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Jothi Raghavan - Witness to Guru Sishya Parampara
- Pallavi Nagesha
Photos: Jeyakumar Sathyamoorthy

November 14, 2021

For hundreds of years, history has witnessed the unbroken tradition of knowledge being passed down from the teacher, the Guru, to the student, the Sishya. At a time when this ideology has all but disappeared from most academic situations, art seems to once again become a torchbearer. We have plenty of examples from India where music and dance teachers have nurtured, encouraged, and helped their students learn and grow to be notable performers as well as teachers. Seeing this tradition carried on at Nrityanjali (Boston, USA) is indeed a special feeling. Guru Jothi Raghavan established the Nrityanjali School of Dance in 1977. It has since become synonymous with Bharatanatyam in the New England area. Jothi has not only taught numerous wonderful dancers in her long and illustrious career, she has mentored and helped other dancers in the area as well. A fount of knowledge combined with a helping soul, Jothi has been an advisor and a confidant for so many dance teachers in the area.

After 44 years, as she hangs her hat, her successor, Manasa Jayanthi organized a befitting farewell on August 8, 2021. Following the very last Arangetram that Jothi performed as the Taladhari (Nattuvanar), friends and well-wishers gathered at the Chinmaya Maruti Auditorium and bade farewell to this beloved doyen of classical arts in the New England in a very tastefully choreographed event. The audience walked down memory lane with a visual presentation of Jothi's long career. We caught a glimpse of all the mega productions she had orchestrated and the many talented local dancers she has nurtured over the years. This was followed by wishes from around the world from those near and dear to Jothi. Notable among them were the illustrious Dhananjayans who gave us a glimpse of Jothi's formative years, both as a budding dancer as well as an artist after she moved to the US. The couple called her "instrumental in promoting Indian arts in the US". Jaya and CV Chandrasekhar commented on her zeal for learning. One of her childhood friends Susheela Ravindranath recollected from her perspective, Jothi's journey through dance and the fact that we can no longer separate the dance from the dancer. I can imagine the immersion her family has had over the years as she organized many events and hosted so many performers. Her children recollect being always surrounded by lively music and discussions around art and artistry. Jothi also receives citations from Governor Baker and Representative James Arciero. This was aptly presented to her by her long time partner, champion, and cheerleader, Narasimhan, Jothi's husband. He spoke very passionately about Jothi's dedication, yet, it revealed the side of him that enabled Jothi to venture forth and achieve so much.

Durga Krishnan & Jothi Raghavan
Durga Krishnan & Jothi Raghavan

As the evening unfolded we saw how true is the idea of the many "children and grandchildren" of Nrityanjali that Narasimhan mentioned. Many of her students and other dance teachers from the area shared how Jothi has touched their lives. More than sharing art, Jothi has been a guide to many around her and that is what sets her apart. As her good friend and a musical virtuoso of the area, Durga Krishnan, had said, "Jothi has paved the way for innovation." She has not only encouraged and helped many first generation Indian Americans learn and take up Bharatanatyam as a career, she is also passing on the baton of the school to one such young dancer, Manasa Jayanthi, clearly marking the robust Guru Sishya Parampara as the cornerstone. She also started the trend of bringing in artists to help educate the youth about our arts and culture through the dance camps. Durga presented her with a certificate from the Mayor of Boston, Kim Janey. Jothi was also recognized by the Mayor of Cambridge, Sumbul Siddiqui.

K.G. Narayana enumerated Jothi and Narasimhan's contributions to the society and the temple and presented Jothi with a commendation letter from Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka, State Representative Jack Patrick Lewis, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

I too have been the recipient of Jothi's inclusivity and generosity. In 2014, I co-produced an Indian Classical Dance Festival in Boston, Nrityotsav. There was no one who we could think of, more suited to kick off the proceedings. We approached Jothi to perform an invocatory item, fully expecting her to hand it off to one of the other teachers or her senior students. But she magnanimously agreed and her performance set an auspicious tone for the entire festival.

Jothi Raghavan & Manasa Jayanthi
Jothi Raghavan & Manasa Jayanthi

The event concluded with a heartfelt and emotional farewell from Manasa. She chronicled the many ways Jothi has impacted the lives of all those who crossed her path. She spoke about the institution of which she was once a part and now is at the helm. Something more than a mere dance school. A spiritual journey that is inspirational and thought provoking beyond time and space. "It is love," she said. These sentiments are summed up in this sloka she quotes:

Chaitanyah Shaashwatah Shaantho
Bindu Naada Kalaateetaha
Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha.

That Guru is the representative of the unchangeable, ever present, peaceful spirit, is singular and beyond the realm of space and time, whose vision is inspiring and providing, I salute such a Guru.

Manasa's speech was followed by a video of many from the Nrityanjali family echoing these sentiments. She leaves many heavy hearts behind. As the musical maestro Tara Bangalore puts it, Jothi has become synonymous with Bharatantyam in this area. I am certain that no matter where she goes, this will follow her and she is bound to make waves. As her sister Bhanu put it, we are all certain that the wheels in Jothi Raghavan's head are spinning to expand her universe into Oregon.

Pallavi Nagesha
Pallavi Nagesha is the founding director of Bhumika Arts and teaches Bharatanatyam, Sanskrit, Yoga, and the Ayurvedic lifestyle. Pallavi believes that Dance, Yoga and Ayurveda are three inseparable components that open you to new and transformative experiences.

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