For internationally-acclaimed Bharatnatyam dancer-choreographer, Malavika Sarukkai, Ganga Nitya Vaahini is not a performance — it is an experience, and one which allows her to feel something different every time she takes it to stage.
Ganga Nitya Vaahini, says Sarukkai, was born after several visits to Varanasi and Devprayag. “The Ganga finds deep resonance on multiple levels, especially with us Indians. I think of my performance as a retelling. It is not just about all things new — rather, it is about the deepening of an initial experience. It is about being still with the original piece and letting newer perspectives come to you — what the Manikarnika Ghat means to you, how, say, a piece called Astham Gatho Ravihi (The Sun Has Set) accumulates different meanings and dimensions over the years – that is what classical art is really all about,” says Sarukkai.
Sarukkai first experienced Ganga when she stayed in a hotel that overlooked the river. “This was much before 2008, and I was travelling with my mother between concerts. I remember reading Diana Eck’s book, Banaras: City Of Light and looking at the river.”
The movements in the piece, says Sarukkai, depict Ganga as the Mahakal (the great river of time), as a part of the advaita philosophy. “In some ways, the experience is a merger of these multiple meanings and dimensions of the Ganga. It affects my mind, my movement and helps me discover my personal voice. And it is very important to be persistent if you really want to mature as an artist.”
Sarukkai says the audience is just as important a part of the discovery. “I have performed this piece in India, Singapore and New York, and have been surprised by how Indian classical dance never fails to move the audience. I think that is because it takes them to a space that is unseen but keenly felt. It has a deeper resonance that stays with a person,” says Sarukkai.