Classical Indian Arts in a New Australian Generation


Photos by Sanjeev Singh and Anandh BalaPhotos by Sanjeev Singh and Anandh Bala

Many in Sydney will remember the arrangetram (dance debut) of a petite young boy named Govind Pillai. Today he is making waves both locally and internationally through his dance company, Karma Dance Inc.

Working in collaboration with the well-established teacher Smt. Shanti Ramakrishnan, they combined students from both of their academies on Saturday July 12th to present 38 classical Indian dancers and 6 talented young musicians to a sell-out crowd in Melbourne.

Classical Indian arts events are often poorly attended in Melbourne and it is a fantastic testament that this event was sold-out. The passionate young team proved that classical Indian dance and music are alive and well in the hands of a very capable new Australian generation.

Govind expressed a humble affection for both Shanti and his guru Smt. Hamsa Venkat’s roles in his life and it was evident that all three shared a common love for dance and teaching which was evident in their collaboration and the dedication with which Shanti’s and Govind’s students danced.

Photos by Sanjeev Singh and Anandh Bala
Photos by Sanjeev Singh and Anandh Bala

Themed “Maathaa – the maternal energy”, the production presented an intellectually stimulating array of items on the various personifications of motherhood, including: mother earth (matru graham), mother nature (prakriti), mother tongue (matru bhasha), divine mother (devi), mother of all gems (matru ratnam), mother and child (amma), and mother land (matru bhoomi).

Capturing the hearts and souls of the audience was a spectacular team of young home-grown musicians that Govind affectionately introduced as a “group of friends”. Vocalists Arjunan Puveenthran, Kasthuri Sahathevan and Manisha Sivadas (students of Smt. Sivaganga Sahathevan) demonstrated a remarkable appreciation of the emotional texture required for each of the items and rendered with confidence.

Excellent improvisation was delivered throughout the night by Arjunan whose strong and sincere voice opened the program. Violinist Anita Das took the melodic lead in an extended instrumental piece demonstrating her command of the art, learnt from her guru Sri. Murali Kumar. Venkat Ramakrishnan on mridungum (student of Sri. Sridhar Chari) demonstrated great versatility and control as he supported strongly through nritta (abstract dance) sections whilst also accompanying sections of abhinaya (acting) with remarkable synchrony to the dancing.

Photos by Sanjeev Singh and Anandh Bala
Photos by Sanjeev Singh and Anandh Bala

Sharunetha Selvaraja and Kasturi Sahathevan provided veena support re-enforcing once again, the quality of training by Smt. Sivaganga Sahathevan at the Bharatalaya Academy of music.

Tastefully balancing the traditional with the innovative, the team presented new classical compositions alongside traditional compositions and innovative contemporary dance items.

Notable innovations were a Malayalam poem by Vallathol Narayana Menon called “Ente Bhasha” that was transformed into a kauthvam to explore the idea of “mother tongue”, and an item depicting the story of Mother Mary of Velankanni.

The transition into contemporary dance was handled splendidly, beginning with a number of purely classical Bharatanatyam solos by Govind, followed by classical and contemporary duets performed with senior Mohiniyattam dancer Raina Peterson of Tara Rajkumar’s (OAM) Natyasudha dance company.

Raina and Govind juxtaposed their art forms of Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam to tell the interesting and rare story of “Sankhachuda Vadham” where Krishna and Radha share an encounter with the ruby (the mother of all gems).

The experienced stage-couple excelled in their abhinaya, sending shivers of emotion down the spines of audience members as they portrayed a chilling story of love and separation.

In attendance, and providing poignant speeches, were the Honourable Federal Minister for Social Services (Kevin Andrews), Victorian Shadow Minister for Women & Children (Danielle Green) and founder (Farida Sultana) of the Shakti Migrant and Refugee Women’s Support Group – the charity that received the net proceeds raised that evening.

Photos by Sanjeev Singh and Anandh Bala
Photos by Sanjeev Singh and Anandh Bala

Those who sensed the significance of the guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student lineage) unfolding before their eyes on the evening will have felt sentimental as the evening closed with a Mangalam that had Smt. Shanti Ramakrishnan, Smt. Hamsa Venkat and then her shishya Govind entering the stage one behind each other, almost as a symbol of a new generation of artists following in the footsteps of those that walked, sang, played and danced before them.

In just 4 years, Karma Dance Inc. has made waves locally and internationally through several productions, international festival appearances, a dance education program that has been adopted by over 20 Australian primary schools and now this heart-warming project that saw the union of an immensely talented new generation of artists for whom the future is no less than bright and exciting.

Malini Ramesh

Author: Malini Ramesh

Malini Ramesh is a first-generation Indian migrant to Australia who has a deep affection for the classical Indian arts. Whilst not a performing artist herself, she is what is commonly known in South India as a "rasika" - someone who adores, follows and seeks to acquire a deeper knowledge in the arts without indeed being a practitioner.