In Canada, Priyamvada Sankar is passing along the heritage of Bharatanatyam dance tied to a deep appreciation for Hinduism and its incomparable culture
By Nandini Ramani, Canada
Priyamvada sankar is the first disciple of the late T. Balasaraswati, the legendary Bharatanatyam exponent with whom she studied at India’s Madras Music Academy. Priyamvada is one of the most respected and adored scholars and teachers of this ancient South Indian classical dance, remaining true to the traditional style of the Balasaraswati School. Residing in the West for the past 52 years, currently in Canada, she is revered as a living legend by many lovers of traditional culture and arts.
Priyamvada’s guru, T. Balasaraswati, was a foremost follower of the famous Thanjavur dance tradition, admired for her strict adherence to its disciplines. The heights of that tradition’s purity were expressed in her own essential movements and form. Her performance of nritta, “pure dance,”was a special feature of her art. She was also known as the “Queen of Abhinaya,” interpretative dance. She thrilled audiences with limitless, unique offerings of exquisite abhinaya. Through Bharatanatyam she gave her audiences beautiful, visual representations of music in form. Balasaraswati’s birth centenary is being celebrated from 2018 to 2019 in India and the US. For a 30-minute documentary about Balasaraswati see: bit.ly/balasaraswati.
During eighteen years of rigorous daily training, Balasaraswati passed this precious art form to Priyamvada, who successfully preserved and propagated the tradition through her performances and instruction in North America.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Bharatanatyam was in renaissance in India. In this golden period, Priyamvada was a shining star. She has performed innumerable concerts at the Madras Music Academy and many other illustrious institutions all over India. In 1962, she led the first Indian cultural delegation to Nepal. At just twelve years of age she became one of the earliest Bharatanatyam artists to be given honors by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.
Priyamvada’s life and mission have been energized by Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music and other aspects of India’s cultural heritage. She is a recipient of the Canadian Award for Multiculturalism and the Order of Merit from her city. But most importantly, Priyamvada is loved by her students, who have learned from her the intrinsic values of art and life—all recognized and acclaimed as part of the precious heritage of India, and more specifically of Hinduism.
Priyamvada is also a respected Sanskrit scholar. Under the keen tutelage of her father, Dr. V. Raghavan, a world-renowned Sanskritist and Indologist, she specialized in authoritative treatises such as the Natya Shastra, a pioneering text on the performing arts.
Priyamvada has lectured widely in schools, colleges and universities on the multi-dimensional facets of Hinduism, art and culture, making a great impact in the past several decades across the Canadian cultural mosaic. As a member of the Inter-Faith Council, whose mission is to seek new and unique ways to educate communities about diverse faiths and traditions, she has been deeply involved and dedicated to the promotion of communal harmony and unity.
Today, along with her husband, children and grandchildren, Priyamvada has blended herself into the life streams of modern, multicultural Canada. This distinguished senior citizen still works tirelessly to promote, propagate and preserve the great treasures of Hindu culture and Indian aesthetics.
Over the past five decades she has given benefit performances in support of special causes, produced the educational documentary film “A Dance the Gods Yearn to Witness” (see a brief clip at bit.ly/priyamvada-clip) and passed on her passion for Bharatanatyam and Indian traditions to her multicultural students.
Let us celebrate this woman of substance, a “one-woman mission” striving to promote the Balasaraswati tradition in North America. May this devoted performing artist be an example for us all as a perfect role model for the future generations. Priyamvada is an adorable teacher and an exemplary homemaker who has lived a life of impeccable, noble endeavors.