When the country is mostly busy adapting a Western style of living, there are people who bring out the greatness of our own art forms and take it to the next level. One such great artiste is Gopika Varma, a well-known Mohiniyattam exponent. Being married into the royal Travancore family that has been famous down the ages for its patronage of the fine arts, she never fails to uphold its name with her achievements.
Dancing right from an age of two and a half, she says her dancer mom and dancer aunt taught her Mohiniyattam when she was a kid, and stood as the pillars of her success. She began training under Girija and Chandrika Kurup, when she was 10 years old. Her never ending thirst for dance made her to learn several dance forms and styles from Kalyani Kuttyamma, Sreedevi Rajan and Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, the doyen of Kathakali. She has gleaned a wealth of knowledge and professional training in the ‘Sopana’ style of performance from Kavalam Narayana Paniker, a veteran in Indian theatrics.
“I’m currently running an institution named ‘Dasyam Prathiba’ in OMR, where I share the place with other dance forms as well. The 136.1 Yoga studio, John Britto’s Dance co, Crea Shakthi for theatre, Musee Musical for western music and Vikku Vinayakram sir for Mridangam and percussion, are all a part of it. We also teach Carnatic music and collaborate with a lot of other forms too”, says Gopika Varma. Other than Dasyam Prathiba, the artist also runs 4 dance studios in the city, besides one in Bengaluru.
Being a recipient of various awards like ‘Yuvakala Bharathi’ by Bharath Kalachar, ‘Kaladarpanam’, ‘The Outstanding Performance Award’ by the House of Commons, UK, ‘Satya Abinaya Sundaram’, ‘Natya Kala Vipanchee’, ‘Rajakeeya Puraskaram’, she also got the ‘Kalaimamani’ award, the most prestigious in the state. “I was honoured with the award in 2004 by the then Chief Minister Selvi J.Jayalalitha, and the experience of receiving the award from her is beyond words. I was happy when she told that she was also a Mohiniyattam dancer and had learnt it for some time”, says the happy dancer.
The interesting fact to be noted is she was the first Mohiniyattam dancer to be given the ‘Kalaimamani’ by the Iyal Isai Nadaga Mandram. “The true happiness comes when I see my students reaching heights. My students are now independent dancers and each one is training some 50-60 dancers. Whenever they invite me for their students’ arangetrams, I feel so proud and happy. I’m conducting some 3 to 4 arangetrams per year. But it gives me more pleasure when my students do it”, she says. Her students are running dance schools all over the world, in places like Australia, US, London and in India, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kerala.
“I find Tamil Nadu so close to my heart. Because there are Tamil people living in Kerala and Keralites in Tamil Nadu, being so close to each other. And I think Chennai is a place where an artiste can find a lot of platforms for her growth and betterment, so I’m happy to be in Chennai” she adds.
Gopika Varma is not only a professional dancer, she is a humanist too. She is running a home for the physically challenged and a textile unit for their employment. The royal woman is blessed with a royal heart too!...