Tulsi Badrinath’s latest book Master of Arts: A Life in Dance is all about her gurus VP Dhananjayan and his wife Shanta and the journey to establish themselves as Bharatnatyam dancers. In the book, Badrinath has combined her twin passion of writing and dancing. She trained under VP Dhananjayan and Shanta in Bharata Natyam from the age of eight and has performed in India and abroad. After her graduation in English Literature from Stella Maris College, Madras, Tulsi Badrinath did MBA from Ohio University, USA. She then worked in Standard Chartered Bank for four years but the calling in arts was too strong. Her earlier books, Meeting Lives and Man of A Thousand Chances, were on the Man Asian Literary Prize longlist in 2007 and 2008.
Excerpts of a conversation with Ambica Gulati:
What do you like most about dance?
I love Bharatanatyam because, through the instrument of the dancing body, it allows me to forget my body and soar beyond it. It is a way of making music visual, it is a way of inhabiting myths, it is a way of changing the dimensions of space and time.
What is your gurus’ favourite repertoire?
My gurus Shanta and Dhananjayan have a huge repertoire that they have composed and choreographed over four decades. But certain ‘items’ performed by them have captured the audience’s imagination. Some of these are… the Atana varnam about baby Krishna, Radha Madhavam…where they play Krishna and Radha in the ashtapadis of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, Guru Dhananjayan’s ‘Pregnant Deer’ which overcomes all dangers thanks to fate, and a lovely Kuntalavarali tillana.
Dance is passion, dance is worship, dance is life.
Your favourite performance and why?
I performed at the Brihadeeshwara temple in Tanjavur, open-air, near the enormous Nandi. The great king Raja Chola had maintained 400 devadasis here to offer dance-as-worship to the gods. To perform at that same place was momentous. As I began the tillana, it began to rain but the audience remained seated, cross-legged on the warm stone, until I finished. Unforgettable.
A tribute to your gurus…
They are completely dedicated to the practice and performance and teaching of Bharatanatyam. No detail is too small to overlook and they believe in ‘discipline, devotion and dedication’ when it comes to the classical arts. They have made me the dancer I am, and I realize this anew every time I perform.
About the book
Master of Arts: A Life in Dance
Price: Rs 599
Publisher: Hachette India
Badrinath doesn’t call her book an ode or a biography. It is written in an interesting manner though. One chapter has her story and the next talks about her gurus and their trials and tribulations. The focus is more on how VP Dhananjayan establishes himself in the world of female dancers, rising from earth and reaching the stars and yet remains humble and down-to-earth. For Badrinath, the gurus and their life are an inspiration which she wanted to share with the world. It is the less recorded and oral traditions that she wanted to tell the world and has told them beautifully. Her writing style is simple and articulate. And there is a lot of emotion in her expression. As a student with the Dhananjayans for over 40 years, she has shown the evolvement of the dance form, the grit it takes to go through despite obstacles and all kinds of problems. It was not only financial blocks but also social prejudices that the gurus fought. It is also a journey of moving from a renowned institution like Kalashtera and making a stand on their own. Shanta and Dhananjayan’s love story and dancing career has a dreamlike thread, though of course caught in all the rigmaroles of life.