The Queen of Abhinaya – Indira Kadambi 

Swapna Narayanan

Very rarely you find an artist who has won enough critical acclaim, is a connoisseur’s delight, is known as a dancer’s dancer, yet is so deeply rooted and approaches her art form with a reverence that few artists are able to maintain after becoming a globally known brand themselves.

I met Indira Kadambi, a renowned Bharatanatyam performer, choreographer, and teacher as she steps out for her US tour, and spoke to her about her love for the beautiful form of art – Bharatanatyam – that she has been performing for last 4 decades and teaching for last 3 decades. She, along with her husband TV Ramprasadh – a well-known Carnatic Vocalist, runs eAmbalam – an online college for Indian Performing Arts.

Indira 1Known for her contemporary approach to this deep-rooted traditional art form, Indira is also a pioneer in bringing Performing Arts to young children (K-12) through her unique Life Art Education program – a must have in today’s times!

A nimble, energetic, and passionate dancer, Indira is extremely well known for her abhinaya – the ability to express emotions.

Here are some snippets from our conversation:

Swapna: You are heralded as a queen of abhinaya in the world of Bharatanatyam, yet for me you are a young woman behind all that makeup and costume who is very passionate about her craft and enjoys every moment of her performance. You have been giving performances for about 40+ years now, yet you are able to maintain that intrinsic passion. It shows. And how! Tell us about your secret to maintain the joyous enthusiasm and energy.

Indira: I have this deep urge and passion to explore, to go deeper, to be perfect, to live life to the fullest. Well, dance for me is not just a passion, I am in love with dance!

I believe that one needs to fall in love totally with what we are doing. While naturally, we all strive to work hard to keep ourselves fit through a fitness regime, regular practice, and good massage etc., I am able to maintain the enthusiasm and energy by interacting and sharing knowledge with my students and being in company of youngsters. Whether it is dance or trekking, my dogs, or listening to my husband Ramprasadh‘s music and my son Vishnu‘s guitar practice at home, all of it keeps me fresh, young and energetic.

I always keep my mind open to try new things whether it is dance or food or attire or watching movies or seeing places. During my travel, I enjoy meeting up with people from different walks of life, explore new places and especially, nature-related travels. All these keep me and my art alive!

Swapna: I recently caught up on Varsha Ritu – one of your unique shows – that helped me walk through a deep spiritual journey and touched a deep chord within. You began with Varsha Aagman – a mortal welcoming the rains to satiate his parched needs, then move on to Rathi Varsha – where one takes a step closer to the Supreme and pines for Hari, along with Meera Bai as she hears the approaching footsteps of her Lord through ‘Hari aawan ki awaaz…‘ And eventually, you make the audience realise that the eventual connect with the Lord happens with Atma Varsha – depicting that all that is offered to the Lord, in whatever form, ultimately reaches The Superior One. How are you able to choreograph all your shows so distinctively, with a tinge of modernity and always end up leaving an impact on the audience?  How important is the modern day context in your shows?

Indira 2Indira: First of all, when I choose a theme or when I am commissioned to work on a particular theme, there is some intuition that guides me through the process. It is not an easy process. Sometimes I do not sleep at all for days. While I am working on a theme, thoughts keep coming randomly and it may come anytime. Anything around me can inspire and ignite my thoughts. I need to keep my mind always open and alert. I always think on the lines of how the chosen theme is seen by the world, how it impacts the world we live in, how I see it, and what are my thoughts and views about it.

I always believe Indian art, especially Bharatanatyam, is like a universal language. Whether traditional or a contemporary theme, you can convey these things very creatively, beautifully and aesthetically. I believe the very purpose of ‘art’ is to elevate us to something on a higher plane away from mundane aspects of life.

Swapna: Whether it is the rendition of an Ashtapadi, or depicting the fight among the animals who reside in the Shiva household, or Yashoda coaxing, cajoling and eventually threatening Krishna in Boochi Bandide, or a show on the Hasya Rasa, you are able to emote all their expressions with ease. Is one born with the ability to emote through their face and eyes, or is that something that can be learned or up-skilled?

Indira: It works both ways. Some are born with a bundle of talent and with right guidance, they can excel. Some not-so-talented can be trained and honed to excel. My goal in these workshops and classes that I conduct across the world is to go looking for those inborn talents and hone them, and also to identify some potential talents and upskill them. That is my aim and responsibility as a passionate follower of this art form.

indira workshop

Swapna: You know, at Eyra, we believe that a woman has so many aspects within her, and can easily wear multiple hats with ease. For me, you are a woman who has brought to fore her versatility and ability to multitask through her passion for Bharatanatyam. A performer, a teacher, and a choreographer – you do it all with ease. Tell us more about that transformative phase when you decided to share all your knowledge with others and set up eAmbalam. Did you see a lacuna in the way this art form was being taught? And why Life Art Education?

Indira: Well, I also wear a few more hats – I am a trained mountaineer, avid trekker, and a motivational speaker too!

Indira and ramWell, setting up of eAmbalam was one of the milestones in our respective careers. My husband, T.V.Ramprasadh, a well-known Carnatic classical vocalist, was training several students online in the 1990s. There were many students living all around the world who were passionate about continuing their learning. To make it accessible to them and to others who did not have any good teachers around them, we decided to build a state-of-the-art blended e-learning platform – eAmbalam, where students were trained holistically through practical, innovative and niche teaching methodology.

While the focus here was to make learning music accessible to all, we also had a dream of developing young minds holistically – including art forms, yoga, culture, and values.

So, we set up Life Art Education that took shape from our dreams of including music, dance, yoga and value education as a part of the curriculum in schools for the physical and mental well-being of the children.

3 thoughts on “The Queen of Abhinaya – Indira Kadambi 

  1. Its a story and experience-shared that can kindle lots of hopes in aspiring young artists who wish to become cultural ambassadors of India and climb heights. Congrats Indiraji.

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  2. My first guru Indira Kadambi..what pride in itself in saying this…she has been very focused from her very young age in perfection. When she used to choreograph songs, she used to make us feel like the characters and make us live in that era. She has not just mastered the art of Abhinaya, but is an amazing natuvangam artist. Her redearment of natuvangam would make our feet dance with the intonations needed…she is blessed by lord shiva and her support comes from within, from seing her students perform and from her family…music and dance is yoga in itself and she embodies them so well…proud to see her article and her growth in her passion in these years…congrats ma’am for being a beautiful Chanel of this Indian culture and for being YOU.

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