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Sermons and steps

Dancing is part of priesthood for Fr. Saju George. A profile by Sangeeth Kurian

THEY CALL him the `dancing priest' and rightly so. For Fr. Saju George has been practising Bharatanatyam for 15 years. Dancing has become part of his priesthood.

This Jesuit priest views art as a medium for social transformation and integration. "Art is a wonderful medium that can transcend the barriers of religion and culture. And I want to make Bharatanatyam a source for building bridges between religion and culture," says George.

His fascination for the art began quite early in life. "During school days, dance captured my attention more than any other art. And I picked up the basics from my sister and friends who were practising it. It was an assortment of different forms such as Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, Ottamthullal, Kathakali and Bharatanatyam," says George with a smile.

Later, influenced by the charity works of Mother Teresa, he joined the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) in Calcutta after completing Plus Two. There he came in touch with a lecturer who taught Kuchipudi at the University of Calcutta and learnt under him for four years while doing his graduation in political science. He also learnt Kuchipudi under Vempati Chinna Satyam at his Kuchipudi Art Academy, Adyar, on his return to Chennai to study philosophy at the Satya Nilayam Research Institute of Philosophy and Sanskrit (SNRIPS), Thiruvanmiyur. However, owing to practical difficulties he had to discontinue his classes after a year. "I had to cycle every evening from Thiruvanmiyur to Adyar to learn dance and this affected my studies." But luckily for him, George found a tutor, a former Kalakshetra student, who lived near his institute and through him got initiated into the world of Bharatanatyam.

Ever since his `arangetram,' in 1996, after completing post graduation in dance, George has given more than 50 performances all over the country and abroad. "I use both Hindu and Christian themes for my performances. Imageries of Radha Krishna share a platform with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ." However, George does not want to stop with just being a performer. "I want to know the deeper philosophy of dance."

His ongoing research in the `Philosophy and Religion of Indian dance,' with reference to the Saiva tradition at the University of Madras through SNRIPS, reveals his urge to know the inner meaning of this art form. "Dance in India, particularly Bharatanatyam, depicts the Saivite philosophy. And by studying texts such as Tirumandiram, which contains several verses praising the dance of Lord Siva you gain an insight into the spiritual traditions of this country," he reasons.

However, his efforts are not without their share of criticisms. "There were times when I felt like giving up dance altogether," says George. "But now I am convinced of its power to foster communal amity and social values. True, being a priest, I have to work and dance within the framework of my religious Order. But that doesn't prevent me from dancing."

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