Nataraj Vashi’s contribution to oriental dance | Daily News

Nataraj Vashi’s contribution to oriental dance

During the pre-independent period, the Indian dance influence was felt in Sri Lanka. Numerous dance troupes from India visited Sri Lanka periodically during the period. Tagore’s, Uday Shankar’s and Nataraj Vashi’s troupes from India captured the hearts of Sri Lankan dance lovers. As a result of the cultural visits of the dance troupes, Sri Lankans were encouraged to pursue classical dance studies in India. Today many Sri Lankan universities have established faculties for the Indian classical dance studies which are still to be further developed and improved.

Many Indian performing art forms were introduced to Sri Lanka during the latter part of the first quarter of the 20th century. Out of all the Indian performers, Nataraj Vashi was a prominent Indian dancer.

Nataraj Vashi was born into a Brahmin family at a village in Gujarat on the 24th of August 1924. During his school days, he was very much fascinated by different folk dances of Gujarat and other dance forms of India. Especially Gujarati folk dances such as ‘Ras, Garbi’ and ‘Garba’ attracted him. During his college days, Nataraj gathered a circle of dancers and musicians around him. Many dances styles of India impressed him and his associates. He was particularly fascinated by the Kathakali dances of Guru Madhavan Nair, Kathak dance ballets of Madam Menaka and the fusion dances of Uday Shankar. Most of the youngsters of that era were mesmerized by the dances of Uday Shankar. During his time, one artiste named Yogaendra Priyadarshi who studied Kathakali under the able guidance of Guru Kunju at the Nair of Kerala Kalamandalam and another young artiste Kumar Jayakar who also studied Bharatha Natyam under the great Bharatha Natyam maestro Pandanallur Meenakshi Sunderampillai were all from Gujarati.

When Nataraj was a student at the Indian Historical Research Institute of Xavier College he got in touch with Rev. Heras who encouraged him to study iconography and sculpture. Nataraj was also a gifted painter. He undertook a cultural study tour to Sri Lanka where he got an opportunity of learning Kandyan dancing. In 1937 he performed at the Regal Theatre Colombo with a Sri Lankan dancer Mrs J.D.A. Perera who was also known as Chandralekha in ‘Hindu classical and folk dances’.

Their performance was well received by the Colombo audiences. The review of the programme was published in The Observer in 1937. Nataraj also delivered some lecture demonstrations on Indian classical dances especially about the use of hand gestures and the Isthana positions of dances about sculpture. His article on dance was published in the Ceylon Daily News on the 4thof December 1937 revealing his deep involvement in different Indian dance forms. He studied Kathakali under Guru Sankaaran Namboodari and mastered it. In 1939 he visited Santiniketan and got the blessings of Guru Rabindranath Tagore.

Nataraj Vashi and his wife Praveena performed together depicting numerous dance forms. In certain dances, he used Sri Lankan ornaments and crowns. In the production ‘Trimurti’ Praveena played the role of Goddess Sakthi and Nataraj played the role of Lord Siva. His dance performances reflected the classical and folk dances of India as well as the classical dance forms of Sri Lanka, Java, and Bali.

Sri Lankans who lived at the time still remember the dances of different visiting dance troupes from India. Nataraj Vashi passed away on December 25, 1999.

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