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Temples of BooM!

May 9, 2017

BM in north and south - that's Bharata muni in south and Pt.Birju Maharaj in north, although both are relevant and respected in both parts of the country and beyond.

A new temple is coming up on ECR (East Coast Road), Madras, on way to Mahabalipuram. It's on 108 karanas, as now taught by the one and only Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam (Paddukka), among the last few true dancer- academician, scholar, icon left. Most in her generation are either forgotten or trying hard to be remembered. Either they were stars who have faded, or worse, fallen. But Padma shines like a North Star albeit in south India.

Look at her work. Let's start with a distinguished career of 50 years in dance. Add 10 as a child prodigy. Add 10 now at full time SASTRA University. Yes, she didn't join a university or start one but she sits at home and the university comes to her! That's pure substance. That's a major accomplishment. Add books she has written, seminars hosted, conferences organized, films message, documentation done, whew! To motivate three generations of artistes of all shades, not just dancers but musicians, film makers, photographers, costume designers, academicians... and to have seriously revived and reconstructed karanas as ought to be taught in the context of natyashastric tenets, is this one woman or many in one!?

Paddukka takes me on a tour of her latest pet project - the Ilango Bharata Muni edifice in 5 acres of land given by Tamil Nadu govt. Architect Jagannathan designed it and Shilpa Master Sthapati students have carved each karana with care. It's in relief style so each panel has to be right. Each panel takes a minimum one month to be carved. 108= approx. 10 years work. "I'm not time bound," she shares. "It will be ready when it is meant to be!" Paddukka's niece Mahati Kannan stands in front of each and demonstrates how each movement unfolds. What beauty in stone and in human.

Paddukka has created a future temple of dance, nay a pilgrimage place for all connoisseurs, artistes, tourists to stop and pay homage to Bharata Muni on the way to Mahabalipuram. It's a most impressive structure, though still in shell condition because she needs 10 crores to complete it. Someday, she muses. It is god's work, he will make it happen.

BM in north is Pt.Birju Maharaj and how the family ancestral home is now a museum, albeit very basic. Nicely restored by heavy grants from the U.P. Govt of yore, the house now sparks with costumes and portraits of his gharana. I had written about it in my previous column so won't repeat here except to bring some historicity to such new museums and temples which are being made in the 21st century. I donated rare materials from my father, Mohan Khokar's Dance Collection and I plan to do the same with relevant materials on her to Padukka.

In Benares, two months ago, I chanced to see Alice Bonner Museum right on the ghats. She was the biggest supporter of Uday Shankar. Mao had said, let a thousand flowers bloom. In our dance field, let 100 dance sites/ museums/ temples bloom. Mao is gone. The new world leader in Asian region is Modi. Amen!

Ashish Mohan Khokar wears many hats - that of a critic, historian, scholar, editor, curator and mentor. Around 40 published books and numerous articles in the last 40 years of dance writing, vests him with a wide, ringside view. Films, festivals, seminars, exhibitions, committees on dance are also his domain, as also visiting universities to teach special modules on dance history. He publishes and authors India's only yearbook on dance, Attendance - now in its 19th year. The chairman of the Dance History Society, he is the inheritor-curator of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection.


Such a beautiful concept and so much passion towards dance. Another reason to make the trip to Mahabalipuram and be mesmerized! Still waiting for a chance to see Maharaj-ji's ancestral home. I pray that the stalwarts in Pune think along these lines and do something for Late Pandita Dr. Rohini Bhate-ji whose contributions to Kathak and efforts towards establishing Pune as centre for Kathak are so colossal. Pranam to Ashish Sir for always giving enlightening columns and writings.
- Sampada Pillai (May 9, 2017)

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