A UK-based classical dance exponent and Indian culture and heritage enthusiast reflects upon a tough pandemic-hit year gone by.
During the last year of pandemic-driven lockdown and absence of any physical interaction and venue-based cultural events, the Sanskruti Centre for Cultural Excellence in London has continued to use the virtual platform and organised webinars, some of them first of their kind, highlighting regional flavours and culture and heritage of Ladakh, Nagaland, Mithila, Sindhis, Odisha, among others.
Audiences experienced a genuine taste of lesser-known Indian dance forms such as Jhijhiya (Mithila), Gotipua and Mayurbhanj Chhau (Odisha), Bhagat (Sindhi), among others, which are otherwise not much showcased in Britain.
These webinars were organised by Sanskruti Centre and supported by the and the Bhavan in London.
As dance is a strong means of storytelling, I have tried to take Indian dance to a variety of subjects of social and cultural importance such as Music Therapy, Ayurveda, Woman Empowerment, Water Conservation and environmental advocacy, the state of Hunger, impact of Dance on wellness and mental and physical health, among others.
I initiated “Jalaanjali” to spread awareness about water efficiency and have created short dance pieces on the subject for the past four years. In June 2019, me and my team of dancers were part of Global Water Dances, a worldwide dance performed at 180 locations in six continents at the same time to raise issues connected with water such as pollution, scarcity and fracking.
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India is replete with various classical and folk/tribal art forms. However, in the UK, while the classical art forms seemed to thrive well, and dancing as popular culture is promoted well, there seemed a gap between these two while there was so much that could have been taught, rehearsed and performed.
The Sanskruti Centre for Cultural Excellence, now a registered charity, was born out of an urge to bridge this gap and to raise awareness around the diversity in performing arts and to offer training in dance. I firmly believe in the empowerment of women and children through performing arts.
Under the banner Sanskruti Centre for Cultural Excellence, apart from giving my own classical dance presentations, I focus on highlighting and promoting rarely performed tribal dances of India. Sanskruti stands out as the first in the UK to train and perform from the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Manipur, among others.
Coinciding with the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent, I have also trained women to showcase the rare dance of Siddi tribe, an Indo-African community that has an over 300-year-old history of migrating and living in India. Sanskruti also engages with different linguistic groups of the Indian diaspora in Britain and encourages writing in indigenous languages, publishing their poems and hosting events where they recite their self-authored poems.
In May, to mark Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations, there will be two important webinars organised in association with the Bhavan – ‘Kaustubham Karnatakam’, which highlights Yaksha Gana, Dollu Kunitha and other art forms of Karnataka, and ‘Natya Rasa’, which highlights the art form of Kudiattam.
by Ragasudha Vinjamuri
Ragasudha Vinjamuri is Associate Lecturer at the University of Sunderland in London and a classical dance exponent. As a journalist, she has a focus on Indian heritage and culture and the Indian diaspora in the UK.