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The Bharatanatyam Danseuse: Mallika Jayanti

Text: Paul Nicodemus

                       Through several generations, the traditional dance form Bharatanatyam has been propitious to find performers who have held the flag high at all times. We have come across one such quintessential Bharatanatyam dancer, striving to become the finest governess of Indian classical dance culture by spreading the knowledge of the dance form while creating an indelible mark through her performances, both in India and overseas. She is a performer and a teacher who believes that imparting the knowledge of the valuable dance form is the best way of promoting it.

In an exclusive with The Dance India, Mallika Jayanti talks about her dance journey and the aspiration to keep Bharatanatyam alive in the diasporas. Mallika Jayanti is an exponent of Bharatanatyam dance, one of the oldest known classical dance forms of the world.

Born in the year 1980, in a typical traditional Hindu Brahmin family as a second daughter, Mallika was an active child. Her training in Bharatanatyam started at an early age, when she was only 3 yrs old. She was tagged along with her elder sister to the dance class upon compulsion from her mother. As child, she was more interested in playing around and having fun, where she used to bunk classes, while her sister was more focused in dancing.

Fairly trained with basics at early age, her actual trail towards dance started after relocating to Bangalore city post marriage in the year 2004. She started her training under the esteemed guidance of Guru Mrs. Vijaya Marthanda, a true task master who has offered her valuable lessons of the dance form, for which Mallika stays indebted forever. As a student, it was a challenge for Mallika to find words of praise from her Guru Mrs. Vijaya, but her detailed feedback on every dance move was preciously vital and helpful.

Mallika adores her guru Mrs.Vijaya for blessing and encouraging her to become a dancer. Reminiscing her wonderful appreciating moments with Mrs. Vijaya, Mallika says “ It was when she came and hugged her after my first performance, Alaripu and Ranjani Malae under her guidance.”

“While in a dance class, she complimented on how graceful and good-looking I was, when dancing. Her advice on the maintenance of good physique for the dance to seem more aesthetic is definite.”

Mallika aspires to resemble her guru Mrs. Vijaya Marthanda, in skill, grace and as an influential and dedicated supporter of dance form and dancers.

Guru Jyothi Mohan of Shanmukhananda Fine Arts located in Mumbai is also one of Mallika’s mentors in Bharatanatyam. Speaking of her mentorship, “Guru Jyothi Mohan taught me how easy it is to be giving and not expecting anything in return.” Every time I doubted on my ability to perform, she had only one response ‘Why do you think you can’t do it?’, says Mallika.

Mallika believes that Guru Jyoti is one of the most wonderful people she has come across and praises her willingness and openness to share her knowledge of dance form.

She bows down to both her gurus’ to their patience, time and consideration in training her to be the best. Mallika proudly asserts about her gurus “I have a long long way to go, I have not even taken a baby step in this ocean of art and aesthetics, but with my gurus’ blessings, I think I will make a few memorable steps in this dance journey

Despite her parent’s disapproval to learn dance after wedding, Mallika acknowledges her mother-in-law, Mrs. Savitri Jayanti for her immense steady support in managing both household and dance classes, encouraging her to have a smooth ride towards her dream of dancing.

Hailing from a family of renowned classical vocalists, sanskrit scholars and veda-pandits, Mallika mentions about her elder sister, who once stood a Karnataka state topper in Bharatanatyam Junior-level examination and currently is a happy home-maker.

Mallika has been performing since the last 15 years on several stages across India, Australia and USA.  Many newspapers reviewed her dancing and said that she is the most promising and talented dancer of recent times. Currently, she teaches Bharanatyam for Gurukulam in Omaha,USA.

She has received intensive training in Bharatanatyam and in Kuchipudi as well. She currently practices Bharatnatyam and Tanjore bani, and believes that these dance forms accredit to the cultural fabric of the country. She learns Kuchipudi, whenever she visits Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh from Natraj Music and Dance Academy and recently started learning the Kathak dance form.

As a personlity, Mallika is a very self-motivated and disciplined dancer. Her most inspiring moments as a dancer was when she saw her senior at dance class, Anitha, perform for “ Kanchadalayataakshi ” under Mrs.Vijaya’s choreography.

She stood in awe watching the performances of Priyadarshini Govind in her perfect Aramandi position, and Sudharani Raghupati performing for “adhuvum sollluval”.

Apart from dance, drama has been one of the passions to pursue for Mallika. She was also selected for National School of Drama, New Delhi and that believes she is born with a talent to perform on stage. Being a multi-linguist, she enjoys reading poetic literature influenced by her father. She watches dance performances and listens to music, if she isn’t dancing.

Her daily routine is as simple as for everyone. She prefers homemade food and does not binge eat on snacks in order to maintain good physical health. She indulges in some form of physical exercise some way or the other.

Mallika is dedicated to promote the art form across globe; she has performed and conducted workshops, lecture demonstrations, classes in three different continents and various countries. For this, she travels extensively, organizing and participating in various events. She aspires to expand her knowledge base in Bharatanatyam while appreciating for other classical dance forms too.

Novice in the teaching field of dance, she aspires to share her knowledge and craft to many others. As a student of art, she does a lot of research on theology, mostly Hinduism and dance. Her mission is to promote quality talent and art.

Speaking of her challenging moments, “Dolling up for the performance has been most challenging”, says as she chuckles. However, on a serious note, she considers that sometimes views of society are more challenging as they believe that performing arts is complimentary and effortless. She claims that it is critically challenging to make people understand that there is lot of labor, creative work, time and money invested in creating a marvelous performance.

Also, the next biggest challenge is the true identification of the classical dance form. People fail to recognize the difference between pure classical and semi-classical dance forms. It stands as a key task on the shoulders of the dancers to educate public about the authenticity of the dance form.

On a lighter note, she recollects her best moments through her dance journey, were being appreciated in the international print media, despite minimal space for inter-cultural reporting, and also being acknowledged by an appreciation letter from the dance festival organizers of Australia for her spectacular performance.

Mallika stands unbiased to the idea of fusion experiments with traditional dance forms, believing that traditional dance always has its own niche audience and connoisseurs which can pose no threat from any experiments, retaining their purity and sanctity.

In her view of dance as a professional career, she feels unlike any other profession, dance or any art needs much more investment of money, time and hard work. As ideal is the thought of pursuing passion as a career, in reality the earnings from it are barely enough to get a square meal for a day.

Respecting the passionate dance practitioners, she feels that it is always necessary to have a regular income job that keeps the flow of money to take care of one’s bills, while one can pursue dance as a full-time career if its earnings cover all their financial necessities.

Mallika agrees with a resounding, yes, that there is a lot that can be done for the society and environment through dance forms. She says that mythological consequences of characters in the puranas and historic tales can be explored and explained through the lens of modern day problems we face or a Kalindi Mardhanam of Sri Krishna relating to water and other environmental pollution.

Mallika has earned a national recognition of “Natya Sri” in the year 2008 and an international recognition of “Nrutya Praveena” in the year 2012 at International Dance Congress, for her contribution in the field of “Bharatanatyam”.

In her view, dance festivals provide artists a common platform in showcasing new talents and in welcoming inspiring forthcoming artists. For connoisseurs and art lovers, it enables the chance of witnessing various types of dances forms creating to feast their eyes.

As an international acclaimed dancer, Mallika always feels special to be contributing and worthy for her homeland witnessing all the love and appreciation. She feels proud to be a part of the great culture and never misses a moment to represent her country and the dance form reflecting the incredible culture of the country in the world arena.