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Creativity, for me, is breathing inspiration into life and is an expression of the inner self: Kathak Artist Swati Pillai

Swati  Pillai, founder, Navdha Kathakalaya inspires a lot of young girls into learning Kathak. Evolution of Kathak through the eras, starting in the temple period, evolving through the royal courts of the kings and emperors, ending with today’s proscenium stages.

 

25th May 2022 :   Kathak is the only dance form influenced by both Hindu and Muslim cultures. When it started in temples hundreds of years ago, it arose as a form of storytelling, moral instruction and a prayer offering to the Lord.  Ms.Swati Pillai,  budding and classical Kathak dancer and artist  says” I feel I was born to propagate Kathak in bringing its past glory.  India is one culturally rich country, where almost every state has its language, cuisine, and dance forms. When it comes to dancing, India has traditional, classical, folk, and tribal dance styles, and all are simply amazing. As classical dancers, most of us do have the divine power in the back of our mind, and we offer our dance as a prayer to the Lord, as well as to entertain the audiences through that prayer.

 

All the incredible classical dances that originated in the country during ancient times are very special and precious. Among all these dance forms one is Kathak. Throughout history, quite unlike most classical art forms, Kathak has seldom been performed as an offering to a deity, instead from its earliest stages, it has been a recital directed at an audience comprising its patrons as well as the common people.  Late Pandit Birju Maharaj’s perseverance, sincerity, passion for teaching, and incorporation of daily life examples into his teaching are admirable. I believe teaching is a continuous learning process for a teacher.  Indian classical dances  celebrated across the globe for their enriching and mesmerising virtuosity  can be traced back to centuries old ways of storytelling, performed as much for entertainment as for the spread of cultures and knowledge. Each classical form is built upon layers of complex histories that often converge at the intersection of culture, art, politics, and even conflict, readjusting its structures and boundaries in the light of revolution and reform. Consequently, varying styles of the art form find new homes and families to become gharanas, yet other dance forms are added to the ever-dynamic definition of what constitutes as classical.

I would say my teaching style is a mix of being both warm and demanding. My love and passion for dance reflect my teaching style. Iprovide caring and emotional support but also have high expectations from my students. Having said that, I make sure my students are having fun in the classroom by finding the right balance between their artistic development and enjoyment. I try to be a positive role model so my students not only learn this beautiful form of Indian classical dance but also use discipline and practice in their lifestyles.

Talking about her passion for Kathak, Ms. Swati Sanjay Pillai stated, “My breath and my joy is Kathak. “Dance has been a breakthrough for me personally. Through dance I found myself, and within myself, I found God.” Swati believes it is important to think deeply about the form, continue training rigorously, and attempt one’s own interpretations to shape your journey. She stated that evolving with the dance form to find your own artistic voice is truly important.  I love sharing the craft that I have acquired by observing my gurus. My ultimate goal in teaching Kathak dance is to cultivate inner peace, a positive attitude and composure through expressions. I feel blessed to practice and share various aspects of a ‘Kathakaar’  , a storyteller  by expressional and rhythmic Kathak compositions with my students.

 

Kathak is commonly regarded as one of the seven classical dances of India and is the only one from North India. Kathak has been enriched greatly by the contributions of musicians, dancers, professional women artists, and court and landlord patronage.  She explained that Kathak is an elegant dance form of Northern India and revolves around the concept of story-telling related to Indian ancient and mythological culture. It is further characterised by intricate footwork, body movement and precise rhythmic patterns. Kathak is one of the 8th major forms of Indian classical dance. The origin of Kathak is traditionally attributed to the travelling birds in ancient Northern India known as kathakers or storytellers. The term Kathak is derived from the vedic Sanskrit word Katha which means story and kathakar which means the one who tells a story or to do with stories. Wandering Kathak communicated stories from the great epics and ancient mythology through dance, songs and music. Kathak dancers tell various stories through their hand moments and extensive food work, the body moments and flexibility but most importantly through their- facial expressions. It has both the influences of Hindu and Muslim Gharana and cultural elements in it. Kathak performances include Bhajan and Urdu ghazals because this is commonly used in both the codes as well as in temples too.Kathak is found in four distinct form called Gharana name after the cities where the Kathak dance tradition evolved they are Jaipur, Banaras,Lucknow,and Raigarh. Teaching has been a sacred and relaxing  experience for me.By teaching, I learn and by learning, I get inspired to teach more. I would say the hardest part of my job is to learn and try to understand different students’ perspectives. It is definitely hard to match kids’ exuberant energy.

 

India, in any terms, shines like a unique brilliant star in the horizon of classical dance. It is here that the classical dance forms are considered to be bhakti yoga path to spirituality and worship; it is in this sub-continent alone that our deities are also revered as classical performing artistes. In its delineation, it breathes the fragrance of our Indian philosophy and practices of life such as yoga. Where every Indian classical dance is rooted in the rhythms of the taal, Kathak is in fact the only one in which the taal itself is brought to life. Some of the most well-known taal structures like the tritaal [16 beats], jhaptaal [10 beats], chautaal [12 beats], and dhamar [14 beats] are often taken to the stage by a performer and highlighted through compositions like thaat, amad, toda, paran, and tatkaar [footwork].She stated that evolving with the dance form to find your own artistic voice is truly important. “My gurus have inspired me to keep questioning, find new ways of expressing creativity. People might love it or hate it, but one must have the courage to dance your own dance, to express your truth.”

 

Swati believes it is important to think deeply about the form, continue training rigorously, and attempt one’s own interpretations to shape your journey. She personally looks up to being an international artist with new  innovations without taking the main essence of Kathak so that I can spread and teach whatever I have learnt can be beneficial for the next generation to retain their interest in Kathak.  It would be great if I can make something which is like complete package for them so that they can get connected to God meditate and learn about the spiritual knowledge about culture and of course the main routing of Kathak but today I feel vindicated world dance day is widely accepted by the dance community organisation and most importantly by the audience.” I hope when my students leave the classroom they feel energized and eager to come back to the next class. I also hope every dance practice session is a stress reliever for my students after their busy day at school or at work. Finally, my hope is that they take away the joy and happiness from dance that will ultimately provide a more focused approach in whatever they choose to do.

 

Swati is undoubtedly an inspiration for all the young girls out there who are aiming to learn kathak, as she makes it look easy and mesmerizing, making us want to try it out ourselves.

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