Priya Murali : A danseuse with expressions of pure joy


By Sudha Kumar

Sydney siders have witnessed their fair share of Bharatanatyam Arangetrams (solo classical dance debuts) in recent years. But once in a way there comes along a danseuse who performs not just for an audience and not just for a show. Priya’s was one such.

Priya Murali of Samskriti School of Dance performed her Arangetram on March 3, 2018, at the Science Theatre, UNSW.

It was special in more ways than one.

Bharatanatyam is an ancient and aesthetic classical dance form that originated in South India. Under the direction and guidance of her Guru Smt. Hamsa Venkat, Samskriti School of Dance, for about three hours ”˜rasikas’ (artlovers) sat enthralled by Priya’s expressions, as she danced stories and parables of yore, through the vocabulary of Bharatanatyam. Expressing an array of elements that make us humans complex creatures that sit a neat notch above the rest of creation ”“ elements of sanctity and divinity, of attachment and detachment, of the ferocity and tenderness of a Mother’s love, of passivity and aggression, of a power of intense devotion that is all consuming, Priya took the audience on a beautiful aesthetic journey.

Every individual that made up the eight hundred strong audience could relate to these expressions.

And all this danced to live music.

The evening’s repertoire constituted eight items, with the Varnam being the centrepiece. Commencing with a ”˜Mallari’ inviting the presence of the Almighty on to the dancing space, Priya then moved to the sanctifying of that space with the next item the ”˜Jathiswaram’ which was a crisp execution of fine footwork and ”˜anga shuddhi’ (precision of body alignment) in perfect synchrony with the ”˜mridangam’ (percussion).

This was followed by a ”˜Keerthanam’ that portrayed the manifestation of an individual with a positive energy through Devi, the epitome of auspiciousness.

The Varnam ”“ that lasted for about forty minutes, was an anthology of stories that portrayed fine human characteristics of devotion, humility, detached attachment and awakening of the inner self. It was testament to the passion that drives Priya’s commitment to her art.

The second half began with the celebration of the intensely beautiful and painful tapestry of Motherhood in contemporary times and Aboriginal Dreamtime ”“ ”˜Vatsalyam’. Priya’s ”˜abhinayam’ was exemplary.

This was followed by ”˜Shringaram’ where Priya held a mirror up to reflect on the ”˜virtues’ of patience, passivity and anger and left the audience pondering on the correctness of these emotions in a given situation. Then came the ”˜Abhang’ where power of ”˜fear’ was depicted. Fear that is born of ignorance, and tethered only by knowledge, leading to enlightenment. The perception of a power that has the potential to consume one’s body, mind and soul. Priya excelled in her portrayal of the various expressions of fear through her ”˜bhavam’ (facial expressions). The repertoire concluded with the ”˜Thillana’- an exploration of rhythm through time and space and driven by high energy that had Priya’s feet leap and spring with pure joy.

She expressed her gratitude to her guru and the accompanying musicians through the Mangalam.

The musical ensemble consisted of Sai Vigneshwar Mohanavelu on vocals, Bhairavi Raman on violin, Pallavarajan Nagendran on mridangam and Hamsa Venkat on nattuvangam.

The evening was well compered by Govind Pillai and Aparna Viswanathan who introduced each of the recitals with a beautiful description.

Guru Hamsa Venkat at the conclusion commented ”“ ”˜A young girl who got so much out of her art form, that she didn’t take a break even during her HSC exams’. That as a mother and a guru she, Hamsa, points to Priya’s commitment and hard work in dance to her daughter as well as her students. It is a compliment, affirmation, and appreciation of the highest order that a student can be showered with by her Guru. Hamsa applauded Priya for her planning of every detail of the event.

The evening was also special for Samskriti school of Dance. A Dance school that was initiated by Hamsa Venkat about fifteen years ago and perform a number of dance productions, arangetrams and art workshops to its credit. Hamsa’s students have graced almost every stage across Sydney. Samskriti has attracted many students who are at various stages in their journey of Bharatanatyam, however Priya is the first student from the school who has presented an arangetram after having learnt Bharatanatyam at Samskriti under the tutelage of Hamsa Venkat and none other.

It was indeed a special evening for Samskriti.

An arangetram comes together as a consequence of many months of planning and processing of ideas that sometimes start as a mere fleeting thought.   The rigorous hours of hard work notwithstanding, bringing it to fruition is the result of unconditional support of many.  Priya, completely overwhelmed by emotion, thanked each and every person who stood by her in so many ways over the recent months. As she got to her Guru, she was almost at a loss for words. Priya sees her Guru Hamsa Venkat as an ”˜extraordinary personality’ who is most ”˜inspiring’, and with a special vision in choreography. Observing her guru create her production from close quarters has always left her in admiration.

A Systems Analyst by profession Priya embarked upon her journey into the world of classical Bharatanatyam art form by sheer chance. Or was it destiny?

As a young girl of thirteen years age, Priya witnessed a Bharatanatyam recital by one of her family friends. The music, the visuals, the rhythm, the story telling, took her to another realm and she was hooked!

And she enrolled at Samskriti. Looking back, she reminisces her initial years when even regular dance lessons gave her immense joy. She discovered that she could express herself through dance and it gave her a deep sense of fulfilment. Though Priya does not claim to be a perfectionist in routine matters of life, when it came to dance she always worked at a level of perfection beyond the ordinary.   Interestingly, she feels that lacking perfection in her artistic expression is tantamount to disrespecting the art itself. So deep runs her relationship with her art. A keen learner Priya imbibes by watching. She observes her peers, her seniors and accomplished artists with the same sense of awe. What separates Priya from regular dancers is her intense passion and commitment. The only aspect that makes her feel vulnerable is the ”˜physicality of the costume and accessories. But it also helps you get under the skin of the character. Dance is a physical expression and so imagery matters’. Spoken like a true artist. And it is these qualities that made Priya learn the techniques and nuances of a complex art form at a rate that saw her performing alongside senior dancers within a very short time.

So what does an expression like a classical dance form do for a young person growing up in an environment that is a melting pot of a myriad cultures? As Priya rightly puts it- first of all it ”˜has shaped my very personality and gives me so much joy. Dance for me is invigorating and I am in my element. It has inculcated in me a great respect for timeless human values like humility, compassion and devotion, that are so ingrained in the parables that the great Indian epics and mythologies are strewn with’. It has shaped her outlook. She wonders if she could be anything sans her dance.

In our contemporary society second generation migrant youngsters live two lives, literally. One when at school or work, and the other when at home or environs of their community.  They shift physically, mentally, socially and emotionally between the two with absolute ease and aplomb. But that seamless and effortless glide from one to the other and back is possible only when there is absolute clarity of one’s identity in the core of one’s being. Identity that comes from one’s heritage, ancestry and roots. That which is the basis for self respect and dignity. And this does not happen overnight. Creative hubs like Samskriti School of Dance do more than just teach a classical dance form. It is a space where youngsters find themselves, their heritage. They are introduced to their identity and they nurture a deep bond with their roots.

Her arangetram not being the pinnacle, but only a pause in her journey, Priya looks forward to more enriching times with her artform by giving back to her dance school   and wider society in any way possible.


Proud moments for all who have travelled with Priya, specially her family, Guru, dancing mates and Samskriti School of Dance, all of who have supported and seen her bloom and blossom into a very fine artist.



Short URL: