Sri – In Search of the Goddess 
by Sanjay Doddamani, Philadelphia 

September 7, 2003 

The world as a global village holds true after witnessing SRUTI, the Indian Music and Dance Society host a premier Indian dance troupe, Nrityagram on July 12, 2003 at the Zellerbach Theater, Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Philadelphia. Nrityagram is the only dance village of its kind where a confluence of performing arts has found expression in a truly ideal setting for the propagation of classical dance.  

A stark but powerful opening scene set the stage for a contemporary exploration of an age old search for the divine female principle; Sri – In Search of the Goddess. Reaching the depths of feminine energy to ultimately discover the goddess within, the bold, unhindered lines empowered the dancers’ soft and curvaceous Eastern Indian dance form of Odissi to tackle esoteric concepts. Inspired by Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri, the dancers vividly used imagery to portray the darkness of night, the brightness of fire and the silence of death. What is considered a difficult theme came through with ease and élan, bringing out audible reactions by a diverse multi-ethnic audience who were awe-struck by the spell-binding imagery. Movements were synchronized with exceptional accuracy and the footwork added powerful rhythmic time cycles.  

A brief intermission changed the pace to a familiar and much adored Odissi repertoire. Donning traditional costumes with the crowning Shikara head ornament, the dancers gave displays of Hindu iconography amidst a background of lilting, professionally mastered music. The well-known Aarabhi Ragam Pallavi bears the rubberstamp of Master Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Credit for the flawless rendering and choreography goes to Nrityagram’s artistic director, Surupa Sen. Bijayini Satpati, the senior-most of the five-member troupe performed an Astapadi from the famed Geeta Govinda epic poem, highlighting Krishna’s exploits in fabled Brindavan. Ayona Bhaduri, Priyambada Pattanaik and Pavithra Reddy were the other members of this superb troupe. With powerful imagery they concluded with a dance in praise of the mother goddess, a fitting finale to the performance that had the audience in silent rapture. The thundering applause that followed gave the audience a chance to respond to the magical performance. A short question and answer session opened the floor to discussions about the dance village and cross-cultural influences.  

The realization of a burning dream by founding guru and celebrity Protima Gauri Bedi to consecrate a sanctuary for teaching Indian classical dances, Nrityagram has become a veritable reality. They have won tremendous acclaim and danced all over the world. Sri – In Search of the Goddess was funded in part by Dance Advance through a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust, administered by Drexel University, as well as the New England Foundation.  The Nrityagram performance was an impressive product of cultural globalization, opening minds and winning hearts through a contemporary infusion into an ancient heritage.  

Sanjay Doddamani is a cardiologist and lives in Philadelphia. He is also a Bharathanatyam dancer.