Dancing for Lords Ganesha and Siva
Two sisters from Arizona fly to Hawaii for a single purpose: to offer their loving talents to the temple Deities
MY NAME IS SHREYA AND I AM 16 YEARS OLD. SINCE I WAS five, I have been learning the art of Bharatanatyam, a form of Indian classical dance. Depicting the divine poses present in the Lasya by Goddess Parvati and in the Tandava by Lord Nataraja Himself, Bharatanatyam conveys devotional praise and beautiful stories to any audience. What is most amazing about Bharatanatyam, and what sets it apart from many other dance forms, is that it can explain complex ideas and stories to inform people about Indian culture and social issues. Perhaps most fulfilling for the dancer, Bharatanatyam can incite awe, joy and devotion from the audience through sharp, precise movements and artful expressions.
Although these facts are important, they do not come close to expressing the reason for my love of the art form. Bharatanatyam is one of the few forms of dance in which the dancer can actually convey emotion through facial expressions and movements, also known as abhinaya. While it may be strenuous at times, it gives me so much joy to explain Indian mythological stories through dance to an American audience and watch them appreciate different cultures and values. Being given the opportunity to dance at Kauai’s Hindu Monastery was a blessing, and I was happy to hear that the attendees could embrace their devotion for Lord Nataraja through my dancing.
To me, dance is freedom and comfort. Being able to create something beautiful using only my own movements is something amazing that only dance can provide. I enjoy putting effort into making my style of dance excite an audience and getting them interested in the stories I tell. To put it simply, dance is the language I know best. If I could speak the words, they would be powerful, but those words would never capture the depth and meaning that dance can.
Accomplished sisters: Shreya (right) and her sister Akshaya pose with Lord Ganesha outside of the Kadavul Hindu Temple in Hawaii
IAM AKSHAYA, SHREYA’S 11-YEAR-OLD SISTER. I STARTED TAKING Bharatanatyam classes when I was six. Dancing at the Siva temple in Hawaii was an amazing experience. I really felt I was able to show my devotion to God through my dance. I wanted to dance to a song that talks about the lord of good fortune, Ganesha. We worship Lord Ganesha before beginning any new task and seek His blessings to remove any obstacles along the way.
I always love to perform. While dancing, I forgot about the huge crowd of people; I felt like God was the only one watching me. It is incredible how much dedication and time is being devoted by the holy monks at the monastery for the Hindu Deities. Being able to dance in front of God and the monks was a huge honor on the auspicious day of Guru Purnima.
Dance is precious to my sister and me, and we were so happy to be surrounded in the mandapam by 108 bronze tandavas (dance poses) of Lord Nataraja carved in bronze, 54 on each side. This experience was the highlight of our visit to Hawaii!
Shreya Venkatesh is a high school senior at BASIS Scottsdale in Arizona. She recently received an Outstanding Achievement Award in environmental stewardship from President Obama. Akshaya attends seventh grade at BASIS Scottsdale in Arizona. She loves music, fashion and theater performance. Akshaya was a global finalist in the 2016 International Schools Essay Competition on the topic, “Are Sustainable Cities Possible?”