Kathak originated from the story-telling or katha tradition, Therefore, it has a vibrant and free flowing form that combines various cultural and political aspects of different periods.

Dancer Jigyasa Giri uses Kathak to express her thoughts on a range of issues, both social and emotional. Excerpts from an interview:

You are a committed teacher…

It was my Guru Krishna Kumarji’s wish that I teach the art form to aspiring students. I really never projected myself as a performer; I love teaching, for it inspires me. I am so happy when I see my students performing with such dedication and grace.

How did you actually begin dancing?

We were in Bangkok among friends, when was a request from a group that I teach them. I just began with a few expatriates. Once back in Chennai, I got into teaching so naturally.

Bharatnatyam to Kathak....How did the transition happen?

In my childhood, I learnt Bharatanatyam and had my arangetram at Vani Mahal when I was 14. Then I moved out of Chennai to Mumbai. When I returned to Chennai, I met my guru Sri Krishna Kumar Dharwar, who introduced me to Kathak. An ailing man before he passed away, he sought a promise from me -- that I would teach continue to teach this dance form to others. Later, I add more pieces to my repertoire. I went to Bangalore and learnt the nuances from the inimitable Maya Rao. While Krishna Kumarji introduced me to the Benares gharana, I trained in the nuances of the Lucknow style under Maya didi.

How different are the two gharanas?

In Benares gharana, the natwari or the dancer’s bols are dynamic. The bols of the ghungaroos and natwari are inspirational, while in the Lucknow gharana, the tabla and the pakhawaj bols are more prominent and also sweeter. But honestly, I feel like Eklavya sometimes, who never really had a Guru to physically guide him. There are times, very often when I am not too sure or confident of myself and my skill. I am always questioning myself. However, recently I met someone who, encouragingly, told me that I should be my own role model.

Have you had the occasion to work with Pt. Birju Maharaj?

Yes. Recently I happened to meet both Maharaj-ji and Saswati Sen. Six of my students danced in one of their projects. It was heart-warming and a reaffirmation of my teaching abilities, when they praised my students.

Tell us a little about the Tatkar jugalbandi performed by your students Avani and Shweta. What kind of pieces do you enjoy choreographing best?

It was a memorable performance. It was a piece based on variations in rhythm and involved a lot of foot work. I enjoy choreography of traditional, classical pieces. Tarana seems to be my forte and bhajans too. I have choreographed about four to five Taranas and Tirwat (a rhythmic piece similar to Tarana ) in raga Chadrakauns, Jhaptaal. I become immersed when I choreograph for bhajans, invocations and Vedic slokas; this surprises me as I am not a very religious person. I think what I did with Adi Sankara’s Atmashatakam or Shivoham was interesting. It was a difficult piece to choreograph. Also a group choreography of ‘Purnamadah, Purnamidam’ turned out well. Choreographing to Meerabai and Sant Kabir gives me ultimate joy… it’s the ultimate bliss. Recently, I choreographed a Holi piece too. It was a beautiful dance of abandon, love and joy and the song was rendered in the voices of Pt. Birju Maharaj and Vani Jairam.

How many students do you have?

I have divided my students into six groups based on their age, progress, etc. The groups are named Lehara, Laya, Swar, Taal, Raag and Bhav - all the essential requirements for dance.

Is there any other genre of music that you like to choreograph?

I feel the bhajan is greatly suited for abhinaya, especially as it evokes the bhakti rasa. I relate well to Meera’s bhajans. I have also done pieces on Surdas and Kabir bhajans as well.

The influences in your life…

Every bend and turn in life teaches you something. Therefore, the influences in my life cannot be counted. From my parents to my in-laws, friends, students, every person whom I have met and incident… they have shaped me as a person and an artist. Also,Special mention has to be made about mother-in-law, Mohini Giri. She has dedicated her life to the cause of women, especially widowed women.

Which performance would you rate as your most memorable one?

Performing at Ethiraj College in the 1982-83 Talent Concert. While I was doing 27 chakkars, my braid became loose and hung on a thread and went round my neck, just short of strangulating me. I continued my swirls to the recitation of the Todas, despite taunts from the audience… I got a standing ovation. I learnt that day the importance of completing a task, no matter what.

What are your other interests?

In partnership with my friend Pratibha Jain, I authored and published two coffee-table cookbooks – ‘Cooking at Home with Pedatha’ which won the Gourmand Award for the Best Vegetarian Cookbook in the World, 2006, and ‘Sukham Ayu.’

I am actively involved in running a free school for underprivileged children in Attuvampatti, Kodaikanal. This school was started by my mother-in-law’s sister, Padmini Mani. It is called ‘My school Satya Surabhi.’ Of course, I run Devaniya, the Kathak Dance School in Chennai, which is a division of Pritya.

Keywords: Jigyasa GiriKathak