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Nalanda – Indian traditions with modern approach

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In India there are many privately run dance schools and institutions that teach various Indian classical dances, some of these schools are run by renowned classical dancers too but, one institution that is a class apart and has a made a name for itself all over the world is Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidhyalaya with its headquarters in Mumbai.

Nalanda this year celebrates its 50 glorious years, on this special occasion, I met and congratulated my dear friend Bharatnatyaum exponent Mrs. Uma Rele who is the Principal of this school that provides dance education to over 1,000 dance lovers each year through their full time and part time courses in Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, and Odissi.

Nalanda Dance Research Centre is a non-profit public trust, it is a premier institution that enjoys a unique position in the world of dance and education. Established in 1965 by the renowned dance exponent and scholar Padma Bhushan and Padma Shree awardee Dr. Kanak Rele as an institution to impart traditional training in classical Indian dancing, later Nalanda blossomed by 1973 into a unique three-tiered institution with foundation classes for pre-university children, Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya a College of classical dancing affiliated to the University of Mumbai providing formal academic education and its different departments for post-doctoral and fundamental research. Nalanda Dance Research Centre is officially recognised research institute by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt. of India., the only dance institution to be so recognised. Acceptance of formal academics in dancing at the university level and recognition of dance as a full-fledged discipline for scientific research are the two pioneering achievements of Nalanda which have justifiably earned it the premier position.

Sitting in the office filled with books on dance and Nrityashastra gorgeous Uma Rele draped in a bright green and red Kanjivaram saree and a big red bindi which made her glow with pride told be few insights about Nalanda, she said, “there was a time when people felt that the dance classes we had, was all a facade, Nalanda was opened to supply girls to ministers and rich businessmen, but such allegation did not bother us, we kept doing our duties as an institution and today we have some renowned dancers like Deepak Majumdar, Vaibhav Rakri, Sharad Nair, Madhuri Deshpande as our former students.”

When you visit Nalanda, the sounds of Ghungaroo along with Tabla, Mridangam and Manjeera catch your attention, but when you walk into a classroom, it is not just Indian classical dance history one see the students learn but, students are even taught the detailed evolution of western classical dance Ballet, shown videos of various Ballet shows to understand it better. At the institute I met a few students who even learn classical western forms like Ballet and Ballroom. It shows that Nalanda as an institute completely believes that any classical dance is good to learn to build a good foundation for a dance lover.

Adding to our conversation Uma Rele said, “at our institute we follow the age-old traditional guru-shishya parampara to impart dance knowledge, at the same time we rejuvenate and adopt new training methods to meet scientific and technological demands of the fast-changing contemporary society and we conduct research projects that enhance the understanding, appreciation, and knowledge about dance not only as a cultural phenomenon but also as an adjunct to human development.”

In 1973, Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya became the first exclusive college for dancing in the country affiliated to a premier university. This strong academic approach at Nalanda has naturally created an ideal infrastructure and highly qualified personnel for conducting research in dance and allied arts. The research activities go much beyond analysis and investigation of the technique and performance of dance; the selected projects are aimed at enriching dance for the future by further development and spelling out its intended impact on human life and also its usefulness to the society.

While I was talking to warm and friendly Uma Rele her dynamic dancer daughter Vaidehi Rele walked into the office. They say new generation brings in new light and new power, Vaidehi who is a bundle of energy was super excited to inform me that Nalanda had taken a new step ahead on its golden jubilee year, she said “this year we have introduced a new course called Movement Science, it is a post-graduate degree, a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Mumbai, this course has everything in it from fitness programmes to exercise science to even Yoga, Kalaripayettu, and other allied subjects.’ Enthusiastically she further added ‘dance is all about movement and there is a science involved in each movement be it in classical Indian dance or other dance forms, it is very important to study this science and through this course, we will be imparting complete knowledge of this science of movement.”

The new addition to the course celebrating 5 splendid decades just does not end here I was told by Uma Rele, apart from Movement Science course, Nalanda also has introduced Certificate Course in Folk Dances of Maharashtra and Gujarat, so here the student will not just learn the famous Garbha, Dandiya, Lavni and all but will also get the theory and practical knowledge and training in rare dances like Kupari, Dandhi and more.

Years ago, the eminent indologist late Dr. Moti Chandra had selected the motto and emblem for Nalanda. (विना तु नृत्यशास्त्रेण चित्रसुत्रम् सुदुर्विदम् ) ‘Vina Tu Nritya Shathrain Chitrasootrum SuduVridum’ meaning – without the knowledge of the science of dance, the other plastic arts cannot be comprehended -Vishnudharmottara Purana.

Seeing a traditional institute take a modern approach is indeed a refreshing change for the dancers of today, this new addition to Nalanda and its teaching methods truly proves the vision of visionary Dr. Kanak Rele who always believes in what the emblem of Nalanda showcases. It speaks of a dancer who stands on the foundation of Nalanda and is looking upward to the sky to soar on the wings of knowledge and success. Nalanda has more than justified his prophetic vision with this new addition. Today, with this article I would like to wish Dr. Kanak Rele and her entire dance family wonderful years filled with loads of knowledge of dance.

Sandip Soparrkar

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of AFTERNOON VOICE and AFTERNOON VOICE does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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