Vasundhara Doraswamy, renowned guru and exponent of Bharatanatyam and yoga, is a torchbearer of Pandanallur style of the art form. India Art Review will be publishing her weekly column on ‘Yoga Guide for Dancers’ every Friday.
Over the past five decades and more Dr Vasundhara Doraswamy has turned a phenomenon in the Indian classical dance scenario. Her artistry is the quintessence of the purity of the much sought after Pandanallur school of Bharatanatyam, of which she is a torchbearer. A globe-trotting dancer, her talent has been specially noted for the interdisciplinary approach.
This springs from her academic background – a post-graduate degree in Folklore, and a Ph.D. for the thesis “Bharatanatyam and Yoga”. Further, she is a champion of martial arts Kalarippayattu and Thang-Ta. Admittedly, a few of her choreographies including ‘Panchali’ performed to the rustic airs of Yakshagana; ‘Sooryanamskaram’ based on the fundamental asana of yoga and ‘Soundharya Lahari’, a two and half hour non-stop solo recital of Sankaracharya’s magnificent work, smack of these traits. So far, she is the only dancer who has ventured to choreograph ‘Sama Veda’, the fountainhead of Indian classical music, in Bharatanatyam.
While her performances are manifestations of the profound terpsichorean ingenuity marked by impromptu improvisations, esoteric footwork and bewitching histrionic propensities, her myriad choreographies encompassing a wide spectrum of spiritual and secular themes are striking paradigms of her inventive brilliance.
Doraswamy is the founder-director of Vasundhara Performing Arts Centre, Mysore, an institution of excellence that continues to groom young talents in Bharatanatyam and yoga. The four festivals organised by her annually – ‘Chiguru sanje’, Pallavothsava’, ‘Natarajothsava’ and ‘Parangathothsava’ – are a vehement demonstration of her sincere pursuit to encourage up-and-coming talents and honour the maestros.
Encomiums have been showered on her even as a child and she is the youngest recipient of ‘Karnataka Kala Tilak’, the prestigious award of the Sangeetha Nrithya Akademi. Apart from national awards, she has won several awards from different countries. A visiting professor to many universities in India and abroad, Doraswamy created history by dancing at the World Forum of UNESCO Chairs in Paris in 2002. Thus, next to Sitar maestro Ravi Shanker and Sarod maestro Amjed Ali Khan, she is the only Indian to perform before such an august assembly.
Exploits in yoga
As a child, she used to imitate the yoga asanas her father did every morning. But once she turned an accomplished dancer, she could discover that most of the adavus and postures closely resembled yoga asanas. This realisation took her to Pattabhi Jois, a yoga guru of international repute. Jois had said that Doraswamy was the only dancer to approach him to practice yoga. “Of all my disciples across the globe, she stands out. I was overjoyed to find that she could integrate yoga quite effectively into her dance form which enhanced its aesthetic appeal”, he had averred.
Years later in an interview, Doraswamy had pointed out, “There is a common thread running through all the performing arts of Indian origin and this is nothing but the traditional discipline of yoga which is esoteric to the country”. With systematic training in yoga under Jois, she was convinced beyond doubt that almost all the adavus appeared to be improvised versions of the asanas.
There are numerous methods to develop a physical culture which are mainly mechanical exercises. Since yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul on its journey to moksha, exercises based on it are designed to equip not only the body but also to enrich the mental faculties. In this sense, it is a spiritual exercise as well. After all, dance is a means for the jeevatma to unite with the paramatma. As for the physical part, it enhances flexibility which is a blessing for the dancers.
Further, yoga exercises focus on the spine. The spinal column houses all the important nervous systems. So, by maintaining the flexibility and strength of the spine, blood circulation is enhanced. It has been proved that hormones and glands also benefitted from yoga exercises.
When Sangeet Natak Akademi celebrated the first International Yoga Day after the declaration by the United Nations in 2014, Doraswamy was invited to present Sooryanamskaram . The celebrities who attended the programmes broke into lengthy panegyrics after her show, which was documented for the Akademi’s archives. The Indian Embassy in Paris invited her for the second and third International Yoga Day celebrations in which around 2000 people had participated to practice yoga.
True, yoga has caught the fancy of many choreographers in the country. Most of them have written volumes on the benefits of practising yoga for dancers. But among them Doraswamy is an oddity since more than a practitioner, she is an acclaimed yoga guru as well.