Rising fundamentalism and communal hatred have created many hurdles on my path as a dancing priest. But an artist is a universal individual and is a brand ambassador of peace and human unity.
The most difficult thing in dance is the training. It is strenuous and demanding. Most of us are not ready to undergo prolonged and hazardous training in Indian classical dance. Getting quick results, making easy money and fast fame is the trend. Most grownups who come to learn from me want to ‘have the cake and eat it. I have guided five PhDs in dance and a few more are in the line. All are serious scholars.
The most beautiful thing about dance is the gradual blossoming of a dancer. Those who abandon themselves into dance are bound to taste rasa. I train children from four years old. It is good for them because it forms their character, tunes them into fine personalities. It is a holistic training programme. They are trained to develop their body, mind and soul. It gives them a lifetime of discipline and the ability to enjoy and appreciate any art form. It makes them outstanding human beings.
A true artist is a universal person. He/she belongs to the world. Indian dance taught me to think beyond India, love India deeply and be an Indian Christian in a deeper way. I also wish to mention here that in certain circles the practice of dance as sacred performance and a soul awakening art, is beyond comprehension. In such circles ignorance is bliss, and adamancy to adapt to good leads to further nescience. In my knowledge, Hinduism is the only religion that confirms the aesthetics of the art of dance to the highest plane by epitomising the Divine as a cosmic dancer. God exists in Hindu understanding as a dancer. And hence, the Hindu tradition rightly upholds Indian classical dancers, and other such artists, with due dignity and praise.
I was born and brought up in a traditional Syrian Catholic family in Kerala. I am the 7th among 10 children. We believe that the Apostle Thomas came to Kerala in AD 52 and we received the Gospel from him. I have been drawn to become a missionary priest since I was 14 years old. My missionary ideals since my teens were St. Peter Damian, St. Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) and Dr Albert Schweitzer.
As a priest and a performer
After my schooling, I met a Jesuit priest from Kolkata and I joined the Kolkata Jesuit Province. Kolkata was my dream missionary field because of the works of Mother Teresa. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda were also my inspiration from Kolkata. I am very happy with my choice of place, vocation and the vocation within the vocation. Though Kerala is my janmabhumi Bengal is my karmabhumi and all for my matrubhumi Bharat.
I have travelled far and wide with dance; performed on more than 1500 stages in 28 countries. Themes I take up for dance composition and choreography are beyond parameters – Hinduism, Christianity, Artistic, Social, and Environmental. I have never looked back since I found my love – dance. Needless to say that it was neither an easy journey nor found a bed of roses in this journey.
Hurdles come across mainly due to rising fundamentalism and communal hatred. Needless to say that multiculturalism and international human unity are very important social ethos today. Artists everywhere are called upon to become ambassadors of peace and human unity; to think beyond one’s own religio-philosophical periphery. For me, on the whole, so far it has been a satisfying journey.
Spreading art through Kalahrdaya
Currently, I am engaged in spreading art, culture and spirituality, doing social welfare works and priestly duties. I am the Founder-Director of Kalahrdaya (Heart of Art) – the Universal Home of Art and Culture; it is a College of Fine Arts – and a Gurukula. The art peace Foundation is part of it. The institution is situated at Bakeswar, 20 kilometres away from Kolkata, amid a cluster of economically, socially and educationally underprivileged villages. Founded in 2001, it aims to promote peace through art and primarily serves the poor and the less privileged children and youth.
The master plan of Kalahrdaya is to develop it into a world-class college of Indian arts and culture keeping up with modernity and tradition. It has envisaged plans to suit the aesthetic needs of the modern generation without sacrificing the treasures of Indian traditional cultural and artistic heritage. To start with we have designed a graduate programme in dance with Bharatanatyam as a major. We have tied up with St. Xavier’s (Autonomous) College Kolkata. Currently a One Year Diploma in Bharatanatyam is offered at Kalahrdaya. It is a regular course. Residential accommodation is available for a few takers. The fresh batch is scheduled to commence on July 20, 2021. Anyone passionate about dance with a Class XII pass can join the course.
The institution also offers training in dance, music, painting and a few languages like Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil.
For further details, contact me (Mob. 8334 909 664 / email: email@example.com)