Priyadarshini Ghosh, recently returned from a Fulbright Fellowship, is a Mohini Attam dancer who creates dance works using traditional training in dance and yoga. She incorporates recitations as part of the performace, thereby weaving in literature in Bengali and Sanskrit. She was born in 1962, into a family that has played a significant role in Kolkata’s cultural life.
Her Great Great Grandfather was Dwarakanath Ghosh whose large music shop, called the Dwarkin’s, sold the first Harmoniums, which for that reason were also called the Dwarkin- drawn from the old man’s name. The family lived on central Calcutta’s Dickinson Lane which is part of musical history as the renowned Jnan Prakash Ghosh the renowned Harmonium and Tabla player who rose to fame from here. There house was visited regularly by luminaries of the music world, like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Amir Khan. It was not surprising that some of the oldest Music Circles, working towards serious listening were located here.
Priyadarshini’s grandfather had four brothers. As the eldest he took charge of running the Store, Radio Supply Store while his youngest brother, Charu Prakash Ghosh was active with the Indian People’s Theatre Association, and went on to act in Satyajit Ray films including ‘Kapurush o Mahapurush’. Her mother was to continue the family’s connection with films, to which she came via the route of music and dance. It was literally from stage that she was picked up for films and her very first one was ‘Raj Kanya’ with Uttam Kumar. Of a spiritual bent of mind, the mother was pulled in both directions and eventually went with a life of diksha, yoga and meditation.
This was the house in which Priyadarshini grew up, surrounded by the arts. As a child she was part of Children’s Little Theatre which was then the biggest institution for training children in Dance and Music. Nehru and Indira Gandhi were patrons, and among its earliest batches were luminaries like Sharmila Tagore and Alakananda Roy. Priyadarshini’s contemporaries included well known dancers of today including Sharmila Biswas, and scholar dancers like Shruti Bandopadhyaya and Pallabi Chakraborty.
“The CLT group was in big demand as it had little competition. In 1976 we were invited to perform at Teen Murti Bhawan. It was considered a very important achievement and the schools gave us permission to take leave despite 5the fact that at that time Kolkata schools have examinations. The then President Fakhrudin ali Ahmed came to meet us before the show. I remember clearly Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, baby Priyanka and little Rahul who sat on his grandmother’s lap watching us present “the Song of India” which was actually the dances of India and had been choreographed to reflect the cultural diversity and integrity of India” recalled Priyadarshini, remembering mall details that brought a smile to her lips.
“My serious training in classical dance commenced when I was thirteen. As everybody I knew was learning Kathak, I decided to be different and learn Bharatanathyam”, admitted Priyadarshini. “There were very few girls learning with Thankamani Kutty who was an alumnus of the renowned Kalamandalam. It was in class that the Guru advised me to train in Mohini Attam as she felt that her body was better suited for this very graceful form. I think it was a good decision as there weren’t many Mohini Attam dancers in Kolkata then”, feels Priyadarshini.
During her childhood, Priyadarshini was regularly dealing with a tonsillitis problem and anti-biotics were proving to be ineffective. Her doctor was contemplating surgery when her mother decided to turn to Yoga and trained young Priyadarshini in asanas which her supple body could manage effortlessly, and which helped her immensely with the health situation at hand, for as she proudly announced, “I still have my tonsils”.
It was literally from stage that Priyadarshini was picked up for films
and her very first one was ‘Raj Kanya’ with Uttam Kumar
This was to be a life changing decision for her, and eventually direct her future work. “Actually for a while, during college, Yoga was not really a part of my life and I only returned to it when I had my baby”. Thank God she didn’t give it up completely as today her work owes a lot to her mindful practice of yoga.
After marriage to long time friend and corporate executive Nilanjan Shome, she relocated to Bangalore. Here she attended the very first Natyashastra camp conducted by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, who broke new ground with this initiative of hers to understand the practice through the prism and framework of the oldest performance treatise in the world. Several generations of dancers of our times owe this heightened consciousness to her example and willingness to share her learning. “We had two giants teaching us — Paduakka, as Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam is affectionately called, and Dr. K. D. Tripathi. It opened our eyes to the ancient roots to present practices”, exclaims Priyadarshini in whose life this was to prove to be a big turning point.
The second such life changing experience was her training with Kalanidhi Narayanan the icon of abhinaya training. Abhinaya is the delicate art of expressing the emotions of poetry. She made this soul touching aspect of dance great once again. Today an entire generation of dancers owes their competence in abhinaya to her training.
Priyadarshini remembers the challenges she faced in her pursuit of being a dancer. “In 1991 I went to Kerala with a small child in my arms, to learn from Kalyanikutty Amma. She was then in her eight decade and slim and frail. She didn’t ask about my antecedents, question me on previous training, judge me in any manner for the decision I had taken to bring my baby along, and just taught me, giving generously and kindly. Such gurus are rare” she says, wistfully. “Just as I was getting established as a young dancer of substance, someone you could lookout for, my husband was transferred to Hong Kong, and I moved with him. I remember one of my last performances was at the prestigious Khajuraho Dance festival.” leaving what was evidently a blossoming career, Priyadarshini went to Hong Kong and initially began to focus on Textual study and Yoga practice. Overtime she engaged with other Indian dancers in the region and her work with Singapore based Odissi dancer, Raka Maitra is still remembered. She eventually began working in the realm of contemporary with local Chinese dancers, where her training and regular practice of yoga stood her in good stead.
Feeling that she and her husband were growing apart in their marriage, and having brought up their son who was now leaving for University in the USA, Priyadarshini decided to return to India permanently in 2007, and reclaim her dance. “When I returned I came as a scholar practitioner and had a different niche positioning”, explained Priyadarshini. She did her Masters in dance and received a Senior Fellowship from the Ministry of culture to pursue studies collating Dance and yoga.
“The same theme I carried forward for my Fulbright Fellowship in the year 2015-16, where I taught a course on ‘Indian Performance as Mindful Contemplation and Praxis’. It was a liberating experience, and also inspiring. I did many workshops and performances during this stay in the USA, travelling allover sharing my understanding of the subject, to which the scholars and teachers were very responsive” says Priyadarshini who has only recently returned. She now looks forward to completing her doctoral studies on the link between Dance and Yoga as a Phenomenological study. “And I want to continue working with my students at my dance school Natynova, which as its name suggests creates progressive choreographies from traditionally trained bodies”, she says.