Vrindavan is home for the Russian Veronica, rechristened Vrinda Rani, who is devoted to Odissi and Lord Krishna.

The final evening of the recently concluded fourth annual Naveen Kalakar National Odissi Festival in Bhubaneswar witnessed the distinct debut of a future face of Odissi from Russia — Veronica Yakovleva — who has been re-christened as Vrinda Rani following her induction into ISKON. Just 18, Vrindavan-based Vrinda emerged as the find of the festival of the year that featured above 150 budding Odissi soloists from across the country who were competing for the Odissi Jyoti titles conferred on promising dancers.

Born in St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia, Vrinda literally started walking and dancing simultaneously when she was just two years old, recollected her father who accompanied her to Bhubaneswar. Her parents, both connoisseurs of Indian culture and ISKON devotees, could soon realise that the child was born to dance and thus took her to an Indian dance teacher in their city who taught Bharatanatyam.

“My mother had once seen the video of an Odissi dance recital and she was so captivated by the beauty of the dance style that she always wanted me to learn Odissi. And thus I was sent to India when I was six and I have been learning and performing Odissi since then,” revealed Vrinda who is being trained under the Vrindavan-based Odissi dancer couple Pratap Narayan and Kunjalata.

Her devotion for dance was so intense that she did not like to go back to her family and friends in Russia and made India her home. “Vrindavan is my home now. I have Krishna and Odissi here. Once I went to Russia but I felt as if I was foreigner in the country of my birth,” said Vrinda who did her schooling through correspondence course from Russia and now plans to join Agra University to study Odissi. Did she ever miss the fun that the children experience at schools and with friends? “I dance, paint and prepare garlands for the temple every day. I am too happy with such a life of discipline, devotion and dedication that would make me a dancer,” pat came her answer. “Of course, my parents have been very liberal and understanding. They never restrict me to experience anything but I do not do anything that I should not do. I even watch old Hindi movies to know how dance is being used in it”, content Vrinda maintained.

During the short span of seven years of her career as an Odissi dancer, Vrinda has performed in more than a dozen prestigious venues in India, Russia and Poland. “However, it was a great joy to perform as a soloist in the land of Odissi here and get appreciation of the exponents,” she said. While Indian classical dance has never been a secured career choice in India, how does she dare to make dance her profession? “Dance is not merely a means for livelihood for me. It is an offering to the Lord through which I aspire to experience divinity. In fact, dance in India originated as a spiritual service and I believe in it. I do not worry much over my future and enjoy every moment of present life in dancing,” said a confident Vrinda who also teaches Odissi to juniors at Venunad Kala Kendra in Vrindavan.