Guarding the Goddess: Dance therapist Sohini Roychowdhury hopes to spread awareness of Indian great cultural traditions 

........ With her recent book, Indian Stage Stories: Connecting Civilization - A Telling of the Story of the Indian Stage and How it Connects to the World

Published: 08th January 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th January 2023 01:16 PM   |  A+A-

Sohini Roychowdhury

Sohini Roychowdhury

Bharatanatyam dancer and activist Sohini Roychowdhury was “emotionally injured” when visuals of American supermodel Heidi Klum at Halloween in 2008 dressed as a ‘Scary Indian Goddess’ were splashed all over media in her “ludicrous ‘Kali’ caricaturesque attire”.

 “It was unintelligent, offensive and disrespectful. Our sacred stories, philosophies, mythology and Vedic wisdom have many layers and need a deeper understanding and respect, beyond ‘India-exotica’,” says the multi-hyphenate Kolkata-based danseuse, choreographer, movement director and producer.

As a practitioner with 25 years of experience, who trained under Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam dancer Thankamani Kutty and Kathakali artiste Kalamandalam Venkitt since age four, Roychowdhury values her artistic lineage and strives to preserve its foundations.

With her recent book, Indian Stage Stories: Connecting Civilizations… A Telling of the Story of the Indian Stage and How it Connects to the World, the dance therapist, author and professor in Natya shastra, hopes to spread awareness of the great cultural traditions of our age-old civilisation.

 “How does a boy have an elephant head?” “Is your mother a Devdasi?” “You have so many Gods and Goddesses, don’t you get confused?”, are some of the cultural stereotypes with which she begins her book, which was launched at the House of Commons in London in November, and will be officially released in India in the upcoming Jaipur Literary Festival, starting January 19.

Over the years, the dancer has become an ambassador of sorts of Indian arts and culture globally— a trend that has found takers among artistes today. She has performed solo and with her multinational troupe, Sohinimoksha, and believes it is her ability to marry her global outlook with her traditional training that makes her an apt ambassador to spread the message of cultural inclusivity and respect.

“Our Vedic tenets, Puranas, epics, are all about inclusivity celebrating the oneness of humanity. Our sacred philosophies, music and poetry celebrate empathy, which is necessary during times of uncertainty such as Covid, economic recession or war. These can bring about a positive approach to life through empathy so that one can live and not merely survive,” she asserts.

Roychowdhury hopes to continue spreading this message through her upcoming projects as well, which include books called Kali Speaks and She. The first, as its name suggests, is about Goddess Kali, who the dancer believes is the most misunderstood goddess in popular West-led discourse. She is a sweeping tome on all the female goddesses of the Hindu-Tantric pantheon.

The artiste explains, “Our goddesses are the pillars of feminism and the world needs to know this fact instead of slotting us into the misogynistic groove of ‘battered Asian women’. My dance operas and my writings are the storms in my soul, to counter shallow and at times offensive, disrespectful notions towards our culture and philosophies.”


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