Shubhada Varadkar: The ‘Mayurpankh’ of Odissi Dance
Shubhada Varadkar exudes poise and finesse as you watch her Odissi dance performances on YouTube. Many of us are unfortunate as we couldn’t see her perform live. She doesn’t stray away from casting a spell with her aura in person either. In a tete-a-tete, TheLiveMirror tried to dig deeper into the impersonation of the plethora of stage roles she effortlessly puts up.
Her cousin Leo Varadkar took over as the new Prime Minister of Ireland and she was more than happy with her family openly accepting and supporting his sexuality.
To start from the very beginning, rewinding back to the days of her childhood and how her affinity for dance grew over the years, she remembers vivid details. Varadkar says that she didn’t have a legacy of dance in her family which otherwise consisted of doctors and academicians. But her mother coerced the idea that she’d dance whenever she heard music.
The Bharatnatyam dancer also recalls how there was no classical training available those days. Tying through the threads, her neighbour performed Bharatnatyam and her curious mind drove her to learn a few things from her neighbour, out of passion. She was enamoured by the “systematical” training at that point in time.
Remembering the good old days, Varadkar says:
“Later on my parents told me that if I got good marks in my SSC exam, I could join a dance class. So my dance class was a gift for me if I did well in my exams.”
That was how her classical training in Bharatnatyam came into being since that was the only dance class she could think of when she thought of classical dance training.
At that time there was no Google to know the different dance forms in India and the only other popular dance style was Kathak, yet it wasn’t that well known.
On luckily chancing upon her guru, Varadkar says that on joining a dance class next to her house, she first met Guru Mani from Kalasadan institute. She then went on to successfully complete her Arangetram and started teaching along with her Guru.
Journey to becoming one of India’s most proficient Odissi dancers:
Her first brush with Odissi dance was when she saw Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra perform and she knew right then that she wanted to explore that dance form too. Fate combined its twisted ways to have Guru Kelucharan conduct a workshop in their dance school, Kalasadan. That’s where her journey to becoming one of India’s most proficient Odissi dancers began.
Her conviction about a role begins as a peg to contemplate taking up a particular role.
When I did Kanupriya, I loved the poetry and the way it portrayed Radha as a strong person who can question Krishna or about God. So the strongness of the character is very important while choosing a role. At the same time, whenever a production is taken up, it should have some message for the society because our classical art forms are not only for entertainment. It’s not that you just come, watch it for half an hour and enjoy it and go back. It has to inspire you and leave you to ponder…something that gave you peace…
Kanupriya – being her first major production – was very dear to her and her favourite production Journey to Divinity which is based on Swami Vivekananda’s philosophies.
Struggle with Ovarian cancer:
Varadkar’s “coffee table books” – as she refers to them – came into being as a result of her workshops that she conducted abroad where her students prompted her to compile her talks and write a book. She further jotted down her autobiography Mayurpankh through the emotions that were a product of her hardships, the ones that came forth during her performance in London where she first got to know about her Ovarian cancer.
Initially, when I was going through it (cancer) I used to hide it because I had other reasons as a dancer and if people came to know that I was getting treatments I wouldn’t get performances. I was a single woman with no other source of income so I never wanted to give up those opportunities.
But then I came across a friend of mine who was going through the treatment who I confided in and she told me she was inspired by what I had to say and she started responding to her treatment positively. It’s not about how you receive the treatment but about how you respond to it so that’s when I thought I had to share my story and all the thoughts which I had gotten during my treatment, I started sharing it.
Why was her autobiography named Mayurpankh?
Selecting Mayurpankh as the title of her autobiography was a tough call. But after thinking a lot, she decided the name. Describing the background, she says,
Peacocks are connected to dance and when you go through all these struggles and with the support of your art and you come out of it, then your emotions, your ego becomes very light. You surrender totally and you become egoless. That’s the stage where you become like a peacock feather, beautiful but very light.
Varadkar received the titles, Sursingar’s Shringarmani and Mahari awards from Odissa for solo dancing given by Guru Pankaj Charan Odissi Research Foundation. She was awarded for taking forward her legacy along with disciples Mithali (who is also her niece) and Shreya.
The Odissi dancer is of the opinion that they (she, disciples Mithali and Shreya) and could’ve chosen a light art form and earned money in an easier manner but they chose an art form that takes a lifetime to master. She has handed down Sanskrita Foundation to them already. The classical master says she is proud and expectant to take forward her values like a river that flows and expects to take it to the next generation.
The foundation’s main aim is to preserve all the classical art forms in their pure form. But at the same time, add something to it, propagate it, create something new and to reach out to the lower segment of society. It’s not the monopoly of a particular class and it had to seep down.
Tradition bestowed in good hands:
On communicating with her niece Mithali, it emerged that she felt more privileged than the pressure to refresh the amazing classical art forms in the young Indian minds.
Instead of taking it up as a profession, if not possible, people must learn to appreciate it instead.
A lecturer by day, she tends to engross herself in the soothing and passionate Carnatic music that portrays her myriad abilities as a classical dancer.
Their foundation has taken it as a responsibility to preserve these art forms not only in India but abroad as well. The only rumour that possibly offends Shubhada Varadkar now is that she has stopped dancing!