Bharatanatyam - The Fifth Veda in the Modern Era

Mrudula Rai, A Teacher with Traditional and Modern Outlook

Bharatanatyam is the result of twining essential order and inconceivable beauty. The inception of this great ancient Indian dance form can be traced back to centuries, when other parts of the world were still in the Neolithic age. The nuances and the theory of Bharatanatyam was even documented years since by the Prodigal Muni Bharata. Even though the country suffered from many dire situations during the colonial years, the art remained protected inside the temples and in fact flourished with time.

The Great Indian Dance Bharatanatyam was propagated by the Devadasi-s (The dancers of a deity) and their contributions to the art remains most-valued. The thing of joy is that, this ancient art of dancing is still taught the same way without losing the devadasi-touch at Shree Natya Niketan, Coimbatore.

The dance-guru Mrudula Rai shared her joy with the members of The Verandah Club, “The art of Bharatanatyam is considered widely as the fifth Veda and it is being passed on to generations from the times after Bharata Muni. To protect the art form from losing its traditional dip, we here, at Shree Natya Niketan, evaluate the students through Prayatna exams. The first level of the exams begin as early for a child studying fifth grade. Approximately, after eight years of rigorous practice the child succeeds for Arangetram. By this way, the student not only picks up the dance but becomes mature to well express the emotions.”

The definition of culture cannot be dictated. It is inherent in beings. A guru who has formally learnt it under due guidance and possessing the noble intention to teach the same to her students really contributes more towards preserving the tradition. Mrudula Rai is a distinctive and an exemplary dance teacher that way. She initially learnt dance under her Guru, Ullal Mohankumar, when she was studying her fifth grade. He had inspired her to dance better, and she does the same to her students through innovative ways. Post-marriage she continued to learn Bharatam under Vidwan Dhananjayan’s student, Shobhana Balachandra.

Mrudula Rai, who had well-understood the essence of Bharatanatyam, humbly stated, “Emotions are churned and expressed well with ease only by a matured dancer. A dancer becomes mature only when one stays in touch with dance practicing it with profundity for a long time. We here at Shree Natya Niketan teach the Ashtanayika-s to our students only after we make sure that they can demonstrate it better. Although there are 400 students pursuing Bharatanatyam at our institution, only 55 Arangetram-s have been done so far.”

Mrudula was married to Harish Rai and they were blessed with two daughters, Shrinithi & Sri Raksha. Both of them are also married and Mrudula is now a grandmother to Krishang & Rishaan at a young age. The expert dancer hails from Talappadi, Mangalore where her parents, Aithapparai & Jayanthi, reside. Although her mother tongue is Tulu, she finds it comforting to talk Tamil. Other than Tulu and Tamil, she communicates in Kannada, Hindi, and quite some Malayalam.

The optimistic Mrudula Rai said, “I don’t belong to a traditional dancers’ family and I'm proud to mention that I'm the first dancer in my household. We belong to Bunt community and my father is a land lord. Despite all the challenging situations, I studied for the Vidwath exams at Bangalore and cleared it with distinction which got me the title, Vidushi. After my marriage, I moved to Madurai. But my destiny had other plans, so it brought me here. At Madurai, I started to teach dance to a kid who was my neighbor. Here at Coimbatore, I continued to teach dance for two children. I then had the opportunity to work as a dance teacher at Alvernia School for two years. With support of my family and constant encouragement from them, I gained confidence to start my own institute. It resulted in what stands now as Shree Natya Niketan.”

The Laasika (Dancer) is a talented and a hardworking person which can be observed from her day’s schedule. Mrudula works all through the week with a small break of half-day on the weekend. She is a multi-talented person who knows Kalaripayattu, and singing, apart from dancing. She practices yoga regularly to keep physically and mentally fit which is essential for Bharatanatyam.

Shree Natya Niketan is surrounded by paddy fields at one end and lights of the city at the other. It is a comfortable place where the students learn mindfully under the guidance of the dance-guru, Mrudula Rai. She is also supported by Kalaivani, dancer-cum-secretary of the institute. Students from various age-groups are learning Bharatam under the guidance of Mrudula. Apart from all these, Mrudula herself had rendered 100s of performances at stages both in India and abroad.

“We teach even Pancha jathi-s to students which is full of mathematics. Students grasp every permutation for Jathi-s with great ease. I would say these tendencies are inborn and cultivated through constant practice. I’m of the opinion that without spoiling the tradition, we can accommodate the contemporary styles. I encourage students to pursue dance professionally,” thus Mrudula winded the conversation.

It was also observed that the Guru and the students respect each other equally which is a vital part for the growth of any institution.

Accompanying Artists:

Singers: Pozhakudi Praveen & Bhavani Kishore Kumar

Mridangam: Mayavaram Vishwanathan & Pozhakudi Naveen

Flute: Tanjay Vasanth

Violin: Palakkad Sivaramakrishnan

Technical team and teaching staffs: Shrinidhi, Shri Raksha, Akkshitha, Sandhya, Meerashree, and Rithika.

T. R. Surya is the special correspondent of the company. He is an eloquent speaker and compendious writer of English. An avid learner of Sanskrit and Indian scriptures under the guidance of Swami Ganeshaswarupananda and Gita Chaitanya of Arshavidyalaya. His inclination and interests are towards studying Metaphysics and philosophies.