Italian Sanatani Rombola has made Odissi a way of life.

After Padma Shri Ileana Citaristi, the Italian Odissi dancer and choreographer who made Orissa her home three decades ago for her love for Odissi, Sanatani Rombola, a young Italian, has been hooked on to Odissi and Orissa for the past two decades. Coincidentally, while it was legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra for whom Ileana did not go back to her country, his distinguished disciple and daughter-in-law Sujata Mohapatra has been Sanatani's principal attraction to stay back in India.

Born in Florence, Italy, in 1982 to parents who were keenly attached to Indian culture and tradition, Sanatani got her Indian name. “Ours was a vegetarian home where Krishna was the focal point of attention. My parents say that as a kid, I was naturally inclined towards arts activities. I would force my dad to take me to the temple and sit through the elder girls' dance rehearsals and performances there. At the age of six, my dream came true and I was admitted to Bharatanatyam class,” she recollects.

Three years later, the family — followers of ISKON — moved to the pilgrims' paradise of Puri, the land of Jagannath and the cradle of Odissi, and Sanatani had her initiation into Odissi. “I now realize that I was destined to be an Odissi dancer. I was blessed to be initiated into Odissi by the last living devdasi of Jagannath temple,” says Sanatani who had her alphabets of Odissi at Simhari School of Arts in Puri under supervision her first dance teacher Bijaylaxmi Dash. “Instantly there was a deeper connection with my teacher who literally adopted me into her family with which I lived for six years. I studied in an Oriya medium school while learning dance from her. Eventually I fully imbibed the traditional Oriya lifestyle. And I could also realise that Indian classical dance is not merely for entertainment but a spiritual service and experience,” confides Sanatani, whose chaste Oriya charms the Oriyas.

Graduating from a college in Puri, Sanatani went back to Italy when she was 21. “I had doubts if dance could be my chosen path. I started exploring other options in the western world but finally realised that I can't live without Odissi. A meeting with my guru Sujata Mohapatra in 2006 gave a definite shape to my life as a dancer. I knew that I could not live without her and I came back to India,” she reveals.

Sanatani performs regularly in Europe and India while dividing her time between Bhubaneswar and Vrindavan. “My dance guru is in Bhubaneswar and my spiritual guru in Vrindavan,” she explains. “There could not have been a better life for me on this earth.”

Sanatani says, “My most precious experience has been dancing in Italy during the annual Rath Yatra. For me, dancing is my sacred service to my beloved Lord Jagannath.”

Keywords: Odissi