Friday Review

Dance, my passion and purpose

Padma Murali. Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

Padma Murali. Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.   | Photo Credit: Sampath Kumar G P

Bharatanatyam exponent, Padma Murali, speaks to Karthik Hebbar about what it means to dedicate one’s life to Bharatanatyam

Padma Murali is a name to reckon with in the classical dance fraternity. She is a sought after choreographer, organiser and guru, with many decades of experience in performing and teaching Bharatanatyam. “I began learning at the age of three and even before I could learn the meaning of emotions, I had learnt to emote through dance and I had fallen in love with the art form. Being initiated into dance at such an early age allowed me to immerse myself in it completely and it simply became my identity. Even though I went on to graduate in commerce academically, dance was always my passion and my ultimate career path. I grew up with it in such a way that I did not know how to even a dream of a life without it,” she says.

Trained in the Pandanallur Bani, ever since she learnt her initial steps from Kalaimamani Palaniswamy Pillai, Padma took it upon herself to delve deep into the world of dance.

Padmalaya Dance Foundation, which she established in 1985, has trained many students in the art form. Assisting her venture are two other dancers, Janani Murali Jayant (her daughter) and Poornima Kaushik (her daughter-in-law). This unique team travels extensively and has performed across the globe. They also conduct workshops for students in Bengaluru and Chennai.

Recounting specific instances from her concert days, Padma says that a significant moment in her career came her way when she danced in front of the idol of Nataraja in Chidambaram. She also remembers another episode when she performed with a ballerina in the United Kingdom who was completely bemused by the beauty of Bharatanatyam’s movements. “It feels very special when you can connect to another unknown soul through the language of bodily movements and its abstract grammar,” she says. Recalling the feedback she once received from a French lighting designer who was awestruck by the mythological stories from the Ramayana that Padma portrayed in one of her performances, she says, “It was the first time he was watching Bharatanatyam and he could remember all the stories with precision. It really re-installed my faith in the ability of this art to communicate effectively.”

Speaking about the rationale behind the various thematic productions that her dance school has produced so far, Padma says, “Audiences today have time constraints and don’t have the patience and luxury to sit through three hours of a solo performance. It is always better to keep the presentation compact. The notion that only by presenting a Pada Varnam can a dancer establish her proficiency is obsolete today. There are many other complex thematic productions that an artist can use to explore her artistic depth whilst keeping the audience entertained and completely engrossed.” Shivam Shankaram (Shankaracharya’s search for paramatma and the eternal bliss he is blessed with), Stree Shakti (female characters explored through Sita, Savitri and Meerabai), Divine Vision (the story of Kannappan and many other tales that talk of the significance of eye donation, Chaturvida Purusharta, Epic Women in Ramayana (looking at the tales of Kaikeyi, Kausalya, Sita, Urmila and Shabari) are some of her productions.

“Youngsters today must concentrate on learning dance in its purest form first and not hurry in fusing it with other martial arts movements. It is important to learn from a guru with good credibility and experience in performing. Dance can definitely be a good option for a full-time career because even if one does not make it in the performance circuit, one can teach and spread the joy of dance to many more students. It’s important though, to make sure they do not end up becoming too commercial because that will take the soul away from the art,” she says with conviction.

Padma was also instrumental in getting the International Dance Alliance (IDA) to Bangalore. IDA is a non-profit educational organisation dedicated to international exchange and goodwill through and dance and allied projects.

Padma has trained many students hailing from financially backward homes by giving them full scholarships. Her institution is always open to performances as fund raisers for good causes.

“Dance is a way of life and to use it to empower people and give back to the society is the purpose of my life,” she says. “I want to do a lot more for this art form. I am happy that I have a shishya parampara that will take my dream forward. The tradition of using this art to achieve something more meaningful will also be imbibed by them and transferred to the future generations. Art can only flourish if it can blend into the society and partake in its grievances and celebrations,” she confides.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 10:04:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/interview-with-padma-murali/article6912583.ece

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