before she began lessons under Maya Rao, who trained her in the Lucknow Gharana. “Maya Didi was one of the most patient and gracious human beings you can come across. She taught me the methodology of teaching and improvised on what I was doing already. Visiting her in Bengaluru for the classes four days every month, I continued taking classes for students here,” she says.
So, at a point when many have gone to make a mark as a performer, does Jigyasa regret staying behind? “I enjoyed performance, but I didn’t enjoy the aftermath of performance. I am more of a gardener than a plant. I do believe that because I am not a performer, I give it wholly to my students. It comes from the fact that I have nothing to lose. At the age of 50, people feel youth is behind you, but I see it in front of me,” says Jigyasa. Alas, her kathak guru’s prophecy did come true; he had sought a promise from Jigyasa, asking her to take up the baton as a teacher, during his last days.