Among many striking art forms there is Bharatha Natyam, a stunning classical Indian dance genre. Originating in Tamil Nadu, this dance style has an exquisite portrayal of emotions and a spiritual discipline that keeps it on a high pedestal. To execute such a craft, one requires real passion, dedication and altruism. Out of a handful of such noteworthy individuals in Sri Lanka, I’m in conversation with someone truly close to my heart; someone who has served for almost three decades giving life to the genre of Bharatanatyam. She is also behind the first ever Bharatanatyam ballet performed with a Sinhala narrative, and was a guiding light to twenty-six students in performing their Arangethram. Being a humble achiever in the classical dance style since her younger days, she is a proud past pupil and a current guru at Visakha Vidyalaya. By name, she is Priyadarshini Geekiyanage Bandara, Honorary teacher in Bharatanatyam dance. After reminiscing the amazing memories I have had with her as her student, I thought of reaching out to her for a conversation.
Priyadarshini Geekiyanage Bandara
1)It is with honor and pleasure I’m featuring you on my column this week. As much as you have inspired me, I would like to know where your passion for Bharatanatyam truly began.
Thank you Hirushi. It was my parents who introduced me to the art of Bharatanatyam dancing. I initially started learning the art from Mrs. Shantha Ramani Mahendran when I was a little over four years in age and subsequently two years later once, I started schooling at Visakha Vidyalaya, I joined the dancing class conducted by Late Mrs. Kamala Jayathilake.
2)Growing up in this island we see many dance genres including Kandyan, low country, Folk dance and many more, why did you grow fond of this classical Indian dance genre?
My parents were quite passionate about classical dancing and music hence, I was brought up in an environment where classical art was valued. It was actually my parents’ interest in this particular art that pushed me into learning it. Later, as I grew up while learning Bharatanatyam, I fell completely in love with this prestigious art.
3)Running your own dance class at one of the elite leading girls’ schools in the country; what is the experience like? To be surrounded by generations of students learning the craft?
All teachers are special to their students. I have been voluntarily teaching thousands of Visakhians over the years and still continue to do so. Today, as I turn back and walk down memory lane, I realize how being with generations of students has shaped my life into what it is today. I began teaching because of the undying passion I have for Bharatanatyam. My only objective was to create lots of passionate and competent dancers and I am quite proud of what I have achieved thus far. The happiness of seeing one’s students performing on stage to an audience and being praised cannot be valued in monetary terms.
4)We know that an Arangethram is a unique peak point for a passionate Bharatha Natyam dancer. It is a sacred moment when you finally reach the stage to perform your debut as a graduate student. As a guru, how do you recognize whether a student is ready to make their debut? In your mind and work ethic, what qualifies them to receive this diploma in dancing?
The students can start preparing for their Arangethram after about four to five years of consecutive learning and practice. I identify the students based on their standard of performance and confidence in performing on a stage. Ultimately, it’s the choice of the student and their parents to decide whether or not they want to have an Arangethram.
5)Let’s talk a bit about the amazing shows and projects the dance troupe has participated in.
My main performances include “Nruthya Manjari” in 2004, the “Saliya Asoka-mala” ballet in 2006, and “Thaala Samaakya” in 2010. Apart from these Bharatha Natyam shows my students have also performed on several Television programs, at events organized by the OGA of Visakha Vidyalaya and several other events and shows organized by third parties.
6)As a guru what do you usually do to keep the students motivated? I, of course, will never forget the amazing hospitality, delicious meals and the occasional game of monopoly at your humble home during my training period.
I am usually very close to my students as they are to me. I try to be the kind of adult that they can always come to whether it’s about dancing or any other matter. My students consider me as a friend and I believe my cordial relationship with them encourages them and keeps them motivated. I am, however, quite strict when teaching but that is only to ensure that my students learn the craft properly.
7)Your career as a guru holds numerous milestones, where I myself, proudly bear witness. Let’s walk down memory lane and talk about some unforgettable memories.
One of my greatest achievements to date is the choreography of the ‘Saliya Asoka-mala’ ballet, lyrically conducted by Wasantha Kumara Kobawaka, and Composed by Visharada Nalin Jinendra Alwis. This is the first Bharatha Natyam ballet in Sinhala performed in Sri Lanka. One hundred and fifty-three students spanning from grades 01 to 13 were a part of this performance. Also, every Arangethram performed by my students is quite memorable to me.
8)The beauty of being in a colorful career as such, is also the amazing individuals that support us in the path. Playing an active role in a dance genre like Bharatanatyam, who are the special individuals that have added value to your journey?
Quite a few very important, key people in my life have supported me and continues to support me through my journey. My parents helped me learn this art and encouraged me and kept me motivated; without them I would not have achieved any of this and even though they aren’t here with me anymore, their countless blessing have always been an immense power in my life. Another individual that added much color to my journey was the late Mrs. C. Chelvadorray (fondly known as Watta Mummy). She supported me by designing and creating costumes over the years and I am forever indebted to her. However, my greatest pillars of strength has been my husband, Asoka Bandara and my daughter Janani Bandara. They continue to motivate me to keep chasing my dreams.