The late K.P. Kunhiraman and his wife Katherine, founders of Kalanjali: Dances of India, are best known for their lifework of disseminating the dance styles of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam in the U.S. Under their tutelage young people have achieved professional proficiency, some going on to perform, some to teach and share the tradition.
But as I sit here – far away in Berlin! – on the eve of Navaratri, I recall another dance, and a performance some 30 years ago under a bright blue sky on the stage of the Bandshell in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. After a couple of rehearsals with Katherine, dressed in bright yellow and red, with gay painted sticks I got to take part in Dandiya Raas, the traditional folk dance form of Gujarat, India. It’s the featured dance in Western India during the 9 nights and 10 days of Navaratri (starting this Tuesday) when Hindus worship the nine forms of the goddess Durga. The dance is a staging of the mock-fight between Durga and the fearsome demon-king Mahishasura.
It was a small thing, maybe, but for me as a non-Indian – and a non-dancer as well! – it was a little bit of India, as the beating of the sticks and the drums caught me up in a movement both ancient and visceral. Thanks to K.P. and Katherine Kunhiraman. Sometimes small things are not so small after all.
Image: Durga fighting Mahishura, Brooklyn Museum