Maya to matter! 
- Sangeeta Bajaj, Bangalore 

February 22, 2010 

When I received the understated and very modest mailer from my good friend, the multi-talented and prolific Madhu Natraj  briefly outlining the 2010 first quarter list of activities of her dance institute (Natya STEM Dance Kampni), little did I know that by attending the first in the lecture series by world renowned Guru, choreographer and scholar, Dr Maya Rao, I would be drawn into an enthralling journey of discovery, related by this remarkable teacher and mentor herself, about the beauty and poetry of a dance form called Kathak, its history and origins, and how its evolved over the centuries to its present robust, versatile and much-revered form today.   

As it turns out, on Sunday Feb 14, I set out from home having very little expectations or knowledge of what the morning had in store for me.  Since I am not a dancer myself (though i have a keen appreciation of dance and all other art forms), I thought the morning would be interesting and I would get to soak up some culture by attending this lecture and that’s how I found myself walking into the Natya Stem Studio which is situated in a leafy quiet by-lane of Malleswaram at sharp 11am.   

What I experienced at the lecture and demo of the introductory session - Maya to Matter – was the culmination of the efforts, and a sheer labor of love, by the students of Guru Maya Rao or Maya Didi as she is fondly addressed by all, and the vision of her daughter – Madhu Natraj – to capture for posterity and pass on the legacy of a towering individual who has relentlessly pursued her art, her craft – Kathak – and created a niche for herself among the cultural greats of this country through sheer perseverance, hard work and the blessings of her Gurus.   

It was truly a journey that encompassed Maya Didi’s 70 years of active dancing (she's 82 now) peppered with richly layered anecdotes in her own words of a little girl growing up in the 1950s and her inexplicable attraction to the performing arts from the tender age of 12, the undying thirst for knowledge, the struggle in finding a guru, and ultimately the process of transmission of knowledge from the guru to the disciple - a saga of great joy, fun, beauty, finesse and grace.   

As a layperson, for me the lecture was fun and educative at the same time,  as there were demos by her students when she wished to clarify or demonstrate a certain aspect of the dance or accompanying music, of the bhavas or mudras, or the laya or taal or abhinaya.  The finer nuances of the physical and metaphysical were touched upon and sometimes elaborated to drive home a point. I especially enjoyed her parallels drawn from Krishna’s life - his raas leelas which were the central motif of her address.  In fact she started with the note that this session, being on Valentine’s Day and all - who else but Krishna the greatest lover of all times, could be the perfect theme to speak on.  And that she did very effectively, by deftly drawing from her own spiritual inner vision to communicate the fusion of the physical and metaphysical aspects of each piece and all the intervening aspects as well, masterfully holding and engaging the attention of her audience as she took them through the highs and lows of her spectacular journey.  All told with a child-like exuberance and simplicity that one seldom sees in a person that has scaled the highest peaks of her realm of expertise.  

Words fail to capture the awe and respect for Guru Maya Rao’s rich and vast repository of knowledge of her dance, the poetry and lyricism of her craft, of the physical and metaphysical aspects that underlies her dance form, and of course her mastery of life itself.  What a richly bestowed soul - truly favored by Krishna to communicate the richness of his creation through her dance form.  I bow my head in obeisance to a true guru and her ability to be child-like and joyful in communicating and sharing with ignoramuses (like me) and her prolific students alike, the multi-layered aspects of her understanding of dance, music, culture, history -  and of life itself.  The anecdotes she shared during the course of her introductory lecture - of her guru and she - were so endearing and heart-warming, I would have liked her to go on and on.     
Knowing her reticent nature and her innate desire to shun attention/publicity which makes her shy away from penning an autobiography, I sincerely wish that Maya Didi will consider documenting her experiences for posterity.  Whoever she picks to assist her with the book would indeed be blessed for when a guru relates even the mundane to a student, it is no ordinary talk - it is called shakti-paat or direct transmission of the guru's power.   
The morning had another treat in store. Madhu Natraj performed a short but impeccable and flawlessly rendered piece on Krishna and as always, Madhu was a sheer delight to watch on stage - personifying  beauty, form, grace, luminosity, finesse, strength, power, culture and the true blessing of the divine shining through her.  Even her brief introduction to her mother at the start of the program was articulated with understated elegance of speech and expression that only Madhu can combine as effortlessly as she does.   

In conclusion, it was a morning well spent.  Beautiful people, amazing vibes, the reverberating sounds of the ghungroos, heady music, marigolds all over the place trailing the banisters and strewn and strung all around, the red textured walls, the mirrors, the bright and airy, radiant-with-daylight Natya Stem Studio, and a Guru taking the stage to the utter delight of her adoring students and a very select and very- fortunate-to-be-there motley gathering of art lovers and students of life.     

There are more lectures/demos in the series in the coming months and I will make it to as many performances/lectures as I can attend.  Maya to Matter is one experience that I will not like to miss. 
Sangeeta Bajaj is a corporate entrepreneur and arts enthusiast.